Friday, November 10, 2006

The Chinese Scotsman

As we've seen in previous pages, much of the entrepreneurial impetus amongst the foreigners in Hong Kong came from the redoubtable Scotsmen, who with their drive and canny investment sense did very well indeed for themselves.

Here though, I shall quote for you a few lines from perhaps the first travel guidebook to Hong Kong (as well as several other cities in China besides). The Victorian always felt quite comfortable classifying the various races and ethnic groups he came across. While today it might make the members of those groups feel rather akin to having been impaled with a needle and put into some sort of collector's box of human taxonomy, then it seemed a rather accepted thing to do. I suppose if we were to find an alien race living on the moon or on a nearby planet, we would unhestiatingly offer our most accurate stereotypes to those less knowledgeable, and would do for some time to come.

At any rate, without further ado:
In the first place, then, to dispose of the philological question as briefly as possible, we must premise that the syllables "Pun-ti" denote a native or original indweller of the soil, whilst "Hak-ka," on the contrary, signifies a stranger, or as we might phrase it, an immigrant from afar. These are terms which must be taken in just such a sense as that in which they would be understood in Ireland, were a Galway cottier, of the true Milesian type, to speak of the descendants of long-buried generations of Scottish settlers in the Northern counties, as "inthruders on the soil of Ould Ireland," while the amiable feelings our Galwegian would probably cherish with reference to his thriftier neighbours, would further form an exact parallel to the sentiments which impel the "Pun-ti" in Hongkong and on the mainland to make such frequent appeals to the bamboo-pole, the gingal, and the fighting irony. For if a Chinese Scotsman be imaginable, he exists surely in the laborious, saving, prolific and irrepressible Hak-ka, who has thriven and multiplied in his constant migrations toward the South, in such degree that he has now for many years been the object of bitter hatred on the part of the more supine "native" whom he supplants.
Yes, indeed the British were bemused onlookers in the early days of the colony when battles between the Hakka and the Punti Cantonese took place in the 1850s and 1860s. There was a full scale ethnic war, in fact, on in Tsim Sha Tsui just after the British took possession in 1860. One reason for this was the fact that many of the leaders of the Taiping Rebellion were in fact Hakka, which only deepened the divisions between the races.

No comments: