Punti-Hakka Clan Wars

Punti-Hakka Clan Wars
Date 1855 to 1868
Location Guangdong, China Pearl River Delta, particularly Taishan, Sze Yup
Caused by Taiping Rebellion
Resulted in Hakka were allocated their own independent sub-prefecture, Chixi (赤溪镇), which was carved out of south-eastern Taishan, while others were relocated to Guangxi Province, mass emigration
Parties to the civil conflict
Death(s) 1 million+
Punti-Hakka Clan Wars
Traditional Chinese 械鬥
Simplified Chinese 械斗

Punti-Hakka Clan Wars or Hakka-Punti Clan Wars refer to the conflict between the Hakka and Cantonese people in Guangdong, China between 1855 and 1867. The wars were fierce around the Pearl River Delta, especially in Taishan of the Sze Yup counties. The wars resulted in roughly a million dead with many more fleeing for their lives.


Hakka literally means guest family, and Punti literally means natives. The Punti are also referred to by the dialect they spoke, Yue Chinese. The origins of this bloody conflict lay in the resentment of the Cantonese towards the Hakka people whose dramatic population growth threatened the Cantonese people. The Hakka were marginalized and resentful in turn, and were forced to inhabit the hills and waterways rather than the fertile plains.

The existing Cantonese-speaking natives (本地, bendi) of these areas, known in Cantonese as "Punti", were protective of their own more fertile lands, and the newcomers were pushed to the outer fringes of fertile plains, despite having migrated legitimately, or they settled in more mountainous regions to eke out a living. Conflict between the two groups grew and it is thought that "Hakka" became a term of derision used by the Punti aimed at the newcomers. Eventually, the tension between the two groups (the Hakkas had by then been settled for several hundred years and could not be regarded as migrants in any sense) would lead to a series of 19th-century skirmishes in the Pearl River Delta known as the Punti-Hakka Clan Wars. The problem was not that the two groups spoke a different tongue. In fact, the "locals" comprised different peoples speaking several mutually unintelligible tongues, as was typical of the Chinese countryside all over southern China, but they would regard each other as "locals" or Puntis, but exclude the Hakka from such designation. (The Chinese bendi describes any native people in any location; the English term "Punti" describes the native Cantonese in Guangdong but not the emigrant Cantonese elsewhere.)

Over time the newcomers adopted the term "Hakka" to refer to themselves, not least due to the migratory tendencies inherent in their own culture. However, because the term also covers Hakka speakers (in the same way that Punti covered several people speaking different tongues), and because the Han Chinese registered as Guest Families who migrated may not have been Hakka speakers, and because of intermarriages among Hakka and Punti members (which showed that relations between the two were very good at times), identification as Hakka was largely a matter of self-selection. Through studies of both Cantonese and Hakka genealogies, some Hakka and Punti people with the same surnames claim the same ancestors, although their descendants strongly identify with one group to the exclusion of the other.

During the Qing conquest of the Ming, Ming loyalists under Koxinga invaded Taiwan and established an independent kingdom in the hopes of eventually retaking mainland China. In an attempt to defeat these warriors and pirates without a war, the Kangxi Emperor strengthened his dynasty's sea ban (haijin) in 1661 and issued the order for the Great Clearance of the southeastern coast. The Chinese from Shandong to Guangdong were ordered to destroy their property and move inland 30 to 50 li (about 16–31 km or 9.9–19.3 mi) upon pain of death in order to deprive the Taiwanese rebels of support or targets to raid. The governors and viceroys of the affected provinces submitted scathing memorials and the policy was reversed after eight years. In 1669 and 1671, however, strong typhoons destroyed what few settlements existed.

As far fewer Punti returned to the abandoned lands than expected, the Qing emperor provided incentives to repopulate these areas. The most visible of those who responded were the Hakka. For some time the Punti and Hakka lived together peacefully. As the population of Guangdong Province soared, life became increasingly difficult and unrest broke out.

In 1851, the Taiping Rebellion, led by the Hakka Hong Xiuquan, erupted in Guangxi Province and quickly spread throughout Southern China. The rebellion was finally suppressed in 1867. In 1854, during the rebellion, a local anti-Qing triad took the opportunity to rebel, attacking Heyuan and Foshan. This Red Turban Rebellion was finally suppressed in 1857.

Clan war

During this rebellion, the Hakka had helped the imperial army to raid Punti villages to attack the rebels and their sympathisers. This precipitated open hostility between the Hakka and Punti, with the Punti attacking Hakka villages in revenge.

Battles raged. Both sides fortified their villages with walls, destroyed bridges and roads, and raised armies as best they could. Entire villages were involved in the fighting with all able-bodied men called to fight. The Cantonese were armed with the help of their genetic relatives in Hong Kong and the Chinese diaspora who lived abroad. Some captives were sold to Cuba and South America as coolies through Hong Kong and Macau, and others sold to the brothels of Macau. More than 3000 Hakkas, who were defeated by the Punti in Gui county, joined the God Worshipping Society.

Conflict reached a devastating scale. Over a million died and thousands of villages were destroyed. Because the Punti significantly outnumbered the Hakka, the Hakka losses were more extensive. After the clan war, the population share of Hakka in the Sze Yup area dropped to 3%, with many relocated to Guangxi.


With the end of the Taiping Rebellion, the Qing government was able to send the imperial army to suppress the conflict with indiscriminate savagery. Afterwards they separated the combatants. For many years the Hakka were allocated their own independent sub-prefecture, Chixi (赤溪镇), which was carved out of south-eastern Taishan, while others were relocated to Guangxi Province.

Similar Cantonese-Hakka clan wars in Malaysia

Conflict between Cantonese and Hakka people also occurred in the state of Perak, Malaya (present-day Malaysia) during the mid-19th century when southern Chinese immigrants arrived to work as coolies and mine laborers. Due to linguistic differences and a history of mutual hatred for each other back in China, bloody wars broke out. This series of conflicts, marked by violence between the Cantonese-dominated (and later on, Fujianese) Ghee Hin Kongsi and the primarily Hakka Hai San Secret Society, is known as the Larut War, which concluded with the signing of the Pangkor Treaty of 1874. Although Ghee Hin Kongsi was Cantonese-dominated, it had Hakkas on its side and the leader was a Dabu Hakka, Chin Ah Yam.[1]

See also


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