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Hakka Personalities in History

By Edited Aug 25, 2016 0 0

Of these six Hakka heavyweights, only one was a woman, and all but Arthur Chung were born on the Chinese mainland.

Hong Xiuquan (Christian revolutionary)

Likely as insane as David Koresh but far more successful, Hong Xiuquan (1814-1864) believed himself to be Christ's younger brother, and was the principal leader of the Taiping Rebellion which left around 20 million Chinese dead. Having failed to get into the imperial civil service (entrance was via extremely competitive examinations), Hong fell ill. Following his recovery, he embraced religion and soon gathered supporters. By 1851, they were battling imperial forces, and by 1860 Hong had established the "Taiping Heavenly Kingdom" over much of southern China. Hong's downfall came about when his forces attacked Shanghai, provoking British and French intervention on the imperial side. He apparently died of food poisoning while imperial forces, assisted by Western military advisers, laid seige to his headquarters at Nanjing. To ensure he would not enjoy an afterlife, his remains were cremated by his enemies and his ashes scattered by firing them out of a cannon.

Sun Yat-sen (revolutionary and ROC president)


Born in 1866 to a Hakka family in south China, Sun Yat-sen was educated in Hawaii and Hong Kong. He studied medicine and so is often referred to as Dr. Sun. He is revered by both Chinese Nationalists and the PRC government for his leading role in the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty; famously, he was on a fundraising trip to the United States when he bought a newspaper to read on a train journey and learned China’s last emperor had abdicated. Rushing back, he became the Republic of China's (ROC) first president on January 1, 1912 but stepped down within three months. Sun, whose womanizing has been expunged from official biographies, married three times. His final bride was Soong Ching-ling (1893-1981), elder sister of Soong May-ling (see below). In his final years, Sun was like Mikhail Gorbachev after the collapse of the Soviet Union: Respected for having done the right thing at the right time, but unable to get political traction when trying to solve the country's problems. He died of cancer in 1925; his remains lie in an ornate memorial in Nanjing. Sun’s ideology, San Min Chu I ("Three Principles of The People") was a compulsory subject for college students in Taiwan until the late 1990s. Memorials to Sun can be found in Taipei, Guangzhou (pictured above), Singapore and other places.

Soong May-ling (Madame Chiang Kai-shek)

Better known in the west as Chiang Kai-shek's consort and interpreter, Soong May-ling was the fourth child of Charlie Soong, a Methodist missionary who became a wealthy and powerful businessman. Her elder sister, Soong Ching-ling married Sun Yat-sen in 1915, and May-ling (born in Shanghai in 1898, died in New York in 2003) wed Chiang Kai-shek in 1927; both women were educated mainly in the US. During World War II she symbolized China to the American public, and after the Chinese Nationalists retreated to Taiwan she served as First Lady until her husband's death in 1975. The couple's main residence in Taipei is now open to the public.

Zhu De (Communist general)

Regarded as the founder of the People's Liberation Army, Zhu De (1886-1976) played a critical role in the Communist military victory over the Chinese Nationalists. A Hakka from Sichuan, entered a military academy just before the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and China's last emperor in 1911. Before throwing in his lot with Mao Zedong's Communists in the mid-1920s, he served in a warlord's army.

Deng Xiaoping (Communist leader)


By making crucial reforms from the late 1970s onwards which paved the way for China's emergence as an economic superpower. Deng (pictured above) will likely be regarded as one of the 20th century's key personalities. Born in a mainly Hakka village in Sichuan in 1904, he was one of the youngest of the 4,000-plus Chinese who studied in France after World War I, setting out for Europe before he turned 16. He later attended university in Moscow before returning to China in 1927. He spent the 1930s traveling in China, avoiding Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalists and gradually rising within the Chinese Communist Party. After the Communist victory in 1949, he served as a local official in the southwest before moving to Beijing after his appointment as vice-premier (deputy prime minister) in 1952. Although he never held a more senior government position, no one disputes that by 1981 he was the most powerful man in China, and responsible for both the country's return to capitalism and international trade, as well as the one-child policy.

Arthur Chung (president of Guyana)

Like many ethnic Chinese who grew up in British colonies, Chung (1918-2008) enjoyed a career in law before entering politics. His father was a Hakka born in China, his mother was of Chinese descent but born in Trinidad. Chung was serving as a judge in 1966, the year British Guiana became the independent state of Guyana. Four years later, when Guyana became a republic within the British Commonwealth, Chung was elected by its parliament to the mainly ceremonial position of president. He was the first ethnic Chinese head of state outside Asia, and held office until 1980.

For profiles of six currently prominent Hakka, see Notable Living Hakka People.

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