Hakka Literature  |  Hakka Music  |  Folk Crafts


1. Hakka Folk Songs

     Hakka singing is referred to as "Nine Accents and Eighteen Melodies", because of the great variety of Hakka songs. The nine accents include the Hailu, Szihsian, Raoping, Lufeng, Meihsian, Songkou, Guangdong, Guangnan, and Guangxi accents. The eighteen melodies are the pingban, shangezi, laoshange (or nanfengdiao), siliange, bingzige, shibamo, jianjianhua (or shi'eryue guren), chuyi zhao, taohuakai, shangshancaicha, guanziren, naowugeng, songjinchai, dahaitang, kuliniang, xishoujin, maijiu (or yaojiu), taohua guodu (or chengchuange), and xiuxiangbao melodies.

     Traditionally, Hakka folk song has a history of over one thousand years. Their music initially consisted of droning tunes hummed to release their feelings. Later, this would be accompanied with the sounds of boat sculling, shoulder poles, chopping trees, or walking to express emotions, to drum up courage, or to communicate with people on the other side of a river or up on a mountain. These gradually took on melodies. Consequently, Hakka songs reflect life-they are interesting and some are love songs. The mountain songs that have been passed down in Taiwan can be divided into three types-laoshange, shangezi, and pingban. The singer of a song can arrange or create lyrics to any song as he sees fit. The special thing about the xiaodiao, like the taohuakai, siliange, and shi'eryue guren, is that the tune and lyrics are memorized and are not altered. They have permanent lyrics and music, so it is easier to record them using modern day sheet music.

2. Hakka Mountain Songs

     The majority of Hakka mountain songs have seven characters per stanza. Particular emphasis is placed on tonal patterns and rhyme. The first, second, and fourth lines of most songs end in either a first or second tone, while that of the third line is either a third or fourth tone. Rules regarding the other lines are not as strict.

     One of the most unique characteristics of Hakka folk songs is that they are frequently impromptu in nature whether sung by an individual or sung in duet. Not only are these ad lib pieces filled with wonderful metaphors and profound wisdom, they adhere to the rules of tone!

     One story describes a woman who was skilled at singing mountain songs by the name of Liu San Mei. She lived in Mei County, Guangdong. People from far and near came to ask her to teach them. One day, a scholar rode a boat filled with mountain songbooks so as to compete with her.

     When the boat arrived in Songkou, San Mei just happened to be there washing clothes on the riverbank. Not knowing who she was, the scholar asked her, "Excuse me, do you know where San Mei lives?" San Mei asked him what it was he wanted. He replied, "I've heard that San Mei is a talented singer. I'd like to have a contest with her." San Mei asked him, "How many mountain songs did you bring?" The scholar answered, "My boat is bursting at the seams with songbooks!" Laughing to herself, San Mei stopped and lifted her voice in song.

Liu San Mei washing clothes in the river,

Asked the gentleman from where he had come

Mountain songs have been sung through the ages

Who in the world carries them in a boat

     Only then did the scholar know that he was talking to Liu San Mei. She was such a skilled speaker that he just got back in his boat and left.

     The impromptu nature of mountain songs is what makes them so interesting. It is fascinating to watch them sing to each other in the mountains or by a river, while picking tea leaves, planting rice, or harvesting rice!

3. Caichage (Tea Picking Songs)

     In its day, the caichaxi (tea picking theater) was just as popular as the gezaixi (puppet theater). Both drama forms had large numbers of fans among the Minnan and Guangdong people. In particular, it was major form of entertainment during the planting season. The main difference between the two is that the caichaxi was brought over from Mainland China, while the gezaixi was created in Taiwan. The way in which the caichaxi has developed as the result of being in Taiwan has been in much the same way as that of the gezaixi. It is only that Minnan Chinese is spoken much more in Taiwan than Hakka Chinese, so the rise and fall of the gezaixi, which is performed in Taiwanese, has been much more evident than the caichaxi.

     The Hakka sing mountain songs in the countryside and the xiaodiao (little tunes) in the town. They sing everywhere, from their houses to the tea fields and mountains. Everybody sings the folk songs and xiaodiao. They sing in operas and dramas, the unique thing of which is their voices. Most songs in Hakka dramas are mountain songs and xiaodiao that have been passed down in areas populated by Hakkas and are very familiar to their ears. In other words, mountain songs and xiaodiao make up the foundation of Hakka theater.

     The main character in the Sanjiao Caichaxi (Three Leg Tea Picking Drama) is a male tea harvester. There are several small plays stemming from this type of drama, the themes of which include climbing up a mountain to pick tea, , buying liquor, and returning home. Other dramas, such as the Taohua Guodu, Shisong Jinchai, Paocaicha, and Kangcha were all derived from the same drama about the tea leaf harvester. Kangcha (Carry Tea), for example, was drawn from the story about buying liquor. Other dramas, including Bingzi (Sick Son), Wenpu (Fortune Telling), Gong Bei Po (Husband Carries Wife), Kai Jin Shan (Open the Golden Fan), Chuyizhao (First Morning of the Lunar Month), Naowugeng (), Kuliniang (Coolie Woman), were all developed along the same line.

4.  Popular Music

     You cannot talk about Hakka music entering the mainstream market without mentioning Yu Min Heng and Deng Yu Xian. Yu Min Heng's song "True Hakka" has drawn a great deal of attention to the Hakka language and music. Yu Min Heng, the father of Taiwanese folk music, brought Taiwanese music to new heights. The song that made Yu Min Heng a household name still brings back memories.

     Deng Yu Xian, a statue of whom is erected next to Tahu in Longtan Hsiang, wrote numerous Taiwanese folk songs. Some of his more famous ones include "Wang Chunfeng" (Watch the Spring Wind), "Yu Ye Chou" (Rainy Night Melancholy), "A Red Egg", "Yu Ye Hua" (Rainy Night Flower), and "Sijihong" (Four Seasons of Red). These songs were all very popular in Taiwan.

     Deng Yu Xian was born in 1906 in Longtan Hsiang, Taoyuan County to a prominent Taoyuan Hakka family. He kept very much to himself and showed little emotion. When he was a student at the National Taiwan Normal University his musical talent blossomed and grew, because National Normal University placed a great deal of stress on music education and because he spent a great deal of time around music.

     His first Taiwanese song, "Taohua Qixieji" (The Story of the Weeping and Bleeding Peach Blossom), was popular all over Taiwan. Record companies were producing all types of new Taiwanese songs. He later wrote "Dadao Cheng Jinxingqu" () at the bequest of . He then wrote a series of songs loved by all, including "Wang Chunfeng", Manmian Chunfeng" (Spring Wind on My Face), and "Sijihong". They were very important Taiwanese works. He was one of the Four Kings of Popular Taiwanese Music along with Su Tong, Wang Yong Feng, and Qiu Zai Fu. The songs written by Deng Yu Xian brought together traditional culture. He revived traditional culture by gathering material from folk songs and operas.