Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fujian: a land of diversity

Interestingly, the first difficulty I ran into when I started this blog, a really annoying one, was to designate a Romanized name for my motherland. In Chinese characters, her name 福建 is a very unique one which could not be confused by Chinese, Japanese, Korean or ancient Vietnamese who share the similar hieroglyphic writing system of Chinese characters (漢字). But East Asian languages have different pronunciations of 福建, especially in 福建 itself where at least 9 different native languages are spoken, so the pronunciations become a big problem for a Romanized name. Although the official Romanized name for 福建 is Fujian in mainland China, I really don't like it, simply because it's from Mandarin Chinese (普通話/官話), the official language in China, which is not a native language in 福建 (Fujian) but a language spoken in North and Southwest China. However, since I can't use 9 different Romanized names for one land, I have to choose the most commonly used names, which are Fujian (in Mandarin), Fukien (in old Mandarin) and Hokkien (in Hokkien/Southern Min 閩南語). Sadly, I excluded the name "Hok-giong" in my mother tongue of Foochow/Eastern Min (福州語/閩東語), because this Romanized name is not well known.

To demonstrate such a complicated situation, I adapted and slightly revised a linguistic map of Fujian from Wikipedia. The 8 languages on this map are all in the Chinese language family, and they can be categorized into 4 groups: Min (including Southern Min, Eastern Min, Northern Min, Central Min and Puxian), Hakka, Gan and Wu. Min (閩語) is the largest language group in Fujian by both population and area, and has the greater dialectal diversity than any other division of Chinese. And Hakka is the second largest. The Min language group includes Southern Min (閩南語), Eastern Min (閩東語), Northern Min (閩北語), Central Min (閩中語) and Puxian (莆仙語). Southern Min (閩南語), commonly known as Hokkien (福建話) in Southeast Asia, is the largest language in Fujian and a very international one. In mainland China, it is spoken in Southern Fujian, Eastern and Southwestern Guangdong (廣東) and Hainan (海南). It is also spoken by a majority of people in Taiwan (台灣), where it is officially named Taiwanese Hokkien (台灣閩南語) and commonly known as Taiwanese (台語). In Southeast Asia, it is the largest language among the ethnic Chinese there, spoken in the Phillipines, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand, etc. The total speaker of Southern Min worldwide is close to 50,000,000. Eastern Min (閩東語), the second largest language in Fujian, has two major dialects: Foochow (福州話) and Fu'an (福安話), who are hardly mutually intelligible. And Foochow is also spoken in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, US, Japan, UK, etc by oversea ethnic Foochowese. Northern Min (閩北語) is spoken mainly in today's Nanping region. Puxian (莆仙語), AKA Hinghua (Hsinghua, 興化語), is spoken in the eastern coast of Fujian. Central Min (閩中語) is the smallest of the five Min languages, spoken only by hundreds of thousands in Central Fujian. The Hakka language (客語) is spoken by the Hakka people (客家人), who immigrated to Fujian later than the majority ethnic Min, occupy the mountainous areas in Western Fujian and the adjacent provinces of Guangdong (廣東) and Jiangxi (江西). The Hakka also have a significant population in Southeast Asia. Gan (贛語) and Wu (吳語), the major native language in Jiangxi and Zhejiang (浙江) respetively, distributed on the border between Fujian and the two provinces mentioned above. Of the 9 major native languages spoken in Fujian, the only one off the map, which is also the only none Han-Chinese language, is the She language (畬語) spoken by the She people (畬族人) scattered in the mountainous areas on the east coast of Fujian. But the modern She language in Fujian is similar to Hakka, possibly because the She lived side by side with the Hakka in history before they migrated to their present locations.

This linguistic diversity comes from the immigration history and the geographic isolation of Fujian. Waves of immigrants from central China at different eras in history brought the ancient Chinese language of different ages to Fujian, and probably the intermarriage between these ancient Chinese immigrants and a few native Minyue people of Fujian gave birth to the Min language group. The isolated regions in Fujian created by the mountainous terrains helped preserve the linguistic diversity. The differences in language resulted in the formation of different ethnic groups, and each ethnic group fostered its own unique culture.

Ethnic culture is too big a topic to deal with, so I narrow down this topic to architecture and opera, two objects that are visually and aurally vivid.

Like the languages, the traditional architecture styles in Fujian are distinct from region to region. The boundaries between different architecture styles usually coincide with the corresponding linguistic boundaries. So it is easy to distinguish Eastern Min architecture from Southern Min architecture or Northern Min architecture. The Southern Min architecture is distinguished by the red bricked walls, symmetric layouts with central atria and highly decorated roof ridge, and many of them can be huge, with areas of over ten thousand of square meters (over 2 acres). The most famous Southern Min architectures include the Cai's Mansion in Nan'an, Fujian (福建南安蔡氏古民居) and the Lim's Mansion in Taichung, Taiwan (臺中霧峰林宅). Southern Min migrants brought their architecture to Taiwan, but one question still puzzles me: why does Southern Min architecture only reach as far as Taiwan and I didn't see many of them in Southeast Asia? I really don't know.
Found in the Eastern-Min-speaking regions of Fuzhou (福州) and Fu'an (福安), the Eastern Min architecture is marked by the white or grey walls, saddle-shaped gables and gates with water drip eaves (雨披) and pai-du (牌堵). Eastern Min architectures can be huge, too, in fact, the largest single traditional mansion in China is said to be Hong-lin-cuo (宏琳厝), an Eastern Min architecture in Minqing, Fujian (福建閩清) with an area of 17,000 square meters (4.2 acres); and the largest living traditional urban building complex in the metropolitan areas in China is the Three Lanes and Seven Alleys (三坊七巷) at the heart of Fuzhou City, which consists of Eastern Min buildings. Northern Min architecture in Northwestern Fujian is famous for its brick carving, particular on the front gates and walls. The themes of the carvings are mostly plants and animals. With its red walls, the Puxian style architecture is somewhat similar to Southern Min, but it usually has overhanging gable roofs (懸山頂) rather than the flush gable roofs (硬山頂) in Southern Min architecture. Central Min architecture is a style mixed with many styles (Hakka, Eastern Min, Southern Min, etc). There are also architectures shared by different ethnic groups in Fujian, like the world-renowned Tulou (土樓), which can be found in southern and southwestern Fujian and is shared by both Hakka and Southern Min people. The shape of Tulou is a circular configuration surrounding a central shrine, inhabited by some clan groups. Fujian Tulou has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008.

There are 34 different kinds of operas in Fujian, including both existing and extinct ones. Almost each region or ethnic group has their own unique operas, for example, the Foochow people have Min Opera (閩劇), the Hinghua people have Puxian Opera (莆仙戲), the Southern Min have Gaojia Opera (高甲戲), Xiang Opera (known as Koa-á-hì or Taiwanese Opera in Taiwan, 薌劇/歌仔戲) and Liyuan Opera (梨園戲), the Hakka have Hakka Han Opera (閩西漢劇) and the Northern Min have Youchun Opera (游春戲). Among these 34 operas, the most influential five are Min Opera, Puxian Opera, Liyuan Opera, Xiang Opera and Gaojia Opera. Min Opera is rooted in Fuzhou and has influence in all over the Eastern Min speaking regions and even in some Southeast Asian Foochow communities. Min Opera is performed in standard Foochow language. Puxian Opera is said to have more than 700 years of history, but due to the relatively small Puxian-speaking population, it is restricted in Putian, Xianyou and part of Hui'an. Thanks to the large Southern-Min-speaking population, Gaojia Opera, Liyuan Opera and Xiang Opera are thriving in Fujian, Taiwan and many Southeast Asian countries, and they are all performed in Southern Min language.

Although Fujian has the highest linguistic and cultural diversity of all the Han-Chinese-dominant provinces in China, most people remain, unfortunately, unaware of this. More than once I heard people asking me if Hakka is the other name of Southern Min, or if the Foochowese speak Southern Min. Yes, many Chinese, even some Fujianese (not to mention the foreigners) fail to recognize the different ethnic groups in Fujian. I believe, once they see the uniqueness of the different ethnic cultures of Fujian, they'll be surprised. That's why I wrote this article.

All pictures are from the internet:)


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