The Teochew Store Blog / culture
Ever thought that you will be able to travel back to the 1940s to experience the village life in Teochew your parents or grandparents left behind? Or fancied reading a novel written in Teochew? These are now possible, thanks to the Teochew Culture Club (潮汕文化協進會). Since earlier this year the group formed by enthusiasts of the Teochew language in Hong Kong has been producing a series of audio-readings of 《作田人瑣事》 (“Trivia Tales of the Peasants”), a novel written by a Teochew, about Teochew and uniquely in Teochew.
Ng Chia Keng (黃正經, a play on the expression 唔正經 m-tsia-geng, meaning “improper”) was a household name amongst the Teochew communities in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Hong Kong from the 1940s to the early 1980s. Several times a week adults and even children glued themselves to their radio sets at homes and in workplaces to listen to the broadcast of his speeches. But the man whose real name was Ng Yong Khern (黄庸根) was neither a political figure nor a wealthy community leader. He was a storyteller.. (more)
A MAN had a wife who berated him because he did not earn enough to support her and her boy. She told him that, if he could not get work near home, he might better go far away and stay there until he could provide for his family. So he went abroad, seeking employment, but he found nothing to do, and was so homesick that he soon returned to his native village. Fearing the taunts of his wife when she should know that he had no money, he lingered outside his house, and there he overheard a conversation between her and her son,... (more)
Though the Teochew region is less famous as a tea producer, its inhabitants hold the reputation of consuming more tea per capita than anywhere else in China. According to a local news report in 2006, residents in Swatow alone spent 720 million yuan (approximately US$110 million) on tea every year, while a typical household used up more than one kilogram of tea leaves every month. The Teochew perception of tea as a daily staple is reflected in its language, wherein tea leaves are called te-bi (茶米) and tea is not said to be drank, but eaten ziah-te (食茶). Thus the reported amount of tea consumed did not surprise many, though how this feat was achieved by the use of the tinniest of tea-cups does amaze!
For some of us, childhood came with the blessing of having grandma singing us to sleep with one or two soothing tunes in Teochew. But even if you were not so fortunate, you'd probably still have come across on social media an all-time favourite Teochew lullaby "Ong ah ong, ong kin kong" (唪啊唪 唪金公).
You have not? Don't worry, there are several versions circulating on YouTube to make sure you don't miss out..
The demise of old art forms following the appearance of new technology is now an all familiar story. However when a Hong Kong company made a novel experiment to produce the classical Teochew opera play “Fire at the Riverside Pavilion”《火燒臨江樓》in cinematic form in 1958, the magic of the silver screen instantly ignited the imagination of audiences in Swatow, Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok.
“Yeo Bhue Eng"《杨梅英》is a film about the life of a former Teochew opera adolescent actress who performed by the same name (real name Ang Hui Eng 洪惠英). Sold to an opera troupe at the age of 7, she became famous by 15 and was married to a man she loved five years later. However when she was 37, her husband became a victim of the Cultural Revolution and she was left to bring up their five children alone.
Teochew opera is said to have over 1200 traditional plays that fall into two broad categories - those adapted from the 12th century nanxi 南戲 from Southeast China as well as chuanqi 傳奇, and others derived popular local lores including romance tales and ghost stories... The most dramatic episodes however were the ones played out behind the scenes that were summed up by this Qing Qianlong era (1736 to 1796) saying:
For the Teochews, the Chinese New Year is the grandest and most important festive period. All across the Teochew region, people mark the occasion with activities strongly rooted in local tradition. Through the camera lens of avid photographer Ling Shyue Miin, we bring you a series of extraordinary images capturing how villages in Teochew welcome the Year of the Monkey.
Not a exactly new New Year Song, but trendy and uplifting for all Gaginang. 祝福大家新年快樂，萬事如意
The New Year is the time to make resolutions. For many of us as overseas Teochews, picking up or improving our spoken Teochew is surely on top of our list.
The Teochew Store has identified three must-have mobile apps that can help us achieve this goal, and this week we review the 潮語作田人 (TeoAPP) produced by the Teochew Culture Club (潮汕文化協進會) in Hong Kong.
Share with the community, take part in our Poll of the Month.
Learn about Tshuk-hue-hng (出花園), the unique coming of age ritual for the Teochew people.
Share with the community, take part in our Poll of the Month.
Taiwanese travel programme featuring rare footages of early 1990s Teochew 潮州. In Mandarin, with some interviews in Teochew and English subtitles.
Poll of the Month: The dragon boat festival is round the corner. This is a big event in Teochew. Do you celebrate it, where you are?
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Good Morning Swatow!.. more great music out of Swatow
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Poll of the Month: It is a Teochew tradition to make offerings at the graves of deceased ancestors on Qingming (清明) or Winter Solstice (冬至). Do you still adhere to this practice?
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The Teochew culture is not only about the past and old people. The language is vibrant and alive, and so are the dreams of our youths. Here's an example:
In this age of open information, Wikipedia is often the site where people visit to seek knowledge on a new subject or topic of interest. When conducting an online search on the keyword “Teochew”, Wikipedia’s pages on “Teochew people”, “Teochew dialect” and “Chaozhou” appear on top of Google’s results. Although largely informative, the Wikipedia page on “Teochew people” contains a curious introduction to our background, stating:
“Historically, these people were called Helao or Fulao, as they came mostly from Henan and Shanxi via Fujian, with well-maintained language and customs from north-central China.”
For certain readers can testify that Helao/Fulao does not exist in our daily vocabulary. Whether in China or Southeast Asia, Teochew people uniformly identify ourselves as “Teochew”, or more recently in mainland China “Teo-swa”.
Through further research on Wikipedia, one discovers “Fulao” is actually the Mandarin rendition of the Hokkien expression Hoklo 福佬/老 – meaning literally “Fujian men”. “Helao” 河老 on the other hand is linked to “Heluo” 河洛 (pronounced “Ho-lok” in Hokkien and Teochew), an inaccurate transliteration of Hoklo that has surfaced in literate stressing the purported origin of the Hokkien (and Teochew) people from Henan, in particular the Luo River basin. (Incidentally, the river itself is called Luohe 洛河, and not Heluo).
“Hoklo” is today widely used in Taiwan as a category for the section of its Chinese population whose forefathers migrated from Fujian’s coastal areas between the Qing dynasty and the Kuomintang’s retreat to the island in 1949. It is opposed to the Hakkas whose roots are traced to adjacent inland mountains or Chinese immigrants from other provinces. In a very similar way, the tags “Hoklo” and “Hakka” were adopted by late 19th and early 20th century Western Christian missionaries working in the Teochew region to different its inhabitants in the lowland plains from migrant settlers in the highland borders, whose distinctions in language, self-identity and customs were readily recognised In this context “Hoklo” clearly referred to the Teochew people (for more see The Bible and the gun: Christianity in South China, 1860-1900 by Joseph Tse-Hei Lee).
However there is evidence that at an earlier time “Hoklo” did not apply to the Teochew people. In 1843 Baptist preacher I. J. Roberts visited Hong Kong island, shortly after it was ceded to British possession, and made a family visiting tour. In his journal he recorded an encounter in a village with a family, “who speak the Hoklo dialect; which is nearly the same as Tiéchiú, which the assistant speaks” (cited in The Baptist Missionary Magazine, Volume 23).
This passage highlights pertinently that a close resemblance in speech between Teochews and Hokkiens from southern Fujian, which third parties are often unable to tell apart. At the same time, it gives an important clue to the etymology of the “Hoklo” expression.
In common usage, the reference to a person or a collective group of people in the Teochew is “nang” 人, and the Hokkien variation is “lang”. In both sets of vernaculars “lo” 佬 is rarely spoken. In contrast the Cantonese habitually use this word in their conversations, such as “dai-lo” 大佬 (“big brother”) or “gwai-lo” 鬼佬 (“devil-people”, meaning Westerners). As such, it is all likely that Hok-lo was in fact a nomenclature coined by Cantonese-speakers to refer to Hokkien migrants into their territory. As Hong Kong was the primary transit point for Christian preachers entering China in the past, the likelihood those who worked in the Teochew region picked up the “Hoklo” expression from their interactions with the locals or fellow missionaries who spoke Cantonese, and later wrongly applied it to the Teochews.
Besides being consistent with the fact that Teochews never call ourselves Hoklo, this is supported by the observation and writing of James Dyer Ball, an Englishman whose credentials included being chief interpreter in the Hong Kong civil service. In Things Chinese published at the turn of the 20th century, he explained:
"Teo Chews is the term applied generally to them (i.e. the Teochew people) in Singapore, Penang, and the Malay States, while “Hok-lo” is the name by which they are generally known by the Cantonese speakers in China. The former name being derived from the departmental city of Ch'ao Chao Fu (in local dialect—Tiu Chiu Fu or Teo Chew Fu) to which the different districts, from which many of the Hok-lo, came, belong; while Hok-lo means “men from the Hok province i.e. Fukien province”.
Between the Teochews and the Hokkiens, many similarities in language and manners are shared. This is unsurprising since they occupy an adjoined territory in Southeast China. However there was definitely no confusion to the distinction of their collective identities in the 19th century, as attested by major violent clashes between migrants from the two groups in Shanghai in 1850 and in Singapore in 1854 – the latter lasted for more than ten days and resulted in the destruction of 300 houses and 500 deaths. The divide in identity may be traced during the Song dynasty (960-1279) when Teochew prefecture was joined with the Cantonese heartlands to form Guangdong province, whereas Hokkien-speaking Zhangzhou and Quanzhou prefectures were made part of Fujian. If the line of separation is so clear and ancient, how could a view persist amongst the Cantonese that the Teochews were “Fujian men”.
The answer appears to lie in the districts of Haifeng and Lufeng, where a Hokkien-speaking coastal enclave exists right between the realms of the Teochews and the Cantonese. Now administered under Shanwei (or Swabue) city, this area was governed shortly under Swatow from the 1950s to 1980s. However the non-Hakka/Cantonese section of its population vigorously rejects any suggestion that they are Teochew and instead insist in emphasising their descent from migrants out of Zhangzhou about 300 years ago. Their location and background strongly suggest that they are the original Hoklo, the “Fujian men”.
The most famous son of the Hoklos in Guangdong is arguably Chen Jiongming, one-time governor of Guangdong in Sun Yat Sen’s government. An anecdote told that Chen was once asked to play judge and suss out the guilty party of a crime between two suspects, a Teochew and a fellow Hoklo. However Chen was more interested in rescuing his own than the execution of justice. The near identical speech and accent of the two presented him the challenge of telling who was Teochew or Hoklo, since he could not openly display his bias.
Cunningly Chen ordered both men to be beaten and in an instance his answer was derived. Because the patrilineal character of the Teochew society, the man who was Teochew yelled in his moment of anguish “ua-pe-lu” 我父噜 (Oh my father)! At the same time, the Hoklo being brought up under stronger matrilineal influence, shouted out “ua-bhou-ui” 我母喂 (oh my mother)! Things happening exactly as he expected, Chen ordered the beating for the poor Teochew to be continued, while the Hoklo was released on the sly from the backdoor.
Whether this is a true story is unknown, but it tells an important point: Teochews are Teochews, and “Hoklo” means precisely what it states: “Fujian men”.
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