The Teochew Store Blog / geography
Three words that strike fear in every Teochew child: pah ka-ceng 拍尻倉!
Did you know that this was once also a punishment meted out to adults in China? A Jesuit Father, Adriano de las Cortes, learned this shuddering fact, and more, when a shipwreck made him an accidental visitor to the Teochew region 400 years ago.
A thousand years ago our ancestors in Teochew lived together with giants. Giants that weighed four tons, neared three metres in height, had two floppy ears, a trunk and a mammoth appetite.
An entry in the History of Song (宋史), dated 1171, reported that farmers in the Teochew prefecture had to set up pit traps in their fields after hundreds of wild elephants ate their crops. The cause of the conflict was quite imaginably the expansion of human settlements and agricultural activities into the animals’ habitats and stomping grounds. However, the elephants did not withdraw into the forests as a result. Instead, they organised themselves into herds and waited on the roads to ambush any passing cart or horse, which they encircled until the humans collected grain to feed them. To live with nature rather than conquer it was a wisdom our forefathers understood well.
Wild Teochew 《野性潮州》 is the first video produced on the wildlife in the Teochew region. It is a collection of footage produced by a group of local nature lovers over the course of 3 years.
This amazing documentary was nominated for the Best Production award (最佳作品) in the 3rd China Wildlife Image and Video Competition in 2022 (2022第三届野生生物影像年赛) hosted by Chinese National Geography and organized by DDFW and Chinese National Geography Book Company.
Wild Teochew can now be watched in Teochew-language commentary provided by its director Deng Cueng 丁铨 (author of Historical Photos of Teochew 旧影潮州), accompanied by Chinese and English language subtitles.
History has a funny old way of repeating itself.
Chen Yaozuo (陳堯佐) was a prime minister and grand tutor of the crown prince of the Song dynasty (960–1279) in the 11th century. Coming from a family of officials, he was a rising star at the start of his career, until he bravely, or some might say foolishly, answered a call of Emperor Zhenzong for open criticisms by submitting a memorial that spelt out the ills of the times, including matters that no one else dared to speak about. As a result, Chen Yaozuo was banished and demoted to become an assistant prefect in the Teochew prefecture. This happened in 998, almost 180 years after Han Yu of the Tang dynasty suffered a similar fate.
Teochew through the eyes of its visitors: Han Yu, the genius who discovered one of life's greatest joys
Have you ever wondered how did our forefathers live 100 years ago, 200 years ago, or even 1,000 years ago?
Our ancestors were a lot of things. Merchants, traders, seafarers, fishermen, agriculturalists, tea connoisseurs, culinary experts, artisans, builders, artists, musicians, poets, etc. But somehow there was not a historian among them. They spent their lives and energies in pursuit of happiness in many ways that today endow us with a rich cultural heritage and identity. Yet, it did not occur to them to document themselves or the world they lived in.
Fortunately, the Teochew region had over the centuries its fair share of visitors, of whom a few were both keen observers and skilled writers.
We begin a new series of articles telling the history and people of Teochew through the eyes of these men and women, with Han Yu (韓愈), a literary genius from the Tang dynasty, who came to Teochew more than 1000 years ago and not only escaped death here, but also discovered here one of the life's greatest joys.
“When the tidal wave came, the most vulnerable died tragically: some parents who carried several children were forced to let go the daughters to save themselves from drowning. Some mothers carried the babies with them and floated in the water, but the husbands took away the babies in order to save their wives. Some elderly parents could not swim and their sons did not abandon them, and they were all drowned. Some parents could not hold too many children together and they griped the children’s hair and little arms, but when they reached the high grounds, the younger ones had already died. Some elderly parents did not want to burden their adult children and they drowned themselves in order to save the family line. There were couples tied themselves together with strings but they were drowned. After the disaster, some people could not bear the deaths of their loved ones and they committed suicide.”
The Teochew people are not the only ones who live in the Teochew region. Watch Wild Teochew 《野性潮州》, an extraordinary documentary on wildlife in Teochew's mountains, rivers, city, villages and sea that is directed by Deng Cueng 丁铨 (author of Historical Photos of Teochew 旧影潮州) and collects footages produced by a group of local nature lovers over the course of 3 years.
The fourth and last instalment of our "Origins of the Teochew People - Archaeological Evidences" explores the question of where did the prehistoric people in Teochew came from? And we turn to geography to help us find an answer.
Origins of the Teochew People - Archaeological Evidences (Part 3): The Early Teochew Culture Trilogy
Origins of the Teochew People - Archaeological Evidences (Part 2): Our Ancient Ties with the Hokkiens
“All these turned on its head, the theory that the Teochew region was an isolated and sparsely populated backwater before supposed mass migrations from the Central Plain towards the end of the Song dynasty (960–1279).
At the same time, it should not be lost that the geographical limits of the Fubin Culture from some 3,000 years ago conforms neatly with the territory of native speakers of Teochew and Hokkien – two closely-related vernaculars, if not two branches of a same.”
Origins of the Teochew People - Archaeological Evidences (Part 1): Traces of Teochew's Oldest Inhabitants
Where do the Teochew people come from? The Teochew region in southern China is the obvious answer.
Yet if one is to run a search on the Internet, he or she would find a string of references stating that our ancestors came hundreds of years ago from the Central Plains in the Yellow River reaches, thousands of miles away.
Click "Read more" to begin our journey of discovery
Hui Lai (variant: Huilai, Hweilai, Hwelie) (惠來, in Mandarin: Huilai) was one of historical Teochew prefecture's eight counties. It was formed as a county in 1524 after being partitioned from Teo Yor (潮陽). Hui Lai is now administered as a county under Gek Yor (揭陽) prefectural city.
Jao Peng (variant: Jaopeng, Jaopheng, Joepen) (饒平, in Mandarin: Raoping) is the easternmost of the Teochew region's eight historical counties. Partitioned from Hai Yor county in 1476, Jao Peng was an important pottery manufacturing base in the Ming dynasty and had a prosperous port at Tsia Lim (柘林). It is now a district under Chaozhou (潮州) prefectural city.
Hong Sung (variant: Hongsun) (豐順, in Mandarin: Fengshun), was one of historical Teochew prefecture's eight counties. It was formed during the Qing dynasty in 1738 and is connected to the Teochew prefectural city by an upper branch of the Hang-kang (韓江) river. Hong Sung remained part of the Teochew region, until it was carved out and placed under Meizhou in 1965. Today close to one-fifth of the population in Hong Sung continue to speak Teochew.
Pho Leng (variant: Poleng, Poeleng) (普寧, in Mandarin: Puning), was one of historical Teochew prefecture's eight counties. Although Pho Leng is now administered as a county under Gek Yor prefectural-level city, it was originally carved out from Teo Yor county and large parts of its area fall within the Liēng-kang (練江) river basin.
Theng Hai (variant: Tenghai) (澄海, in Mandarin: Chenghai), was one of historical Teochew prefecture's eight counties. Occupying the Hang-kang (韓江) river delta, it was formed from areas carved out of Hai Yor (now Teo Ann) and Gek Yor in 1563. Theng Hai is today administered as a district of the Swatow (汕頭, Shantou) prefectural-level city.
After its conquest by the Han dynasty in 111 BCE, the Teochew region was incorporated into the map of imperial China for the first time as a county named Gek Yor (variant: Kityang, Kityall) (揭陽, in Mandarin: Jieyang). The origin of today's Gek Yor area is traceable to a county of the same name created in 1140, which along with Hai Yor (now Teo Ann) and Teo Yor formed the “Three Yor" (三陽) of the Song dynasty that is the core of the Teochew homeland.
Teo Yor (variant: Teoyeo, Tioyio, Teoyall) (潮陽, in Mandarin: Chaoyang), was one of historical Teochew prefecture's eight counties and its most populous. Originally formed in 413 as part of the Ngee Ann Commandery (義安郡), it is now represented by the Teo Yor and Teo Nam (潮南, Chao'nan) districts in the Swatow (汕頭, Shantou) prefectural-level city.
List of Towns and Villages in Teochew in 1946. Source: 《马来亚潮侨通鉴》， 新加坡 : 南岛出版社, 1950.
Many of us amongst the overseas Teochews are the children and grandchildren of men and women who left the Teochew region between the 1920s and the 1950s. Ever wondered what the land of our fathers was like back then, or where your ancestral village is/was located? Here are some maps to help:
To download maps in JPEG files, please click here
Source: 《马来亚潮侨通鉴》， 新加坡 : 南岛出版社, 1950.
Teo-an 潮安 (Chao'an)
Thenghai 澄海 (Chenghai)
Jaopeng 饒平 (Raoping)
Gek-yor 揭陽 (Jieyang)
Teo-yor 潮陽 (Chaoyang)
Pholeng 普寧 (Puning)
Huilai 惠来 (Huilai)
Hongsun 豐順 (Fengshun)
Namoa 南澳 (Nan'ao)
Tuapou 大埔 (Dapu) - historically part of Teochew territory till 1733.
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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The name “Teochew” is written in many ways. The variant we at The Teochew Store have chosen is the postal map spelling used in China during the republican era, as well as the standard form adopted in Singapore and Malaysia. However, literature out of Thailand generally stick to the spelling “Teochiu”, and those from Indonesia “Tiochiu”. Other variations that can be found on the Internet include “Diojiu”, “Taejiu” and “Tiuchiu”. These are all transliteration of the Chinese characters 潮州, which based on the Teochew “high language” spoken in the district’s prefectural city is pronounced diê-tsiu. At the same time “Teochew” is not infrequently represented in other language forms such as “Chiuchow” in Hong Kong Cantonese, “Trieuchau” in Vietnamese and of course “Chaozhou” in Mandarin (written in the past as “Chao-chow”).
Adding to the confusion, overseas Teochews who returned to their homeland after China re-opened its doors in the 1980s found that the region had adopted a new name – “Teo-swa” 潮汕. This name – derived by putting together “Teochew” and “Swatow” – was adopted after the historical Teochew prefecture was made defunct and replaced under Communist rule by an administrative unit centred on Swatow. As a result of the labours of the present government in China to promote Putonghua (Mandarin) and Hanyu Pinyin romanisation, recent English language pieces by writers in the mainland who are unfamiliar with old name Teochew, have designated the place by the appellation “Chaoshan” and its people the rather awful sounding “Chaoshanese”.
These are of course aberrations to Teochews who cherish their identity, and who know and appreciate its long of history. The name Teochew 潮州, literally the “Tidal Prefecture”, was adopted in 592 CE by the Sui dynasty on inspiration of the eternal flow and ebb of the South China Sea. That being said, the Teochew region actually first appeared on Imperial China maps as Kikyor 揭陽 (in Mandarin: Jieyang) county after the Han dynasty annexed the southern coast of China in 110 BCE. It was subsequently re-organised into a separate administrative area in 413 CE with the name Ngee Ann Commandery 義安郡, or the “Righteous Peace" Commandery.
The earliest Western literature in which Teochew was mentioned is possibly Juan González de Mendoza's The History of the Great and Mighty Kingdom of China and the Situation Thereof, which was first published in Spanish in 1586 as Historia de las cosas más notables, ritos y costumbres del gran reyno de la China and translated in English in 1588 by Robert Parke. Possibly the first full-length book on China published in Europe since the days of Marco Polo (who apparently visited Guangzhou in Guangdong and Quanzhou in Fujian but not Teochew), the collection of tales by Spanish travellers in the Far East spoke of Teochew as the home of the infamous pirate Limahong and gave its name as “Trucheo”.
It is probable that Juan González de Mendoza had learned about “Trucheo” from Teochew or Hokkien-speaking oral sources trading in Manila. However, Western navigation maps of China that appeared at around the same time marked the location of Teochew almost uniformly by various corruptions of its Mandarin name “Chaozhou”.
One of the earliest example is the map below (oriented with East direction on top) produced in 1598 by Jan Huygen van Linschoten, a Dutch acquainted with the Portuguese trade in the Orient. Here the Portuguese label “Chabaqueo” can be seen beside “I. de Lamao” (i.e. Namoa, or Nan’ao, island) and below right of “Chincheo” (Zhangzhou).
Any Teochew of age twoscore and above will remember a time when our fathers or grandfathers called themselves Dengnang 唐人 (“Tang people”), and spoke fondly of coming from Dengsua唐山 (the “Tang Mountains”), as China was known before the current term Tiongkok 中國became standard. This use of these references to the Tang dynasty (618–907 AD) is not limited to the Teochew people and is shared by overseas Chinese of origin from the provinces of Guangdong and Fujian (including the Cantonese, Hokkien, Hainanese and Hakka). The Chinese language is uniformly identified as Dengnang-ue 唐人話 (“Tang people language”), its written charactersDengnang-ji 唐人字 (“Tang people words”), and the Chinatowns in the West are “Tang people street” (唐人街). This phenomenon is undoubtedly linked to the glory of the Tang civilization, as even the Japanese till the 17th century saw China as “Tang territory” (唐土) and its inhabitants also as Tang people.
The old Teochews had a particularly penchant to speak of “land” as “mountain” (or “hill”, as the Teochew term sua does not differentiate the two). When a group of Teochews crossed over from Singapore to open new gambier and pepper plantations on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula in the 1840s, the new town they helped to found, Johor Bahru, was termed as Singsua 新山, the “New Mountain”, though the surrounding terrain is flat. This is dumbfounding as Teochews are seafarers by traditional, and a survey of the geography of the Teochew homeland and the rest of the southern Chinese coast quickly reveals that the concentration of human activity on river estuaries and along the shore. Even though more than two-thirds of Guangdong and Fujian are occupied by the Nanling and Wuyi mountain ranges respectively, these interior highlands are sparsely populated. They are overwhelmingly tall – the highest point in Teochew is the 1497-metres Honghuang-sua 鳳凰山 (Phoenix Mountain) summit, but have barren soil. So why did our forefathers associate in their vocabulary “land” with “mountains”, and where exactly is Dengsua?
A Google map check reveals a city in China called Tangshan (唐山), but its location in the Northeast is closer to Mongolia and North Korea than the South China Sea. The unlikelihood that it was the Dengsua our ancestors had in mind is certain from its past as a nondescript village until it was given its name by a Tang era emperor mourning the death of a beloved concubine in a nearby mountain. Moreover, it seems that the term Dengsua is familiar with Chinese from Guangdong and Fujian, and so the answer must lie closer to home.
Until the Meiling pass was cut through mountains in northern Guangdong in 716, China’s coastal region in the south was practically inaccessible from its political centre in the Central Plain except by sea. The Teochew area was extremely remote and could only be reached by land from Fujian’s Tingzhou and Hakka territory in Meizhou via the Hangkang’s 韓江 (Han River) upstream tributaries, or from other parts of Guangdong through a pass within the Noihue-sua 蓮花山 (Lotus Flower Mountain) range in Pholeng (Puning) county. These journeys lasting weeks were arduous and dangerous. As such, a posting to the Teochew prefecture was abhorred by Tang period imperial officials. The horror of such a fate was highlighted when Han Yu was given the death sentence for criticising a Tang emperor’s Buddhist beliefs, but banished instead to Teochew after his colleagues pleaded for his life.
The angst suffered by the elderly Confucian scholar was tersely expressed in a poem he wrote on his way to Teochew, in which he urged in the final line his nephew to be prepared to collect his bones “from the side of the miasmic river” (full poem shown below). Even worse than disgrace and isolation, Han Yu’s mind was weighed down by the infamous reputation of the prefecture’s chief waterway, which before being named after himself, was known as the “Crocodile River” (鳄江). The fear factor was linked not just to the frequency of attacks on humans by the reptilian beasts, but also deadly diseases like malaria that arose from swamp conditions of the environment.
Palynological studies (the scientific study of spores and pollen, both living and fossilized) reveal that the Hangkang river delta was completely submerged from circa 4000 to 2500 BCE when sea levels over 2.5 metres higher than present. The shoreline, about 30 kilometres further in from today’s limits, gradually retreated after 2000 BCE to leave behind lagoons, semi-enclosed estuaries and marshes. Supporting geomorphological data (geomorphology: the scientific study of the origin and evolution of topographic and bathymetric features created by physical or chemical processes at or near Earth's surface) show that 23.62% of the delta area was formed between 50 BCE and 550, and another 29.72% more recently between 950 and 1250.
(The Neolithic of Southeast China: Cultural Transformation and Regional by Jiao Tianlong andCharacteristics of the Han River Delta in Geomorphological Development by Zong Yongqiang are recommended readings by those interested in learning more on this topic.)
What these basically tell us is that most of the lowlands occupied by the cities, towns and villages in Teochew were until less than a thousand years ago covered under water and mud. This is confirmed by historical evidences that related to the Teochew prefectural city (Chaozhou), now a distance of 30 kilometres from the shore, as a thriving seaport from the time of its founding in circa 413 to the Sui dynasty (581 to 618). By plotting on a map (see below) showing the Hangkang delta in its various stages of advancement, the local spots of human settlements known to exist before or during the Song dynasty, two interesting trends can be noticed. Firstly almost all those locations dated before or during Tang are lined on the edge of pre-existing dry land; and secondly those that sprung up thereafter in Song sit close to the present course of Hangkang, and the other two major rivers Iongkang 榕江 and Liengkang 練江.
One of many noble acts attributed to Han Yu during his eight-month stint as governor was the eradication of the crocodile malice, supposedly through a ritual offering of a pig and a goat to the giant reptiles and an impassioned order for them to remove themselves to the sea in seven days. This is of course fantasy, but the crocodiles did completely disappear after the destruction of their habitats by extensive engineering works carried out initially to mitigate flood incursions and later to reclaim the wetlands for rice cultivation. The first dikes were apparently built on Liengkang and this facilitated the relocation of the seat of Teo-yor county to the appropriately-named Singheng 新興 (“New Prosperity”) town in 793. Against the background of an agricultural revolution in Song to increase food production, at least 18 major dike construction and repair projects supervised by prefectural officials were undertaken in Teochew from the 10th to 13th centuries (see: Study of Chaozhou Jincheng Rice by Huang, Gui)
These developments on the Han River delta were not unique. From the writings of various mid-imperial China sources, it is known that the other major river basins in Guangdong and Fujian were similarly plagued by the maladies of man-eating reptiles and epidemics arising from the natural environment during Tang, but they disappeared with extensive reclamation of swamps and coastal flats for agriculture in Song. As is Teochew, the two other pre-Tang port cities in the coastal south, Guangzhou and Fuzhou, are now situated fairly upriver, away from the sea.
Centuries ago when Teochew got its name the “Tidal Prefecture” (潮州), little space separated the tides of the South China Sea and the foot of the high grounds where our ancient forefathers had their dwellings. At an age when the Chinese civilisation and culture in Teochew were at their pinnacle, they learned to master the natural environment and gained great strength as a people. Though this prosperity was followed by many ebbs and flows of fortunes, one thing the passage of time did not take way: the home of our people is found in Tang mountains.
#1. The homeland of the Teochew people sits on the Southeast coast of China, near-equidistant between Hong Kong and Taiwan, although through large-scale emigration from the early 19th to mid-20th century close to half of all Teochews now live in more than 40 countries and territories overseas. If Teochew is a country, it would through its land area of about 10,000 sq km be the 169th largest in the world (after Lebanon), and through its population of approximately 25 million (inclusive of all Teochews worldwide) the 50th biggest (ahead of Australia).
#2. Historically Teochew existed as a prefecture in imperial China that was created in 413 CE. Originally called Ngee Ann ("Righteous Peace") Commandery 義安郡, it was first given the nameTeochew 潮州 (literally the "Tidal Prefecture") in 592 CE. Teochew prefecture became defunct after China became a republic. Its centre of administration was shifted in the latter half of the 20th century from the Teochew prefectural city (listed by its Mandarin name “Chaozhou” on maps) to its port of Swatow 汕頭 (Shantou), causing Teochew to now be referred in mainland China as "Teo-swa" (潮汕).
#3. The traditional Teochew society’s basic social unit is the extended family defined by paternal lineage, and not the nuclear family or individual. The head of a household is the grandfather, and accordingly, first cousins are considered siblings and addressed as brothers and sisters. Care and protection of members, as well as the perpetuation of lineage, are held firmly as its core purposes. In order to fulfil these, husband and wife in many families in Teochew adhere strictly even in the present era complementary gender roles, whereby the responsibility of the man is all external engagements, while the woman has complete charge of domestic affairs.
#4. Besides the family clan, the Teochew personal identity is rooted in one’s place of ancestry. This refers to the village, and also the county, where the family clan resides. Teochew prefecture had eight counties during the late Qing period. Accordingly, overseas Teochew organisations usually name themselves as the "association of eight counties" (poih ip 八邑), which are namely Hai-yor 海陽 (renamed Teo-an 潮安 in 1914), Gek-yor 揭陽, Teo-yor 潮陽, Jaopeng 饒平, Pholeng 普寧, Huilai 惠来, Thenghai 澄海 and Hongsun 豐順.
#5. The Teochew region has been inhabited by humans since about 8,000 years ago, a period that dates far longer than China’s supposed 5,000 years of history. This is shown by archaeological artefacts comprising stone tools and a pottery shard discovered on the offshore island of Namoa 南澳. A coherent collection of evidence belonging to a series of archaeological cultures dubbed the "Teochew Prehistoric Trilogy”, including the largest prehistoric kiln site ever found in China, reveals the occurrence of indigenous progression from the Neolithic Stone Age to Early Bronze Age between 4,000 and 3,000 years ago.
#6. All the cities, towns and large villages in Teochew are located by the coast, or along the region’s four major rivers, namely Hang-kang 韓江, Iong-kang 榕江, Liēng-kang 練江 and Ng-kang-ho 黃岡河, or their tributaries. This is because more than two-thirds of Teochew’s terrain are occupied by undulating mountains and hills and until the previous century water was the main mode of local transport. Communications between Teochew and other parts of China and foreign lands were also conducted primarily by sea.
#7. The Teochew saying “whatever language you speak depends on which river water you drink” aptly depicts the classification of spoken Teochew into several dialect clusters corresponding to the region’s different river catchment areas. However, the Teochew vernacular is in essence a single language that is closely related to the native speech of adjacent southern Fujian, known commonly as Hokkien or Taiwanese, or formally as Minnan. The Teochew-Hokkien family of vernaculars is exclusive and not mutually intelligible with other forms of spoken Chinese. It is also observed by linguists to possess ancient elements that pre-date the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). Apart from the vernacular form spoken in daily life, the Teochew language has a classical literary form traced to the 7th to 13th century Tang and Song dynasty era. This can be heard in Teochew opera performances. About half of all Chinese written characters can be read differently in Teochew in two or more ways (colloquial and literary). This phenomenon is called dual reading.
#8. The golden age of Teochew was in the Song dynasty when it was one of the wealthiest areas in China. An agricultural revolution drove a rapid population expansion, while the export of fine porcelain on the Maritime Silk Road transformed its prefectural city into a leading centre of commerce. Even in the early part of this prosperous period, Teochew was lavished with comparison as the home of Confucius and Mencius by the sea (海濱鄒魯), and many aspects of Teochew fine culture, including architecture, wood carving, porcelain craft, embroidery and music, were inspired.
#9. Nothing delights a group of Teochews more than sitting around a table to share a few dishes of Teochew cooking. Seafood and green vegetables are always served, while an emphasis on freshness and authentic taste of ingredients, the perfect balance of sweetness and saltiness, as well as colour and presentation provide the secrets to achieving the Teochew taste. The touch of the Teochew people to regale the gastronomic senses was already memorialised as early as the Tang dynasty in a poem composed by the eminent poet Han Yu, and till today Teochew food is widely recognised as one of the finest representations of Chinese culinary.
#10. Harmony in the relationship between nature and man sits at the heart of Teochew understanding of well-being. In all things, beauty is seen in simple exquisiteness, and not grandeur or opulence. In daily life, this is best exemplified in the Teochew custom of drinking kanghu tea 工夫茶. In a plain ceremony, the host prepares and serves the elixir of life in miniature teacups over several rounds, invigorating not only the body and mind of his guests but washing away also all differences in class and opinions.
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