The Teochew Store Blog / online community
Meet Mr Tan Peng Boon, a 78-year-old grandfather in Singapore. He is a Teochew and nine years ago he created a website with the goal of enabling English-speakers to pick up the Teochew language. Remarkably, the retiree took upon himself to learn how to build a website in order to realise this.
The Teochew Store recently spoke with Mr Tan to find out the story behind his passion to keep alive his Teochew heritage and his “Teochew for English Speakers” website.
“Teochew for English Speakers” can be accessed from http://gateways.sg/~TeochewEnglish/index.asp.
Video of Mr. Tan's grandsons doing a lively recitation of Teochew nursery rhyme “A Pear Tree on the Hilltop”):
As the result of torrential rains on 29 and 30 August, extensive areas in the Teochew region were afflicted by floods. In some worst hit parts in Teoyor (潮陽 ) and Pholeng (普寧) districts, water-levels reached up to 2 metres and entire towns and villages were covered under water. Watch the Gaginang spirit in action as communities across Teochew mobilised themselves wasted no time to step forward selflessly evacuate and provide relief to tens of thousands of families trapped by the deluge. Teochew nang, Gaginang!
Two months ago, The Teochew Store made our popular "Conversational Teochew In A Month" (潮州話一月通) text-cum-audio self-learning course available to all to download for FREE. To help learners revise and have a structured means for further practice, a friend and supporter of our website, as well as keen advocate for the revival of southern Chinese languages, S.L., has created and generously volunteered to share two decks of Anki flashcards that cover the vocabulary terms and phrases/sentences in "Conversational Teochew In A Month". These flashcards may be used on computers as well as Android/iOs mobile devices.
In a month's time The Teochew Store will turn three. We remain a humble set-up, but at the same time just as committed as in the beginning to our mission in Restoring Community to Our People, Bridging Teochew Culture to the World.
In line with our conviction that every Teochew should be given fullest opportunity and encouragement to be connected with the language, values and culture of our forefathers, we have decided to make available for FREE our store's hottest selling product "Conversational Teochew In A Month", as well as its Chinese versions "潮州话一月通 (简体字版)" and "潮州話一月通 (繁體字版)".
Since The Teochew Store was formed, we have received numerous requests for help from fellow Gaginangs to locate their ancestral village. Depending on the leads provided, we were able to assist many, but for others it is more difficult because some places have been renamed or now fall behind a different boundary line, other communities are unlisted on maps or the internet, or even when a place is found, there remains uncertainty if its residents have the same surname.
Fortunately the Shantou University (STU) Library has built a khieu-phue database (僑批數據庫) allowing keyword search for meta-data of some 70,000 pieces of khieu-phue (or "migrants letters", which were correspondences sent together with money remittances by Teochews living in Southeast Asia to their homes in Teochew), receipts and return letters. The site URL is http://app.lib.stu.edu.cn/qiaopi/index.aspx.
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.
This is a story written specially in traditional Teochew text and read in Teochew by Ben Choi from Hong Kong.
An article by Elizabeth Koh, a gaginang from Singapore:
From as far back as I can recall, before I could speak or understand the dialect, my childhood was one filled with the sounds and syntax of Teochew. My lullaby was a pentatonic Teochew tune sang by my maternal grandmother...
The Teochew Store潮舖一岁啦！
为了庆祝我们的第一周年与答谢各位读者的支持，我们希望邀请您和大家分享您对主题 “My Teochew Family 潮州一家人”的故事.
The Teochew Store is turning ONE!
To celebrate this occasion and to thank all our readers, we would like to open the floor for you to share with all fellow Teochews your story on the theme “My Teochew Family 潮州一家人”.
Your story can be about your own family and relatives, any Teochew person(s) who has influenced your life, or a Teochew community that has helped you understand the meaning of “family”. Entries can be submitted in one of the following two ways...
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”.
Poll of the Month: Should all Teochews be called "Teoswa-nang" 潮汕人 as currently in mainland China, instead of "Teochew-nang" 潮州人?
But what if we are asked to give the definition of a “Teochew”? It is not every day that we get asked something this difficult, but a kid, your kid, might just be curious enough to do so. Or who is a “pure” Teochew? Don’t sniggle. I have come across several comments on Facebook by “pure-blood” Teochews finding out, with considerable pride, how many are like themselves? Recently I came across another Facebook post by a person who half-jokingly announced himself as a “more real” Teochew than others because he was born in Teochew city itself and not overseas.
In a way, these boasts are not invalid. Although Teochew people have been trading with Southeast Asia since at least the Song dynasty (from the 10th century), and tens of thousands became labourers in different parts of the region after the late 17th century, these emigrants were almost exclusively male, and those who could afford, always returned to their home village to retire. On a survey of Swatow in 1858, Lord Elgin reported of a habit amongst the “Chinamen” seeking work in Singapore (presumably referring to Teochew men) who sometimes brought home with them their Malay wives, leaving them in place of ancestry, and returning to Singapore without them. Accordingly children at that time who were not of “pure-blood” were rare, and even many of them were brought up in Teochew.
Of course things have changed greatly since about a century ago when the advent of steam shipping, civil wars and Japanese invasion led to the migration of Teochew women in significant numbers and many Teochew people setting up families abroad permanently. Due to economic and political factors, the majority of their overseas-born children and grandchildren have never gone back to Teochew and with time, grew up and embraced ways of life different from their forefathers. It was once taboo for a Teochew should marry a non-Teochew, not even another Chinese, inter-racial marriages is now a largely acceptable norm amongst members of the diaspora. Therein lies the question – do you still count as a Teochew even if you are of partial Teochew descent?
By Teochew tradition this is determined solely by your paternal lineage. But of course reality is always more complicated. Some time ago, I came across again on Facebook the spirited defence of a Teochew lady of her “non pure blood” daughters’ heritage. She revealed that she is married to a black man, but while her girls do not look like her, they speak the Teochew language even better than some of their cousins. Rather succinctly, she pointed out that she has always been proud of being Teochew because “our culture has gone through so many dark time (sic) in history, and our strength is based on an open spirit that has allowed us to adapt ourselves wherever we are, and to absorb the qualities of any country we live in.”
It is interesting that this proud mother should stress her daughters’ fluency in our language. I know a girl in Swatow who speaks Teochew daily at home, but told me that her grandfather was actually a Hakka – a language that she has no knowledge of. She sees herself as a Swatow native, and in manners and customs, she is no different from her neighbours or friends. Do such assimilated members of the society count as Teochews as well?
Eminent French sociologist Emile Durkheim noted that kinship through common ancestry (either real or perceived) and marriage does not ensure the cohesion of a community in the long-run. Instead individuals see themselves as one people when they share values, beliefs, customs and a way of life lifestyle fostered. Unlike the modern consumer “culture” that extends its influence through the media and the internet, a traditional culture like the Teochew one thrives on the intimate interaction and primarily oral communication between its members, which creates a collective consciousness. It is this consciousness that is both unique and exclusive, which gives us our enduring identity.
Accordingly, fluency in the Teochew language not only allows us to bond with the elder members of our family, but also serves as a key to unlock knowledge to the treasures of our heritage. Of course, this is not to say that the Teochew identity is exclusive to those who speak the language well, or language competency is the sole measure to the level of our “Teochewness”. Many aspects of our fine culture can be expressed in another language (as we do so on this site) or even in non-verbal forms – such as cooking. But it is also true that we lose a great proportion of ourselves as a community if we forsake our mother tongue. With a diminished proficiency and vocabulary, our ability to pass on what we know to the next generation is compromised.
Being Teochew is a birthright, an exclusive privilege. At the same time, being Teochew is knowing and embracing an appreciation of life shaped by wisdom and experiences accumulated and passed on from generation to generation. The heritage we have cannot be taken for granted. Whether “pure blood” or otherwise, we hold a torch in our hands that we need to pass on to our children to keep the flame burning.
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Almost every tourist in Teochew would have visited the ancient prefectural city of the same name. The reconstructed Ming-era Guangzi city gate 廣濟門, Siangze bridge 湘子橋 and the Memorial Arches Street 牌坊街 bring us back to times when the place ranked alongside Guangzhou and Quanzhou as the grand centres of economy and culture on the southern Chinese coastal.
Yet within the Teochew region, the influence of Teochew city did not extend beyond the banks of the Hang-kang 韓江 river by where it stands. The variety of Teochew spoken here, although seen as gentle and refined, and acknowledged as the “high” form of the language (till today it is insisted upon as the performing language for Teochew opera), is never deemed as a standard for all to conform. Instead people in Teochew accept that “whatever language you speak depends on which river water you drink” and the result is a rich spectrum of local accents and vocabularies that change quite literally along the flow of the different rivers. Teochew city has a history of over 1500 years. So why hasn’t the people it governed achieved a homogeneity in speech?
Well, there is firstly no need to and secondly no desire to. By far and large, Teochews are village people. Through close inspection, you will come to find that many parts of Swatow outside the old city district are actually urbanised village clusters populated by their original inhabitants. Many of us who are city dwellers will view dimly of this characterisation. In our minds after all a village is a small, undeveloped and backward place, as opposed to the vibrant modern metropolis that is ever-expanding. But this is a biased view that fails to recognise the true character of a village.
A village is not a primitive, downsized town or city. A city is a centre created for the extension of political and economic control of surrounding areas. It is built by its native rulers and migrants (both willing and unwilling ones), and its wealth is generated by trade or military coercion of neighbours. An imposed system of rewards and punishments govern all activities in the city. A village, on the other hand, is an organic settlement. Its population usually consists of members of a clan or a handful of clans, and increases through births and marriages. Beyond blood and marital ties, the people are united by common economic exploitation of locally available resources, and a heritage defined by collective consciousness. While the pride of a city is its power and wealth, the strength of a village is the resilience of its people’s identity.
Because a village is a small community, the children attend the same school, the women shop at the same marketplace, and the men drinks and chat at the same open spaces. The lives of its members are enriched by close interaction and daily communication. Although this type of lifestyle now eludes those of us who live in cities, social media has allowed the re-creation of the aspect of regular socialisation. Virtually on cue, thousands of Teochews across the world have transcended geographical divide to come together in a growing number of Facebook groups and pages to share memories, information, travel photographs and not a few recipes for our favourite Teochew dishes. Just a few years ago people were saying that Teochew is a dying culture, but you will be surprised (as I am) by the level of Teochew-related activities online.
Many of these online communities are without rulers and builders, but they thrive nonetheless on the basis of our shared identity and dreams just the old villages continue to do so in the land of our forefathers. If you are looking for a “village” to join, here are a few Facebook groups and pages that you may wish to look out for:
潮人潮语 Closed group: 9,671
柔佛潮州八邑會館 3,994 likes
我是潮汕人 I Am DieSuaNang Public group: 3992 members
im teochew!! Public group: 3885 members
Singapore TeoChew Nang 新加坡潮州人 Closed group: 3278 members
Gaginang Public group: 2215 members
潮州人 ~ TEOCHEW NANG (แต้จิ๋ว Triều Châu) Secret group: 1197 members
潮人在越 ( Người Triều Châu ở VN ) 1,038 likes
民都鲁潮州公会 876 likes
Singapore Teochew 新潮人 Sin Teo Zin Public group: 822 members
新加坡潮州八邑会馆 Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan 706 Likes
International Teochew - We are Gaginang! Public group: 539 members
潮語大家講！Cùng nhau nói tiếng Tiều! Public group: 525 members
Người Triều Châu - Teochew - 潮州人 Public group: 478 members
潮州人2 ~~ TEOCHEW NANG 2 Secret group: 465 members
柬埔寨潮洲人 423 Likes
潮州自己人 Public group: 349 members
Gaginang UNSW - Teo Chew Student Association (TCSA) Public group: 315 members
潮州人 Public group: 311 members
Teochew Public group: 294 members
Teochew Sibu (诗巫潮州公会) 256 Likes
Teo-Chew Association (TCA) at UCLA 2014-2015 Closed group: 228 members
新加坡潮汕留学生联合会 (Xinchaoliu) 225 likes
吉兰丹 潮青团 197 likes
Teochew Australia - We are Gaginang! Closed group: 194 members
Sydney University Teochew Association (TCA) - 雪梨大學潮州會 Public group: 181 members
Teochew Indonesia - We are Gaginang! Public group: 174 members
Teochew Segamat Closed group: 159 members
Teo-Chew Association (TCA) @ UCI Closed group: 151 members
潮男潮女 128 likes
Teo-Chew Association @ UCSD Public group: 110 members
柔佛哥打丁宜潮州会馆 Public group: 107 members
Teo-Chew Association (TCA) at UW Public group: 106 members
Teo-Chew Association (TCA) at UCLA Public group: 97 members
Teochew New Zealand - We are Gaginang! Cosed group: 79 members
Chaozhou 邦 Cosed group: 73 members
Teochew Kang Hay T'ng 70 Likes
Teo-Chew Association of Southern California | 美國南加州潮州會館 Public group: 64 members
Gaginangs in Germany Public group: 41 members
Special Interest Groups & Pages
潮藝館 （Teochew Puppet & Opera） 1,779 likes
Teochew Letters 1041 Likes
金玉楼春潮州木偶剧团 1,009 likes
香港潮商卫视 CSTV 894 Likes
Teochew Language 750 Likes
What Teochew Say? 547 Likes
新新荣和潮剧 Teochew Opera 337 Likes
潮剧珍藏 251 likes
Teochew Opera Fan Club 243 Likes
返乡里去潮州 Go Chaozhou 193 Likes
新加坡揭阳会馆潮乐团 Public group: 187 members
The above listing is not exhaustive and excludes several smaller groups (of less than 50 members) and pages for restaurant and eating places. Last but not least, do “like" and follow our Teochew Store Facebook page if you love our work!