Taiwanese society is an immigrant society mixed with different Han Chinese subgroups over hundred of years since the Dutch colonized Taiwan in early 17th century. Among them, a specific linguistic dialectal group called “the Hakka” has continued prominent presence in the historical stages of Taiwan. Some of the expresidents or even the incumbent president of the island country bluntly claimed they have Hakka ancestry on many big events or TV broadcast. According to a recent study published by Taiwan’s Hakka Affairs Council, there are almost 20% of Taiwanese claim to have Hakka ancestry to some degrees, aside from around 80% of the population are Hoklo Chinese.
Taiwan’s Hakka Culture and Distribution
Hakka people are said to be “guest families”, as the word Hakka suggests, originally from central China to the southern provinces of the Middle Kingdom due to the turmoils and unrest in the north. Some of them went overseas to countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and so on while others moved to Taiwan to look for a better life. They are known to be hard-working Han Chinese people and have strongly and persistently preserved their culture and language. For example, they value education a lot and cherish any paper with Chinese characters on them. Discarding these sheets of paper and books randomly is seen as disrespectful to the “sacred” Chinese words. Besides, unlike Hoklo Chinese, they don’t have the appalling tradition
of foot binding because their women need to do lots of chores. Throughout Taiwan, you’ll see a higher percentage of them in the north of the country, such as Taoyuan, Hsinchu, and Miaoli or the rural part of Kaohsiung and Pingtung in the south of the island. Eastern Taiwan has some diasporic Hakka communities along the rift valley, too.
Hakka Discovery Tour
When it comes to the density of Hakka people, Hsinchu County will definitely be number one. So, if you want to explore Hakka culture when visiting Taiwan, you shouldn’t miss this county. The other good reason is that it’s just around one hour’s traveling time from Taipei, which is much easier for you to organize a day trip when you make Taipei the base of your vacation in Taiwan. Today we are going to recommend some representative places of interest in Hsinchu to better your cultural experience on Formosa.
Jin Yong DIY Recreation Farm
Jin Yong DIY Recreation Farm was founded by a Hakka gentleman PENG Jin Yong in Guanxi Township of Hsinchu County. He was awarded one of the Top Ten Outstanding Farmers in 1995 and started his business for tourism after that. He’s famous for introducing dozens of different varieties of tomatoes from around the world and successfully cultivating them in his farm with access for visitors who fancy fruit picking.
Spending just single-digit US dollars, you can sample some of the succulent and colorful tomatoes from his farm with an access to the greenhouses to take photos with a variety of kaleidoscopic tomatoes as what an Instagram celebrity will do. If you want to pick those varicolored tomatoes and take them home, a thorough briefing and a pay-by-weight DIY package will be given by friendly assistant farmers. Nothing is more fun than eat the fresh tamotoes you picked from the rows of plants in the farm!
Hexing Station of the Neiwan Railway Branch Line
Just one quarter hour away from the farm, you’ll get to an idyllic hilly region of Hengshen Township in the same county. Near the intersection of Highway No. 3 and county road No. 120 lies an nostalgic wooden station which was almost abandoned by the Taiwan Railway Administration in the beginning of the new millennium. The Hexing Station is roughly located in the middle between Zhudong and Neiwan stations and boasts the only railway zig zag along the entire Neiwan Line, which was the only railway branch line built after the WWII.
The nearby region is rich in timber and limestone and this old station used to occupy the key role of transporting the mineral to nearby cement processing factories. The switchback of the railway track is specially designed in order to stablize the loads on the trains from the inclined railroad. Visitors flood the station especially on weekends to find out the love story about the station.
It’s said that decades ago an overslept high school student chased the train for a couple of kilometers so as to sit the exam on time to foster the relationship with his favorite girl. The two later got married and adopted the Hexing Station to rekindle their memories from the past due to the fear of station abandonment. Under the sound management of the well-known local cafe business Lavender Cottage, the small station is not only beautifully preserved but also filled with all kinds of instagrammable signs lovers love to pose to display their deep affection.
Zhudong Train Station and the Neighborhood
Zhongdong is an urban township in Hsinchu County and serves as the access to the rich natural resources of the mountainous region in the neighboring area. It used to be famous for camphor and then timber and cement. The railway station in the name of the town has been the busiest transportation hub to the east of Hsinchu metropolis. Since late 2017, the disused dormitories to the south of the station has been reinvigorated as the Zhudong Creative Park. Fascinating arts exhibitions and handicrafts are frequently filled in the ten retrofitted buildings where young artists and entrepreneurs can show off their talents.
Most visitors, however, won’t miss Zhudong Market, which is the largest Hakka traditional market in Taiwan and is only 500 meters away from the station. The market is primarily located along a short section of Ren’ai Road and many Hakka vendors and food stalls vigorously fill the street space where the bustling atmosphere will certainly bring back the memories of your childhood if you’re old enough.
The Hakka charm overwhelms the whole market place and you basically couldn’t come out with empty hands. Most of the business owners are local Hakka people and specialize in the preparation of Hakka cuisine. If you’re of Hakka ancestry, you’ll find this market more like home when conversing with the proud Hakka folks. We bet you’ll be eating all the way through the market while looking for some traditional Hakka snacks to bring home.
Beipu Old Street and Nearby Historic Sites
Beipu is a rural township located in between the plains and the hilly region of Hsinchu County and used to be the hunting ground of indigenous Saisiyat tribe and other plains tribes. The Han Chinese immigration began in early 19th century here and saw a need to set up a fortified headquarters in order to effectively develop the region for more settlers. So, the Jin Guang Fu Mansion was built in 1835 and designed into an armed office in the shape of a traditional Chinese mansion.
Beipu is well-known as the Hakka cultural center though in the beginning the immigrant group was actually made of half Hakka and half Hoklo developers. Now 95% of Beipu residents are of Hakka decent and the old street in front of the Citian Temple is lined with authentic Hakka-style foods and snacks such as picked mustard greens and dried persimmons. This Buddhist temple is dedicated to the “goddess of mercy”, known as guanyin in Mandarin Chinese, and is frequented by the locals to pray for peace or to conduct any traditional ceremonies according to Hakka custom.
If you visit Beipu before the Zhudong Market, you’ll find dozens of local restaurants which are good at Hakka cuisine. What you should try as desserts is the popular Hakka “lei cha”, which literally means “pounded tea”. Lei cha can be traced to the Three Kingdoms of historical China and the Hakka people use it as a type of energy drink while working hardly away from home.
Almost all the teahouses here offer this sort of cultural preparation and tourists are given a mortar and pestle to make their own “grounded tea” via pounding tea leaves, roasted nuts, seeds, and grains by a wooden stick in a heavy earthen bowl. Hot water is poured into the basin-like container to mix the gruel-like paste before garnishing puffed rice in a serving cup.
The Jin Yong Recreation Farm opens from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and they charge according to the DIY packages you want to experience. The Zhudong Market opens only until noon so don’t go there in the afternoon. The Jin Guang Fu Mansion opens from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. and then 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday. It only takes, however, reservation though the ticket only costs NT$100 per person. Better to visit as a group and make reservation at least three days before your visit.
Taiwan Railway Administration
The ride from Hexing to Zhudong stations costs only NT$15 and takes merely 14 minutes. Most visitors choose to go to Hexing Station first and take a ride from that “love station” to busier Zhudong Station.
How to get there?
Traveling among the aforementioned attractions by public transport is honestly not quite possible. The best way to see these scenic spots is to join a day tour, such as Hakka Culture Day Tour from Taipei offered by Klook or Private Hakka Discovery Day Tour from Taipei provided by Viator.
Useful Tips While Visiting
Too hot in summer?
The Hakka culture visit is chiefly in the eastern hilly region of Hsinchu County. Generally speaking, summer may not be a good season to visit Taiwan but a day trip in this part of Hakka region will definitely take you away from the humidity and heat in central Taipei. The autumn and winter are especially good seasons when the Hakka farmers are preparing to dry their Hakka delicacy “dried persimmons”!
The Hexing Station has a comfy cafe on the old platform if you fancy a cup of coffee in the shade of the station park. The Zhudong Market is filled with dozens of street foods you can take away if you cannot finish them all at one time! Central Beipu, i.e. the area around Citian Temple and the old street, is an excellent destination for bona fide Hakka meals and nostalgic teahouses for “lei cha”.
Beipu Township has more to offer besides the temple, the old street, and the teahouses. Many historic buildings are present alongside the touristy area; for instance, the Jiang Axin Mansion, which was established in 1949 by a Hakka tycoon who set up a kingdom of oolong tea business and made his house a magnificent reception venue for guests and traders. Another highlight is the Tangerine Garden, which used to be a hospital and villa of Deng clan in Beipu and now a film memorial hall dedicated to the family’s prominent descendent Mr. Deng Nanguang, who is applauded as the early pioneer of Hakka photography.