How far back into the past can we trace the history of the Hakkas? Their traditions and family records place them mostly in western Shāndōng 山东 Province at the end of the Zhōu 周 dynasty. There were a few living on the southeastern borders of Shānxī 山西, while some occupied the northwestern frontiers of Ānhuī 安徽 Province.
The claim that they were living in the border regions south and southwest of Shāndōng is confirmed by popular ballads among the Hakkas with allusions to localities situated in these regions. (Eitel, History of Hakkas, p, 160. The writer is unable to find evidence to check this statement.)
Qín Shǐhuáng 秦始皇 unified China and proclaimed himself Emperor in 246 B.C. Under his despotic rule many persecutions and wholesale removal of populations took place. (Shǐjì 史记, Vol. 6.)
The First Migration. The Hakka clans were said to be among the unfortunate people persecuted. So merciless was the blow that some clans became extinct while some altered their names to avoid recognition.* The remnants fled to the mountains of Hénán 河南 and Ānhuī安徽, while a few went as far south as the borders of Jiāngxī. Here they settled and more prosperous times followed. In the Hàn 汉 and Jìn 晋 dynasties, many gained high offices in the government.
*-The alteration of names to escape persecution was not an uncommon occurrence in the past history. For example, the remaining members of the family of Hán Xìn 韩信, who was punished by Hàn [dynasty emperor] Gāozǔ 汉高祖 (206-194 B.C.), changed their surname to Wéi 韦 and fled to Sìchuān for safety.
The Second Migration. The second migration occurred in the early part of the fourth century. It was a period of successive invasions by the barbarians in the north. Jìn [dynasty emperor] Huái Dì 晋怀帝 was captured by the invader Liú Zǒng 刘总 in 313 and was compelled to wait on him in a menial capacity. He was finally put to death and his successor, Mǐn Dì 愍帝, also met the same fate.* These insults and humiliations broke the spirit of the people. When the founder of the Eastern Jìn 东晋 dynasty, Yuán Dì 元帝 moved his capital to Nánjīng 南京, many left their homes and took their families across the Dàjiāng 大江 (another name for the Yángzǐ Jiāng 扬子江 or “Yangtze River”). This was indeed a radical and desperate venture for these people to cross the “Great River” in to a new and sparsely settled region.**
*-Several writers have mistaken Liú Yuān 刘渊 for Liú Zǒng 刘总. See Jìn Shū 晋书 Vol. 5.
**-Campbell compares the importance of this occasion with the crossing of the Atlantic by the Pilgrims in 1620. op. cit., p. 476.
Seeking refuge from the ravages of the incoming barbarians, they migrated southward in search of a permanent home where they could live in peace. It was a general stampede — even those few clans remaining in Shāndōng before now fled to south Hénán 河南. Most of the Hakka family records mention further shifting and renewed migration during this period. (Eitel, History of Hakkas, p. 161.) The emigrants settled mostly in Jiāngxī. Some went to Zhèjiāng 浙江 and on to Fújiàn.* Here they lived in comparative peace and prosperity.
*-Were these Fújiàn newcomers the forefathers of the present Fukienese? A large number of the refugees were scholars and officials. Their coming influenced the culture and refinement of the raw regions.
“In the second year of Yǒngjiā 永嘉 (308 A.D.), the intelligentsia from Zhōngyuán 中元 [“Central Plain”] ( a geographical term applied to the ancient seat of Chinese civilization, in the region now occupied by Hénán 河南, Shǎanxī 陕西, Shānxī 山西, Zhílì直隶 [modern Héběi 河北], Shāndōng 山东) coming to Fújiàn numbered eight clans. Because of the many troubles in their home regions, they had no desire of returning there.”
See Fújiàn Annals 55/1.
The Third Migration. At the end of the Táng dynasty when the barbarians again descended and ravaged the northern provinces, many refugees fled southward. Even those who had been living in Jiāngxī were compelled to move again. A separation then took place; the majority sought refuge in the mountains of Fújiàn while a few reached the high mountain chains which separate Jiāngxī and Guǎngdōng. (Eitel, History of the Hakkas, p. 162.)
The Fourth Migration. The fourth and last move of migration from the north occurred in the Sòng dynasty. The incoming Tartars pushed the Chinese southward until the [Sòng] Emperor Gāozōng 高宗 crossed the Yangtze and established the Southern Sòng 南宋 dynasty in 1127. Large numbers of loyal adherents followed him and settled in Jiāngxī and Fújiàn. Little by little some of them spread to Gànzhōu 赣州 [in southern Jiāngxī] and Tīngzhōu 汀州 [in Fújiàn], occupying the mountain lands and isolating themselves. Till the end of the Sòng dynasty, very little was heard of these settlements which were far from the highways of travel.