Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Origins of the Foochow People of Sibu

In 1901, Wong Nai Siong was the man responsible for making arrangements with the Second Rajah of Sarawak, Charles Brooke,to set up an agricultural settlement in Sibu . He recruited his own fellow men, the Fuzhou farmers from China for this purpose. Thus the ball was set rolling for the establishment of Sibu, as a new Foochow settlement outside China. The other Foochow town established in almost the same manner is Sitiawan in Perak, Peninsular Malaysia.

Not many Foochows today study or do research about their origins in China. So perhaps this small posting would provide some enlightenment.

The largest Foochow city in China is in Fujian province and is called Fuzhou City or Hok ciu Che. Today it has an area of 12,000 and a population of 6.6 million. the language spoken is the Fuzhou dialect also known as Eastern Min language.

The following information would be helpful:

Chinese: 福州; Pinyin: Fúzhōu; Wade-Giles: Fu-chou; BUC: Hók-ciŭ; EFEO: Fou-Tcheou; also seen as Foochow or Fuchow) is the capital and the largest prefecture-level city of Fujian (福建) province, People's Republic of China. It is also referred to as Rongcheng (榕城) which means "city of banyan trees."

Not much is known about its founding fathers and the detailed beginnings of the city. When Yue to the north of Fujian was annexed by Chu in 306 BC, a branch of the royal family of the defeated Yue fled Fujian and became the Minyue (闽越) tribe.

The first city wall of Fuzhou was built in 202 BC when Liu Bang, the founding emperor of the Han Dynasty, gave permission to Wuzhu (无诸), the king of Minyue, to set up his capital in Fuzhou. The city was named Ye (冶), meaning "The Beautiful". The name has changed many times, but the city has been continuously occupied since 202 BC and has never suffered major destruction by wars or natural disasters.

The Minyue was annexed by Han in 110 BC and became a part of China, and Fuzhou became Ye County. During the Jin Dynasty, West Lake, East Lake (now silted up) and numerous canals in the city were constructed (282 AD).

When the Jin Dynasty collapsed, the first wave of immigrants of the gentile class arrived in Fujian (308 AD). During the Tang Dynasty (725 AD), it started to be called Fuzhou.

More immigrants arrived from the north starting from 892 as the Tang Dynasty was collapsing. After the Tang Dynasty fell in 907, the Wang family managed to establish a kingdom called Min (909 – 945) with its capital in Fuzhou, then known as Changle. Min is still used as another name for the province of Fujian, in names of region such as minnan, and the river that runs through Fuzhou is called Min Jiang.

New city walls were built in 282 AD, 901 AD, 905 AD, and 974 AD, so the city had many layers of walls — more than the Chinese capital.

Emperor Taizong of the Song Dynasty (宋) ordered destruction of all the walls in Fuzhou in 978 AD but new walls were rebuilt later. The latest was built in 1371 AD.

During the Southern Song Dynasty, Fuzhou became more prosperous; many scholars came here to live and work. Among them were Zhu Xi (朱熹), the most celebrated Chinese philosopher after Confucius, and Xin Qiji (辛弃疾), the greatest composer of ci (a specialized form of poem). After them came Marco Polo, who transcribed the placename in Italian as Fugiu according to Mandarin Chinese.

Hualin Temple in the original Ye city, which has been declared a national heritage site, was built in 964 AD according to documentation, but was carbon-dated to the 4th or 5th century AD. It is probably the oldest existing wooden structure in China.

Between 1405 and 1433 AD, the Chinese (Ming) navy fleet, led by Zheng He, sailed from Fuzhou to the Indian Ocean seven times; on three occasions the fleet landed on the east coast of Africa. Before the last sailing, Zheng erected a stele dedicated to the goddess Tian-Fei (Matsu) near the seaport.

In the 19th century, Lin Zexu, a native of Fuzhou, led an unsuccessful attempt to resist the British fleet at Canton Bay, and Lin was exiled to the Russian border. At the end of the First Opium War, Fuzhou became one of the five Chinese treaty ports opened by the Treaty of Nanjing (signed in 1842). Lin Zexu died on November 22, 1850 at age of 66.

On November 8, 1911, revolutionaries staged an uprising in Fuzhou. After an overnight street battle, the Qing (Manchu) army surrendered. On November 22, 1933, the leaders of the 19th Army set up a short-lived Republic of China (中華共和國) in Fuzhou (compare the name to Chiang’s “Republic of China” (中華民國), which literally means “People’s State of China”); it collapsed in two months.

Aroung 1940, the Japanese army decided to invade Fuzhou. Surrounded by hills on 3 sides, the Japanese army quickly bombed and invaded the city. Japanese planes quickly bombed the only escape route for Chinese civilians- the bridges across the neighbouring river, leaving many civilians dangerously crossing the river on foot. The Japanese soon took the city and enslaved its people until Japan's surrender in 1945.

The older people of Sibu who came with Wong Nai Siong would remember their home districts like 14th district (where my great grandfather and grandfather came from), Ping Nang which was home to several families in Sibu and others Today in China, the districts and counties are differently named. The administrative divisions of Fuzhou have changed frequently in history. In 1983, Fuzhou administered 5 districts and 8 counties, whose territory has not changed since then. In 1990 and 1994, Fuqing (Hók-chiăng) and Changle (Diòng-lŏ̤h) counties were promoted to county-level cities. Despite this change, the old statement of "5 districts and 8 counties" is still popular among the local people.

Districts: Gulou (鼓楼,Gū-làu), Taijiang (台江,Dài-gĕ̤ng), Cangshan (仓山,Chŏng-săng), Mawei(马尾,Mā-muōi), Jin'an(晋安,Céng-ăng).
County-level cities: Fuqing (福清,Hók-chiăng), Changle (长乐,Diòng-lŏ̤h).
Counties: Minhou (闽侯,Mìng-âu), Minqing (闽清,Mìng-chiăng), Yongtai (永泰,Īng-tái), Lianjiang (连江,Lièng-gŏng), Luoyuan (罗源,Lò̤-nguòng), Pingtan (平潭,Bìng-tàng).

Many younger Foochows of Sibu today continue to visit their home districts and contribute to the construction of family homes, cemeteries etc. Ties are therefore still there although in the future with global migration and inter racial marraiges, such family ties might be diluted.

5 memories:

fcle72 said...

That was interesting history indeed - but I reckon to know that you have missed out at least a county in China associated with the MinDong language - that's named Gutian (Kutien) county.....

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Thank you for visiting and sharing. Kutien county would be outside my frame of personal knowledge. I have mentioned it in one of my posts. Kutien is quite different from Ming Chiang, the Foochow I am familiar with.

In Sibu, the twain between the Kutiens and the Ming Chiang is very strong. They even have different associations!! The differences are best kept to the elders and perhaps those who had passed on.

Hope I won't be judged badly for saying this. But when growing up, I could sense the enmity between the two groups in business, even in Church and in school. If possible they did not even want to be seen together!! Just some childhood observations.

Unknown said...

According to this site, most Fuzhou people from Sitiawan is from Gutian.

I'm a Malaysian Chinese of Fuzhou descendant. While searching information about my ancestors, I come across this information about Fuzhou Tanka.

Does Fuzhou people in Malaysia, such as Fuzhou in Sitiawan have this Fuzhou Tanka ancestry?

Unknown said...

Are the ancestor of Fuzhou Sitiawan farmers too? My ancestor arrive in the 1930s though.

Bimmerman said...

I think my grandfather comes from 14th District too.


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