Fuzhou Tanka

Fuzhou Tanka (Fuzhou dialect: 曲蹄; Foochow Romanized: Kuóh-dà̤; Simplified Chinese: 福州疍民 Hók-ciŭ Dáng-mìng; 江妹仔 Gĕ̤ng-muói-giāng; 曲蹄婆 Kuóh-dà̤-bò̤), or Fuzhou Boat People, is an ethnic group in Fujian, China. A branch of the Tanka people, they traditionally lived on sampans in the lower course of Min River and the coast of Fuzhou in Fujian Province most of their lives and have been officially recognized as Han Chinese since 1955.[1]

Fuzhou Tanka
曲蹄 (Kuóh-dà̤)
曲蹄囝 (Kuóh-dà̤-giāng)
Hockchew Kuoh-da
Fuzhou Tanka people on their boats in Min River, Fuzhou, Fujian, China, 1910.
Regions with significant populations
The lower course of Min River and the coast of Fuzhou, Fujian Province in China
Fuzhounese and Standard Mandarin (second language)
Roman Catholic and Taoism

Origin and etymology

Inner River of Fuzhou
The boats of Fuzhou Tanka on an inner river in Fuzhou, circa late 19th to early 20th century.

There are several different views on the origin of Fuzhou Tanka. The mainstream theory believes that Fuzhou Tanka are descendants of the Baiyue of ancient times.[1] As a branch of the Tanka people, Fuzhou Tanka has been in South China for more than 2000 years.[2] Their Fuzhounese name "Kuóh-dà̤" () is a derogatory term used by the Fuzhou people on land, which can be literally translated into "bowlegged" and might come from the bow shape of their legs caused by longtime living in the low cabins of their boats.[3][4]

The Amoy University anthropologist Ling Hui-hsiang wrote on his theory of the Fujian Tanka being descendants of the Baiyue. He claimed that Guangdong and Fujian Tanka are definitely descended from the old Pai Yue peoples, and that they may have been ancestors of the Malay race.[5]


Fuzhou Tanka now speak the Fuzhou dialect, which is widely used by the majority Fuzhou people in this region. Mandarin has also been brought to many of them through national compulsory education. However, they had their own language in history, but gradually abandoned it. In Ming Dynasty, many of them were already able to speak the Fuzhou dialect or other Eastern Min languages.[6]


Hockchew Tanka distribution
Distribution of the Fuzhou Tanka people in China.

Traditionally, Fuzhou Tanka people lived on boats in most of their lives. They were severely discriminated by land living Fuzhounese residents. Their life depended on fishing and ferrying, and most of them remained poor and uneducated before the founding of Republic of China. Fuzhou Tanka people had a rich tradition of folk music, especially call and response. They also had different views on chastity and remarriage from the land living Han Chinese. Pre-marital sex and remarriage were not restricted in their society. Due to the discriminatory policy imposed by the land living Han majority, Fuzhou Tanka were forced to dress themselves in a humble way to show their inferiority to the land residents.[4]

By the second half of the 19th century, many Tanka people had already been converted to Roman Catholicism. Some of these Catholic Tanka consequently moved onto land under the protection of Catholic Church. In the Republic of China era, the ethnic egalitarianism was guaranteed by law. Since the 1950s, the Communist government began to resettle Fuzhou Tanka to land dwellings. As a result, many Fuzhou Tanka villages were built along the Min River and the coast. Nowadays, most Fuzhou Tanka people have abandoned their traditional waterborne lives and intermarriage is common. Their traditions, such as Fuzhou Tanka folk music, are under threat as well.[1][7][8]

Discrimination against Fuzhou Tanka

Fuzhou Tanka Land-dwelling 1
Tanka land dwellings built in the mid 20th century in Luoyuan County, Fuzhou, China.

Before the founding of Republic of China, the Fuzhou Tanka were generally treated by land Chinese residents as mean and inferior. They were not allowed to dwell on land, receive education, wear silk clothes or work in government or army. In some areas, they were even forbidden to walk on land, otherwise, they would be faced with death threats. Since the 18th century several attempts had been made by the Qing and Kuomintang governments to lift the discrimination against Tanka people, but it was only in the People's Republic of China era that all the discriminatory policies were completely eliminated.[4][7] Before the founding of the People's Republic of China, the ‘gypsies of the sea’ were not allowed to go ashore or marry the people living along the beach.[9]


Before the 19th century, many Fuzhou Tanka practiced Taoism, worshiping Mazu, Linshui and other gods and goddesses. In the late 19th century, many Fuzhou Tanka people were converted to Roman Catholic. Received, protected and assisted by the Roman Catholic Church in Fuzhou through Protectorate of missions, some of them were able to build simple land dwellings. Currently, the majority of Fuzhou Tanka people are Roman Catholic, which constitute a significant portion in Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Fuzhou.[10]


The Fuzhou Tanka have different surnames than the Tanka of Guangdong.[11] Qing records indicate that "Weng, Ou, Chi, Pu, Jiang, and Hai" (翁, 歐, 池, 浦, 江) were surnames of the Fuzhou Tanka.[12] Qing records also stated that Tanka surnames in Guangdong consisted of "Mai, Pu, Wu, Su, and He", alternatively some people claimed Gu and Zeng as Tanka surnames.[13]

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ a b c Jian-min Li (李健民), Origin and Migration of Mindong's Fishermen (闽东疍民的由来及历史变迁) Archived 2010-01-29 at the Wayback Machine, Journal of Ningde Teachers' College, 2009 Vol. 2, pp.38–44 (in Chinese)
  2. ^ 刘传标,闽江流域疍民的文化习俗形态 (in Chinese)
  3. ^ Local Annals of Min County (闽县乡土志) (in Chinese)
  4. ^ a b c 吴高梓:福州疍民调查[J],社会学界(第四卷),1930 (in Chinese)
  5. ^ Murray A. Rubinstein (2007). Murray A. Rubinstein, ed. Taiwan: a new history (illustrated ed.). M.E. Sharpe. p. 34. ISBN 0-7656-1494-4. Retrieved 2011-10-29. "which modern people are the Pai Yueh"..,...So is it possible that there is a relationship between the Pai Yueh and the Malay race?...Today in riverine estuaries of Fukien and Kwangtung are another Yueh people, the Tanka ("boatpeople"). Might some of them have left the Yueh tribes and set out on the seas? (1936: 117)
  6. ^ 郭志超, 《闽台民族史辨》, 黄山书社, 2006年 (in Chinese)
  7. ^ a b County Annals of Luoyuan (罗源县志),Fangzhi Publishing House,1998.11,ISBN 7-80122-390-X (in Chinese)
  8. ^ The Endangered Fuzhou Tanka Folk Music (濒临失传的“福州疍民渔歌”) Archived 2009-12-01 at the Wayback Machine (in Chinese)
  9. ^ "China's Tanka boat people floating homes".
  10. ^ Fan Zhengyi, Researching into the Belief of Boatmen in Fujian in Modern Time, Journal of Putian University, 2005 12(6) (in Chinese)
  11. ^ Anders Hansson (1996). Chinese outcasts: discrimination and emancipation in late imperial China. Volume 37 of Sinica Leidensia. BRILL. p. 117. ISBN 90-04-10596-4. Retrieved 2011-11-04. Unless a change of surnames occurred for some unknown reason, or unless the ' water names' are not the real names of the Fujian boat people, it would seem that the Dan people lacked Chinese-style surnames at the time the Fujian branch
  12. ^ Anders Hansson (1996). Chinese outcasts: discrimination and emancipation in late imperial China. Volume 37 of Sinica Leidensia. BRILL. p. 116. ISBN 90-04-10596-4. Retrieved 2011-11-04. In a late Qing dynasty work which has a section on boat people that mainly refers to those in Fujian, common surnames are said to be Weng 翁 ('old fisherman'), Ou 歐, Chi 池 (pond), Pu 浦 (river bank), Jiang 江 (river) and Hai 海 (sea). None of those surnames is a very common one in China and a few are very rare.
  13. ^ Anders Hansson (1996). Chinese outcasts: discrimination and emancipation in late imperial China. Volume 37 of Sinica Leidensia. BRILL. p. 116. ISBN 90-04-10596-4. Retrieved 2011-11-04. Some of them list the five names Mai 麥, Pu 濮, Wu 吴, Su 蘇 and He 何 The Huizhou prefectural gazetteer even states that there are no other boat people surnames, while others also add Gu 顧 and Zeng 曾 to make seven

Burakumin (部落民, "hamlet people"/"village people", "those who live in hamlets/villages") is an outcast group at the bottom of the traditional Japanese social order that has historically been the victim of severe discrimination and ostracism. They were originally members of outcast communities in the Japanese feudal era, composed of those with occupations considered impure or tainted by death (such as executioners, undertakers, workers in slaughterhouses, butchers, or tanners), which have severe social stigmas of kegare (穢れ or "defilement") attached to them. Traditionally, the Burakumin lived in their own communities, hamlets, or ghettos.

List of ethnic groups in China

Multiple ethnic groups populate China, where "China" is taken to mean areas controlled by either of the two states using "China" in their formal names, the People's Republic of China (China) and Republic of China (Taiwan).

The typical use of the English phrase Chinese people generally refers to the Han 漢 people, also known as Han Chinese; they are the largest ethnic group in mainland China, where (as of 2010) some 91.51% of the population was classified as Han (~1.2 billion). Han is the name the Chinese have used for themselves since the Han Dynasty BC 202, whereas the name "Chinese" (used in the West) is of uncertain origin, but possibly derives ultimately from Sanskrit Cina-s "the Chinese," which in turn perhaps comes from the Qin dynasty which preceded the Han dynasty. Besides the Han-Chinese majority of 92%, 55 other ethnic (minority) groups are categorized in present China, numbering approximately 105 million people (8%), mostly concentrated in the bordering northwest, north, northeast, south, and southwest but with some in central interior areas.

The major minority ethnic groups in China are Zhuang (16.9 million), Hui (10.5 million), Manchu (10.3 million), Uyghur (10 million), Miao (9.4 million), Yi (8.7 million), Tujia (8.3 million), Tibetan (6.2 million), Mongol (5.9 million), Dong (2.8 million), Buyei (2.8 million), Yao (2.7 million), Bai (1.9 million), Korean (1.8 million), Hani (1.6 million), Li (1.4 million), Kazakh (1.4 million), and Dai (1.2 million).

Tanka people

The Tankas (simplified Chinese: 疍家; traditional Chinese: 蜑家; pinyin: Dànjiā; Cantonese Yale: Daahngā) or boat people are an ethnic subgroup in Southern China who have traditionally lived on junks in coastal parts of Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, Hainan, and Zhejiang, as well as Hong Kong, and Macau. Though many now live onshore, some from the older generations still live on their boats and pursue their traditional livelihood of fishing. Historically, the Tankas were considered to be outcasts. Since they were boat people who lived by the sea, they were sometimes referred to as "sea gypsies" by the Chinese and British. Tanka origins can be traced back to the native ethnic minorities of southern China known historically as the Baiyue who may have taken refuge on the sea and gradually assimilated into Han culture. However, Tanka have preserved many of their native traditions that are not found in Han Chinese culture.

A small number of Tankas also live in parts of Vietnam. There they are called Dan (Đàn) and are classified as a subgroup of the Ngái ethnicity.


Untouchability, in its literal sense, is the practice of ostracising a minority group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom or legal mandate. The term is most commonly associated with treatment of the Dalit communities in the Indian subcontinent who were considered "polluting", but the term has also been loosely used to refer to other groups, such as the Cagots in Europe, and the Al-Akhdam in Yemen. Traditionally, the groups characterized as untouchable were those whose occupations and habits of life involved ritually polluting activities, such as fishermen, manual scavengers, sweepers and washermen.Untouchability has been outlawed in India, Nepal and Pakistan. However, "untouchability" has not been legally defined. The origin of untouchability and its historicity are still debated, but it is believed to have existed at least as far back as 400 CE. A recent study of a sample of households in India concludes that "Notwithstanding the likelihood of under-reporting of the practice of untouchability, 70 percent of the population reported not indulging in this practice. This is an encouraging sign."

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