The Henghua people are from Fujian Province, China.

HengHua (or Xing Hwa in Mandarin) are referring to people who live in Putian, Fujian province of today. Xing means lucky whereas Hwa means people. HengHua people originated from Henan Province and migrated to the present Putian many years ago. HengHua, the language , was the official language use during Tang Dynasty. HengHua people were said mostly in charge for religious affair in during the era and migrated to the Fujian after civil war.

Famous HengHua People in Indonesia Mochtar Riady (Lippo Group)

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Hinghua people were known to monopolise the transport trade in the South East Asian region. Many Hinghua, like most immigrants in Singapore during much of the late 19th century and early 20th century, started off as rickshaw pullers or coolies (men of hard-labour). From the 1930s, many steadily progressed to trishaw riders, taxi drivers, bus drivers or mechanics. While many eventually became owners of their vehicles, there were also many who ventured into businesses relating to all kinds of automobile spare-parts; shipping; finance; property; and etc. The most prominent and successful Hinghua in Singapore is said to be the media shy Ng Teng Fong of the Far East Organisation whose buildings prominently dotted the Singapore skyline.

Rickshaws were invented by the Japanese in 1869 and were then known to them as ‘Jinrickshaw’. It appeared in many parts of Asia as a convenient form of transport few years after its invention. It too became an important part of Singapore’s public transport system in 1880. It was gradually replaced by the more efficient trishaws and automobiles in the mid-1930s (Warren, 2003).

The design of the Rickshaw looked much like a bullock-cart or horse-cart. All were designed to carry either goods or passengers — with ‘muscle’ power. The only difference is that the Rickshaws (made of flimsier and lighter materials) were powered (pulled) by men. It is difficult to comprehend how men need to slog in such difficult conditions. The answers could be found in the hometown of where the ‘coolies’ came from — Fujian, Mainland China. There is no shortage of historical materials on how difficult life could be in their homeland at that time, where civil unrest, drought, famines and other natural calamities happened more often than historians care to record. Most families were descendants of peasants whose life were no better than their ancestors. Their daily life was a constant cycle of toiling in the padi (rice) fields under the hot blazing sun just so that they could have some rice to survive another day. As if this were not bad enough, they were constantly harassed by landowners, thugs, and corrupt officials for whatever payments that was due to them. It is a constant battle just to survive another day. It is no wonder that many took the risk to ride the dangerous waves of the ‘Nanyang’ (Southern Ocean or South China Sea). It was a risk that many took without batting an eyelid. Amongst them were my grandparents (My Dad’s parents.) My grandfather too was a Rickshaw Puller. He must have been quite capable because he was able to bring my dad over to Singapore after a few years for education. My dad later became a bicycle repairman. Soon my grandparents returned to China and, as destiny would have it, never got to see their son again.

While my dad was considered fortunate to remain in Singapore, my uncle (my mother’s brother) was less so. He too worked as a Rickshaw Puller in Singapore for nearly 20 years just so that his wife and children in China could survive. After he left Singapore, he never returned because the victorious Communist government closed all borders to the outside world. As famine swept through China in the early 1960s, his wife was one of the tens of millions who perished. The painful Cultural Revolution followed, which lasted from 1965 to 1975. Many more perished. Such was the misery in their homeland.

Their job as a Rickshaw Puller in Singapore was not something that they or others would like to do. It is about staying alive in this cruel and merciless world. As to why many still returned to their homeland at that time, inspite of the very harsh conditions, one only need to understand the Chinese culture of ‘filial-piety’; and the other the natural course of nature. As the Chinese idiom say: ‘Luo Ye Gui Gen’. (The leaves of a tree will return to its roots.)

[A more comprehensive story about the Rickshaw Pullers in Singapore could be found in a well written book by Warren, J.F. (2003) entitled: ‘Rickshaw Coolie — A people’s history of Singapore, 1880-1940.’ Singapore: Singapore University Press.]

In Singapore, the Hinghua people were able to pool their resources to build Hong Wen School, which is now located along Victoria Street. It was originally a Chinese language school, but had since been replaced by the English medium. In preserving their heritage, the Hinghua association would regularly organise functions for the clan members. Hinghua traditional foods are: (1) ‘mee suah’ (boiled, but dry noodles); (2) ‘lor mee’ (fried, but wet noodles) and (3) ‘ban mian’ (boiled soup yellow noodles). All noodles are usually served, amongst other ingredients, with traditional clams that are only available in the coastal area of Putian. It is unique because of its strange sweetness in it when cooked. The most famous fruit is the round and maroon coloured Plum. It is usually soaked in jars with sugar and water over a period of time to give it a sweet and sour taste. The flesh remains firm after few days of soaking and the taste, if I may say, once is never enough.

In regards to religion, the Christian community and the Western missionaries will remember a well-known Hinghua evangelist, named John Sung (1901 – 1944), who is still widely admired today. As William E. Schubert says: "Dr.John Sung was probably the greatest preacher of this century. I have heard almost all the great preachers from 1910 until now, including R. A. Torrey, Billy Sunday, Henry Jowett, the great holiness preachers, the Methodist bishops, including Bishop Quayle, even Harry Emerson Fosdick, who set a great example of the homiletic art, although I did not agree with him, and finally Billy Graham. Yet John Sung surpassed them all in pulpit power, attested by amazing and enduring results …” (Cited in Tow, T. (1976), ‘In John Sung’s Steps — the story of Lim Puay Hian.’)

[This article is contributed by Dr.Jason Ong, a Singaporean Hinghua and the author of "Perceptions of Mainland Chinese University Students of Studying in Singapore." He welcomes any exchange of ideas on the subject. He can be contacted on: <weblinks@pacific.net.sg>]

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9 Responses to Henghua

  1. Gladys Hu says:

    I am a Henghua born in Sibu, Sarawak, Malaysia and migrated to Melbourne Australia 32 years ago. My parents came from Putian in 1920s. As most of the older generations of people have died, I have been searching elsewhere for information about Henghua people’s origin and where my ancestors came from.
    During a recent visit to Sibu my cousins told me that their dad (my uncle) was brought up in a Shaolin Temple. I knew my uncle when I was a child, and remember that he practised Xi-gung and 18 styles of Kung Fu that he tried to pass on to his sons. I hadn’t realised the significance until a year ago. As I get older, I get hungrier for more information. There should be more information available on the net – but where to find them? Alas, there is a real famine of Henghua information. Thank you so much for putting your research out there for hungry Henghua to feast upon!

    • BJ Tay says:

      You may like to visit the facebook page of Henghua United where Henghuas the world over connect at.

    • K. Tan says:

      l am regrettably illiterate in Chinese but after years of patiently trawling the English-media literature, perhaps l can give my potted account of the little-known but distinctive four-county PUXIAN (Putian-Xinghua-Xianyou-Huian) language culture on the central Fujian coast, whose capital is PUTIAN with its adjoining port of XINGHUA..
      Knowing the geography (my discipline) was vital to finally understand my ancestral roots, and perhaps this would assist others born overseas and in similar straits. The most distinguishing feature is our unique language of Puxian, with its many variants – in Kuala Lumpur, my hometown in Malaysia, it is called Pochen, Henghua, and Tow-Puk (mine). The Southern Kung Fu style also seems to have originated in this region, but died out because its historical wealth & repute attracted too many warmongers and looters such as the Japanese pirates, who repeatedly destroyed its heritage over the centuries (the disciples re-established the martial culture elsewhere nearby, such as Guangzhou and Taiwan)..
      The ancestral homeland lies in the seems smallish valley within a rather hilly region (said to be 50 km by 100 km in size) beside Meizhou Bay, where now is visibly established what looks like one of China’s significant petrochemical plants. Another helpful feature is a mosque-like petrol station not far from the main road between the famous Luoyang Bridge northwards from Quanzhou rail station to Putian City.
      Historically, the most renowned feature of the Puxian-language area is the cult of the Goddess of the Seas, MAZU (also famed as Tin-Hau to the Cantonese-speakers such as in HongKong). In a recent re-visit to “my village” there, l learnt that this deity was born almost next door about a thousand years ago – a few years ago, her immense statue was escorted from there to its present site on an island in Meizhou Bay (she is venerated also by the Taiwanese and South Chinese descendants in the West).
      For those whose family name is DING and TAN in the Fujianese = Hokkien dialects, there is a printed clan-book of the CHEN lineages lodged in the beautiful, huge CHEN clan-temple beside two bridges in Putian City. When l finally found this temple it was heartwarming to find that its custodians spoke our distinctive language. To start the search for our roots, that is a good starting point, even if one is not a CHEN (which is the premier South Chinese surname, also CHAN in Cantonese and CHIN in Hakka).
      Many successful “Overseas Chinese” (our China-born elders) have restored or re-built ancestral homes and endowed temples and village schools throughout that region.
      Their overseas descendants cannot miss this ancestral fount, because our ancient language is sill spoken everywhere there (unlike, for example, Quanzhou, where Mandarin has replaced the then ubiquitous native Minnanhua = Hokkien; that had caused me not to bother learning Mandarin when l went to teach English in HuaDa = Overseas Chinese University in the mid-1990s). However, l fear our old Puxian language could go the same way in another two or three generations; then it might become difficult for our grandchildren to trace their China roots.
      Therefore, l hope this helps to start the quest now ! TAN Koonlin, PhD – London. .

      • K. Tan says:

        HENGHUA/Putian-Xinghua: Further to my excerpt earlier this year, Putian’s LYCHEE fruit must already have become quite famous in the TANG dynasty: it was despatched post-haste by horse-relay to Changan on the orders of the emperor to indulge his favourite concubine-consort, YANG GUIFEI. At its best, the lychee is almost seedless – I found this in a Yuen Long N.T. market, across from Hong Kong, but more likely cultivated on the mainland coast. l add this comment to show that though southern China was still aboriginal then & for a few more centuries, i.e. these other but supposedly “savage” native ancestors of ours, there must have been enclaves of the “civilised” HAN-Chinese refugees who fled to the South China Coast during civil upheavals, but re-established their ancestral ties to the central China clans when a new dynasty restored peace in the ancient imperial capital of Changan-Xian (where stands the First Emperor’s Terracotta Army) .
        Dr. TAN Koonlin. London.

  2. Jason Ong says:

    Hi Gladys, My apologies for not coming to you sooner because i’ve been caught up with many other things. Here are some websites that you may take a look at. A gentleman once sent me a book title to which i’ve not have the time to get it 😦 . I will try to locate it and let you know once i get it. Best wishes jason

  3. Dear Jason Ong,

    What is your Chinese name. We may be related as my Grandfather also started as a rickshaw puller in Singapore. True as you mentioned, he ventured into the bicycle buisness and subsequently into the Motor Spare Parts business which still exist today.

    Amoungst my siblings we still speak Henghua with each other, but I believe the dialect will eventually vanish with future generations.

    The famous Henghuas in Singapore includes Tung Lok, Furama Group and the Phillip Securities.
    Of couse none of them can beat the most famous Malaysian Henghua, Mr. Ong Boon Hua aka
    Chin Peng who passed away recently.

    Ong Eng Tong.

  4. Stella Ow @ Ang Sek Lian says:

    Hi Jason
    I am a Henghua by birth but adopted by a Cantonese family. I have this yearning to search for my natural family, my father Mr Ang who is a tricyclist and about nine brothers. Perhaps you can tell me more about the Henghua clan and i can approach them to help.

    • Jason says:

      Hi Stella

      There are two Henghua Association in Singapore. One is the Hin Ann Huay Kuan at 35 Sam Leong Road. The other is the Putian (Heng hua) association at Lorong 3 Geylang. You may contact me on my email address: weblinksworld@gmail.com if you need further information. If you could let me know more details about your father, i could try to make some enquiries for you too.

      Warm regards,

  5. Dr Jason Ong says:

    Henghua Putian now have its own facebook. Feel free to visit. I will be happy to chat with you.

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