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)
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: <email@example.com>]