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Ethnic and Religious Violence in South China: The Hakka-Tiandihui Uprising of 1802

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image of Frontiers of History in China

In 1802 the second major Tiandihui (Heaven and Earth Society) uprising erupted in the mountains of Huizhou prefecture near Canton. Before it was suppressed over a year later, the disturbances came to involve several tens of thousands of people and nearly a quarter of Guangdong province. This study, which is based on extant historical sources and fieldwork, takes an interdisciplinary approach, combining the methodologies of history, anthropology, and folklore. The areas where the uprising occurred were predominantly Hakka, an ethnic Chinese minority who came into conflict with the earlier settlers, known as the Punti. As violence escalated, both sides organized their own paramilitary units: Hakka formed Tiandihui groups and Punti formed Ox Head Societies. Significantly too, the Tiandihui groups in Huizhou belonged to a much wider network of secret society and sectarian organizations that spread across the Hakka heartland on the Jiangxi, Fujian, and Guangdong border. This article addresses key issues concerning the social, political, and religious contexts and motivations of this Hakka-led uprising.

Affiliations: 1: Canton’s Thirteen Hongs Research Center, Guangzhou University


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