Learning from Hakka culture

Ms Tsai Ing-wen has joined the list of Hakkas who have risen to top leadership positions in Asia ("Taiwan's first woman president: 10 things you should know about Tsai Ing-wen"; ST Online, Jan 16).

The list includes Sun Yat Sen, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Lee Teng-hui, Mrs Corazon Aquino, Deng Xiaoping, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Thaksin Shinawatra, Ms Yingluck Shinawatra and Mr Ma Ying-jeou.

The Hakkas have made a major impact on many enterprises, communities and countries. Their impact is generally disproportionate to their relatively small population.

Perhaps, there are lessons that can be learnt from the Hakka culture that can shed light on what it means to survive and succeed at work and in life.

Throughout history, the Hakkas were known to move out of their comfort zones and break new ground in their pursuit of better lives. They have also done so to avoid wars, social unrest and natural crises.

Along the way, they assimilated positive values from other communities and ethnic groups.

The Hakkas migrated to the southern parts of China, but they were sometimes not accepted by the natives in their newly settled land.

So, they had to learn how to build bridges and bond with the local communities. They sometimes had to settle down in less desirable lands and protect themselves against constant prejudice and harassment.

The Hakkas developed a unique multi-storey building called "tulou" to defend themselves against their enemies. The walled village also served to enhance communal living and sharing of resources to promote collective interests and the greater good.

As a result of past challenges, the Hakkas developed a relatively higher level of what I call determination or desperation quotient (DQ) to survive and succeed in life.

They know that if they do not find and work for their place under the sun, they may lose everything and be left behind.

The Hakkas cultivated a culture of education, hard work, thriftiness, adaptability and grit.

They sought to improve themselves, and would persevere through adverse conditions so as to have a brighter future for themselves and for their future generations.

The positive qualities of the Hakka people are those which can help Singaporeans to thrive in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous future.

Patrick Liew Siow Gian (Dr)