Chan Clan in Mauritius

Last night was a great celebration night for the Oy King Sar Chan Society at the Imperial China Restaurant. Three Chan were praised and given all honors by the  Chan community for their distinction in their respective fields  following their official recognition by the Nation recently.

What is the purpose of Oy King Sar Chan society? As in many countries where Hakkas have settled, it is customary for the migrants to form benevolent organisation to look after the needs of the poorer members. Solidarity and assistance to the poor are Confucian values that the community of Hakka have always lived amongst the other values. Oy King Sar Chan society which has always been present received a legal status in Mauritius in 1945. This society restricted to members of the Chan clan aims to nurture good relationship amongst the clan members, defend its members and provide social services to the community.

Interestingly enough the Hakkas have always respected the equal rights of the gender: Hakka women were given the nick name of big footed woman, as in the older days the Hakka women supported by their male counter parts refused to have their foot bound . It was traditional for the Han women to bind their feet to keep them small, as a small footed woman was then a sign of distinction.

Of the three Chan’s celebrated last night, the common thread was most importantly the acclamation of these leaders’ perseverance in attaining success through education. This is again a essential Confucian value.

Denise Chan Youn Sen was awarded National recognition for her hard work and dedication as a government civil servant. At a low entry level, Denise joined the service as a temporary accounts clerk; she retired from her service as the Chief finance officer of the ministry of social services.

Yves Chan Kam Lon was awarded by the high distinction of the 2009 US state Alumni a title given to American University student who have outstanding performance in their career. He is now heading the National library and archives of Mauritius, the guardian of the heritage of the country.

As for young Benoit Chan Sui Ko, he won the Economics award Laureate 2008. This will be the start of his career.

The Chan have to be proud of these distinctions. More importantly may the Chinese community continue to contribute to the building of the Mauritian nation.


#1 Bruno on 07.13.09 at 10:49 am

“It was traditional for the Han women to bind their feet to keep them small, as a small footed woman was then a sign of distinction. ”

This is horrible torture :S

#2 Charles on 07.13.09 at 2:44 pm

Hi Joseph.
Came across your blog quite by chance. Some very interesting reads.

I hope I don’t offend, but according to a book I read on Hakkas the only reason male counter parts supported the women in not binding their feet had nothing to do with gender equal rights but rather with the fact that it was impractical for women with small feet to work in paddy fields.

#3 joseph on 07.13.09 at 3:11 pm

The price to be beautiful and desirable, then.

#4 joseph on 07.13.09 at 3:26 pm

May well be! Whilst other Hans bound the feet of the women, the Hakkas male accepted albeit unwillingly,that their women did not. The other Hans look down on the hakkas for accepting that their women would go against the trend.This in some way is a form of Women’s lib from the part of the womens.
Thanks for your comments.

#5 Jacqueline on 07.13.09 at 11:40 pm

Hi Joseph,
Thanks for your interesting writing! It was indeed quite interesting to learn more about Hakkas.
As you said Education is the key to success!!
I believe that we have still a lot to do for some or our people to make them understand that only Education can get them out of poverty , most of all their children!!!
Let’s hope and pray that those who have succeeded give a hand to their brothers and sisters in need.
God bless Mauritius.

#6 Agni on 07.14.09 at 7:11 am

A form of Women’s liberation!?
The Hakka were looked down on, period! It had to do with their low social status. Their women, just like their men had to work for a living as they were not part of the elite nor did they have much education.
One reason why Hakka women didn’t bind their feet is because they were not as beautiful as Han women, hence they could not be married off to rich Han men where they would not have had the need to work.
Also let’s not forget that the Hakka are a people of migrants. Hakka women with “small feet” would not have been able to run very far, if need were to leave.

As to Hakka’s people supposed gender equality… well, might as well have the wife mind the store at no extra expense, while the men go and do a bit of gambling, womanizing and drinking. You see that still going on all over Chinese owned store in Mauritius today.
If those women had “small feet”, who would have minded the stores?

#7 joseph on 07.14.09 at 10:03 am

Thanks for reading and more importantly for taking the trouble of commenting.
Yes ‘education to be off the chains of poverty’ is a high Confucian value.
Likewise in the Indian community, specially the Brahmin’s Education is a very high priority.
Muslim community also encourages learning.

#8 joseph on 07.14.09 at 10:40 am

it would appear that there is an anachronistic confusion. Binding feet Hakka women was in the time of the emperors in old China. I have to research the time but definitely well before the migration to Mauritius.
It is true that the Hakka s were nomadic people. they started off from the north of China and through 5 distinct migration surges moved to different regions of China.These migration processes started since the Tang dynasty. Hakka were despited by the other Hans for many reasons: the first being that they were different from the people of the land where they migrated;Hakka s were crafty as they gained knowledge through traveling and had the determination to achieve and make the difference where ever they were;Hakka’s unlike other Han’s treated their women differently( Hakka women were not given liberties- they took their freedom, read Pearl Buck a Hakka writer); the mandarins of the empires were very often recruited from learned Hakka’s because they were knowledgeable, adaptable, and different from the people of the land.
Whilst it is partly true that in Mauritius many Hakka’s men were gamblers and left the shops tendering to their wife.These are the unsuccessful ones models to be learned from but not to be followed- the rotten apples.
Cheers and many thanks for your comments and views.

#9 C'est Moi on 07.14.09 at 3:41 pm

Great and interesting responses. Unfortunately, Hakka men have that poor reputation of letting their women do all the work in the paddy fields, while they sing the mountain songs.

It is also quite true that Hakka people (men or women) are not as handsome or beautiful as other Han Chinese. Just look at Deng Xiao Peng or Pearl Buck.

#10 Agni on 07.14.09 at 6:21 pm

The confusion is not on my part, I can assure you. By the time Chinese came to Mauritius, the custom was mostly over for at least a generation.
As to the suggestion that Hakka are so brilliant… Education is but a natural consequence of their migrant nature. Nothing more. As they were poor, they couldn’t afford to buy land wherever they went. Education opened the way to Civil Service… and most importantly to the rampant bribery going on in the Civil Service Sectors of Governments. In Developed countries the only other option was to open a restaurant in China Town, which usually served as front for all sorts of other illegal activities.

Singapore is still suffering from its Hakka heritage and leadership.
As to Mauritius, all Hakka are “businessmen” of some sort. It’s never really clear what kind of business though!
Sometimes it’s so shameful when foreign investors and other Chinese ask questions.

As to the women… historically, in every society women had to fight for what they wanted. Men would never relent any hold they have on them. It’s comparable to the issue of slavery.
In the West, European women won rights only when no one could contest their contribution to the economy and society after so many men had died in the wars in Europe.

If Hakka men are so much for gender equality, i wonder if they would allow their wifes to have as many lovers as they do themselves?
I guess they draw the line at Education for purely selfish economic reasons!

#11 Joseph on 07.15.09 at 11:40 am

Thanks Agni for the comments which I found most interesting , your points of view widen my perspectives…
The story of migration and settlement Hakka s in Mauritius is of great interest to me. Did you know that for a few decades Chinese considered as Aliens, were not to own a business or own land on the island. The first chinese migrants who were travellers (if not a smuggler)who overstayed to earn a living were on survival mode. As they came in without a wife, often they took a local as wife.

It is very true that the term Hakka is not well seen by other Hans in old time China and the reputation remained ever since. I recalled my personal experience traveling in the Fareast in the 60’s and 70’s. Hakka’s were the poorest of the lot in HongKong..the farmers and land tillers of the New Territories, the coolies of Singapore and Malaysia, the manual workers of Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Also true that the Hakka s in Mauritius had to be creative and crafty to earn a living and many did not have the highest sense of morality. The morality demands of the day were not the same as in the past. You do not talk of morality to some one who is on a survival mode, would you?
It is sometimes unfair to judge some past events out of their context: can you judge the deeds of Valery Giscard then made on the deals he might have made to the African leaders with the yard stick of today, post Enron Corporate Governance rules?

Lastly, I would like to highlight the gender equality aspect. Hakka men were not stars of gender equality as we would see it today, however in comparison to other Hans in their time they allowed more freedom to their wife than others of their lots.

To have several concubines in old and not so old China was a sign of wealth. On the contrary a woman with several lovers were considered as a tramp.

I have a nice true story for you.
My grand father was being motivated in the early 40’s to take a second wife by his good friend who had 3 already.
After much sollicitations,Grand father retorted to him: ‘when you had 2 wifes I understood that every day there was some arguments between the 2 wifes to decide who should boil and carry hot water for your wash basin. Now that you have a 3rd one, it has become your duty to boil water and carry for her and for your use.’
I am happy with my single and only one. Without any argument I still enjoy wonderful service from the maids for my wife and myself.

#12 Joseph on 07.15.09 at 11:46 am

C’est moi
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder…
I have seen pictures of Pearl Buck and I admire Mr Deng for his courage and perseverance to have made his way to propulse China in his days.
Hakka women are said to be resilent hard workers…Hakka men? crafty strategists….

#13 Agni on 07.16.09 at 1:10 pm

Interesting point, but as men we know that it has nothing to do with a “sign of wealth”.
Anthropologically men wanted to have as many sons as possible for purely economical reasons. Women died in child labor or from other deceases. And men got easily bored with their wives.
As to the true story of your family… at least in the old days no man would be so stupid as to have all his wives living in the same house as him! That spoke volumes!
As to women being tramps… I would assume they also got bored with their mostly old and ugly husbands. Which woman wouldn’t! Furthermore anthropologically speaking women must have wanted children with better genes, which would have ensured healthier and stronger sons which would later take care of them.
Being married off to a rich ugly old fart seems like a short term life plan in those days!
Women who tried to extend their status through Regency in China have not gone down very well in history.

In Europe they got the whole marriage thing right; marriage was the ticket to freedom for both genders.
Nowadays there is no need to even get married.

#14 C'est Moi on 07.17.09 at 9:08 am

What’s that thing about Pearl Buck being a Hakka woman? She was very american although she wrote about China and won the Nobel.

I think you meant Han Suyin who had Hakka heritage.

These powerful Hakka women have a mind of their own and will not tolerate a bigoted Hakka fart as Agni has mentioned. That may be why they all married foreigners.

Han Suyin was born in Xinyang, Henan, China. Her father was a Belgian-educated Chinese engineer surnamed Chow (Chinese: 周; pinyin: Zhōu), of Hakka heritage, while her mother was a Flemish Belgian. In 1938 Han Suyin married Pao H. Tang (Tang Paohuang), a Chinese Nationalist military officer, who was to become a general. They adopted one daughter (Yungmei).

She began work as a typist at Beijing Hospital in 1931, not yet fifteen years old. In 1933 she was admitted to Yenching University. In 1935 she went to Brussels to study science. In 1938 she returned to China, working in an American Christian mission hospital in Chengdu, Sichuan, then went again to London in 1944 to study medicine at the Royal Free Hospital and graduated MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine & Surgery) with Honours in 1948 and went to Hong Kong to practice medicine in 1949 at the Queen Mary Hospital. Her husband, Tang, meanwhile, had died in action during the Chinese Civil War in 1947.

In 1952, she married Leon F. Comber, a British officer in the Malayan Special Branch, and went with him to Johore, Malaya (present-day Malaysia), where she worked in the Johore Bahru General Hospital and opened a clinic in Johore Bharu and Upper Pickering Street, Singapore. (Comber resigned from the British Colonial Police Service as an acting Assistant Commissioner of Police [Special Branch] mainly because of the perceived anti-British bias of her novel And the Rain My Drink. In 2006, Dr. Comber was a Research Fellow at Monash Asia Institute, Monash University, Melbourne.) In 1955, Han Suyin contributed efforts to the establishment of Nanyang University in Singapore. Specifically, she offered her services and served as physician to the institution, after having refused an offer to teach literature. Chinese writer Lin Yutang, first president of the university, had recruited her for the latter field, but she declined, indicating her desire “to make a new Asian literature, not teach Dickens”, according to the Warring States Project at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst[2]. Also in 1955, her best-known work, A Many-Splendoured Thing, was made into a Hollywood film. Much later, the movie itself was made into a daytime soap opera.

After Comber and Han Suyin’s divorce, she later married Vincent Ratnaswamy, an Indian colonel (died January 2003 in Bangalore, India), and lived for a time in Bangalore, India. Later, Han Suyin and Vincent Ratnaswamy resided in Hong Kong and Switzerland. Since 1956, Han Suyin visited China almost annually becoming one of the first foreign nationals to visit post-1949 revolution China, including through the years of the Cultural Revolution.

#15 C'est Moi on 07.17.09 at 2:13 pm

God of Fire
Devanagari अग्नि
Affiliation Deva
Consort Svaha
Mount Ram

Agni is a Hindu and Vedic deity. The word agni is Sanskrit for “fire” (noun), cognate with Latin ignis (the root of English ignite), Russian огонь (ogon), Polish “ogieÅ„,” Lithuanian – ugnis – all with the meaning ‘fire’ -, with the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root being h₁égni-. Agni has three forms: fire, lightning and the sun. [1]

Agni is one of the most important of the Vedic gods. He is the god of fire[2] and the acceptor of sacrifices. The sacrifices made to Agni go to the deities because Agni is a messenger from and to the other gods. He is ever-young, because the fire is re-lit every day, yet he is also immortal.

Agni, the Vedic god of fire who presides over the earth, has made the transition into the Hindu pantheon of gods, without losing his importance. With Vayu and Surya, who presided over the air and sky, he is one of the supreme gods in the Rig Veda. The link between heaven and earth, he is associated with Vedic sacrifice, taking offerings to the other world in the fire. His vehicle is the ram. [3]

His cult survived the change of the ancient fire worship into modern Hinduism. The sacred fire-drill (agnimathana) for procuring the temple-fire by friction – symbolic of Agni’s daily miraculous birth – is still used.[citation needed]

* 1 Depictions
* 2 In other faiths and religions
* 3 See also
* 4 References

[edit] Depictions

In Hindu art, Agni is depicted with two or seven hands, two heads and three legs. He has seven fiery tongues with which he licks sacrificial butter. He rides a ram or in a chariot harnessed by fiery horses. His attributes are an axe, torch, prayer beads and a flaming spear.[4]

Agni is represented as red and two-faced, suggesting both his destructive and beneficent qualities, and with black eyes and hair, three legs and seven arms. He rides a ram, or a chariot pulled by goats or, more rarely, parrots. Seven rays of light emanate from his body. One of his names is Saptajihva, “having seven tongues”.[4]

#16 joseph on 07.17.09 at 5:33 pm

thanks C’est moi for pointing out my mistake and confusion. You were right, I had Han Suyin in mind whilst writing Pearl Buck. My apologies. Han Suyin is one of the proof of the strong will Hakka women’s character more importantly it demonstrates the somewhat more liberal education given to women in the Hakka class of the Hans.

#17 joseph on 07.17.09 at 8:58 pm

le Mauricien du 17jul
La Oy King Sar Chan récompense trois de ses membres

La Oy King Sar Chan, qui regroupe des familles répondant au patronyme Chan à Maurice, a récompensé trois membres de sa société pour leurs contributions significatives respectives au progrès du pays. C’était samedi au restaurant Imperial, à Trianon. Denise Chan Youn Sen, Benoît Chan Sui Ko et Yves Chan Kam Lon ont chacun reçu un trophée.

Denise Chan Youn Sen a reçu le titre de PMSM (President Meritorious Service Medal). Elle a été Chief Financial Officer au ministère de la Sécurité sociale. Lauréat de la cuvée 2008 aux examens du HSC, Benoît Chan Sui Ko, pour sa part, s’envolera bientôt pour Londres en vue d’entreprendre des études d’économie au University College. Yves Chan Kam Lon, le directeur de la Bibliothèque Nationale, s’est vu récemment conférer, par l’American Biographical Institute, le titre de Man of the Year 2008 representing Mauritius pour ses ” outstanding contributions to country “.

Le président de la Oy King Sar Chan, M. Chan Sui Ko, a fait à cette occasion l’historique de la société, qui a été fondée le 22 mai 1945, ” année durant laquelle un groupe de quatorze personnes du clan Chan décida de fonder cette société. Le premier président était M. Chan Youn Move. Le siège social se trouvait à la rue La Reine, à Port-Louis, et se déplaça ensuite à la rue Léoville l’Homme “.

L’un des objectifs de la société, dit-il, est d’assurer la gestion d’un fonds ” afin de venir en aide à ceux qui sont dans le besoin et de promouvoir le mieux-être des membres de la communauté sur les plans social, éducatif, économique et personnel “. La société se donne aussi pour but de développer des liens de coopération avec les personnes du patronyme Chan d’outremer et de raffermir les liens ancestraux avec la Chine.

Le secrétaire de la société, Yves Chan Kam Lon, a précisé que les membres de la société sont tous des hakkas, qui occupaient jadis les provinces chinoises de Shanxi et de Henon. ” Ils connurent plusieurs migrations, la première en l’an 317 sous la dynastie Jin. C’était néanmoins durant la cinquième migration que les hakkas s’établirent définitivement dans le sud de la Chine, plus précisément à Moh Yuen, devenue la principale ville de la civilisation hakka “. Aujourd’hui, selon le secrétaire de la société, il y a plus de cinquante millions de hakkas dans le monde.

Parmi les personnalités ayant façonné l’histoire de la Chine, il y a, dit-il, le Dr Sun Yat Sen (1866-1923), Deng Xiao Ping (1904-1997) et Li Peng (1928-) et à Singapour, Lee Kuan Yew (1923-).

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