When the Hakka Hopo people (客家河婆人) left their home and came to Malaya about 100 years ago, it was out of desperation. The political turmoil and economic hardship had left them with very limited choices, hence many took the risk of sailing across to an unfamiliar and distant land to make a living. Some of them borrowed from their kinsmen for the travel but majority of them were sold as coolies to make it here. They knew very little about Nanyang (South Sea) and had no idea of the living condition in the foreign land.
When Hopo people first arrived in Malaya, many suffered the complications getting used to the hot and humid climate here. They would spend 2-3 hours whipping their body with guava leaves everyday, as a remedy to alleviate the symptoms caused by oppressive heat.
Hopo people would travel to different places in Malaya as well as Borneo and were willing to take up any jobs available back then. In the earlier days, some of the Hopo people traveled to remote areas in Bentong, Pahang and worked as miners. They had no hesitation for physical labour but the only fear was falling sick without effective treatment at the mines. Some of the unfortunate ones never got well and never made it back to their families.
Fortunately, their effort finally paid off after years of hardship. With sheer determination, Hopo people have secured a stable life here in Malaysia. Some of them have managed to build successful businesses from scratch and made significant contributions to the country in different sectors.
In the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Hopo people have been remarkably successful in property development. Mr. Chong Siew Kuan (张秀管) spearheaded the projects of Salak South Garden, Pertama Complex and Taman Segar while Datuk Wong Kee Tat (拿督黄纪达) developed Taman Connaught in Cheras district. Besides, the renowned Sungai Wang Shopping Complex was built by Tan Sri Chong Kok Lim (丹斯里张国林), the first person among Hopo community who was conferred the Tan Sri title. Datuk Chong Woo Jit (拿督张武易) from Malacca and Tan Sri Dato’ Low Nam Hui (丹斯里刘南辉) from Johor were also successful builders who have contributed to the property development sector.
In search of better life, Hopo people had traveled to various parts of Malaysia. However, some of the cities and towns have gathered relatively larger Hopo communities. In the southern region of Johor, the biggest community is found at Kulai. In the central region of Peninsula Malaysia, about 16km away from Ipoh, Hopo people make up the majority of Kuala Kuang’s population. One could easily find original Hakka Yong Tau Foo and the pinkish Hakka Kueh in the Hopo populated village.
Across the South China Sea at East Malaysia, the largest Hopo community is found at Kuching, Sarawak where the clan’s dialect has become the main local language. Kuching is very unique in this regard as it’s not only spoken among Hopo people but also conveniently used by the Cantonese and Hokkien clans. There’s no other place in Malaysia where Hopo dialect is so widely adopted. Besides, the Hakka Lui Cha is a popular food preferred by many in Kuching.
Some of the outstanding Hopo leaders from East Malaysia include Datuk Lee Chee Min (拿督李志明)，Lew Mew Choi (刘汉水) and Chai Tze Khin (蔡子今). In the international motion picture industry, celebrated director Tsai Ming Liang (蔡明亮) has won many awards in Venice, Cannes, Berlin and other Asian cities.
Since the migration wave a hundred years back, Hopo people have shed blood, tears and sweat to build a better life for their families and contribute to our nation building. The names mentioned above constitute merely a tiny fraction of the people. Please accept my apology for not being able to acknowledge everyone who deserves a recognition in his own right.
(The article above is adapted and translated from the article Malaysian Hopo People written by Zhang Zi Shen (张子深), published in the magazine distributed during The 1st World Hopo Community Convention in 2009)