Hakka documentary on Taiwan’s railway history airs on TV

Did you know that the Hakka community has deep ties with Taiwan’s railways? Have you ever heard of a Hakka village that came into existence because of the Alishan Forest Railway line? Or how the ability to speak the Hakka language was once the ticket to securing a hard-to-purchase train pass in the past?

The first episode of a documentary series titled “Hakka People and the Railways of Taiwan (台灣鐵路與客家),” which explores the history of the country’s railroad system and the cultural heritage of the Hakkas, aired on Formosa TV on May 10 from 17:30 to 18:00. Subsidized by the Hakka Affairs Council (HAC), the second and final episodes of the three-part series will be shown respectively on May 17 and 24.

According to the research conducted by docuseries producer Hsueh Yun-feng (
薛雲峰), since 1887 during the late Qing Dynasty, the development of Taiwan’s railways has been closely connected with Hakka labor. For instance, most railway contractors and train track builders were of Hakka descent at that time, and they became the earliest employees to manage the railway’s operations and administrative affairs after the completion of its physical infrastructure.

Taiwan’s eastern railway line was built during the period of Japanese rule. Hakka people at that time started their west-to-east migration following colonial directives, moving especially to the Hualien and Taitung areas to cultivate rugged, pristine land.

In the documentary, some of the interviewed elders even revealed a popular belief that in olden days, if people tried to speak the Hakka language, they might have a better chance at getting train tickets during peak times such as the Lunar New Year holidays.

The yet-to-be-substantiated myth may contain some truth, because most of staff members at Taipei Main Station are of Hakka origin. In addition, the well-known bento box series offered by the Taiwan Railways Administration is rich in Hakka flavors.

Nowadays, to attract visitors, many train stations promote themselves through culturally creative marketing strategies. Hakka settlements along the railroad in western Taiwan, as well as villages replete with Hakka culture in eastern Taiwan, are becoming popular tourist destinations.