Hakka Bamboo Weaving

In the early days, Taiwanese agricultural livelihood was relatively tough, with a lack of resources. Thus, the Hakka people got creative, and used materials they could easily obtain, manually creating various tools to help with their daily activities, be it work or play. As such, items created by way of straw, bamboo, and rattan weaving, which are commonplace in the homes of the numerous Hakka villages in Taiwan, gave rise to diverse, rustic everyday objects that belied a unique artistic flair.

A bamboo-woven nest for a duckling

(Photo: CNA)

Hakka villages have always been a major area for bamboo woven products, each producing items unique to their area. For example, one village might specialize in making baskets, while another produces bamboo hats or bamboo fired heater. Different types of bamboo would be used to make different products, with the malleability and toughness of the particular bamboo being taken into consideration for the specific product to be made. Ma bamboo, for instance, has a softer build and is commonly used for handcrafted woven artworks or for making paper. Makino bamboo on the other hand is tougher, with a flexibility to it. Master craftsmen would often slice it into thin strips, and through a denser weaving method, make wicker baskets with a circular opening and a square base that could be used to store rice or peanuts among other crops. These baskets are sturdy and durable, and could even handle from tens to hundreds catties of weight.

A bamboo basket


Bamboo products made by the Hakka people are robust, and often could be used for two to three generations. Items such as cradles, bamboo beds, child seats, and bamboo stools not only retain a shine even after many years of usage, these items also have a unique shade. Finished bamboo woven products could be used for forty, fifty years with no issue, and the color would fade from its original green to a cream white hue, before slowly changing to a brass color over time. On top of that, there are always a wide range of bamboo rattan products, from hats, oil-paper umbrellas, tea sets, farming tools, tableware, rice sieve, table covers, fans, steamers, straw capes, foot bathtubs, bamboo fired heaters, and so forth. Most noteworthy to the younger generations are bamboo fired heaters, who are fascinated with the usage of these heaters. The Hakka people also call it huochong (火沖); a ceramic plate is placed at the center of the heater, and coal is then burned to produce heat. It was widely used in the 1950s and the 1960s, providing warmth to the elderly folk during the cold winters. It is also customary during wedding ceremonies to see a huochong tied with a red string with burning coal – symbolizing endless offspring.

A bamboo fired heater


In the past, on the roads of Hakka villages, one could see Hakka women huddled together to make pans, hats, baskets, and bamboo woven products are a staple of every household. The process of making these products is arduous, sometimes requiring one to squat for a period of time, or to move around the product in a circle. One could take half a day to finish making just one or two items, and the young tend to not be able to endure this hardship. With the changing times, as plastic products became the trend, the skills of master craftsmen of bamboo woven products slowly faded away without being passed down to the younger generations. Bamboo woven products also fell by the wayside in households, with masters and apprentices alike switching professions.

Hakka bamboo weaving is a staple in the hearts of the older generations. Bamboo woven products however, have now become “artworks” for shutter-happy tourists who chance a glance at these items. In fact, bamboo weaving – as is the case with numerous traditional industries in Taiwan – is a precious cultural heritage. A key issue presently is how to tackle the issue of passing down the skills of bamboo weaving, so as to carry out cultural transformation.  

(Translator: James Loo

In collaboration with Fu Jen Catholic University, Department of English)