The Hakka, although proud of their cultural differences, have never claimed to be non-Chinese. Many famous Chinese have been Hakka, including Deng Xiaoping, Lee Kwan Yew, and Hong Xiuquan (the leader of the Taiping Rebellion).
There is much speculation concerning the historical roots of the Hakka. Some claim that they were the first Chinese people to arrive in China. Others claim that the Hakka are the descendants of the Xiongnu tribe. This much is agreed upon: At various stages between the fourth and thirteenth centuries AD, large numbers of people were forced to flee their homes in the war-torn Yellow River valley to seek refuge in southern China. These war refugees came to be known as Kejia - a Hakka word meaning "strangers" or "guests." When the savage Mongol hordes swept across China in the thirteenth century, many Hakka fled to the south to escape the carnage.
As part of the careful preservation of their language, when a non-Hakka woman marries into a Hakka family she is required to learn the Hakka language. In the past, many Hakka mothers killed their female babies. "Sooner than sell their daughters into slavery or concubinage, Hakka mothers prefer to kill them soon after birth." The Hakka never practiced footbinding like other Chinese.
Since the advent of Communism most Hakka could accurately be described as nonreligious. Aspects of animism and shamanism are found among some of the more remote Hakka locations.
Rev. T. H. Hamburg and Rudolf Lechler were the first missionaries sent out by the Basel Mission. They arrived in China in 1846 to commence work among the Hakka. They experienced great success, and by 1922 the Hakka Christians numbered 30,000. Today, most of the estimated 150,000 Hakka Christians in China are located in southern Guangdong. In the 1800s the Taiping leader Chung Wang, a Hakka, pleaded for missionaries to have patience with his people. "You have had the Gospel for upwards of 1,800 years; we only, as it were, eight days. Your knowledge of it ought to be correct and extensive, ours must necessarily be limited and imperfect. You must therefore bear with us for the present, and we will gradually improve. We are determined to uproot idolatry, and plant Christianity in its place."