Origin of Teochew language


The history of Chaozhou dialect (潮洲話) started with proto-Putian which was a sub-dialect of Quanzhou dialect. Overseas Chinese call this language Teochew.

The historical development of this language can be summarised in the chart below.

Ethnic She 

The natives of northeast Guangdong are the ethnic She (畲) people which is a part of the Hmong-Mien ethnic group. Chaoshan region was populated mostly by native ethnic She people and sparsely populated before the Southern Song dynasty.
Ethnic She

The Han River basin 韓江 was named after a Chaozhou governor named Han Yu 韓愈 who got rid of dangerous crocodiles in the river in 819 AD (Tang dynasty) and made the basin a safer place to live.

Proto-Putian dialect

The first massive Han Chinese migration to Chaozhou was during 1235-1279 AD (Southern Song dynasty) when the Mongols started to invade southern China.
Mongol hordes invading southern China

Putian (莆田) county was part of Quanzhou prefecture before it was carved out into a separate Xing-Hua aka Hing-Hua military prefecture (興化軍) in 979 AD (Northern Song dynasty). What this meant was that there was a military base stationed in this prefecture for defense purposes.

It is unknown why the Song emperor established a military base in Putian prefecture but the most probable reason could be because the neighbouring Quanzhou port was the largest port during the Song dynasty with a large number of foreigners. Putian was in the same prefecture as Quanzhou port during the previous Tang dynasty.

This prefecture became a military war zone and fighting intensified when the Mongols attacked Putian in 1276-1277 AD. The two generals of Xing-Hua army i.e. Chen Wen Long aka Tan Boon Leong (陳文龍) and Chen Zan (陳瓚) were killed trying to defend Southern Fujian.
Statue of Chen Wen Long in Putian

To escape this constant war with the Mongols, a large number of civilians migrated from Putian to Han River (韓江) basin mostly through the maritime route. Han River basin includes modern-day Chaozhou, Shantou and Jieyang.

Migration path from Putian to Chaozhou

As a result, 70-80% of Chaoshan ancestral home have been traced back to Putian by examining their ancestral records.

There is a record of an earlier migration during Tang dynasty with a leader Du Zhu Xuan (杜竹軒) from Putian but the number is much smaller compared to this period.

During the Tang and Song dynasty, their ancestors in Putian spoke proto-Putian which is a sub-dialect of Quanzhou dialect which became the basis for proto-Chaozhou. The other subdialect of Quanzhou was Nan-An (南安).

Chaoshan language

Although the majority of Chaozhou ancestors came from Putian, a minority came from Zhangzhou because it is adjacent to Chaozhou region. Chaozhou dialect formed with proto-Putian dialect as the main dialect but absorbed some Zhangzhou and She words.

Chaozhou dialect developed into a separate language called Chaoshan (汕) with several main dialects during the Ming and Qing dynasty. These are
  • Chaozhou (潮州片includes Chaozhou (潮洲), Shantou (汕頭)
  • Chaopu (潮普片includes Chaoyang (潮陽), Puning (普寧)
  • Chaozhang (潮漳) includes Shanwei (汕尾) 
Chaozhou aka Teochew dialect is the defacto standard dialect for this new Southern Min language.
Chaozhou cultural drama

Hailufeng dialect

Hailufeng (海陸豐) dialect originated as a Zhangzhou dialect because most of their ancestors came from Zhangzhou prefecture rather than Putian prefecture.

Strictly speaking, it is a dialect of Quanzhang language but being adjacent to Shanwei (汕尾) and cut off from Zhangzhou, it has and will receive more and more influence from Chaoshan language in the future.

Thus, Hailufeng is sometimes categorised as a dialect of Chaoshan language and belongs to the Chaozhang branch which is a mixture of Chaozhou and Zhangzhou.

Hing Hua dialect

Even though both Hing Hua (興化), a dialect of Puxian (莆仙) language, and Chaozhou descended from the same dialect which is proto-Putian about 700 years ago, they are not mutually intelligible today.

Putian prefecture is situated in between Quanzhou prefecture and Fuzhou prefecture whereas Chaozhou is situated south of Zhangzhou prefecture.

Therefore, Chaozhou dialect received influence from Zhangzhou dialect whereas Hing Hua dialect received influence from Fuzhou dialect since the split during the Southern Song dynasty. The examples below illustrate the influences.

Hing Hua

Southern Min languages family

Chaoshan is actually a separate language within the Southern Min languages family and not a dialect of the language as commonly perceived. It has only 50-60% mutual intelligibility with Xiamen dialect which is the defacto standard for Quanzhang aka Hokkien language.

Hing Hua aka Puxian was erroneously left out of the Southern Min languages family mostly due to lower partial intelligibility. However, Putian region was part of Quanzhou prefecture during Tang dynasty and also part of Southern Min cultural and linguistic region during Song dynasty.
Tang dynasty prefectures

It has also been shown that Puxian actually has 62% cognates with Quanzhou and only 39% cognates with Fuzhou. This is consistent with its roots as a Quanzhou sub-dialect before the Ming dynasty.

According to western linguistics definition of dialect and language family, both Chaoshan and Puxian should be separate languages within the Southern Min language family because they descended from the same ancestral proto-language. 


The ancestors of both Chaozhou and Hailufeng represent the second migration path from Fujian to northeast Guangdong during the Southern Song dynasty. The first migration path from northern China to Southern Fujian happened much earlier during the Jin to Tang dynasty.

Related links

Origin of Quanzhou dialect

Ethnic origin of Han Chinese


  • https://kknews.cc/culture/lp5pzyb.html (Teochiu ancestors)
  • https://kknews.cc/culture/6892opq.html (Origin of Teochiu language)
  • https://kknews.cc/history/59vjab6.html (Teochiu ancestors)
  • <福建省誌> Chap. 3 莆仙方言 第一节 形成與分佈 (Origin of Puxian language)
  • http://pnclink.org/annual/annual1998/1998pdf/cheng.pdf (Mutual intelligibility with Xiamen)
  • <廣東僑網>
  • https://kknews.cc/history/9292pl.html (Hailufeng dialect)
  • https://kknews.cc/culture/eoaakqz.html (History of Teochiu prefecture)
  • http://www.chaozhou.gov.cn:82/gate/big5/wscz.chaozhou.gov.cn/content/58285/_1 (Putian origin)
  • http://www.chaofeng.org/article/detail.asp?id=12025
  • https://www.wikitw.club/article-2459974-1.html
  • 李如龍、陳章太:《論閩方言內部的主要差異》,《閩語硏究》 pg 58-138. 北京:語文出版社, 1991. (Puxian cognates percentage)
  • 媽祖信仰研究 By 蔡相煇
Last update: 2 Feb 2019
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