Community, Profiles, Stories

Fookien/Fukien/Hokkien/Fujian… Which Term is ACTUALLY Correct?!

PICTURE THIS: A young Chinese-Filipina was once having dinner in a large Chinese restaurant in Greenhills with her family. Glowing with beauty, she sports a simple yet very elegant red dress; it’s her grandfather’s 80th birthday celebration! 

Gifts of all sizes abound, her baby cousins are dying to see the big lobster in the aquarium, and the food…  oh my goodness! A HAPPY birthday indeed!

Of course, relatives from every conceivable place in the world are there, too. An unfamiliar aunt asks her a question, “Di u howe na ba?” She responds in a very modern tone: Yeah! He’s my age and like you know he speaks Fookien din!” And the aunt is all praises for her.

The answer to “Does he/she speak Fookien?” matters for many Chinese-Filipinos when it comes to a potential future husband or wife. Our native Chinese-Filipino language, what we call as “Fookien”, matters. It’s a big part of our identity.

We all grew up calling it Fookien or Hokkien. Literally everyone, from our amahs and angkongs to our Chinese teachers and classmates, calls it Fookien. 

We pride ourselves by saying that “the language that we speak at home, Fookien, comes from the Fujian province in China!” 

EXCEPT, we’ve been factually incorrect and outright wrong this whole time for calling the language that: “Fookien”. And perhaps it is time we stop using that term to refer to it.

But what do you mean? And why? Let’s get into that; buckle up, don’t get confused!

In Chinese culture, birthdays are a cause for celebration! Image by Mathieu Vivier from Pixabay

First, let’s actually clarify the terms themselves! Why in the world is it called so many names? Fookien, Fukien, Hokkien, Fujian… Now what?

According to Mr. Glenn Ang, who has taught history in the Ateneo de Manila University, the term “Fukien” (which many spell as “Fookien”) is in Wade-Giles form, an old system aimed at romanizing Chinese. The Mandarin translation of that term is “Fujian”. Now, whether it’s Fukien/Fookien or Fujian, they share the same Chinese character, 福建,  and are exactly the same: they refer to a province in China, where most of us Chinese-Filipinos trace our ancestry from.  

The actual language that we Chinese-Filipinos speak should more appropriately be called Minnan (Ban Lam being the Minnan translation of the term and 闽南 being the character).

According to Mr. Ang, Minnan 闽南 means “south of the Min mountains”. What many of us don’t know is there are OTHER languages in the Fujian province: Minbei 闽北 (north of the Min mountains), Mindong 闽东 (east of the Min mountains), and Minzhong 闽中 (in the middle of the Min mountains).

The Fujian province is home to so many other languages. Image from Quora

But there are even more. “There are also other dialects at the border of Fujian and Guangdong provinces, Fujian and Jiangxi provinces, as well as Fujian and Zhejiang provinces,” says Mr. Ang.

That is why the language we speak is better called “Minnan” instead of “Fookien/Fukien/Hokkien/Fujian”. While it is still understandable since we’ve been so used to them, when we use those terms, we seem to give the impression that it is the only language in the Fujian province, which is gravely wrong. 

SO IN SHORT, the terms Fookien, Fukien, and Fujian (福建) are simply different ways of calling that province in China where most of us Chinese-Filipinos trace our ancestry from. The actual language that we speak is called Minnan or Ban Lam (闽南).

You must be wondering: what about the term “Hokkien”? Well, now that it has been introduced, Hokkien is the proper Minnan translation of Fookien/Fukien and Fujian. 

Let’s end with this quote from Dr. Sidney Bata, director of the Ateneo de Manila University Chinese Studies Program: “Each language, as well as its dialects, are all important. Languages will die without proper strategy of saving and recognizing it.”

The fact of the matter is that Minnan (闽南), Minbei (闽北), and all those risk extinction. So, while we value Mandarin for its practicality, we should make the effort to help preserve smaller Chinese languages and dialects as well, maybe even officially through museum exhibits and the like.

They have been, after all, a part of our history and ancestry!


The author of this article: 

An accomplished young Chinese Filipino writer and media personality, Aaron S. Medina is associated with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Ateneo de Manila University Chinese Studies Program, the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies, and CHiNOY TV. He has a passion for truth, justice, and Pokémon, too! Follow him on Facebook:


One thought on “Fookien/Fukien/Hokkien/Fujian… Which Term is ACTUALLY Correct?!

Leave a Reply