Established by the Federation of Chinese Associations of Malaysia (Hua Zong), the Malaysian Chinese Museum at Wisma Huazong in Seri Kembangan, Kuala Lumpur opened its doors to the public in 2018. The museum tells the story of the Chinese in Malaysia through a delightful mix of text, graphics and historical reconstruction.
In the 15th century and possibly earlier, there were diplomatic relations between China and Malacca. During the Ming Dynasty, Admiral Zheng He made no less than five grand voyages to Malacca. The Malaccan rulers also travelled to China to pay tribute in the Imperial Court.
During the late Qing Dynasty, unrest and famine in China and the promise of greener pastures abroad led the Chinese to make their way to South East Asia. However, life here after a tempestuous journey was almost always harsh (especially for those in bondage), and often migrants resorted to opium and alcohol to block out their pitiful existence.
The Chinese migrants were grouped based on their place of origin in China, and many formed triads to protect their interests. The triads fought over control of resources such as the mines, and this sometimes led to wars eg. Perang Larut, fought between the Hai San Society and Ghee Hin Society.
There were also migrants who became successful businessmen, such as Tan Kah Kee. In 1860, Tan Kah Kee travelled from Xiamen, Fujian to Singapore (then part of the Straits Settlements) to help his father with the family business (rice trading). Eventually, he built a business empire stretching across sectors such as rubber, manufacturing, canneries, real estate and rice trading. The museum has statues of Tan Kah Kee and his son-in-law, Lee Kong Chian, also a prominent businessman.
Besides that, along with the people came their culture and naturally the industries to support that culture. In the museum, there are reconstructions of several shopfronts.
During the Japanese Occupation (1942-1945), the Chinese here suffered grave casualties and cruel treatment. Some joined the Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), which fought hard against the Japanese invaders. After the war, eight MPAJA members received awards for their anti-Japanese efforts.
After World War II, many of the MPAJA members joined the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), which became embroiled in armed conflict against the British colonial government. This eventually led to the declaration of the Malayan Emergency, during which measures such as the introduction of identity cards and creation of New Villages were implemented. A diorama at the museum reconstructs the situation during the Emergency, which officially ended in 1960 with the victory of the Malayan forces.
After independence in 1957, the Chinese have gradually integrated into Malaysian society without sacrificing their cultural identity, as can be seen from the reconstructions of Chinese markers of culture such as the religion, cuisine and forms of entertainment.
Furthermore, Chinese education continues to be upheld. The museum traces the development of the Chinese education system in Malaysia. It is to be noted that outside China and Taiwan, Malaysia is the only country that provides Chinese education from primary to tertiary level. The groups of Chinese educationalists responsible for this achievement, amongst them Jiao Zong and Dong Zong, are acknowledged in the museum.
Last but not least, the museum has a breathtaking miniature display of a bustling marketplace where the different races in Malaysia can be seen working together for the betterment of the nation, in a depiction of the present and hopefully, the future as well.
All in all, while the museum occupies a mere 10,550 square feet, the space has been very cleverly used and the museum is well worth a visit.
At the conclusion of the guided tour, the museum presented our library with a book entitled “A Journey Through History: The Chinese and Nation-Building in Malaysia”. We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for the hospitality and the special gift. We would also like to thank Mona Tan for organising this trip.
The first quarter of 2019 was very eventful for me. I made two overseas trips, the first to Guangzhou, China, in January followed by an 18-day sojourn to the North Island of New Zealand, between February and March. Taking these excellent opportunities, I visited the local museums and I would like to share my experiences with you.
1. Archaeological Site Museum of Nanyue Palace in Guangzhou
The history of Guangzhou started more than 2,000 years ago. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin Empire succeeded in unifying the Lingnan Region, which comprised 3 prefectures namely Nanhai, Guilin and Xiang.
The Qin dynasty ended when military captains staged
revolts causing great upheavals in the Central Plains of China. Zhao Tuo took
over and established the Nanyue Kingdom with Panyu (original name of Guangzhou)
as its capital. The Nanyue Kingdom was ruled successively by 5 kings and
endured 93 years until it was obliterated by Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty in 111
BC. Since then, Guangzhou was further developed by another 10 cultural strata,
right up to the Republic of China.
The museum sits between shops fronting the Beijing Road and dwellings on the other side, with the main entrance located at Zhongshan 4th Road. As the name suggests, the focus is on the historic site of the palace and garden of the Nanyue Kingdom. The royal garden consists of a large stone pond and a crooked stone brook. The latter was discovered in 1997 and it meanders from the north to south, a distance of 160 metres. It is the earliest and the best-preserved royal garden discovered so far in China.
During the excavation of the
pond, a large quantity of the remains of turtles was found at the bottom,
implying the animals might have been kept as pets in the royal garden. Chinese
authorities also found that stone structures used in the construction of the
royal garden were built with materials similar to those of Western stone
structures, thus testifying to the meeting of East and West in Guangzhou in
Besides the site of the palace
and garden of the Nanyue Kingdom, there is also the palace site of the Nanhan
Kingdom, which includes the Nanhan courtyard paved with fabulous butterfly
peony square bricks. At the exhibition building for Guangzhou’s ancient wells,
visitors can see over 500 wells built during the different dynasties. During
excavations at this site, many valuable artefacts were found. Over 100 pottery
jars were unearthed from the wells constructed by the Eastern Han Dynasty
Towards the end of 2004, hundreds
of inscribed wooden slips were excavated from the wells built during the Nanyue
Kingdom. These are the very first of such artefacts ever discovered in the
region that provide great value for academic research.
There is no admission fee to visit the museum but visitors must get tickets at the main entrance by showing personal ID cards or, in the case of foreigners, by showing passports.
2. Auckland War Memorial Museum in Auckland
The Auckland Domain is Auckland’s oldest park and it is located just
outside Auckland’s CBD. This spacious 75 hectares park is also one of the
largest parks in the city and it has been developed around the cone of the
extinct Pukekawa volcano. Sitting proudly atop it is the Auckland War Memorial
museum is housed in a large neo-classical styled building and is considered as
one of the finest heritage buildings. It was opened in 1929 to commemorate the
loss of 18,166 New Zealanders who died in the First World War. Today, AWMM
is one of the top tourist attractions. The museum is divided into 3 levels:
Ground Level – This level examines the diversity of Maori and Pacific Island cultures. It also talks about the movement of people from South East Asia to the islands in “Near Oceania” 5,000 years ago, then progressing further to the distant island groups in “Remote Oceania” such as New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa between 3,500 – 3,000 years ago. By then, these people were known as the Lapita people, the immediate ancestors of the Polynesians. Then after “The Long Pause”, a period of over 1,000 years, they started sailing again after the development of larger ocean-going canoes reaching as far North as the Hawaiian islands and as far South as Aotearoa New Zealand 800 years ago. It was believed that the Polynesians have sailed as far as South America and brought back kumara and gourd.
Level One – Talks about the Natural History of New Zealand, from geological origins to its ancient flora and fauna. The Moa was the tallest bird known and the female grew as tall as 3 metres, measured in an upright standing position. This level also highlights the uniqueness of many New Zealand birds, which are flightless, large, dull or dark in colour and slow breeders. Of course, there is mention of the Kiwi, national pride of New Zealand.
Level Two – This gallery is named Scars on the Heart. It is a war memorial centered mainly on the First and Second World Wars. There is also a section that talks about Kiwis being called into action in Asia, namely in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam.
New Zealanders that fought in Asia were based at the Changi Air Base in
Singapore from 1949 to 1951, during the time of the Malayan Emergency, and they
remained in the country until 1989. Their engagement grew larger during the
time of the Confrontation over Borneo in 1964. In the 1960’s, pressured by the
American government, New Zealand committed resources to the Vietnam War.
We were again given the
spotlight, this time on the stained glass ceiling above the main foyer, which depicts
the Coat of Arms of all British Dominions and Colonies during the First World
War. The Coat of Arms of Malaya and Straits Settlements are proudly displayed
on this glass ceiling.
A portrait of Sir Edmund Hillary, who was born in Auckland, is also on display. On 29 May 1953, Sir Edmund and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, became the first climbers to reach the peak of Mount Everest.
The general admission fee to this museum is NZ $25.00 and the highlights guided tour is an additional NZ $15.00.
3. Navy Museum in Devonport
Still in Auckland, I also visited the Navy Museum in the village of Devonport. Here, visitors can learn about New Zealand’s contribution at sea in the major conflicts of the 20th century and as well as during peace-time. Again, the Malayan Emergency and Confrontation are highlighted. The museum is open seven days a week, 10.00 am to 5.00 pm and admission is free.
driver attempting to cross the bridge had apparently been oblivious to the fact
that he was driving in the wrong direction. The resulting commotion essentially
amounted to a series of loud commands ordering him to reverse. Someone notes
his licence plate: “Wilayah”. Well, that explains a great deal.
our Wilayah driver was not the first one who had difficulty crossing that section
of the Melaka River. Jambatan Tan Kim Seng was built by a wealthy Peranakan
man, who had sought his fortune in Singapore and built monuments in Melaka
thereafter. However, our guide, En. Shaukani, tells us of another bridge that
was in fact destroyed by the British during the Japanese invasion of Melaka. In
an attempt to slow down Japanese advancement, British troops carried out a
‘scorched earth’ policy of destroying bridges. That bridge lies alongside
Jambatan Tan Kim Seng, but remains invisible to all save those with an
awareness of the incident. This was a fitting point to begin the ‘intangible’
segment of our Melaka trip, a tour not of monuments, but of memories.
sometimes clear, sometimes hazy, and always bound to make their mark. My own
memories of this part of the trip were affected by heat, low-blood sugar, and
the fact that I did not set everything down the moment I returned. Nonetheless,
I attempted at scratching away some notes whilst keeping up with my group in
the midst of the Malaccan sun.
does one map out a city’s history? Does the answer lie in the names of old
streets and famous buildings? Or does history lie behind those streets, somewhere
between the memories of those long dead and the commerce of those still living?
As one recalls plodding through the streets of Melaka, such questions come to
mind, a reminder that heritage is not merely about what we inherit, but how we choose to inherit.
Shaukani takes us to ‘Black Smith Street’ (Jalan
Tukang Besi), so called because of the occupation of those who used to work
there. The past tense can no doubt produce dismay; almost all of the craftsmen
have since left the area, and their crafts have gone with them. As our guide
points out, the old crafts have since been replaced by modern alternatives,
with knives being bought from the supermarket rather than the local blacksmith.
Tinsmiths and bucket makers have long departed the scene. Instead, one sees
mural paintings, massage parlours, and the modern world in its various forms. Had
we been on our own, we may have been left with disappointment. However, we were
in the presence of a tour guide with experience on his hands, and En. Shaukani
transformed the view before us into one filled with bullock carts, lorries, opium
smoking, fights, and naked ghosts.
GHOSTS?!” you exclaim, voicing your shock and disbelief to me from – well, from
wherever you happen to be at the present moment. “If there are naked ghosts in
the street, I am never going to
Melaka!” Keep calm reader. Rest assured; if we had seen ghosts, we would
certainly have behaved in a quintessentially Malaysian fashion (i.e. taking one
picture for our relatives and then running for our lives back to KL). However, we
saw none, for En. Shaukani merely made mention of ‘Coolie Street’ and the naked
ghosts said to inhabit that area. From what I recall, these ghosts are
apparently the coolies themselves, while the story was told to young children
to prevent them from going to the area. Regardless of who or what actually
resides in Coolie Street, I am personally grateful for not having gone there; I
can take ‘intangible’ tours, but not supernatural ones.
picture painted thus far can provide the impression of a dead city. Yet this is
far from the truth, for Melaka is a city full of life and colour. Though most
of the craftsmen have gone, we were fortunate enough to come across one man who
has maintained a family tradition. Much later in the tour, we had the good
fortune of meeting Mr T.S. Lim, who runs a shop making handmade shoes. Yet
these are no ordinary shoes, but glass slippers. Remove that image of
Cinderella’s footwear from your mind, for those transparent ‘one-size only’
high heels pale in comparison to these vibrant traditional Nyonya beaded shoes,
made from potong beads. The rows of traditional shoes displayed at the
front of the shop are like a cross between beautiful paintings and coloured candy,
reminding one of the multi-coloured tiles that typify Peranakan culture. Inside
the store, Mr. Lim is kind enough to share his knowledge with our group,
showing us some work in progress contained in an embroidery hoop. As Mr. Lim
explains to us, the design on one shoe must be a mirror image of the other shoe
that forms the pair. On the shelves, one sees that Mr. Lim has created contemporary
high heels featuring the potong beads on their straps, an ingenious and
tasteful blend that combines modern styles with traditional techniques. It is
an indication that the tradition is still alive, quite literally carrying on
its own journey on the feet of others.
for our own feet, we found ourselves on yet another road: Harmony Street. The
road owes its name to the presence of the Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple, the
Kampung Kling mosque, and the Cheng Hoon Teng temple, each of which is located beside
the other. The close proximity of these historic places of worship is a
reminder that peaceful co-existence and acceptance is not a new invention in
Malaysia, but an established part of our country’s traditions. The Sri Poyatha
Moorthi Temple was built by the Chitty community on land given by the VOC
(Dutch East India Trading Company), and is one of Malaysia’s oldest Hindu temples.
It thus occupies a unique place in our country’s history, not least because
Chitty temples are now a rarity in Malaysia. Just as historic is the Kampung
Kling mosque, originally built by Indian Muslim traders. The mosque has the
tiered roof that is characteristic of many traditional Malaysian and Indonesian
mosques. Yet like so many Malaccan mosques, the Kampung Kling mosque also bears
elements of Chinese architecture, with the main structure having a pagoda-like
feel. En. Shaukani also points out to us the use of pineapple motifs on the
mosque’s archway, the pineapple being a traditional Chinese symbol of
prosperity. Unique to Southeast Asian Chinese culture is the use of Peranakan
tiles, which adorn the mosque with a variety of colours. These elements do not
merely co-exist; they work in harmony to create a new effect, one that is
greater than the sum of particular artistic influences. In an age when religion
often feels dry and harsh, the Kampung Kling mosque is a loving reminder of the
beauty of faith.
would return to the mosque later, but for the time being it was on to the next
building: the Cheng Hoon Teng temple. Yet to refer to its current function as a
temple does not reveal the complex history underlying this building. Though it
is currently a house of worship for Mahayana Buddhists, the building was
originally a community centre commissioned by Tay Kie Ki, a kapitan or leader of Melaka’s Chinese
community in 1645. As En. Shaukani tells us, Melaka’s community had a “kapitan system”, with En. Shaukani
mentioning three kapitan: kapitan Melayu, kapitan kling, and kapitan Cina. As far as I can understand
– I was writing whilst standing, so the shorthand is vague – the Dutch would
liase with the various kapitan in
question. But the British abolished this system, and the building was
subsequently converted into a temple. According to Kenny Mah, the building is a
reflection of Southern Chinese architecture, and every aspect of the building
is aligned with feng shui. The use of
red makes this building a truly stunning sight, befitting of this beautiful
passed by many other buildings, each with some story of its own. An apparently
insignificant building is really a property once owned by Tan Cheng Lock, with
the house being the site of many meetings held to discuss our independence. The
house of the Chi family links us unexpectedly back to home, with the Chi family
helping to finance Raja Abdullah’s tin mining in Kuala Lumpur. Yet what stood
out most for me was the Aik Cheong Coffee Roaster shop lot. Although it is now
a location selling packaged coffee, the lot was once a coffee shop; En.
Shaukani recounted how the smell of roasted coffee used to fill the air. Once
again, it was not the tangible that counted but the intangible, a history not tucked
away in dusty archives but written on the tablets of human memory.
We had come to the end our tour, but some time remained for us to explore the city on our own. For myself, I needed to make a trip back to the mosque to perform the canonical prayers. Though modern mosques have taps, the Kampung Kling mosque has a square-shaped pool for worshipers to perform the ritual purification (wudu), at the centre of which is a golden fountain. In the midst of the Malaccan heat, taking cool water from the pool reminds one of the desert oasis. One also thinks of the words of the Prophet (SAW): “I go before you, and I am your witness. Your tryst with me is at the Pool”. I cannot remember if these thoughts entered my head at the time. What I do remember is looking up and being calmly but clearly confronted with reality, with the gravestones of the deceased being in front of the pool. They were slightly to the left but inescapably in view, and though one can laugh at the thought of ghosts, one cannot truly behold the men and women who have gone before without thinking of what lies ahead. It is a reminder that the true bridge is an invisible one, visible only to those who remember.
Martin. Muhammad: His Life Based on the
Earliest Sources. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983.
A morning visit to Stadthuys, St. Paul’s Hill, Dutch Cemetery, Porta de Santiago
On the fine Saturday
morning of 12 January 2019, a group of 22 including MV trainers and trainees set
off from Muzium Negara and arrived in Melaka at approximately 9.45 am. An
experienced local guide, En Shaukani Abbas, from Friends of Melaka Museums, led
our day’s itinerary. Upon introducing himself, he shared some tips and techniques
on tour guiding: 1 – Understand the history; 2 – Say the facts in your own
words; 3 – Tell the story from your heart using your imagination; and finally 4
– Have humour in your presentation.
Our first stop was
the Stadthuys, a prominent red building believed to be the oldest surviving
structure of the Dutch in the East; if a modern Dutch visitor wishes to see a
historical Dutch building, Melaka is where it can be found. The Stadthuys was
built in 1641 on top of a Portuguese building as evidenced by Portuguese wells
found below the ground. It was the official administration centre and dwelling
of Dutch governors and officers. In 1982, it was converted into a museum displaying
the rich history of Melaka’s colonial past and local customs and traditions. Its
Dutch-style architecture can be clearly seen in its steep and high roofing as well
as its wide doors and windows.
One of the rooms has
ornate engravings on its ceiling; this room is believed to have been the living
room of the governor. Also on display are items traded during the Dutch period
in this region under the Dutch East-India Company (VOC) and portrait paintings
of the Directors of the company are hung at one corner of the room. Just
outside of the building but connected by a walkway is the kitchen, also known
as the Big Toaster. In the olden days, servants would bake bread overnight in
order to serve it fresh to their masters the next morning. The original brick
flooring and massive ovens give the space a rustic feel.
Moving deeper into
the museum, dioramas on traditional wedding and ceremonial events are displayed
and they provide an overall glimpse of the various cultures and customs
practiced by the multi-racial people of Melaka. It was especially interesting
to learn about the Chitty ceremony of shaving a baby’s head and the Baba Nyonya
wedding bed for newlyweds. The remaining tour in the museum was regarding the
Melaka sultanate, Portuguese and foreign invasion and miniature models of the A
After an information-packed session at the museum, we walked up St. Paul’s Hill to visit ruins of the church. Propped up against a wall are headstones, which were well preserved and have beautiful patterns carved onto the stone. It is believed that the headstones were brought from overseas, as the material is not found locally. We also came across St. Francis Xavier’s statue, which was given by the Archbishop of Melaka. The statue is missing a right arm and En. Shaukani told the story of a nearby tree that fell onto the statue during a storm, hence the missing limb.
As we descended the hill, we saw an old Dutch cemetery and we learnt that despite its name, only seven Dutch graves are found there while the rest of about 30 plus graves are those of British military personnel and their wives. We continued walking towards Porta de Santiago, the only gate that survived the destruction of A Famosa. We took a happy group photo there under the scorching sun. By this time, we were ready for a lunch break to fuel ourselves for the rest of the afternoon in the historical city of Melaka.
Abdullah (1876-1933) was a campaigner for the Malay cause in Singapore. He was
also known as the father of modern Malay journalism. Eunos fought hard for
Malay rights especially in education. He died at the age of 57; he was a
journalist, a politician and founder of the Singapura Malay Union (Kesatuan
Melayu Singapura,KMS). His passion in championing Malay rights in Singapore
went on to inspire future Malay nationalists in Malaya.
born in Singapore to a successful Minangkabau trader from Sumatera, Indonesia. He
had his early education in a Malay school in Kampong Glam and he was among the
very few Malays who studied at Raffles Institution. Upon graduation, he joined
the government service. His early career in Singapore was that of an attendant
at the Harbour Master’s office; he was later promoted as Harbour Master in
early 19th century, Munshi Abdullah, the father of modern Malay
literature, was also a renowned Islamic scholar with his modernistic interpretation
of Islam in the region. Eunos was inspired by his writings. At the age of 31,
Eunos was offered a job as an Editor for the Utusan Malayu, a Malay
language version of the English newspaper in Singapore. Thus, was the beginning
of his opinionated voice on racial nationalism of “bumiputra” son of the soil issues.
He also spoke up against the Muslim Arab descendants who were monopolizing the
social and economic environment in Singapore. From literary work, he instantly
became a political activist representing the Malay voice during the colonial
In 1922, he was appointed as Justice of Peace and subsequently appointed as a member to the municipal commission. He was the first Malay given this position in Singapore. Following the British’s administration policy to increase local representation in the Legislative Council of the Straits Settlement, Eunos was made a Legislative Councillor in 1924. He was the first Malay councillor. In his first public appearance, Eunos stood up to condemn the government’s education policy that side lined the Malay youth. Eunos concluded:
“Being unable to swim, he sinks and is lost in the swelling sea of unemployment. Surely, Sir, this is not a thing to be desired among the original son of the soil? I am confident, Sir, ways and means can be found which will enhance the prospects of boys of the soil and remove forever the penalization which oust them from their own markets simply because they happen to be the imperfect products of an imperfect system of education”.
of this Legislative Council’s proceedings recorded that there was an immediate applause
from his friends and Asian councillors in the audience.
Eunos and his associates formed the Kesatuan Melayu Singapura (KMS) or the
Singapore Malay Union; he was made its President. KMS was the first political
organisation set up to champion Malay rights such as increasing Malay
representation in the government service, upholding Malay interests, and promoting
higher education for the Malays.
He wanted a strong sense of Malay nationalism and called for the preservation of its culture or roots to be known and recognised. Eunos pushed to increase the education budget so that Malays could enter into the medical college and attend Malay vernacular or trade schools. He also advocated for better living conditions and sanitation for the Malay community. He proposed to build a settlement of Kampung Melayu to uphold the Malay values. Eunos was eventually given a grant to purchase and build the settlement. It was named Kampung Melayu or Kampung Eunos. In 1981, the settlement paved way for the construction of Pan Island Expressway and development of housing estates. To commemorate Eunos’s legacy, one of the local residential districts near Kampung Eunos was named EUNOS.
Eunos retired in early 1933 and passed away in December 1933. He was laid to rest in the Bidadari Cemetery, Singapore.
National Museum Singapore- Board Captions
Marx Ravinder Frost & Yu-Mei Balasingamchow (2009) Singapore: A Biography, Singapore: EDM & National Museum of Singapore
The exhibition at the Islamic Arts Museum, Malaysia (IAMM) titled ‘Al-Tibb: Healing Traditions in Islamic Medical Manuscripts’ has been extended until end of January this year. If you were planning a visit to IAMM, this month would be a good time to go.
‘Tibb’ is the Arabic word for medicine and this exhibition displays IAMM’s collections of manuscripts and objects related to the science of medicine in the Islamic world. The collections are from across the Islamic world and cover a number of areas including prophetic medicine, pharmacy and dietetics, bimaristan (hospital), anatomy, Malay medicine, and traditional medicine.
Knowledge of healing from around the Malay Archipelago is encapsulated in a number Kitab Tibb Melayu, the first of which was written in 1638 CE by Sheik Nuruddin al-Raniri, an ulama in the Aceh Sultanate. IAMM has a number of Kitab Tibb in its collection; samples from a few pieces are shown below.
Harun Mat Piah (2018) ‘The Malay Knowledge of Healing’, in Lucien de Guise (editor) Al-Tibb: Healing Traditions in Islamic Medical Manuscripts, Kuala Lumpur: IAMM.