by Janet Wong and Margaret Yeo
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.