Exhibition: History of Malaysia-Sino Interactions

by Eric Lim

Recently, an exhibition with the theme “A History of Malaysia – Sino Interactions” was held at The Mines 2, Sri Kembangan, Selangor. It was organized by The Federation of Hokkien Associations of Malaysia and supported by the Embassy of The People’s Republic of China in Malaysia.

The exhibition highlighted the good ties between The People’s Republic of China and Malaysia. Diplomatic relations between the two countries started in 1974 when the then Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak visited China and met Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Chou Enlai. Today, China is one of our major trading partners and our export to China has increased to record highs. Local Musang King durians and white coffee are sought-after items in China.

The exhibition covered four sections as listed below. Exhibits were mostly in pictures with information written in Chinese and English, plus a few records and publications.

  1. 2000 years of Malaysian-Sino interactions before 1974,
  2. Ethnic Hokkien Chinese and their roles in Malaysian-Sino cultural exchanges,
  3. A historical review of the 45 years of Malaysian-Sino diplomatic relations, and last but not least
  4. Sheer endeavour to reform the Divine Land of the People’s Republic of China and the formation of Malaysia.

Section 1

In this section, we learn about the historical and cultural interactions between the two countries that took place nearly 2000 years ago. The Chinese record, Di Li Zhi Hanshu, mentions a kingdom named Duyuan, which some researchers believed to be at Kuala Dungun. However, some researchers also believe that it could be located in Kra Isthmus. This was the earliest Chinese record of contact with the Malay Peninsula and it was during the reign of the Western Han Dynasty. In the Songshu record during the Yuanjia Period in the 5th Century CE, there were mentioned of two ancient kingdoms, Pohuang and Gantuoli. Other records include a book written by Zhu Fan Zhi in the Song Dynasty and Dao Yi Zhi Lue written by Wang Da Yuan during the Yuan Dynasty.

When Malacca grew in stature from a little fishing village to an international entrepôt during the 15th Century CE, China played an important part in its transformation. It was during the time of the Ming Dynasty that the Chinese fleet under Admiral Zheng He made visits to over 30 countries spanning the west Pacific to the Indian Ocean; Malacca was a major stopover for the Chinese. It was also during the Ming Dynasty that saw the earliest Chinese immigration to our country. Contributions of early Chinese immigrants were mentioned and one of the notables was Cheong Fatt Tze (1840-1910). He was initially based in Penang but later shifted to Singapore when it became established as a well-known trading port. Later, he was summoned by the Emperor of China and was promoted to be the Minister of Agriculture, Industries, Roads and Mines for the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong.

Moving forward to the era of The Republic of China, the exhibition showed pictures of local support for the Chinese Revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat Sen in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty in 1912 and in the fight with the Japanese in the Second Sino-Japanese War from 1937-1945. Tan Kah Kee responded positively by setting up funds for the Chinese to fight in the war. Besides parting with their money and valuables, Malayan Chinese were even willing to fight in the battlefields. One picture showed an advertisement in a Chinese newspaper of the recruitment of volunteer drivers and mechanics to serve in China. They were tasked to transport ammunition and supplies travelling the treacherous road linking Burma (Myanmar) and Yunnan with a section consisting of twenty-four bends.

Section 2

This section talks about the formation and role of the Federation of Hokkien Associations Malaysia (FHAM) and the contributions made by its members. The FHAM was formed in 1957 and today it comprises 211 member associations. Some of the well-known members include:

  1. Tan Kah Kee (1874-1961). He was born in Xiamen, Fujian Province and became a successful businessman, leader and philanthropist. He contributed financially to the building of Chinese schools in British Malaya, Singapore and China. Xiamen University is one of them. He returned to China in 1950 and passed away in Beijing.
  2. Robert Kuok. He was born in Johor Bharu in 1923 and he is of Fuzhou origin. In his autobiography, he mentioned his love for China. He helped China overcome its sugar crisis and he became one of the overseas capitalists who invested in China and helped its economic growth since the reform in 1978.
  3. YB Tan Sri Dato Michelle Yeoh. Born in Ipoh in 1962, she is of Hokkien descent from Tong An county. Michelle is an international actress who made her name first in Hong Kong acting with Jackie Chan in the “Police Story” movie series. She struck stardom in the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” movie in 2000. Then on to Hollywood where she starred in a James Bond movie and the recent “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018).
  4. Datuk Lee Chong Wei. Born in Perak in 1992, his ancestral hometown is Nan’an. He is considered a legend in badminton having being ranked No.1 for a consecutive of 349 weeks. He won three silver medals in the Olympics. His rivalry with Lin Dan of China has always been heated topics for badminton fans all over the world.

The above is a highlight of just four of its members. The exhibition also included an expanded list of successful business people, educators, entrepreneurs and many more.

Section 3

Section 3 tells us of the relationship between both countries for over 45 years. In 1971, The People’s Republic of China or commonly known as China today, was admitted to the United Nations after the 21st time of voting on its application. Malaysia was one of the 76 countries who voted in favour of China. In May of 1971, Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah who was then the chairperson of PERNAS led a team of delegates to the Canton Fair and they were received by the Premier of the State Council of China, Chou Enlai and the Vice Premier Li Xianian. This meeting marked the establishment of bilateral trade relations between the two countries. This was followed by a visit by Chinese officials to our country in the same year.

The historical visit to China by Tun Abdul Razak was held from 28 May to 2 June 1974. Malaysia was the first nation in Southeast Asia to take steps to normalise ties with China. Since then, every Prime Minister of Malaysia had paid official visits to China. For the record, Tun Dr Mahathir had made nine visits to China, the last time was in April 2019. Five of our Yang Di Pertuan Agongs also paid official visits to China. They include the late Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak, Tuanku Ja’afar of Negri Sembilan, the late Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah of Selangor, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin of Perlis and Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin of Trengganu.

Chinese leaders also made official visits to our country. They include Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping, Li Peng, Zu Rongji, Wen Jiabao, Li Keqiang and the then Vice Premier of the State Council of China Deng Xiaoping who came in 1978. During his stay in our country, Deng paid respect to Almarhum Tun Abdul Razak at the National Mosque.

Section 4

The last section, starts by focussing on Modern China. In 1979, the setting up of Shenzhen Special Economic Zone marked an important step forward in China’s opening up to the outside world. On October 10, 1987 saw the opening of the first KFC outlet in Beijing. Then on 16 October 2003, Yang Liwei became the first Chinese “taikonaut” who completed China’s first space trip. At 8.00 pm on 8/8/2008, the opening ceremony of the 29th Summer Olympic Games was held at the Beijing National Stadium a.k.a Bird’s Nest. In 2022, Beijing will host the Winter Olympic and Paralympic for the first time. The last row of pictures at Section 4 put the spotlight on the Formation of Malaysia. It revealed some interesting information that may not be available in mainstream media. Some of these are highlighted below.

  1. It was said that just before our independence, over 2 million Chinese in Malaya felt neglected due to many restrictions when applying for citizenship. This prompted Lim Lian Geok to set up the National Congress of Chinese Societies at a gathering held at the Chin Woo Stadium; it generated support from Chinese all over Malaya. A memorandum was signed by 1,094 Chinese associations. In it was a demand for constitutional reform with three main suggestions – Chinese language as an official language, adoption of the principle of Jus Soli and equal rights and obligations. It further stressed that it was “reflecting the views of Chinese opinion generally in the country”. Chinese Malayans were defined as Chinese who treated this country as their permanent homeland. This was a significant event of Chinese awakening in the history of Malaya. 
  2. Did you know that the first Alliance rally was held on 20 January 1955 in Kajang, a town where the Chinese were the majority?
  3. The first general election in our country was held on 27 July 1955 and the Alliance Party won 51 out of 52 seats. However, only 20% of the population were eligible voters, and out of this number, Chinese voters were a mere 11% as compared to 84% of Malay voters. With that in mind, UMNO demanded to contest in 90% of the seats. The move was opposed by Tunku who had threatened to resign, and after negotiations, it was decided that UMNO would contest in 35 seats, MCA in 15 and MIC in 2.
  4. The first day cover to commemorate the Independence of Federation of Malaya on 31 August 1957 shows a picture of three men – Malay, Chinese and Indian, representing the three main races in our country. A closer look shows Chinese characters written on the left side of the envelope.
  5. The Declaration of Independence was made available in three different languages, namely English, Chinese and Jawi and it was signed by Tunku Abdul Rahman. The Chinese version is believed to be the only one available in the world apart from similar ones in China. It ends with the following “….with God’s blessing shall be forever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice”.
  6. A patriotic song entitled “Song of a New Born Malaya”. The lyrics tell about the deep feeling of love for the Motherland and the earnest hopes for the new-born nation. This song was discovered in Broga New Village.

The exhibition provided a good understanding of the relationship enjoyed by both countries. It also highlighted the contributions of local Chinese to Malaysia and their fostering of greater relationships with The People’s Republic of China.


Author: Museum Volunteers, JMM

Museum Volunteers, JMM Taking the Mystery out of History

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