A visit that should interest historians, architects and Hokkiens

KUCHING: The Malaysia Institute of Architects (PAM) and Sarawak Heritage Society is organising a visit to the Hokkien School here on Aug 22.

The Hokkien School, as it is still popularly referred to, is one one of the oldest education structures in Sarawak. PAM and the heritage society said the number of participants was limited, and on a first-come-first-serve basis.

“They will be treated to presentations and discussions of the site by local historian Chan Boon Ho. PAM’s Sarawak president Mike Boon will talk about the architectural significance of the building,” a joint statement said.

The visit is made possible with the cooperation of the Hokkien Association, set up in 1871 under Ong Ewe Hai. The association remains the owner and guardian of the historical property, which is familiar to many locals, in particular, alumni of Chung Hua Primary School No 1.

Culturally, the Hokkien School represented a milestone in the educational and social development of the Chinese in Sarawak, said the statement. The Hokkien School was the first brick school building dedicated to Chinese education in Kuching.

“Early settlers struggled for survival and were initially unable to prioritise education for their children. The Brookes had subsidised Chinese schools through the missions – the first in Serembu in 1870 and also Catholic Chinese schools in Bau (1892) and in Lundu (1904).

“But in 1911, the Hokkien clan took matters into its own control, setting up the school, along with the first of five tuition centres in a shophouse next to St Mary’s School. The date of its founding has special meaning. It is the year in which the last Chinese dynasty, the Qing dynasty, fell.”

The statement added the timing of the school’s opening reflected the complex relationship between China and those in Malaysia. The building of the school was inspired by the progressive ideas of the revolutionaries behind the Xinhai revolution, most notably Sun Yat Sen.

The architecture of the school is that of a Sarawak mansion: A hybrid of styles inspired by the White Rajahs of Sarawak, which incorporated Indian, European and Malay elements with local materials and workmanship. It is built in brick, which suggests the rising socio-economic status of the clan but originally had a belian shingle roof.

The building remained in continuous use right up to the 1970s, eventually becoming part of the Chung Hua system. Out of all the original clan association buildings, this is the only one that remains intact.

Registration can be done via sarawakheritagesociety@gmail.com or info@pamsc.org.my.

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