Piece of history in the balance


  • Focus
  • Tuesday, 18 Jul 2017

The Meng Eng Soo Temple in Jalan Pintal Tali is the ancestral hall of the Ghee Hin clan of Cantonese immigrants that clashed with the Hokkiens in 1867. (Inset) 50, Love Lane with graffiti drawn on the metal hoarding surrounding the heritage house.

GRAFFITI artists could not resist the metal hoarding that wraps heritage house number 50, Love Lane.

They sprayed their crew emblems all over it. They love abandoned buildings because there is no one to erase their emblems.

Creative as they are, though, their works of art mar the true worth of this house.

Have you been to Meng Eng Soo Temple in Jalan Pintal Tali?

It is the ancestral hall of Ghee Hin (Yee Heng in Cantonese), which literally means ‘Sworn Brothers’.

It was the largest society of Cantonese immigrants in the 1800s, and it played a major role in building Penang’s economy.

While studying in Chung Ling High School, I encountered only a brief mention of Ghee Hin in one of my history textbooks.

It was only recently, after reading a paper by Penang Institute’s head of history and heritage research Dr Wong Yee Tuan, that I got a better idea of this gang, which the British colonial masters outlawed as a secret society.

The 50, Love Lane heritage property has become a matter of contention between Penang Chinese Clan Council and state government.Starpic by : LIM BENG TATT/ The Star / 11 July 2017.
The 50, Love Lane heritage property has become a matter of contention between Penang Chinese Clan Council and state government.Starpic by : LIM BENG TATT/ The Star / 11 July 2017. 

It fought with a rival gang in what is remembered today as the Penang Riots of 1867.

According to Dr Wong, Ghee Hin leaders wrested control of the super lucrative opium business from Hokkien merchants and their own secret society, the Kian Teik Tong.

The Hokkien merchants responded with organised violence.

George Town bathed in the blood of 30,000 Chinese and 4,000 Indo-Malays who fought for 10 days and paralysed the city.

The reported death count was between 450 and 500 people, and 1,000 houses were burned.

The Kian Teik Tong faction was well-supplied because its members included firearms dealers, while Ghee Hin members were mostly carpenters, goldsmiths and other artisans.

According to Dr Wong, this was why Kian Teik Tong kept the upper hand in the clashes despite the superior numbers of the Ghee Hin camp.

Based on Dr Wong’s research, Kian Teik Tong had about 7,500 members in 1867 and Ghee Hin had about 20,000.

Dr Wong points out that Hokkiens were always the majority of the Chinese in Penang.

But looking at the overwhelming majority in Ghee Hin then, I cannot help but wonder if the Cantonese could have eventually dominated had it not been for Penang Riots 1867.

The riots drove many of the Cantonese down south to Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur, making way for Penang Hokkiens to carve a niche.

I am proud to be Penang Hokkien for our uniqueness. But what price did our forefathers pay for this?

Fast forward to the present. The old economic rifts are gone and Penang Chinese Clan Council took over Meng Eng Soo Temple in 2003 and restored it.

Since 2009, it has been holding an annual open day to celebrate George Town’s inscription as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

And it turns out that 50, Love Lane is another historical treasure linked to Ghee Hin.

But its trustees have all died and a pile of unpaid property charges allowed the state government to seize it at the beginning of 2014.

The last remaining trustee, however, approached the clan council in 2010 before he died.

He implored the clan council to take over the heritage property and restore it, according to council chairman Anthony Chang.

Chang told reporters that the state government was initially willing to make the clan council the custodian of 50, Love Lane.

But now it seems there is an impasse and the state government may have other plans.

Last Thursday, state exco member Chow Kon Yeow, who was the middleman in the dealings, said he had done his part and it all now lies with the state Land and Mines Office.

While the state has the legal right, my bet would be on the clan council doing another splendid job with the Love Lane property, given what it did for Meng Eng Soo Temple.

That house is a prized asset to teach the Penang Chinese about their roots.

It tells the story of how they came to be and what their fore- fathers went through.

And if the state government feels they can do a better job, I am dying to know what the plans are.

Whatever the outcome, it must be soon.

Because the graffiti artists are painting their own story over Penang’s history.

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Opinion , Northern Region , pinang points

   

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