A peek into Hakka heritage

  • Community
  • Wednesday, 16 Aug 2006

ENTERING the Chinese gateway of the RM800,000 Malaysian Hakka Centre in Burmah Road, Penang, one will be awestruck by its modest size but compact historical information tastefully presented in the highrise centre.  

At the reception area are life-sized cut-out figures of Dr Sun Yat-Sen and Kapitan China Yap Ah Loy to usher visitors into a historical tour of the Hakka legacy and contributions in China, Malaysia and the region. 

Dr Sun – the Father of Modern China – and Yap Ah Loy, who developed Kuala Lumpur, were but among many past and present Hakka leaders, including tycoons Cheong Fatt Tze and Chung Keng Kwee, Penang’s first Chief Minister Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee and Singa-pore’s Lee Kuan Yew who had played a significant role in this region. 

An exploration of the over 278 sq m centre on the third floor of the Penang Khek Association will reveal that the community, known to be always on the move, also sowed seeds of development wherever they went. 

During a tour of the centre recently, association president Datuk Cheah See Kian pointed out a map that charted the southward migration of the Hakka community from central China that started since AD 317. 

The last Qing Dynasty was weakened by the 1851-1868 Taiping Rebellion, led by four Hakka leaders helmed by Hong Xiuquan, which inspired Dr Sun and led to the successful overthrow of the Manchu rulers in the 1911 Chinese Revolu-tion.  

MINING EQUIPMENT:See Kian showing a tin panning dish on display at the Malaysian Hakka Centre.

While the revolution was ongoing in China with Hakka people playing a significant role in the 19th and early 20th century, there were also Hakka officials in Malaya appointed as representatives of the Qing Dynasty’s Manchu government. 

These Chinese consuls in Penang included Cheong Fatt Tze, Chang Yu Nan, Cheah Choon Seng, Neoh Phaik Lu and Tye Kee Yoon, whose son Tye Siok Guan was later appointed by Dr Sun under the Republic of China Government as Chinese consul based in Penang (1912-1930). 

Siok Guan later established the Penang Khek Association and was its first president in 1939, in response to its Hakka sponsor Aw Boon Haw – the newspaper and Tiger Balm King who founded Sin Chew Jit Poh (1929) and Sin Pin Jih Pao (1939). 

A section of the Hakka centre that features a miniature model of a tin dredge, mining tools and pictorial exhibition tells of the dominance and success of Hakka miners in the early tin mining industry. 

In the pre-British colonial Penang before 1786, See Kian said Hakka immigrants were among the early settlers who later built the first Tua Pek Kong Temple in Tanjung Tokong in 1799 to honour three community leaders – Zhang Li, Qiu Zhao Jin and Ma Fu Chun.  

“More Tua Pek Kong temples were later built but to this day, the pioneer temple in Tanjung Tokong is still managed by Hakka people,” said See Kian. 

See Kian said the first Chinese association registered in Malaya was Persatuan Karyin for the Hakka community in Penang in 1801 as stated in a British-issued document reproduced for display at the centre. 

The community's emphasis on education was evident by the establishment of Chung Hwa School (by Cheong Fatt Tze) in Penang in 1904, the oldest formal Chinese school in the country. Hu Yew Seah (1914) and Shih Chung (1908) schools were also set up by the Hakka community. 

A display of rubber tapping tools accompany the pictorial story with text in Chinese and English, the kind of industry and commerce that the Hakka community made their footing and helped to found and develop towns such as Taiping and Kuala Lumpur. 

A large landscape picture of Kek Lok Si temple – sponsored by Cheong Fatt Tze, Chang Yu Nan, Cheah Choon Seng, Tye Kee Yoon and Chung Keng Kwee - at night with backlight shining through gaps in the photo illuminates the Hakka involvement in the project. 

The tour of the Hakka centre led to a circular exhibition room replicating the traditional and unique Hakka abode called tulou (earth building) still in existence in China. 

Pictures on the walls depict scenes of pastoral life of the community living in apartments designed to form either a square or circle. 

The centre also houses a multipurpose display area for thematic exhibitions, art gallery to display Hakka calligraphy and paintings, reading corner and information & research centre. 

The museum will be launched on Aug 26 by Deputy Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Wong Kam Hoong in conjunction with the Third Hakka Cultural Festival. 

The centre, on the third floor of the Penang Khek Association in Burmah Road, will be open to the public during office hours after Aug 26.  

Admission is free until further notice. 

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