Translated by WINNIE CHOOI
Sin Chew Daily
PENANG -- Being a place steeped in history, Penang has attracted many Chinese people from around the world to explore its rich cultural heritage.
Statistics show that there are 70 clan associations more than a hundred years old in Penang, with the Kwang Tung & Teng Chow Association and the Ting Zhou Association being the oldest at 217 years.
In conjunction with the Penang state government's plan of "Centennial Chinese Association Celebration," Penang Tourism Development Committee Chairman Luo Xing Qiang told Sin Chew Daily during an exclusive interview that the publication of historical records have given opportunities to local Chinese people to better understand the history of Chinese associations in Penang spanning over the past one hundred years.
Luo said the most representative approach to understand the thinking of Chinese ancestors is through their buildings. Such legacy buildings are found mostly in the heart of Georgetown.
"The buildings were planned and constructed painstakingly by the forefathers hailing from different places of origin in China, and have showcased the distinctive characteristics of these localities such as Guangdong, Teochew, Hakka, Hokkien, Fuzhou, Guangxi, Jiangzhe and Shanjiang."
The publication of the "Centennial Chinese Association Celebration" historical records has dual significance. First, to highlight the structural designs and appearances of buildings and the wisdom of our forefathers over the past two centuries, while maximising the manifestation of the Chinese culture.
As a matter of fact , China has experienced intense political, economical and cultural changes over the past two centuries in the forms of the opium war, revolution, May 4 cultural movement, the establishment of the People's Republic of China, and the infamous Cultural Revolution.
Luo pointed out that vernacular architecture could still be traced in southern provinces of China but not the central and northern provinces where it has been largely obliterated by the wars and Cultural Revolution
During his recent visit to Penang, Chinese historian Chen Si He was impressed by some well preserved traditional buildings here that have almost gone "extinct" in the northern part of China. The building was well preserved compared to those in China and Chen called Penang a living museum of traditional Chinese architecture.
"As a matter of fact, ancient construction materials, floor plans, porcelain, wood carvings, statues, ornaments and ritual supplies were mostly sourced from Mainland China," Luo said.
"They were not only rich in history but have also become extinct in many parts of China."
As a result, some antique collectors have come to Penang specifically to acquire these antiquities in recent years.
For future generations
Secondly, the publication signifies the recognition of the contributions early Chinese migrants made to the local society on political, economic and cultural fronts, allowing the younger generations to appreciate the efforts put in by their forefathers.
Luo said the founding of Penang by Captain Francis Light in 1786 attracted many Chinese migrants here.
These early Chinese migrants not only had to face the threats from wild animals and diseases, but also to establish cordial relationships in an unfamiliar terrain while eliminating all the obstacles in doing business. After they made some advances in their endeavours, they began to contribute to their compatriots by erecting clan houses to foster ties among themselves while offering assistance to new migrants.
"In conjunction with the centennial celebrations of several clan associations, the state government will organise the "Centennial Chinese Association Celebration" on June 21, with talks and exhibitions in the morning and a gala dinner for the participating groups.