Museum honours pioneer Chinese migrants to Malaysia

The Malaysian Chinese Museum pays tribute to Chinese migrants who braved the rough seas to start life anew in Malaysia.

SERI KEMBANGAN: The fearsome roars of the South China Sea are not sounds one might expect to hear when entering an establishment in landlocked Seri Kembangan.

Then again, as a video presentation later explains, the sea had, for centuries, held entire ships of desperate Chinese migrants at its mercy and when it was particularly cruel, abandoned many in a watery grave.

For those who survived however, to reach the shores of what would become Malaysia, their legacy, struggles, sacrifices and stories have been immortalised in the form of the Malaysian Chinese Museum.

The museum occupies a single floor in Wisma Huazong, though there are plans for an expansion.

Founded by Ng Teck Fong, the Malaysian Chinese Museum is the first of its kind in this country, a gallery to showcase the struggles and sacrifices the Chinese community made to finally become an integral part of Malaysian society.

A depiction of a ferocious fight between a Ghee Hin member and his Hai San foe.

The idea for such a museum first came about in 2011 and after years of planning, fund-raising and construction, the museum opened its doors to the public in 2018.

Jeffrey Cheah, chairman of the Sunway Group, sponsored most of the RM6 million construction fees, and his name is prominently featured next to the escalator leading up to the museum.

The museum features collections of over a thousand artefacts and documents that were painstakingly assembled from across Southeast Asia.

The museum’s entrance resembles the doorway of a traditional Peranakan Chinese house.

Even the facade of the museum exudes an air of old world charm and nostalgia, with the front doors closely resembling those of a traditional Peranakan Chinese house.

They lead into a gallery which details the first encounter between the Chinese and Malay peoples, and the importance of the Ming Dynasty’s Admiral Zheng He in Malaysian history.

An imposing statue of the explorer stands guard in the first gallery, watching over visitors to the museum.

An imposing statue of Admiral Zheng He stands guard in the first gallery of the museum.

The museum takes various forms, the first gallery appearing as a ship of the Admiral’s fleet, the second as a busy port bustling with coolies and porters, and the third as a tin mine and rubber plantation where early Chinese migrants struggled to make a living.

The second gallery features a busy port. In the foreground is a model of a junk used to transport Chinese migrants.

There are a total of 15 galleries that detail the history of the Malaysian Chinese community in chronological order, starting from the first contact between the Chinese and Malay peoples during the Han Dynasty and ending with the currently active clan societies in Malaysia.

When asked about the importance of the museum, head curator, Lim Kah Hoe explained that Malaysian Chinese have a distinct culture from those of mainland Chinese.

Head curator, Lim Kah Hoe says the museum’s aim is to show how much the Chinese who settled down in Malaysia contributed to society.

Thus, it was of the utmost importance to pass on this unique culture to the next generation to ensure the continued survival of their heritage.

In the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution which saw many traditions and cultural practices lost to the annals of history, it was the overseas Chinese communities, including Malaysian Chinese, that became the final bastions of these nearly extinct cultural treasures.

According to Lim, researchers from Taiwan, Hong Kong and China occasionally drop by to gather information about cultural practices long lost in the home regions.

“There was previously no place to show the history of the Malaysian Chinese,” he said. “This is a place to show the real history of the community; not to glorify their achievements but to show what they have contributed to this society.”

He also said that the museum was meant to improve the spirit of “muhibbah” among Malaysians and to show that the interracial relationships in the country have brought mutual benefits.

The museum is in immaculate condition, thanks to Lim and his team who are meticulous about preserving the museum’s contents.

A model of a goldsmith tinkering away at his workbench.

Each and every exhibit is carefully labelled with vivid descriptions of their function and significance in everyday life, and visitors can take their sweet time photographing or studying the displays.

At the end of the museum is a gift shop where one can buy souvenirs and books or just settle down to a scrumptious ice-cream.

The museum is suited for tourists of all ages and welcomes families and tour groups seeking an informative experience.

A model of a 19th/20th-century grocer standing outside his shop.

To ensure that the technologically-savvy young are not bored by the exhibits, the museum has a mobile application that makes use of Augmented Reality (AR) to provide visitors with an interactive experience.

Through this application, visitors can watch videos related to the exhibits and gain access to photography backdrops.

With that in mind, photography aficionados should also drop by to take advantage of the many panoramic backgrounds available throughout the museum.

A recreation of a coffeeshop, similar to ones that can still be found operating today.

Ticket prices for adults are RM20 for adults, RM10 for senior citizens aged 65 and above and RM5 for children and students.

Malaysian Chinese Museum
First floor
Wisma Huazong
Lot 15285
Lebuhraya Sungai Besi
Seri Kembangan

Open: 9.30am to 5pm, Tuesdays to Sundays
Close: Mondays (remains open on public holidays that fall on Monday)