Kwong Tong Cemetery, the burial place of historical greats

A view of the KL skyline can be enjoyed from the peaceful Kwong Tong Cemetery.

Kwong Tong Cemetery Kuala Lumpur is one of the oldest and largest Chinese cemeteries in the capital.

It was founded in 1895, and is run by The Association of Kwong Tong Cemetery Management Kuala Lumpur.

It occupies 263 acres, mostly at Bukit Seputeh, with another smaller site in Sungai Besi (next to the Middle Ring Road 2 near Taman Connaught).

The Bukit Seputeh cemetery is the more interesting of the two.

A bit of history

Kuala Lumpur was founded in 1857, and from the outset it had a large Chinese population, who were mostly engaged in tin mining.

In the early days, when people died, they were buried hastily in haphazard locations on the hillsides around the town.

The practice was to exhume the bodies after three or four years and send the bones back to China for reburial, though in many cases, if there were no relatives to attend to matters, the bones were just left where they were.

In 1895, the Chinese community applied to the Sultan of Selangor and the British colonial administration for the Bukit Seputeh site to be gazetted as a Chinese cemetery.

Since then, many of Kuala Lumpur’s most prominent pioneers, including Kapitan Cina Yap Ah Loy, have been laid to rest here and a few wartime monuments have been erected.

Stone marking the entrance to Yap Ah Loy’s grave.

In 2006, the cemetery was designated a Heritage Park, in recognition of its historical significance, and efforts have been made to improve the landscaping of this vast green lung in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

A hall was built in 2007, next to the cemetery’s administration office to house the Art, Cultural & Heritage Museum to collect, collate and preserve historical data and cultural relics and to educate the younger generation on the contributions of their forebears.

Highlights

Chinese cemeteries are often seen as spooky places to be avoided except during the Qingming, or grave-sweeping, festival.

But on a lovely sunny day it is a peaceful place, especially in the areas away from the traffic noise of Jalan Istana, which divides the cemetery in two. Fragrant smelling frangipani trees are found all over the cemetery.

Yap Ah Loy’s grave.

Yap Ah Loy died in 1885, before this cemetery was established. He was originally buried elsewhere in the city but was subsequently exhumed and brought here.

The rebuilt Memorial to Malayan Victims of the Japanese Occupation in the Hokkien cemetery section commemorates the mass grave of close to a thousand victims massacred or buried alive during the World War II.

The memorial replaced an earlier monument called the Tomb of War Victims of the Compatriots of the Republic of China.

Rebuilt Memorial to the Malayan victims of the Japanese occupation.

In 1947, the Kuomintang Cenotaph was erected to honour those who repatriated to China to join the anti-Japanese resistance. The faded sun emblem of the Kuomintang, as seen on the Republic of China flag, is still visible at the top of the monument.

Another interesting building appears to house a “kedai makanan”, complete with Tiger beer adverts on the wall, a small Buddhist temple and a funeral services business.

On Google Maps it shows as “Graveyard Bar”, just the place for a late night drink.

A second Kwong Tong Cemetery is located in Sungai Besi.

A second Kwong Tong Cemetery is located in Sungai Besi, south of Kuala Lumpur, close the border with Selangor.

It is not as big as the main cemetery and not as interesting. It occupies a site with rolling hills overlooked by Bukit Besi Alam Damai with its communication masts on the summit.

There are good location maps in various places inside the cemeteries showing the points of interest but, unfortunately, for those who cannot read Chinese they are of limited use.

This article first appeared in Malaysia Traveller.