Why Yap Ah Loy is such a big deal


PETALING JAYA: A descendant of Yap Ah Loy has taken offence at Perkasa’s disparagement of his forebear’s role in the founding of Kuala Lumpur.

Speaking to FMT, Glenn Yap said Kuala Lumpur was turned into a dynamic township chiefly by his great-great-grandfather.

Glenn Yap

“The big deal about Yap Ah Loy is that he is the founder of Kuala Lumpur,” he said. “Some people are trying to dilute his importance or discredit him.”

Glenn spoke of Kuala Lumpur’s destruction in the 1867-1873 Selangor civil war and in a fire in 1881 and said Yap rebuilt the town on both occasions.

“Hence, is it not right to say that this immigrant from China was responsible for founding the new Kuala Lumpur?”

Yap served as the third Kapitan China of Kuala Lumpur. The post was a high-ranking government position in the civil administration of colonial Malaya.

Pos Malaysia recently launched commemorative stamps in Yap’s honour to mark the 180th anniversary of his birth.

Perkasa deputy president Sirajuddin Salleh questioned the propriety of the tribute, saying Yap was involved in criminal activities in Kuala Lumpur.

“His businesses were opium trading, prostitution and running gambling dens,” Sirajuddin said.

Glenn, who is in his 40s, pointed out that the British licensed such businesses and Yap was assigned by the colonial administration to collect taxes from them.

“Also, he was a leader for all the races. He got the Malays and the British to work together.”

Glenn went on to state Yap’s service to society, such as setting up the first Chinese school and the first hospital and building roads in and around Kuala Lumpur.

Yap was also responsible for the establishment of Sin Sze Si Ya, the iconic Taoist temple in the Petaling Street area.

Glenn said he was proud of his ancestor’s contributions.

Yap was a teenager when he arrived in Malaysia and he became the Kapitan China of Sungai Ujong when he was 24. He was made kapitan of Kuala Lumpur and Klang when he was about 30.

“He did so much for KL that the British moved their administrative centre from Klang to KL around 1880,” Glenn said, adding that the two kapitans before him could not do much because their tenures were too short.

Yap died in 1885 at the age of 48.

He is frequently mentioned in history books as the man chiefly responsible for turning Kuala Lumpur from a small tin-mining town to a booming commercial centre.

Academics have long debated the question of who founded Kuala Lumpur, but generally agree on the primacy of Yap’s role in the early development of the city.

Prominent historian Khoo Kay Kim has said that the founder of Kuala Lumpur was Sutan Puasa, a merchant who travelled from Sumatra and established himself in the city’s fledgling mining industry.