Social History Information in the Records of the Malaysian Chinese Cemetery: A Case Study of Hokkien Cemetery for Chinese in Klang Selangor, British Malaya, 1920s-1950s.
Bo-wei CHlANG (Taiwan Normal University)
Klang was a royal town and former capital of the state of Selangor, Malaysia. It is located in west-central Peninsula Malaysia, about 35 kilometers east of Kuala Lumpur and is the port city of the Klang Valley. From the 19th century, tin industry developed rapidly and Klang's importance increased. The early settlers began to mine tin along the river valley starting from the port area and gradually extended into the outlying areas surrounding Kuala Lumpur. In addition, the development of the rubber industry and the opening of the Port of Klang in 1901 attracted a large number of South China immigrants and Indian Tamil- based immigrants who moved to Klang to engage in manual labor, barge shipping or related businesses.
The development of Klang occurred much earlier than Kuala Lumpur, and the settlers were mainly Hokkien (Southern Fujian) immigrants. In Klang, the Hokkien Guild (gongsuo) was established in 1904. Its main purpose was to forge closer relationships among members and seek welfare benefits for them. In 1901, Ang Yee Chew donated a part of the Zhonglukou rubber plantation to set up the Hokkien Cemetery. The cemetery was initially managed by the Eng Choon Kongsi (predecessor of the Eng Choon Association) , and later became a public cemetery for Hokkien people. Since 1921, the documents relating to the Hokkien Cemetery have remained largely intact and are now preserved by the Hokkien Association. These documents record in Chinese and English the names of the deceased, their ancestral hometown, age, cause of death, residence, marital status, family members. They are precious social history materials for understanding the Hokkien community in Klang.
The establishment of public cemeteries as a venue for dealing with funerals among the overseas Chinese was part of a process of constructing an immigrant social community, an autonomous mechanism of community politics, and a cultural landscape with local characteristics. This research focuses on the Hokkien community in Klang, Selangor, British Malaya, and explores the dynamic process of the Chinese cemetery as a public domain within community politics and the cultural landscape. First, it analyzes how the Hokkien Association was an integration mechanism for the Chinese immigrant society in different historical periods. Furthermore, on the basis of fieldwork and archival research in the cemetery, it analyzes the changes to the social structure and cultural politics of the Hokkien community in Klang. Finally, it explores the Chinese association and its public cemetery as an institution that dealt both with the community politics of the living and the cultural landscape of the dead.