Today is significant as we are gathered here to commemorate the history of Chinese in the Straits Settlements and put to thoughts three distinguished Penang born leaders who have contributed selflessly to the good of the Chinese community and Penang in particular to what it is today.
My heartfelt appreciation to YAB Lim Guan Eng for honouring us with his presence in officiating this forum and adding pomp.
I am indeed grateful to His Excellency Mr. Wu Jun, the Consul General of China to Penang for his presence. It is with great pleasure that I welcome everyone present to this historic event.
Ladies and gentlemen, join me in putting our hands together for all the scholars and media who have made their journey from abroad in being with us today.
“San Zhou Fu” or Straits Settlements marks the beginning of our history in Malaysia. The Malacca Sultanate emerged in 1403 and then the strait is named as Strait of Malacca. Zheng a descendent from the Ming Dynasty led expeditions to Western Ocean from 1405 to 1433. During his seven voyages to the Western Ocean, he passed through the Strait of Malacca for five times. Zheng did not colonize Malacca but Portuguese conquered Malacca in 1511. The story from the Princess Hang Li Po and the legend of Hang Tuah has made our history more interesting.
The Strait of Malacca is an important shipping route since the Malacca Sultanate, Zheng He’s voyages has strengthened the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Their vision on the importance of Strait of Malacca as a shipping route for China and Malaysia in South China Sea has now been realised.
400 years after Zheng Ho’s expeditions, the British took control of the Strait of Malacca and made the Strait as one of the most important shipping lanes in the world.
British occupied Penang and Province Wellesley in 1786 and 1800 respectively. In 1819, British controlled Singapore. At that time, British noticed the importance of the Strait of Malacca as a shipping route in sending cargo from India and Europe to China and Japan. In view of this, in 1824, the British surrendered Bencoolen Harbour to the Dutch in exchange for the Dutch colony of Malacca in order to take control of the Strait of Malacca. Zheng He’s expeditions were merely on trading purposes but the British ultimate aim was to colonise Malaya.
In 1826, British grouped Singapore, Penang and Malacca and called it as "Straits Settlements" or "San Zhou Fu".
After the formation of Straits Settlements for 120 years (1820-1946), the British used the Strait of Malacca to trade opium in China and their intention was to make Chinese become the “Sick Men of East Asia”.
In 1839, the Imperial Envoy Lim Zexu without hesitation burned more than 200 boxes of opium confiscated to show the displeasure and to deter Chinese officials and people at large form being involved in the trade of opium.
This act was to the British an act of provocation and in 1840 British sent a warship to Canton through the Strait of Malacca and started the "Opium War" in Southern China. China was defeated in the war and forced to open 5 treaty ports for British to bring in more opium to China. In 1842, China was forced to sign the “Nanking Treaty” and surrender Hong Kong to British.
Years on and to this day, it is not surprising to see the many similar infrastructures in Penang, Malacca, Singapore and Hong Kong as they share many commonalities. The British influence brought in western culture and western education to Penang, Singapore and Hong Kong.
After 2nd World War (1945), Asia underwent major changes as Mao Ze Dong established the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
Today, with the emergence of China, Malacca has become the focus of the world again. China has reclaimed Hong Kong in 1997. China needed to import a large quantity of crude oil and natural gas for the development from the Middle East, North Africa and Southern America.
Statistics show that at least 100,000 vessels carrying crude oil pass through the Strait of Malacca annually and about 80% of the crude oil are transported to China. The economic growth of China will be affected if any untoward incident were to happen to the vessels.
As such, China has strengthened the ties with Malaysia by providing technical and financial assistance to Malaysia in order to ensure the safety of the Strait of Malacca. In the beginning of this year, China invested 40 billion RMB to develop a deep sea port in Malacca. The investment will not only ensure the smooth passage of vessels through the Strait of Malacca but it will also benefit other Southeast Asia countries. In modern terms, this is the “One Belt, One Road” Initiative. Soon, “One Belt, One Road” will replace the roles played by “San Zhou Fu” and bring peace to Asia.
Time in memorial, we now would like to bring to mind three outstanding personalities, a true blue Penangite, which will be the focus of this forum.
The first Penangite was Gu Hongming (1857-1928), the 4th generation of Gu Lihuan. Gu Lihuan was the first to receive fishing nets from Raffles in 1786. Gu Hongming studied in UK and was the English Diplomat Secretary of the famous official of Qing Dynasty Zhang Zhidong. Due to his outstanding knowledge in Chinese and Western literature, he translated "Lun Yu", "Zhong Yong" and "Da Xue" into English.
Next in line, we have Dr Wu Lian Teh (1879-1960). During the Revolution of 1911, he successfully fought the plague in North East China and saved thousands of lives.
After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war in 1937, he returned to Penang till he passing.
Yet another well-known dignitary is in the person of the late Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu (1919-2010), a peranakan who was educated in an English school. After obtaining his medical degree from UK, he went to Chongqing and served as an army doctor cum private secretary to Chen Cheng (later became Vice President of Taiwan). He returned to Malaya in 1947 and was actively involved in politics. In 1958, he was elected as the president of MCA. He formed United Democratic Party in 1961 and Gerakan in 1968. He was elected as the Chief Minister of Penang after his victory in the election the following year. During his term as Chief Minister for 20 years, he transformed Penang to an advanced industrial park. He contributed greatly to the development of Penang.
Today we remember all these great Chinese leaders for their contribution.
On a separate note, I wish to make known the fact that the biennial Straits Settlement, is organized by the Straits Chinese Association and it is my ardent hope that the baton to host be passed on to Malacca so to highlight the contributions of the lateTun Tan Cheng Lock.
I believe Fuzhou University, China will then organise the biennially “Straits Settlement” Forum and highlight the contributions of Tan Kah Kee in Malaysia and China.
Finally, I wish to extend my humble apologies for any shortcomings and I would like to thank my pro-tem committee for their tireless contribution in ensuring the success of this event. Last but not least, I also take this opportunity to wish each and everyone a happy "Chap Goh Meh".