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Old Fashion KL Chinatown - a brief history

Posted by on 18 March 2011 | 0 Comments

This introduction is taken from an article written by June Chua - a Malaysian born Chinese currently living in Canada. I chanced upon her writings and following her accomplishments I have come to admire her work, most of which is nothing short of being remarkable. Although I would not know whether she would still consider herself a Malaysian, I nevertheless feel a pinch of pride in knowing that she is a fellow countryman (person) amidst the social and political humiliation Malaysians have been subjected to in recent years.

A few years ago, when I was in Berlin, I noted the lack of specific neighbourhoods i.e. no Chinatown! save for the area that is predominantly Turkish. My German friend replied: "Here people are spread out not like in North America where you have ghettos." Well, she did have a point, I suppose.

Thing is, I find Chinatowns comforting. Everywhere I have travelled, I have managed to find a kind of Chinatown – London, Montreal, Paris, Naples, Sao Paulo etc…

Most of these "ghettos" had their start in the early 1800s, when the Chinese government opened up borders and allowed the movement of migrants all over the world (of course, there has been Chinese trade and migration prior to that). Specifically, the Cantonese, the Hokkien, the Teochew and Hakka peoples were the most active – settling in places such as North and South America, Australia and even Cuba.

Most of these communities were bachelor societies as many states forbid these migrant workers to import their wives or children. Of course, this has changed. Eventually, Chinese migrants headed to Africa, India (Calcutta and Bombay), Korea, the Caribbean, England and then, Europe. Some of the earliest Chinatowns are located in Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Manila and Nagasaki in Japan.Read more:

This takes us to Kuala Lumpur Chinatown with its small beginnings in the early years of the 19th Century. Below is a condensed version of the history of KL's Chinatown from an article taken from The Star newspaper, 2007 August 9

Why early Chinese settlers chose the site

The original Chinese town in Kuala Lumpur was centred on Market Square.

However, as the population grew, High Street, now known as Jalan Tun HS Lee, became increasingly popular as it was higher than the rest of the town and therefore less prone to floods. The population at the time were mostly Cantonese and Hakkas who came to the city because of the tin trade. They worked as coolies in the mines and were governed by a Chinese Kapitan or headman.

A civil war in 1870 caused the Chinese community to split into the Cantonese Ghee Hin and the Hakka Hai San secret societies.

Even though the British were called in to help end the conflict, the fighting between the two clans caused many buildings in the settlement to be burnt down and severely damaged.

The mines were abandoned during the Selangor Civil War. After the war, the miners could not return to work because the mines were flooded.

Yap Ah Loy, a famous Kapitan of that time, convinced the miners and coolies to remain in KL. Yap opened a tapioca mill in Petaling Street where the tubers from his farms were brought here to be ground into flour.

Some people still call Petaling Street ‘Chee Cheong Kai’ which means starch factory street in Cantonese.

In 2003, the road underwent a major RM11.3mil facelift with two large Chinese arches placed at both ends of the street to welcome visitors. It still pulls in many tourists, who go there to shop and will be regarded as a heritage site.

Note: Chinatown is a short 2 min bus ride from Sarang Vacation Homes down to Kotaraya and a stroll across the road. Those who would like to walk it'll be a 15 min journey taking you past Puduraya bus terminal.