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The Chinese of Penang

The Chinese play an important role in the cultural and business history of Penang. The splendour of an old Chinese residential hall, together with the priceless antique furniture owned by rich towkays in the olden days, are displayed in The Chinese Room (ground floor).

The early Chinese settlers were traders and merchants who arrived in the late eighteenth century from Fukien and Kwantung provinces of southwest China. Penang was the ideal base for their commercial activities which extended to southern China, southern Siam (Thailand), Burma (Myanmar), the Malay states of Kedah, Perak and Selangor, and northern Sumatra. A second wave of Chinese immigration occurred in the mid-nineteenth century and comprised indentured coolies and free labourers, petty traders, and artisans. Although many of the coolies initially landed in Penang, they were eventually sent to work in the tin mines of the Malay States.

The early migrants were divided into two categories, the laokeh (old settlers) and the sinkeh (guest/newcomers). While the sinkeh aimed to work, save and return to their homeland eventually, thelaokeh chose to remain behind, carving out a new life for themselves.

There were many rich Chinese towkays during the period of early British rule and they built and resided in ang mor lau (big European mansions). More often than not, these towkays were illiterate but they valued education. Many of them sent their children, especially boys, overseas to be educated. They also prided themselves on their British - influenced lifestyle, reflected in their way of dressing and the architecture and decoration of their homes.

Nevertheless, they adhered to their religion, often a complicated mixture of ancestral worship, Buddhist and Taoist teachings and other religious ceremonies.

The richer they were, the more elaborate their life celebrations and their worldly possessions.

 Notes On My Native Land

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. . . from the early days

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The Museum Courtyard

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 The History Gallery

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The Captain Robert Smith Room &
 The William Daniell Room

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The Many Faces of Penang

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The Malays of Penang

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The Indians of Penang

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The Chinese of Penang

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The Baba Nyonya Culture

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The Streets of Penang

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For enquiries and feedback regarding the Penang Museum & Art Gallery, kindly e-mail us at muzium@po.jaring.my

STATE MUSEUM BOARD: 2nd Floor, Dewan Sri Pinang, 10200 Penang
(Tel. & Fax. No: 604-2613144)

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