Daniel Dionne used under the Creative Commons LicenceThere is great pomp in Malaysia when it comes to the two biggest Chinese festivals, Chinese New Year and the Moon festival. In fact, a lot of new practices and cultures were formed in Malaysia after the influx of Chinese.
The Malaysian population, as we know, is an amalgamation of different ethnic cultures. The Chinese form the second largest ethnic group, comprising nearly a quarter of the Malaysian population, after the Malays.
Today there is a significant presence of Malaysian Chinese in the country’s commerce and business sectors. Unlike many other Chinese communities outside China, Malaysia’s Chinese communities aren’t found in Chinatown areas but have assimilated into the local communities around the country.
To understand just how did the Chinese manage to form a significant and influential part of the population, one needs to know the origin and history of Chinese Malaysian culture.
Tracing the roots of the Chinese Malaysian:
Malaysia has long been influenced by travelling cultures and neighboring nations. However, unlike the merchants who traded at Malacca, the emigration of the Chinese to Malaysia was thanks to Malacca’s relationship with the then regional superpower, China.
During the 15th century, the Malacca Sultanate had a friendly diplomatic relationship with China. This relationship was highlighted by the marriage of a Chinese princess known as Hang Li Po to Sultan Mansur Shah, the ruler of Malacca. It was said that a host of 500 followers accompanied the princess to Malacca. As a gesture to his new wife, Sultan Mansur gave her a cluster of three hills that was renamed “Bukit Cina”, or “Chinese Hill”, for her entourage to settle down. While historians are still in disagreement over the existence of Hang Li Po, Bukit Cina today is the largest and oldest Chinese cemetery outside of China with over 12,000 gravesites, the oldest of which dates back to the 17th century. The descendants of these people, from Fujian province, became known as Peranakan, who assimilated themselves into the local Malay culture. They are also known as Baba-Nyonya, which refers to the men (Baba) and women (Nyonya) of the Peranakan community.
During the late 19th century, Malaysia was colonised by the British for its tin reserves and soil, which was ideal for growing rubber trees - a vital commodity in those days. To meet the labour needs of these industries, the colonists brought immigrants from China and India into Malaysia.
While the Peranakan had managed to establish deep roots in Malaysian society, the Malaysian Chinese community was about to get more varied with the arrival of many ethnic southern Chinese groups who were fleeing the rapidly destabilising Qing Dynasty in the late-19th to early-20th century. These new migrants began to settle in major cities around the country, with the Fujianese drawn to the port cities of Penang, Malacca, and Singapore, whereas the Hakka and Guangdong, who were willing to work in the tin mines, settled in Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur.
The confluence of different Chinese communities in various industries contributed to their rapid growth in Malaysia, and in spreading the Chinese cultures and sub-cultures like Min people, Hokkien, Fuzhou from Fujian province in China, Hakka, Hainanese, Cantonese, Guangfu, Peranakan, Baba Nyonya, and the Wu people.
Dialects of the Malaysian Chinese people:
While most Malaysian Chinese are able to converse in the two main languages of Malaysia, Bahasa Malaysia and English, they are also able to speak in their native Chinese language. However, unlike the Chinese from China, the Malaysian Chinese still use their native dialects rather than the standardised Mandarin that is practiced in China today.
The Min people form the largest dialect group in Malaysia and speak the Min language. Their ancestors came from Fujian province, followed by the Hokkien who settled in Penang and Malacca, Kelantan and Terengganu.
Other Chinese dialects commonly used in Chinese Malaysian communities include Teochew, Hakka, Mandarin, and Cantonese.
Influence of Chinese culture on Malaysia
The Chinese population in Malaysia has preserved its unique cultural identity by practicing Chinese customs and traditions. The Chinese follow their rituals and rites religiously and uphold their cultural values. For example, the town of Penang, where most of the Chinese are found, still celebrates the harvest festival.
Daniel Dionne used under the Creative Commons Licence
There is great pomp in Malaysia when it comes to the two biggest Chinese festivals, Chinese New Year and the Moon festival. In fact, a lot of new practices and cultures were formed in Malaysia after the influx of Chinese.
Malaysian Chinese consume all types of food, including Chinese, Indian, and Malay. Malaysian Chinese is primarily derived from Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, and Teochew cuisines.
A number of traditional Chinese dishes have been developed using local ingredients and also thorough local inventions. Bak Kut Teh, Loh Mee, and street food such as char kway teow and Hainanese chicken rice originate from Malaysia. During Chinese New Year, Malaysian Chinese will celebrate the ocassion with Yusheng which became an annual tradition mainly in Kuala Lumpur.
The confluence of different cultures in Malaysia has been instrumental in producing food with different elements from the different communities. The Malay-Chinese fusion cuisine is the food of the Nonya or Peranakan which can be found in dishes such as Laksa and Mee Siam.
Find your nearest Asian Store