Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Chinese Heritage Museum of Johor Baru

The museum building is not majestic; it is a 4 storey shoplot among a row of shop houses along Jalan Ibrahim, JB.
The Main entrance of the JB Chinese Heritage Museum from Jalan Ibrahim                             
A long giant poster at the ground floor introduces the chronology of historical events.

This map depicts the trade wind routes during the early years

During the Chinese New Year festive days I managed to hole up in Johor Baru for close to two weeks! I was actually down with a chronic cough that everybody around me thought I was going to be a goner; most of them urged me to go for an X-Ray scan. Being a non-alcoholic and never a smoker, I was confident that I would recover from the disturbing ailment, as I ruled out TB or Big C of the lung and other possible sickness severe enough to kill me off. Well, it took me two long months to rid the dreadful disease to return to my own self. Guess I was getting old and losing some of the necessary antibody, thus weakened my immune system to fight sickness in harm’s way.

               The father of modern Johor - Sultan Abu Bakar (1833-1895)
This portrait of an officer in Qing Dynasty regalia is in permanent display at Sultan Abu Bakar Museum in JB

Early immigrants from China had meagre belongings when they arrived at the shore of Malaya
                  Ah, this looks so familiar; need I explain, what is it for?

It was during my sojourn in JB where I stayed with my in-law’s family, when I got to know the existence of the fairly new (opened in late 2009) Johor Baru Chinese Heritage Museum. The Museum is housed at a 4 storey building previously occupied by the JB Tiong-Hua Association since 1948, along Jalan Ibrahim, facing JB’s popular water front. Visitors could also enter the museum via the rear entrance at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee. The museum charges a RM5 entrance fee; as for students and senior citizens, it is only RM2 per person per entry. 

Many of the Chinese children of the 50s, 60 grew up with this condensed milk, until milk powder formula took over

Hey it's dark in here. No fear, once you get near, the light will be turned on by itself.

     Don't you think the mini-skirt worn by this charming lass is too short?

The well-renovated 4 storey building adopts the state-of-the-art modern technology for its effort in saving energy bills, using sensors to turn on and off the lightings at every floor. The first, second and 3rd floor showcase the history of Chinese immigrants into Malaya in the 1800s and 1900s, the founding of the triads, clans and eventually associations of the ethnic Chinese area groups, (Hokkien, TeoChew, Cantonese, Hainanese, and Hakka). Records of the well-known Chinese Clan heads, and their beneficial, philanthropic deeds (Like building the Foon Yew Chinese schools, temples and clan houses etc.) were documented well to brief visitors of the tough founding years. The museum also displays photos of the then livelihood when early Chinese immigrants by the ship loads arrived at the peninsula to find jobs waiting for them in tin mines, rubber plantations, and other agricultural fields ( cash crops like pepper and gambir), as well as other minor industries. As years went by, some of them and their descendants became big time traders and large land owners, and eventual tycoons.

Early Chinese republican money notes with Sun Yat Sen portrait
Children were forced to learn Japanese during the Japanese Occupation in Malaya
The fearsome, cruel General Yamashita inspecting a captured ground. In Feb. 1946 Yamashita was hanged near Manila for his war crime
All smiling faces in Oct 1941. It was no use as by December 1941, Peninsula Malaya fell to Japanese hands.
 After the WW2, temples, clan associations, schools were built or refurbished

                                    Open cast mining for tin ore in the 50s

The pictorial displays showed that Ngee Heng triad leader Tan Kee Soon had helped Temenggong Abu Bakar (1833-1895) to quash some disturbance in the Muar district, thus enabling the latter to become effectively the ruler (The Sultan) of the state. Abu Bakar was challenging Tengku Alam (son of his uncle Sultan Ali) for the throne after the death of Sultan Ali in 1877. He was not satisfied with the title of Temenggong or Maharajah. Eventually The British Empire accepted him as the sultan. The museum also recorded the invasion of the Japanese Imperial Army into Singapore during the Second World War, as Johor Baru stood strategically close to Singapore, separated by the Johor Straits and was linked by the causeway. The Japanese Occupation of Malaya (Including Singapore) inflicted unprecedented, massive misery, suffering and devastation to the people during those turbulent, desolate warring years (3 years 8 months). A pictorial poster features the contribution of the Chinese in Johor in fighting the Japanese by raising funds and taking up the arms.

 The night school of Kay Tee in Muar was the centre of education for many children from poor families

Some of the Malayan fighters against Qing Empire were remembered at the 72 Martyrs Memorial at HuangHuaGang,
GuangZhou, China. 

The top floor of the 4 storey museum devotes its exhibiting space totally for the chronicle of Dr Sun Yat Sen, (1866-1925) the father of republican China. This great man of modern China was known to have visited Johor Baru during his many travels overseas to appeal for support and funds to overthrow the despicable, rotting Empire of Qing Dynasty and its draconian Manchu ruler. There was some doubt about the actual occurrence of his visit; but since Dr Sun was confirmed to have visited Singapore (Penang too) and Johor Baru was just a causeway away, it was likely to be a true event. Dr Sun probably had a hard time to convince the then Johor Chinese chieftain (Known as Kapitan during those years)) Wong Ah Fook to join him fighting for a republican Chinese nation, as Wong was a conservative loyalist to the Qing Empire. Upon Dr Sun’s earnest appeal followed by his numerous visits, many brave, eager Malayan Chinese were inspired to leave for China to become revolutionaries to fight the corrupted, diminishing Qing Empire. In their endeavor to pursue a just democratic nation, many of them lost their lives while in action. The JB Chinese Heritage Museum has a detailed pictorial display of the martyrdom of revolutionaries from various parts of Malaya (and Singapore) before 1911 (This was the year when the Manchurian regime was overthrown).

If you have any artifact or item to contribute to the museum for the Chinese Heritage cause and theme, you can contact the museum via e-mail:  

Contact tel. no: 07-2249633

It was during the Chinese New Year festive day I saw this poster; briefly translated, it meant: Wish your dream come true.

Visitors are urged to sign the guest book and write some comments on the way out. It is a fruitful and rewarding visit for any one who wants to know about the historical Chinese presence in Johor in the 1800s and 1900s.

Pics were taken by alancykok
Alan CY Kok


  1. Hi CY,
    Alan's latest blog thriller entitled 'The Chinese Heritage Museum of Johor Bahru' is indeed a 'Must Read'article. I could see you must have put in the strenuous efforts in gathering the historical accounts of JB since its founding as the Johor capital city when Sultan Abu Bakar was crowned in 1885.
    Good with many pictorial accounts and pix to delight us especially sometimes the long articles could bore us. One will be marveled by the many pictures of the earlier JB.

    Alan, being a good and professional TG should be complimented for his efforts and by mere incidence or Divine-arranged, he was down with 'chronic cough' that I commented the weather of the south had got something to do with his sickness. Never mind, he's okay now;
    go to his blog to read.


  2. Hi Alan,

    Ur blog for The Chinese Heritage Museum of Johor Bahru was really educational. Your picture and words are so so good that i can imagine the hard time that my ancestor had in their life.

    Please blog more on this kind or heritage and travelling. Thanks.