Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Importance of Epigraphic Materials As Primary Source of Reference in Chinese Studies: Selected Case Study on Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, Penang


Epigraphy is a methodology in the study of inscriptions in the aspects of its cultural value and historical significance. Epigraphic material is a tangible remnant (either in the form of stone, metal or wood) inherently erected to commemorate and document the establishment of a particular event / monument. The practice of engraving writing on materials such as stone, metal or wood denotes the artistic value and appreciation towards literary composition in the form of perpetuity. Although, the practice of inscribing has been dated since ancient time, but the exposure of its expression value to the public is somehow limited. In fact, the access to the materials is also very localised. 

Only selective experts would be able to transcribe and translate ancient epigraphic materials and draw conclusions from their studies. In fact, different experts would have differing ideas in the translation and conclusion on a same epigraphic material. These arguments are crucial for researchers to gain better insights as the said experts may be trained from different approaches and thoughts. 

In this article, my intention is to discuss and create the awareness of epigraphy as a primary source of reference in Chinese Studies in Malaysia and Singapore. 

In the period of 1982 until 1987, Professor Wolfgang Franke and Chen Tieh Fan from University of Malaya published a three-volume of Chinese Epigraphic Materials in Malaysia. They also published a similar work on Indonesia. This authoritative work is important to historians and reminds the rule of thumb in the primary source when it comes to the empirical studies, thus working as complimentary references. 

Ever since the work of Prof. Franke and Chen, more similar projects were carried out, such as the Penang Fujian Public Epigraphy Materials by K.Y. Chng in 1997 (originally in Chinese 张少宽 (1997) 梹榔屿福建公冢暨家冢碑铭集. 新加坡: 新加坡亚洲硏究学会). And recently, Professor Kenneth Dean and Dr. Hue Guan Thye both from National University of Singapore published a two-volume of Chinese Epigraphy in Singapore, 1819-1911

In this article, I would like to undertake the task in studying two stones in the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, Penang. and more importantly is to highlight the importance and the wealth of information unveiled through the stones. 


The Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, or simply known as Khoo Kongsi was originally established in 1835 as Ee Kok Tong in Penang. The membership of this establishment is restricted only to the Khoo clansmen from a same ancestral village. 

Plaque of Ee Kok Tong (Yi Gu Tang)
Source: Author's collection (Fieldwork 2011)

The story goes by in 1835 during a birthday celebration of the Khoo clan Patron Saint, Tua Sai Yah (大使爷), or Double Fifth Festival on the 5th day of the 5th moon of the Lunar Calendar in Penang. Three days after the celebration, its 102 clansmen gathered to form the clan association, which was then known as Ee Kok Tong. Thus, a sum of $528 was collected as contributions from the clansmen. After 15 years, on 5 July 1850, the Khoo clansmen gathered again and mooted for future expansion of the association. Thus, the funds collected in 1835 were used to serve the purpose. 

The two incidents mentioned above are recorded in two stones, which will be discussed in this article, they were known as: 

龍山堂石碑 (大清咸豐元年)
The Inscription of Long Shan Tang – First Year of Xian Feng Reign of Qing Dynasty (1850)

詒穀堂碑記 (光緒二十九年)
The Inscription of Yi Gu Tang – Twenty-ninth Year of Guang Xu Reign of Qing Dynasty (1904) 


The Inscription of Long Shan Tang in Khoo Kongsi, Penang

Transcription of the Inscription of Long Shan Tang
English Translation: 
The Inscription of Long Shan Tang – First Year of Xian Feng Reign of Qing Dynasty (1850)

Allude to a particular overseas Chinese custom, in the so-called (settlement of) Penang, which separated by vast oceans, guided by the far breeze. Herein, a foreign soil, a meticulous ceremony was strictly observed in the presence of clansmen, whom will decipher their best in order not to disgrace their literacy. However, the journey from their native to the city thence to build the hall, the ceremony shall meet prior respects to the ground and other unexceptional taboos. It was due to those who were sincere to build the association hall after years of established settlements, and also for their kindness. In the autumn, the Qiu clan of Xin Jiang village, Hai Cheng district bought a piece of land. It was formerly owned by a local English merchant; (the land) faced the sea and backed by a mountain, the building was great and grand, and very much to be resplendently expanded. Thus, backed by its height, it can be transformed (into Long Shan Tang). (It had) a splendour gate of royal hall, planted with courage and sowed the triumphs so the accomplishments will abundantly prosperous, (and) it was called Long Shan Tang. Whereby, the clansmen could (use it to) honour their forefathers as well as for wedding and other occasions. The hall shall be reserved for the elders based on rank, to cultivate respect (and) to restore harmony which included related morality and mischievous actions.  

The surname of the Long Shan Tang Qiu clan was originally belonged to the Quan Jun Long Shan Ceng clan. This (fact) was not forgotten as it was recorded that the (Ceng) family had adopted the (Qiu) surname. Those who were not from the Ceng clan of Long Shan, thus, they were not affiliated with the Qiu clan of Long Shan Tang of Xin Jiang village, Hai Cheng district. There shall be a provision for the worshiping of ancestors. In a particular event, the hall shall be able to raise funds and promote goodwill (among its clansmen). Among other things, a tribute must be paid to Da Shi Ye as well as with the offerings (were made) to receive (his) blessings on this foreign lands. Therefore, to those who had funded the hall shall be recognised as the Headmen, and this put to rest on those who did not. These people (Headmen) were of no ordinary members, as they represented the entire (Qiu) clan. This was done as reminders for patriotism and remembrance (as the clan had reached) prosperity in this foreign land. For the future generations, (the hall) may be used as the ancestral hall of the Xin Jiang Qiu clan to record the clan’s accomplishments.

First Year of Xian Feng Reign of Qing Dynasty (October, 1850)

Headmen: Hua Dong, Shi Quan, Jun Wen, Jiang Shui, Jun Dui, Tai Pin, Jun Qi, Si Fang, Xin Mei, Zhao Bang

Directors: Xin Ju, Liu You, Jun Wen, Tian De 
Recorded by: Qiu Ceng Ming, the Imperial Scholar during 28th Year of Guang Xu Reign (1902)


The Inscription of Yi Gu Tang in Khoo Kongsi, Penang

Transcription of the Inscription of Yi Gu Tang

English Translation: 
The Inscription of Yi Gu Tang – Twenty-ninth Year of Guang Xu Reign of Qing Dynasty (1904) 
During the eighth day of fifth month in the fifteenth year of Dao Guang Reign of Qing Dynasty (1835), the hall was established with the donations from a group of people as listed on the left: 
Qiu Han Zi - $24   
Qiu Hua Yan, Qiu Shu Qi, Qiu Shuang Chun, Qiu Hua Long - $20 
Qiu Zhao Gong - $16
Qiu Tai Ye - $14
Qiu Zun Yang, Qiu Hua Liu, Qiu Yue Cheng, Qiu Rong Xia, Qiu Heng Quan - $12
Qiu Hua You, Qiu Hua Li, Qiu Song Bai, Qiu Tian Jiao, Jiu Yin Feng, Qiu Yue Zhao - $10  
Qiu Xun Piao, Qiu Jun Kui, Qiu Guang Cha, Qiu Ma Liang - $8
Qiu Jun Shang, Qiu Ming Jia, Qiu San Man, Qiu Hua An, Qiu Zeng Dian, Qiu Hua Que, Qiu He Shang, Qiu Tai Xi, Qiu Zhan Kui, Qiu Da Shang, Qiu Hua Deng, Qiu Dun Hou, Qiu Heng Lu, Qiu Yu Lu, Qiu Zi Xun, Qiu He Shang - $6
Qiu Hua Bao - $5 
Qiu Huang Zhi, Qiu Shu Hui, Qiu Jun Mi, Qiu Jun Xiang, Qiu Hou Hua, Qiu Hua Ju, Qiu Hua Shuang, Qiu Hua Teng, Qiu Hua Zuo, Qiu Qi Yong, Qiu Tai He - $4
Qiu Jun Long, Qiu Hua Shun, Qiu Hua Ran - $3
Qiu Jun Ri, Qiu Jun Bin, Qiu Jun Jian, Qiu Fu Yi, Qiu Jun Chang, Qiu Guang Han, Qiu Jun Qi, Qiu Jun Hua, Qiu Jun, Qiu Jun Yuan, Qiu Jun Yan, Qiu Jun Zhi, Qiu Hua Bin, Qiu He Shang, Qiu Hua Xiang, Qiu Hua Tan, Qiu Hua Ruo, Qiu Hua Shuang, Qiu Hua Xun, Qiu Kuan Rou, Qiu Hua He, Qiu Hua Dui, Qiu Hua Sheng, Qiu Wu Zhu, Qiu Hua Jiang, Qiu Hua Zhou, Qiu Hua Gen, Qiu Hua Ju, Qiu Tai Lun, Qiu Xian Ying, Qiu Wu Yi, Qiu Tai Ruo, Qiu Bao Long, Qiu Cheng Jiao, Qiu Si Ji, Qiu Tai Huan, Qiu Tai Bing, Qiu Tai Zhui, Qiu Tai Xue - $2
Qiu Jun Zhen, Qiu Xin He, Qiu Hua Jia, Qiu Shi Fang, Qiu Hua Fa, Qiu Tai Zuo, Qiu Tai Chang, Qiu Tai Yi, Qiu Guang Quan, Qiu Cheng Hao - $1
A total of 528 silver dollars.
Collected on 30th day of 5th month of the Bing Shen year (1836)
Under the collection of Wang Sun Da Ye (referring to the clan saint patron, the Noble named Cheah Aun).
The Yi Gu Tang of Penang branch was established in the autumn of fifteenth year of Dao Guang Reign (1835). The silver (dollars) donated by the early clansmen had been cautiously and conscientiously passed down without personal interests. It was for the purpose of making a successful foundation. Fearing for lost or (losing the) interest in remembering the ancestors’ benevolence.  Therefore, the original donors on the right were memorialised on this stone. Their establishments here were difficult to be witnessed or heard (in the future), thus, this record was the only way.       
The midsummer of twenty-ninth year of Guang Xu Reign (1904). 
Recorded by Zhe Qing, the Secretary of the Qiu and Ceng of Xin Jiang


From the translations of the two stones mentioned above. We could understand that the Chinese practice in epigraphy usually contains engraved information with great detail and accurate as possible. This is to ensure, the future generations could decipher the events and circumstances that took place.

In these particular Khoo Kongsi stones, we understand the reasons of its establishment and purposes. In order to provide greater details, the Inscription of Yi Gu Tang listed down the donors who had subscribed to its establishment. Many of the names mentioned on the stones were important figures in the history of Malaysia. Their pivotal role in the Chinese social and political influence had shaped the demography in Penang, Perak, Singapore, Phuket and Burma.

Through some of the information extracted from the stones we could intensify the information with other sources. For example:

1) The Inscription of Long Shan Tang

(a) There is a mention of the criteria in selecting and constructing the building.

The actual location is at Cannon Square, the land is backed with the Penang Hills on the west and facing the waterfront at Beach Street on the east. 

(b) There is a mention of the purchase of the land from a British, a further investigation reveals that:

The land area is a 97,035 square feet lot acquired in 1851 from David Brown, under the name Khoo Family Tua Sai Yah

(c) There is a mention of the reasons and purposes of the association establishment.

This has been incorporated into the Khoo Kongsi Constitution.

2) The Inscription of Yi Gu Tang

(a) There is a mention of an assembly of Khoo clansmen.

The 102 names inscribed shows an important fact of the Khoo clansmen population in Penang.

(b) The inscription shows the names of the early Khoo clansmen in Penang.

A study on the figure mentioned, indicates that most of them were community leaders and wealthy merchants. They were later influential in many of the British policies in the Malay States. 

This article appeared as a short review of my current research "A Brief History of the Khoo Clan in Penang."