Melaka's Multicultural Heart
Senses of Malaysia|Oct/Nov/Dec 2017

Melaka enjoys a diverse and rich heritage with well-known cultural contributions from the Malays, British, Portuguese, and dutch. At times overshadowed are the Chinese, whose own long presence in Melaka has significantly influenced that city’s fascinating history. Paula tan takes us on a journey through time and reveals the deep connection between Melaka and Chinese culture.

Paula Tan

I stood at the gate of the house like a peasant from a previous century and just stared. It was so beautiful, and in no time, my hand automatically moved to the latch to open the grille bearing the initials CYC, only to find it locked. Over the years, every visit to Melaka would inevitably find me back in front of No. 117 Heeren Street, and it spurred me to learn more about this building that appeared straight out of another age. Standing in all its opulence directly opposite Hotel Puri, the Chee Mansion is the most breathtaking house on Melaka’s famed Millionaires’ Row. It was built circa 1906 in memory of the famed tin ore merchant Chee Yam Chuan, who was appointed head of the Hokkien community at 21, but died at 45 in 1862 from a bullet to the head. This architectural showpiece was the vision of his son, Chee Swee Cheng – Malaysia’s first chairman of the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation, better known as OCBC. Despite having opened its family photo gallery in July 2016, the building remains an ancestral shrine today, with its upkeep funded by the Yam Chuan Trust and Chee Yam Chuan’s descendants of now 10th-generation Malaysians.

From the era of Melaka’s first Chinese princess, the fabled Hang Li Po, Chinese settlers like the Chee family have played a major role in crafting the land’s illustrious history. Their living legacy continues to grow across Melaka in the present day, perpetuated by those who keep it burning. While intermarriage was common, creating a fusion of Chinese and Malay - the non-Chinese speaking Peranakan Babas and Nyonyas, Chinese culture itself has remained undiluted, albeit with a dash of Melaka flavour.

CHINESE CULTURAL ECHOES 

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