Author: Leslie Chong
Date: 11-24-04 15:06
This is an edited exchange between Jo Chua (J)and myself (L) which we decided may be useful to share on the Forum. Jo Chua lives in Malacca and wrote me first with.
J: Sorry, but there is no Sam Poh kong temple in Malacca. The one is erroneously called the Sam Poh Kong Temple is a Tua Pek Kong temple - big difference. My ancestor was one of the founders of this temple. Correct name - Poh San Teng.
L: Do you know if there are Sam Poh Kong Temples in other parts of Peninsular Malaysia, like Kuantan ... ?
Also, when the temple was founded was it from scratch, or from an existing temple? If it was originally a Tua Peh Kong temple, why was it called a Sam Poh Kong temple? Was it a management committee that changed it? If you go inside the temple, you would see Tua Peh Kong, but no reference to Zheng He or Sam Poh Kong?
J: My ancestor, Chua Su Cheong, from Hokkien province, arrived in Malacca in 1765 and in 1795 he was appointed by the Dutch government, a leader of the Chinese community in Malacca, carrying the title"kapitan".
In that same year, he built the temple, Poh San Teng. I quote the relevant section of the founding stele, dated 1795 :
"Bukit China is the place where early traders from China were buried.
It was stated on the stone steles that many of the Chinese traders came to this country with high expectations for success in trade. Sadly, some died before fulfilling their ambitions. Since their families did not travel with them, there was no one to pray for their souls. As such, prayers were initiated by the Chinese Kapitans for them. However, these were always hampered by strong winds and heavy rainfalls because there was no proper shelter.
In 1795, after Chua Su Cheong had been appointed as the Chinese Kapitan, he looked into this problem faced by the community and initiated the building of a temple at the foot of Bukit China, to ensure that the prayers for those buried in Bukit China would not be interrupted."
The name of the temple, Poh San Teng is inscribed in the 1795 tablet of its founding and
also above the front door of the temple.
The main deity is “Fu De Zheng Shen” or “Tua Pek Kong” as is the tradition of the Chinese,be it in China or Malaysia for all graveyard temples."
To view these:
Please also visit www.chenghoonteng.org.my , click on Cheng Hoon Teng Temple Inc. on the top banner and click 'Other temples'. You will see this.
And under 'burial grounds' you will get the full text on Bukit China.
If it was originally a Tua Peh Kong temple, why was it called a Sam Poh Kong temple?
The Hill on which this temple was built is known as Bukit China. On the tablet it was written that the Hill bears the name San Bao Shan. Three gems hill. It could be that '3 gems' are a significant symbolism to the Chinese, like the 3 gems of Buddhism - the buddha, dharmma & sangha. The temple is known as the Bukit China temple to the non-Chinese and the San Bao Shan Temple to the Chinese. I guess peple shortened the name to San Bao Temple and thus the mix up.
Was it a management committee that changed it?
If you visit the website of Cheng Hoon Teng, you will see that Poh San Teng is managed by Cheng Hoon Teng Inc. The Standing Committee has never changed the name of the temple nor deviate the usage of the temple from its original intentions.
If you go inside the temple, you would see Tua Peh Kong, but no reference to Zheng He or Sam Poh Kong?
Yes, the Tua Pek Kong is still there. A small statue of Zheng He was placed in the temple courtyard by a Chinese organisation as they, too, thought it was a Zheng He temple. No one read the inscription tablet on the founding of the temple. It must be embarasssing for them to go back and say that the temple is not a Sam Poh temple as they are educated in Chinese and the inscription is in Chinese. I feel it is human to err and manly to admit a mistake, no? May be it's easy for me to say that as I am not a man. Haha.
As I mentioned, you will see the stone steles on the founding and subsequent maintenance of the temple. No reference to Zheng He or Sam Poh Kong.
Do you know if there are Sam Poh Kong Temples in other parts of Peninsular Malaysia, like Kuantan ... ?
Yes, and logically as the route from China would pass the east coast first. There is one temple set up by the people based on a legend but this temple was originally built to be a Sam Poh Temple. It is Sam Poh Miao located in Jeram, Kuala Terengganu.
Tourism Melaka probably do not have anyone who can read Chinese and I have been trying to get them to correct their text for the last 3 years. Given the publicity for 2005 on Zheng He, I wonder who will be the laughing stock if the department refuses to correct its text.
L: Thanks for the detailed information. It is interesting how over time something becomes difficult to correct! Hope you will have some more success with Tourism …
I am very impressed with your detailed knowledge of the topic. … I remembered something I read about Zheng He, that Hokkien people in S. E. Asia worshipped him - I looked up on the Internet and there's Sam Po Kong temple in Malacca. He was an interesting historical personage.
J: I agree with you. He must be something for the Emperor to trust him so much. Imagine going around the world in such huge vessels in those days and we in our high-tech world can't even build the treasure ship. …
Anyway, the Chinese has in history, a tendency to deify their heroes and it would not be surprising for them to deify Zheng He and this has been done in a number of places in Java and Kuala Terengganu in Malaysia, also the claim that there is a footprint in a Penang temple.
… If we think carefully, Zheng He is an important person - in the absence of the Emperor, he receives treatment as if he is the Emperor and we know too that when an Imperial edict is issued all will kneel to receive it. The treasure ship is self sufficient with food and others and it would be safer for the Admiral to stay on board. Did you read the texts by Ma Huan and Fei Xing? The places he visited including Malacca was not as safe inland as it would have been on board so I feel that the Admiral rarely travel inland. Anyway his Treasure ship is so huge it could not possibly go near the coast.
The Sam Poh Kong temple is the Poh San Teng Temple as I explained in the earlier mail.
My concluding comments:
1-Thanks to Jo Chua for sharing this, and best wishes for her in her efforts to establish the historical facts about this particular temple.
2-From my scant knowledge of the Hokkien dialect, I believe Poh San Teng means “Bao Shan Ting” in Mandarin (“Precious Hill Hall”). We can see how Bao Shan led to the connection to San Bao (Zheng He).
3-The fact that someone placed a statue of Zheng He probably led worshippers to associate the temple with him.
4-In the Chinese pantheon, it is probably alright to have other deities in the temple. Popular Chinese worship is never exclusive. Obviously, Tua Pek Kong does not mind! However, it is good to establish the correct history of the tempke.
5-The main point is still the fact that Zheng He became deitified amongst the Hokkien people in the S.E. Asia region.