The historic city of Malacca is home to a number of temples, and one of the important ones is Poh San Teng Temple at the southwestern foot of Bukit China cemetery. It was believed to have been in established in 1795 by Kapitan Chua Su Cheong, shortly after he was chosen by the Dutch government to be a Kapitan China (Chinese community leader).
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Written on the front door and on an ancient tablet dated 1795 is the name of the temple, “Poh San Teng”. Also inscribed are the names of the temple’s deity: “Fu De Zheng Shen” or “Tua Pek Kong”. Since this is a graveyard temple, it was normally dedicated to Tua Pek Kong.
Another temple inscription reads: “Bukit China is the place where early traders from China were buried. Many Chinese traders came to this country with high expectations of success. Sadly, some died before fulfilling their dreams. Without a family with them, there was no one to pray for their souls. As such, the Chinese Kapitans initiated prayers on their behalf. However, these were always hampered by strong winds and heavy rainfalls because there was no proper shelter. So in 1795, after Chua Su Cheong had been appointed 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.”
Bukit China (“Chinese Hill”) is still a functioning cemetery today, although the only remaining plots have now been reserved for the elders at the Cheng Hoon Teng temple, the oldest and most important Chinese temple in Malaysia. There are 12,500 graves in Bukit China, including 20 Muslim tombs.
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It is the largest Chinese cemetery outside mainland China.
Beside the Poh San Teng Temple is the popular Hang Li Poh’s well or King’s Well. Historical records reveal that this well was dug by the orders of Sultan Mansur Shah for Princess Hang Li Poh. It was the only water source in Bukit China during its time. Today, it is believed to be the oldest existing and functioning well in all of Malaysia. This well is popular because legends tell that the sultan of Malacca once poisoned this well to attack the ruling Portuguese. Allegedly, 200 Portuguese soldiers died. Supposedly, this tactic was again successfully employed by the locals against the ruling Dutch in 1606.
Historic Malacca is known to be the home of many ancient structures and artifacts, in addition to the Kings’ Well. The city is a living museum of buildings and structures that were built following old Chinese and European architecture. The oldest Chinese Temple and oldest Protestant Church in all of Malaysia are both found in Malacca. Malacca or Melaka, used to be called the “Venice of the East”, has been included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Site since 2008. This title means this city serves as a model city to the rest of the world in preserving the planet’s longstanding cultures and heritage.
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Poh San Teng Temple is just one of the many structures in Malacca that prove UNESCO’s choice correct.