Bukit China is a 17th Century cemetery in Malacca, Malaysia, the largest Chinese cemetery outside China. There are graves that date back to the late Ming Dynasty, making them more than 300 years old. The oldest tombs are dated 1622, a double burial for Mr. and Mrs. Huang Wei-Hung. There could have been many more graves as old or older if the British did not exhume a huge part of the cemetery when they were in control of Malaysia. Bukit China (or Cina) means “Chinese Hill”.
The British wanted to run over the historic cemetery with road widening and land reclamation projects. Until recently, there have been talks of developing the area. Thanks to the preservation efforts of the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, however, this important cemetery still stands as it is today.
This site is important to the city for its historicity and for its continuing relationship with China and the Chinese people living in Malacca. In 2008, the city of Malacca or Melaka in western Malaysia was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historical value. It is the oldest existing Malay Sultanate, and modern Malacca is proud of its history.
Bukit China gives credence to the city’s historical claims. Apparently, there was a smaller and earlier cemetery in which the 1622 grave belonged. During the Dutch occupation, Kapitan China Lee Wei King bought the nearby hill from the ruling Dutch and gave the land to the Chinese people, who later used it to expand the cemetery. Before that time, though, Bukit China was not a cemetery.
A century earlier around the middle of the 15th Century, the Ming emperor’s daughter, Princess Hang Li Poh, came to Melaka to marry Sultan Mansor Shah and to seal the relations between Melaka and China. She arrived with 500 handmaidens and decided to live on a hill, which soon became Bukit China. The place became the residence of migrant Chinese since. The hill was then converted into a cemetery because the Chinese believed that it is good luck to build graveyards on a hillside.
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Amazingly, the hill is still an active cemetery today, although only a few plots are left. With 12,500 tombs, including 20 Muslim graves, public burials have stopped and the remaining plots are reserved for the leaders of the Cheng Hoon Teng temple. Still on the hill today are Poh San Teng Temple, which was constructed in 1795 at the foot of Bukit China and the nearby Sultan’s well, which was built as early as the 15th Century by the sultan of Melaka for his Chinese wife.
Ancient headstones have been restored only twice, first in 1933 and then again in 2001.
A visit to Bukit China cemetery or just a mere walk or jog by it gives one the goose-bumps. It is an eerie yet solemn reminder of bygone years. It is also a refreshing walk since the hill provides a beautiful 360° view of the city, the nearby paddy fields and Pulau Besar. Much has changed in the city, but what remain are this ancient cemetery and the friendship between Malacca and China.