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Resistance, Engagement, and Heritage Conservation by Voluntary Sector: The Case of Penang in Malaysia*

  • EDMUND W. CHENG (a1), ANTHONY H. F. LI (a2) and SHU-YUN MA (a3)

Abstract

An enduring question with regard to the voluntary sector is how it can nurture civic engagement and provide public goods. A World Heritage listing for Penang highlights this question by revealing a vibrant civil society network that has made heritage conservation an issue for public discourse and policy agenda. This paper discusses how the marginalized trajectory of Penang is related to the development of its civic realm, social cohesion and local identity, which are sources of Penang's voluntarism. It then examines the engagement pattern of the Penang Heritage Trust, a leading association, which has mounted resistance against the state's failure in heritage provision. This bottom-up approach has preserved Penang's cultural heritage and associated identity, and reveals the distinct nature and capacity of Penang's voluntary sector that goes against the general pattern in Malaysia.

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*

The authors are deeply indebted to Ms Salma Khoo, Ms G. S. Lim, Professor Anwar Fazal, and other interviewees, for providing valuable first-hand information. Without their generous support, this research project would not have been successfully completed. The comments and suggestions of three anonymous reviewers are also very much appreciated. The research for this paper was supported by the Open University of Hong Kong Research Grant (No. 2009/2.4), and the Chinese University of Hong Kong Direct Research Grant (No. 2020922).

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1 George Town is the capital of the state of Penang; Melaka is the capital of the state of Malacca.

2 UNESCO, World Heritage Site: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1223 [Accessed 8 June 2013].

3 See UNESCO. (1972). Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, World Heritage Centre, Paris; UNESCO. (2003). Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, World Heritage Centre, Paris.

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5 Worden, ‘Where it all began’, p. 216.

6 Jenkins, G. (2008). Contested Space: Cultural Heritage and Identity Reconstructions. Lit Verlag, Berlin, p. 139.

7 ‘Are we ready to give Malacca and Penang to the World?’ New Straits Times, 21 March 2006.

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9 See Emerson, R. (1964) [1937]. Malaysia: A Study of Direct and Indirect Rule, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur; Khoo, Kay-Him. (1966). ‘The origin of British administration in Malaya’, Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 39 (1): 5291.

10 Case, W. (2001). ‘Electoral resilient pseudo-democracy’, Journal of Democracy 12 (1), 4557; Gomez, E. T. and Jomo, K. S.. (1997). Malaysia's Political Economy: Politics, Patronage and Profits, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 3.

11 Hassan, S. (2001). ‘Political non-governmental organizations: ideas and realities’, in Loh, Kok-Wah and Khoo, Boo-Teik (eds), Democracy in Malaysia: Discourses and Practises, Routledge, London, pp. 198215; Weiss, M. L. (2009). ‘Edging toward a new politics in Malaysia: civil society at the gate?’, Asian Survey 49 (5): 741758; Giersdorf, S. and Croissant, A. (2011). ‘Civil society and competitive authoritarianism in Malaysia’, Journal of Civil Society 7 (1): 121.

12 Lewis, D. (2011). ‘Exchanges of professionals between the public and non-governmental sectors: life-work histories from Bangladesh’, Modern Asian Studies 45 (3): 735757; Logan, W. S. (2005). ‘The cultural role of capital cities: Hanoi and Hue, Vietnam’, Pacific Affairs 78 (4): 559576.

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14 Purcell, V. (1967) [1948]. The Chinese in Malaya, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, pp. 3940; Barber, A. (2009). Penang under the East India Company, AB&B Books, Penang, pp. 6365.

15 Mills, ‘British Malaya’, pp. 83–84.

16 Barber, Penang under the East India Company, pp. 68–69, 78.

17 Hussin, N. (2007). Trade and Society in the Straits of Melaka: Dutch Melaka and English Penang, National University of Singapore Press, Singapore, 2007, pp. 240242.

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20 Mills, ‘British Malaya’, pp. 86–89; C. Turnbull, M. (1972). The Straits Settlements, 1826–1867: Indian Presidency to Crown Colony, Oxford University Press, Singapore, pp. 5455.

21 Mills, ‘British Malaya’, p. 47.

22 Huff, W. G. (1994). The Economic Growth of Singapore: Trade and Development in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 810.

23 Turnbull, C. M. (2009). ‘Penang's changing role in the Straits Settlements’, in Yeoh, Seng-Guan, et al., Penang and Its Region: The Story of an Asian Entrepôt, National University of Singapore Press, Singapore, pp. 3334.

24 Tan, Liok-Ee. (2009). ‘Conjunctures, confluences, contestations: a perspective on Penang history’, in Yeoh, Seng-Guanet al., Penang and Its Region: The Story of an Asian Entrepôt, National University of Singapore Press, Singapore, p. 13.

25 Purcell, The Chinese in Malaya, p. 51; Turnbull, The Straits Settlements, pp. 133–134, 383.

26 The majority of state apparatus had moved to Singapore, except the High Court that endured as the final adjudicator of the Straits Settlements, until further separation of jurisdiction in 1856. The preservation of an independent court fortified Penang's common law tradition and its civil liberty.

27 Khoo-Nasution, Salma. (2008). Sun Yat Sen in Penang, Areca Books, Penang, pp. 4859, 62.

28 Yen, Chin-Hwang. (1976). The Overseas Chinese and the 1911 Revolution, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, p. 234.

29 Turnbull, ‘Penang's changing role in the Straits Settlements’, p. 48.

30 Hussin, Trade and Society in the Straits of Melaka, p. 295.

31 Snider, N. L. (1968). ‘What Happened in Penang’, Asian Survey 8 (12): 964; Department of Statistics Malaysia. (1983). State Population Report, Kuala Lumpur, p. 77; Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2010). Population Distribution and Basic Demographic Characteristics, Kuala Lumpur, p. 11.

32 Purcell, The Chinese in Malaya, pp. 157–169.

33 Debernardi, J. (2004). Rites of Belonging: Memory, Modernity, and Identity in a Malaysian Chinese Community, Stanford University Press, Stanford, p. 21.

34 Khoo, Su-Nin. (2008). Streets of George Town: Penang, 4th Edition, Janus Press, Penang, pp. 2021.

35 Wang, Tai-Peng. (1994). The Origins of Chinese Kongsi, Pelanduk, Petaling Jaya, pp. 24; Chung, Po-Yin. (2010). ‘Chinese Tong as British Trust: institutional collisions and legal disputes in urban Hong Kong, 1860–1980’, Modern Asian Studies 44 (6): 14091432.

36 Buang, S. (1996) Malaysia Legal History: Cases and Materials, Minister of Education, Kuala Lumpur, p. 19; Wang, The Origins of Chinese Kongsi, pp. 100–104.

37 Wu, Xiao-An. (2003). Chinese Business in the Making of a Malay State, 1882–1942, Routledge Curzon, New York, pp. 179183.

38 Loh, Cheng-Sun (2002). ‘Chinese religious in Penang: past and present’ in History of the Chinese Communities in Penang Vol. II. Penang Heritage Trust, Penang; Khoo Kongsi, (2003). Leong San Tong: The History and Architecture, Vivar Printing, Rawang, p. 25. (In Chinese.)

39 Ten Cantonese trustees were sent by Kwangtung Huikuan and Teochew Huikuan, and each of big five Kongsis: Cheah, Khoo, Lim, Tan, and Yeaoh occupied two seats to return ten Hokkien trustees. See Loh, ‘Chinese religious in Penang’.

40 Chen, Jian-Hong. (1983). ‘An outline of the historical development of the Pingzhang Huiguang’, Penang Chinese Town Hall Centenary Celebration and Inauguration of the New Building Commemorative Publication, Phoenix, Penang, pp. 137152. (In Chinese.)

41 Chan, Kwok-Bun. (2005). Migration, Ethnic Relations and Chinese Business. Routledge, London, pp. 141147; Stenson, M. (1980). Class, Race and Colonialism in West Malaysia, University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, p. 31.

42 Sanhu, K. and Wheatley, P.. (eds) (1983). Melaka: The Transformation of a Malay Capital, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur; Tan, ‘Conjunctures, confluences, contestations’, p. 8.

43 Christie, C. J. (1996). A Modern History of Southeast Asia: Decolonization, Nationalism and Separatism, I. B. Tauris, London, pp. 4451; Tan, ‘Conjunctures, confluences, contestations’, p. 22.

44 Hua, Wu-Yin. (1983). Class and Communalism in Malaysia: Politics in a Dependent Capitalist State, Zed Books, London, p. 144.

45 Goh, Beng-Lan. (2002). Modern Dreams: An Inquiry into Power, Cultural Production and Cityscape in Contemporary Urban Penang, Cornell University Southeast Asia Program, Ithaca, p. 151.

46 Shafruddin, B. H. (1987). The Federal Factor in the Government and Politics of Peninsular Malaysia, Oxford University Press, Singapore, pp. 79, 113–120.

47 Lim, Guan-Eng. (2009). ‘Opening speech by the Chief Minister of Penang’, Penang International Conference for Sustainable Cultural Development, Penang, 23 October 2009; ‘Holistic development needed for Penang’, The Edge Financial Daily, 11 October 2010.

48 Interview with Salma Khoo, President of the Penang Heritage Trust (PHT), Penang, 10 December 2009; Interview with Gaik-Siang Lim, Treasurer of PHT, Penang, 9 December 2009; Nadarajah, M. (2007). ‘Culture of sustainability: multicultural reality and sustainable localism’, in Nadarajah, M. and Yamamoto, Ann-Tomoko (eds), Urban Crisis: Culture and the Sustainability of Cities, United Nations University Press, Tokyo, p. 107.

49 See Debernardi, Rites of Belonging, pp. 175–176, 180.

50 Carstens, S. A. (2005). Histories, Cultures, and Identities: Studies in Malaysian Chinese Worlds, Singapore University Press, Singapore, pp. 158160.

51 Douglas, S. and Pedersen, P.. (1973). Blood, Believer, and Brother: the Development of Voluntary Associations in Malaysia. Ohio University Center for International Studies Southeast Asia Program, Ohio, p. 52.

52 Khor, M. and Lim, Li-Lin. (2001). Good Practices and Innovative Experiences in the South, Vol. III: Citizen Initiatives in Social Services, Popular Education and Human Rights, Zeds Books, New York, p. 206; Hilton, M. (2007). ‘The consumer movement and civil society in Malaysia’, International Review of Social History 52 (3): 374.

53 Interview with Anwar Fazal, President of the Consumer Association of Penang, Penang, 14 July 2010.

54 Khor and Lim, Good Practices and Innovative Experiences in the South Vol. III, p. 208.

55 Hilton, ‘The consumer movement and civil society in Malaysia’, pp. 388–389.

56 Ling, S. (2003). ‘The alternative media in Malaysia: their potential and limitations’, in Cloudy, N. and Curran, J. (eds), Contesting Media Power: Alternative Media in a Networked World, Rowan and Littlefield, Lanham, pp. 290292.

57 Aliran Monthly, Special Issue, 30(1), April 2008.

58 Jesudason, J. V. (1996). ‘The syncretic state and the structuring of oppositional politics in Malaysia’, in Rodan, G. (ed), Political Oppositions in Industrialising Asia, Routledge, London, p. 150; Weiss, L. M. (2003). ‘Malaysian NGOs: history, legal framework and characteristics’, in Weiss, M. and Hassan, S. (eds), Social Movements in Malaysia: from Moral Communities to NGOs, Routledge, New York, pp. 1744.

59 Sheila, N. (1999). ‘Constructing civil society in Malaysia: nationalism, hegemony and resistance’, in Jomo, K. S. (ed.), Rethinking Malaysia, Malaysia Social Science Association, Kuala Lumpur, pp. 8485.

60 Hilton, ‘The consumer movement and civil society in Malaysia’, p. 376.

61 Malaysia's Nomination Dossier. (2005). Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca: Melaka and George Town: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1223 [Accessed 8 June 2013], p. 31.

62 Logan, W. S. (ed.) (2002). The Disappearing Asian City: Protecting Asia's Urban Heritage in a Globalizing World, Oxford University Press, New York.

63 Goh, Modern Dreams, p. 155; Nadarajah, ‘Culture of sustainability’, p. 114; Grant, M. (1992). New Legislation for the Conservation of Historic Buildings, Report to the Federal Government of Malaysia, p. 18.

64 Ruland, J. (1992). Urban Development in Southeast Asia: Regional Cities and Local Government, Westview, Boulder, p. 217.

65 ‘Taking pride in Penang's past’, New Straits Times, 15 January 1996.

66 Sirat, M. (1990). ‘The future lies in the past: re-inventing the former port city of George Town, Penang’, in Graf, A. and Huat, Chua-Beng (eds) Port Cities in Asia and Europe, Routledge, London, p. 113.

67 Penang Development Corporation. (1990). Penang: Looking Back, Looking Ahead: 20 Years of Progress, Penang, pp. 1719.

68 Goh, Modern Dreams, pp. 155–156; Lik, Meng-Leeet al. (2008). ‘Strategies for urban conservation: a case example of George Town, Penang’, Habitat International, 32: 295, 299.

69 Jenkins, Contested Space, pp. 95–96.

70 Goh, Modern Dreams, p. 42.

71 Lik et al., ‘Strategies for urban conservation’, p. 299.

72 Malaysia's Nomination Dossier, p. 139.

73 PHT Newsletter, August 1994, p. 3.

74 Goh, Modern Dreams, 153; Teo, P. (2003). ‘The limits of imagineering: A case study of Penang’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 27 (3): 545563.

75 Interview with Khoo Salma.

76 The founders include Lim Chong Kit, renowned architect and brother of Lim Chong Eu; Dato’ Nazir Ariff, ex-Chairman of Malaysian Industrial Chambers of Commerce and Penang Museum Board; Dato’ Dr Sharom Ahmat, historian and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia; Dr. Choong Sim Poey, medical practitioner, ex-state assemblyman, and chairman of various NGOs.

77 PHT Warisan, 2(2), June 1989, p. 1.

78 Rananawa, A. (2000). ‘A city at a crossroad: Caught between the past and the future, can Georgetown preserve its unique qualities?’, Asiaweek 26 (2), 31 March 2000.

79 PHT Constitution, 1986, pp. 1–3.

80 Interview with Lin-Lee Loh-Lim, Editor of PHT Newsletters, Penang, 13 July 2010; Interview with Gaik Siang Lim.

81 Interview with Salma Khoo; ‘Taking pride in Penang's past’, New Straits Times, 15 January 1996.

82 Peng-Khor, Kok (ed.). (1991). The Need to Save our Natural Heritage: Critique of the Proposed Development and Alternative Plan, Friends of Penang Hill, Penang.

83 Kelly, P. F. (2003). ‘Developing dissent in industrialising localities: civil society in Penang and Bata’, in Heryanto, A. and Mandal, S. K. (eds), Challenging Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia, London, Routledge, pp. 7172, 75.

84 Gooi, Kim, ‘The Fall of Metropole Hotel’: https://kimgooi.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/the-fall-of-metropole-hotel [Accessed 8 June 2013].

85 ‘Group wants heritage law made public’, New Straits Times, 5 October 1995; Interview with Lin Lee Loh-Lim; Goh, Modern Dreams, p. 161.

86 Kit-Siang Lim, ‘Purist of a Malaysia dream’, Speech at Penang State Assembly, 2 June 1994; ‘MPPP Chief believes in going by the book’, New Straits Times, 7 May 1995.

87 ‘Time for Penang Council to change its policies’, New Straits Times, 13 February 1996.

88 Interview with Siang-Siang Lim, Reporter for Kwang Wah Daily, Penang, 11 December 2009; Interview with Maimunah Sharif, Director of World Heritage Office, Penang, 19 July 2010.

89 For instance, the PHT's former President, Choong Sim Poey, chaired the municipal-level Heritage Advisory Committee, and its current President, Khoo Salma is also a member. PHT's council members are members of the state-level State Heritage Committee and Penang Heritage Centre Committee, the latter was set up by the state government to manage the World Heritage Site.

90 Nadarajah, ‘Culture of Sunstability’, p. 117; Jenkins, Contested Space, p. 99.

91 Jenkins, Contested Space, pp. 127–128.

92 PHT Newsletter, December 1995, pp. 1–2; Malaysia's Nomination Dossier, p. 138.

93 ‘Georgetown listed as endangered cultural treasure’, New Straits Times, 14 September 1999; PHT Annual Report 2000, p. 2.

94 Majid, Z. (2007). ‘Talk to us, don't shout to the press’, New Straits Times, 5 March 2007.

95 PHT Annual Report 2008, p. 14; PHT Annual Report 2011, p. 12.

96 Loh, L. (2009). ‘Embedding the heritage vision through local initiative’, presented at the Network for Urban Futures in Southeast Asia Forum, Penang, 7 February 2009; Lim, Gaik- Siang (2009). ‘Penang Heritage Trust: An Introduction’, presented at Teochow Association, Penang, 14 July 2009.

97 PHT Newsletter, 83, July 2004, pp. 20–21; Lim, ‘Penang Heritage Trust ’, p. 13.

98 PHT Newsletter, 95, April 2009, p. 8.

99 These are only prominent examples. The PHT has discovered and preserved a range of heritages, such as Catholic commentary, Muslim waqf, Chinese temple, jetty village and revolutionary base.

100 Malaysia's Nomination Dossier, p. 137.

101 PHT Newsletter, 94, October 2008, p. 1.

102 On average, one Excellence Award, three Distinction Awards, and four Merit Awards were presented each year from around 40 eligible entries from the Asia-Pacific region in the period 2000–2010. See UNESCO, ‘Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards’: http://www.unescobkk.org/en/culture/wh/asia-pacific-heritage-awards/previous-heritage-awards-2000–2012/ [Accessed 8 June 2013].

103 PHT Annual Reports 2000, p. 4; 2007, pp. 16, 30; 2008, pp. 15, 30.

104 PHT Newsletter, 94, October 2008, p. 25.

105 Interview with Lim Lim Gaik-Siang; Teochew Association. (2006). Han Jiang Ancestral Hall, Percetakan, Penang. (In Chinese.)

106 Loh, ‘Embedding the heritage vision through local initiatives’, p. 45.

107 PHT Newsletter, 91, September 2007, pp. 1–3; ‘Conservation and preservation’, New Straits Times, 11 November 2008.

108 ‘June decision on four heritage zone hotels’, New Straits Times, 6 March 2009, PHT Newsletter, 94, October 2008, pp. 15–16; Penang Forum: http://penangforum.net [Accessed 8 June 2013].

* The authors are deeply indebted to Ms Salma Khoo, Ms G. S. Lim, Professor Anwar Fazal, and other interviewees, for providing valuable first-hand information. Without their generous support, this research project would not have been successfully completed. The comments and suggestions of three anonymous reviewers are also very much appreciated. The research for this paper was supported by the Open University of Hong Kong Research Grant (No. 2009/2.4), and the Chinese University of Hong Kong Direct Research Grant (No. 2020922).

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Resistance, Engagement, and Heritage Conservation by Voluntary Sector: The Case of Penang in Malaysia*

  • EDMUND W. CHENG (a1), ANTHONY H. F. LI (a2) and SHU-YUN MA (a3)

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