Published on 2024.05.17

Guanyin Belief and Its Social Functions in Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, Malacca

From the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), people of the southern Fujian (Minnan) started to migrate to Malacca.  After the mid-19th century, more immigrants from Fujian and Guangdong provinces came to Malacca, who held “Guanyin (Avalokitesvara) belief” as one of their important beliefs. Some of the Guanyin temples also served as places for the Chinese communities to handle their civil affairs. By observing the religious and social functions of these organizations, we can generally get the idea of how immigrant communities take root in a region.

The so-called “Guanyin belief” is actually a kind of folk faith rather than the pure Buddhist belief. When the early Chinese immigrants built Guanyin temples there, they couldn’t tell whether Guanyin was “Buddha” or “Bodhisattva” in Buddhism. For example, all the Guanyin temples in the old immigrant communities in the Malay Peninsula referred “Guanyin Bodhisattva” as “Guanyin Buddha”, including the Cheng Hoon Teng (Qing Yun Ting) Temple in Malacca, established by Minnan people in 1673, the Kong Hock Keong (Guang Fu Gong) Temple in Penang, built by the joint efforts of Guangdong and Fujian immigrants in 1800, and temples in Gopeng and Kampar of Perak, established by the Guangdong community in 1892 and 1904 respectively.

The Guanyin temples in these old communities not only provides spiritual comfort for the early Chinese immigrants, but also serves as venues for handling civil disputes in Chinese society and providing welfare for the elderly, the sick, and the deceased. Let’s then take the Cheng Hoon Teng (Qing Yun Ting) Temple in Malacca as an example.

The naming of “Qing Yun Ting” closely linked with the local merchants in Malacca. The inscription “On the Rebuilding of Cheng Hoon Teng Temple” (1801), written by Chinese Kapitan Cai Shizhang (1748-1794) and seven other members of the Customs Company, can be a reliable proof.  “I think that exchange of goods and accumulation of wealth has been long in existence. However, great wealth should be attained as a lofty and noble pursuit, with the potential to soar to the sky like a cloud. The fortune should go together with the fame.Therefore, the temple is named Qing Yun.” The so-called “Qing Yun” originally means “rising quickly to the high official positions”. For those Chinese who went south to Malacca, they already lost the opportunity to pursue official careers, so many of them were insightful to go into business. The name itself shows that this was a gathering place for the merchants, who were also local social leaders at that time.

There is another saying about the naming of the temple. According to the inscription “On the Reconstruction of Cheng Hoon Teng Temple” (1894) written by Chen Dugong, the chief director of the temple, and others, we can see that: “The temple is named Qing Yun after Guanyin, who is able to see clearly and have a broad view (Qing Yan Kuang Guan). It is believed that by the grace of Guanyin in the temple, people in need everywhere can be saved from pains and sufferings. Therefore, it got the name Qing Yun.” This naming highlights the idea of Guanyin seeing clearly and riding the cloud of mercy to help people.

Both explanations are acceptable, which shows that Cheng Hoon Teng Temple has a social function of integrating “politics and religion”. In other words, the early Cheng Hoon Teng Temple was both the administrative and religious center of the Chinese community.  It was once served as the office of the Malacca Chinese Kapitans (17th century-1824) and the Temple Masters (1824-1915).

As a folk Guanyin temple that combines Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, Cheng Hoon Teng Temple holds diversified festival activities. According to its official website, there are as many as 24 religious activities held within a year, covering different religious festivals related to Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, among which activities of folk beliefs and Taoist beliefs account for half.In addition, Cheng Hoon Teng Temple also celebrate traditional Chinese festivals, such as the Lunar New Year Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival.

During the Dutch colonial era (1641-1824), the Dutch appointed Kapitan to handle the affairs of the Chinese. As far as we know, the first Kapitan was Zheng Fangyang (or Tay Hong Yong, 1632-1677), the second was Li Weijing (or Li Wei King, 1614-1688), and the third was Zeng Qilu (or Chan Ki Lock, 1643-1718). They were all born in the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). According to the inscriptions on the Malacca temple steles, they left their hometown, Amoy Island (Lu Dao), Xiamen, Fujian Province, during the turmoil of the late Ming Dynasty and came to Malacca for refuge.  Later, they began to do business there. Li Weijing once bought the Bukit China (San Bao Hill), where the deceased Chinese were buried. Since then, Chinese haven taken root in Malacca.

Cheng Hoon Teng Temple once played the role of arbitration. The inscription on Zeng Qilu’s monument recorded: “For people living in Malacca, he (Zeng) provided financial support for those who were good at doing business but with no money; he encouraged farm laborers in poverty to be more diligent; he prohibited those who were addicted to gambling; and he bought pieces of land on the mountain to bury the dead who had no one to rely on…”  These descriptions can roughly show us that Cheng Hoon Teng Temple has a social function of seeking welfare for Chinese immigrants in Malacca. Based on this case, therefore, the author believes that representative Chinese temples in Malacca have both religious and social functions.





傅吾康、陳鐵凡編:《馬來西亞華文銘刻萃編 第一冊》(吉隆玻:馬來亞大學出版部,1982),頁245。


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1.  傅吾康、陳鐵凡編:《馬來西亞華文銘刻萃編 第一冊》(吉隆玻:馬來亞大學出版部,1982),頁245。

2. 黃文斌:《麻六甲青雲亭及其觀音信仰初探》,麻六甲青雲亭,最後流覽時間,2023年11月1日,。

Dr. Wong Wun Bin

Dr. Wong Wun Bin, Bachelor of Arts in Chinese Studies from the University of Malaya, Master's and Ph.D. in Chinese Studies from the National University of Singapore. Currently serving as Associate Professor in the Chinese Department at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, Deputy Dean of the Institute of Chinese Studies, and Chairperson of the Yu Cai Foundation Centre for Chinese Studies. Research interests include the history of Malaysian Chinese immigration, Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, Guanyin, and folk religious beliefs.

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