Bukit Cina is the ancestral burial ground of Malacca’s Chinese community. Also known as Chinese Hill, it is the largest and oldest Chinese graveyard outside of China itself with over 12,500 graves. Although it is primarily a graveyard for early Chinese settlers, the cemetery has about 20 Muslim tombs, too.
The oldest grave in Bukit Cina is that of Tin Kap, the first Chinese kapitan (a mediatory position created by the Dutch East India Company which made it possible for them to rule the various ethnic communities). These days the 20ha hill is chiefly used as a jogging track.
The burial ground’s fame began with a marriage: Until the 15th century Chinese contact with the Malay Peninsula was vague; then in 1949, Emperor Yung Lo sent his envoy, Admiral Cheng Ho, to establish commercial relations with Malacca.
Instituting a promising settlement-with-vassal relationship, Sultan Mansur Shah of Malacca married the Ming emperor’s daughter, Princess Hang Liu to seal relations between the two countries.
The Ming Bride
According to Malay history the marriage of the sultan to the daughter of the Emperor resulted in a dramatic influx of Chinese settlers because when the princess arrived she brought along a sizeable retinue that included 500 handmaidens.
The Ming Bride set up home on Bukit Cina along with her vast entourage and the hill has been a Chinese-dominated area ever since. Later on, the two adjoining hills became the burial ground for Chinese merchants.
The King’s Well
These early Chinese residents were the ones who dug up the well behind the temple. Also called the King’s Well, it served as an important water supply for the inhabitants of Bukit Cina.
As a result it was often seen as a target for invading forces who sought to poison the well in an effort to take over the city. The Dutch protected it by enclosing it within a wall, the ruins of which still remain.
Poh San Teng Temple
To the left of the well, at the foot of Bukit Cina, is the Poh San Teng Temple. It was built in 1795 and dedicated to Admiral Cheng Ho; inside the temple are images of the Taoist entity Dabo Gong and Kuan Yin.
Since 1984 a bitter legal battle has been going on regarding the fate of Bukit Cina. When protests came after authorities announced plans to develop the area into a cultural and sports centre, the government alleged that the cemetery’s trustees owed over two million dollars for rental arrears. Civil authorities claimed that the tax exemption over the years had been a ‘clerical error’.
Outraged, the cemetery’s trustees, and members of the Chinese community, flatly refused to pay and the fate of the burial ground remains up in the air till this day.
- Address: Jalan Puteri Hang Li Poh, Bukit Cina, Melaka