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Cheng Hoon Teng Temple

The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple at Jalan Tokong, Malacca, is the oldest and surely one of the grandest Chinese temples in Malaysia. The temple, with its curved roof ridge, cut-and-paste chien nien decoration, and gable design, reflects the architectural style of South China, of craftsmen from Fujian and Guangdong. It has recently been restored, and in the process garnered a prestigious Unesco award for outstanding architectural restoration. At the time of my visit, in July 2005, it still glimmers with the newness of the restoration work.

Cheng Hoon Teng, which means Temple of Clear Clouds, was founded in the early 17th century (not sure exactly when, but some say 1645) by the Kapitan China Tay Kie Ki alias Tay Hong Yong. In addition to being the religious institution, the temple also served as the official administrative centre and court of justice of the Kapitans, which included Li Wei King, Chan Lak Kua and Chua Su Cheong.

One side of column in the entrance employs Cao-shu, a grass script style of Chinese calligraphy which was done by Robert van Gulik (1910-1967), a Dutch diplomat and authority on Chinese history and culture.

The main hall was first constructed in 1704 by Chan Ki Lock, and was rebuilt by Kapitan China Chua Su Cheong in 1801. The central altar is dedicated to Kuanyin, the goddess of mercy. To her left (in the worshippers' direction) is Ma Choo @ Ma Choe Poh, patron diety of fishermen, sailors and sea travellers. Next to her is the goddess of birth. On the far end is Kuan Kong. The diety with the gold face is Pau Sen Ta Tek, the god of welding.

Unlike other Chinese temples, the Cheng Hoon Teng does not employ door gods. Instead the doors are guarded by the famous Taoist monks, The Eight Immortals. At the outer gate are the Eight Immortals on the animals that they ride on. At the entrance to the main hall, the Eight Immortals are no longer shown as humans, but are instead symbolized as dragons with four claws. Within their claws are the Eight Immortals' instruments, namely the flute, knife, lotus and fan. These dragon representations are called Ar Enn Pak Sien, or Hidden Eight Immortals.

On the walls are the Eighteen Lorhans, now encased behind glass. Their depictions have almost disappeared under centuries of smoke. On the outside of the main hall are columns with gold calligraphy in cao-shu, a grass style script. It was written by Robert van Gulik (1910-1967), a Dutch diplomat and authority in Chinese culture and history.

Within the grounds of the Cheng Hoon Teng are stelae, stone tables commemorating special events. A lot of travel books as well as Internet sites mention that there is a stone inscription here that was brought by Admiral Cheng Ho. Probably what Cheng Ho brought was similar, but the stelae in Cheng Hoon Teng Temple are definitely not the stone inscription brought by Cheng Ho. Due to similarity when transcribed into English - the Cheng in "Cheng Hoon Teng" and "Cheng Ho" sounds the same in English, but are different words in Chinese.

The oldest relic in the temple is the stela dating to 1685. It is in fact a thank you note to Kapitan China Lee Wei King, commemorating his donating of a piece of land to the Chinese community for the purpose of a Chinese burial ground. This burial ground of course refers to the one at Bukit China, which has no connection with Cheng Ho whatsoever.

The way of depicting year, as appearing on the stone tablet is now no longer in use in present-day Chinese. Instead of following a numerical numbering of years, the Chinese at that time calculate the year in accordance to the reign of Chinese Emperors, of which each emperor's reign carries a specific name. Around 1685, when the tablet was carved, it was Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when the Manchurians ruled over China. But the Han Chinese refused to acknowledge the Manchurian emperors, considering Manchurians and everybody else barbarians. Hence, instead of representing the year according to the Qing Emperor's reign, the stone inscription stated that "the dragon has flown", meaning it is after the Ming Dynasty.

The walls of the temples are all painted with limewash. In the olden days, lime was used instead of cement. Everything was derived from natural sources. The lime comes from the oyster shells and soot from charcoal.
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