Chung Ling: Tolling to Inspire the Young
Chung Ling High School celebrates its centennial in February 2017. Penang Monthly looks at its illustrious history.
When on the topic of secondary level education in Penang, one school’s name crops up without fail: Chung Ling High School. Hailed as one of the state’s top performing high schools, it celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding next February.
Its history goes back to the formation of the Penang Philomatic Union in 1908. Founded as one of the many Kuomintang branches in Malaya for gathering support among overseas Chinese, the need for education among the local Chinese inspired five of its members – Tan Sin Cheng, Khoo Beng Cheang, Chee Yong Aik, Lim Joo Teik and Khaw Seng Lee – to establish a school. On February 9, 1917, Chung Ling School was born.
It began as a primary school, offering both elementary and higher secondary classes. Its premises were the upper portion of the Union’s headquarters, then located at 19 Malay Street. The initial enrolment was around 80 pupils. As the number of students increased, more space was needed. A subscription scheme was implemented, and by 1918, the school had its new home at 65 Macalister Road, the Union’s former office. The school now saw a steady increase in enrolment from 80 students in 1917, to 130 by the end of 1920.
From Primary School to High School
As late as 1920, secondary education was not commonplace in Malaya. Penang’s first Chinese secondary school, the Nanyang Middle School, was established in 1919, but it closed down barely a year later owing to financial woes. As such, students who desired secondary-level Chinese education had little choice but to travel to China or Singapore to further their studies. This was expensive, and many were forced to give up on higher studies.
In 1923, thanks to generous public contributions raised through drama performances, Chung Ling was upgraded to a middle school offering higher primary and secondary courses. Unsurprisingly, the number of students increased on almost a monthly basis. To ensure that the school maintained its status and standards, a new high school-level curriculum was adopted in 1935, and that same year, it moved to its current premise in Kampung Baru. But it was not until 1955 that Chung Ling became a fully-fledged high school.
Chinese schools in Malaya at the time shared a common, natural attachment to China, and were moved by the political climate there – especially during the National Language Movement in China, when many teachers associated with the Kuomintang were recruited and sent to Malaya to promote Chinese education and instil Chinese nationalism in young students. In its early years, Chung Ling also witnessed the recruitment of headmasters and teachers from China.
Chung Ling’s concern with China was most evident following the Japanese invasion in July 1937, when its entire staff voluntarily donated five per cent of their salary, while students donated two cents per month. A donation of more than Straits Dollars $300 was raised, earning the school the reputation of being “the first sound of patriotism among Penang’s education world.” Apart from that, Chung Ling’s students participated in various performances, from drama to sports and martial arts, to raise funds – so much so that the school served as a venue during the visit of the Chinese ConsulateGeneral to Penang in 1937.
David Chen and the Pinnacle of Chung Ling High School
With David Chen as headmaster of Chung Ling, a bilingual policy was adopted. A graduate of Nanking University, Chen was effectively bilingual, and had taught in Nanking and Dutch Indochina. In 1931 he was recommended by a Chinese consul to be based in Chung Ling; thus began his journey with the school for the next 20 years, until tragedy struck.
Noted for his vision and dedication to the school’s development, Chen was a different kind of headmaster: he placed strong emphasis on English education to meet colonial needs, on top of maintaining the essence of Chinese education. While bilingual textbooks in different subjects were adopted by previous headmasters, what Chen did was to further encourage students to sit for the Cambridge School Certificate Examinations, which he believed would greatly benefit them. Since Chinese remained the norm for most other Chinese schools, Chung Ling set itself apart in this way, earning itself a distinguished reputation in the region.
Chen’s perseverance and courage also helped Chung Ling endure persecutions during the Japanese occupation. In 1941 school activities were brought to a complete halt, and in light of the school’s Kuomintang-based image, the staff and even pupils became targets for Japanese brutality, resulting in many fleeing into the jungles and to smaller towns. Chen himself sought refuge in Cameron Highlands, disguising himself as a farmer.
Owing to Chen’s and staff members’ efforts, Chung Ling resumed classes after the war with 880 students, nearly a quarter of whom came from outside Penang, from places such as Perak, Kedah, and Perlis, and even as far away as Selangor, Kelantan, Singapore, Siam and Dutch Indochina.
Chen’s vision of Chung Ling’s primary responsibility now was to cultivate discipline and produce righteous and independent individuals. He also encouraged active participation in extracurricular activities, stressing that “knowledge doesn’t solely come from classrooms, but from students’ own explorations.”
His dedication to Chinese education also ventured far beyond the school. In 1951, as the first president of the United Chinese School Teachers Association in Malaya, Chen visited England to study its education system and pointed out three crucial shortcomings in the
The Winds of Change
The post-war era ushered in a new social atmosphere.
While vernacular schools in general were perceived then as an impediment to the creation of a national identity, Chinese schools were regarded as security threats due to the infiltration of leftist elements during the Emergency. The worsening conflict between the Kuomintang and the Communists resulted in the assassination of Chen in 1952.
The same year also saw the enactment of the Education Ordinance based on the Barnes Report. The ultimate objective for the government now was to establish national schools with English or Malay as the medium of instruction. Schools were faced with the choice of being government-aided institutions, or retaining their independent status without any form of aid. This caused an uproar among the Chinese in Malaya and Singapore, and led to student protests.
In June 1956 Chung Ling announced its conversion to a national-type secondary school – the first in Malaya – and this decision itself was received with resentment by many students. Protests followed, and in October three tear gas bombs were used to disperse 600 to 2,000 students who had gathered in the school field.18 The school was forced to shut its doors for three weeks, with protestors being cordoned off by the police. The following year saw the expulsion of several students for subversive activities.
The protests in Chung Ling spilled over to other Chinese schools in Penang and other parts of Malaya, and persisted until 1957. Students gathered in protest against the new education policy, and this marked the first large-scale student
In 1962 Chung Ling Private was established alongside the high school as a result of disagreements over regulations within the national-school framework. One regulation prohibited the entry of over-aged students whose studies had been interrupted by the war or by virtue of their previous political inclinations. Such a policy, though inevitable in the climate of heightened paranoia due to the Emergency, sparked the impetus to form a private school without government aid in order to accommodate such students.19
Today, the Chung Ling legacy in the education realm remains as strong as ever, and as the school marches towards its 100th anniversary, it will no doubt continue to inspire and shape future generations.
The author wishes to convey her sincere thanks and appreciation to Ow Chong Ming and Tan Chee Seng for their kind assistance and contribution towards this article.