Chinese Associations in Penang by Numbers


The formation of Chinese associations in Penang can be traced back to the early nineteenth century, when Chinese migrants began settling in the state; these associations were formed for economic, security and cultural preservation reasons.1

According to Buku Panduan Persatuan-Persatuan Cina Malaysia,2 these associations are classified into nine broad categories: religion; lineage and clan; locality; profession; sports; art, culture and education; charity and welfare; youth and women; and integrated associations (Table 1). More than half of the associations are located in the north-east district (Figure 1).

Among all the categories, religious associations and temples constituted the largest share at 37% (Table 1). The distribution of temples is quite balanced between the island and the mainland, with just slightly above half (54.8%) located on the island.

One of the most prominent features of the Chinese community in Penang is the kinship associations, which accounted for 22.5% (Table 1) of all Chinese associations. It can be divided into lineage-based and clan-based, as well as locality-based. The five major Hokkien clans associations – Khoo Kongsi, Cheah Kongsi, Yeoh Kongsi, Lim Kongsi and Tan Kongsi – are perhaps the most well-known; they were among the earliest to be built, between 1810 and 1866.

The Penang Chinese Town Hall (PCTH) is the highest organisation of all the Chinese associations in Penang. As of December 2018, it consists of 520 associations and 49,393 individual members.

There are nine operational units in PCTH serving different purposes such as welfare, culture, education, trade and commerce. In 2018 PCTH conducted 58 activities, compared to 48 in 2017. The majority of the activities are cultural in nature, comprising 31% of total activities, followed by economicrelated activities (17%) (Table 2). Cultural activities include the nationwide 35th Malaysia Chinese Cultural Festival; celebrations of festivals such as Chinese New Year, Dragon Boat Festival, Mooncake Festival and Winter Solstice; as well as seminars and performances.

Other services provided by PCTH include the registration of marriages, an eye clinic staffed by volunteers, Mandarin classes and library services. The declining number of Chinese couples registering their marriage via the Chinese associations might suggest that the younger generation is less interested in these associations (Figure 2).

There are more than 30 different sectors of profession-based Chinese associations in Penang.3 Most of them have members in the same profession while a minority of them amalgamated traders within the same vicinity. More than a quarter of the profession-based associations are for food traders and hawkers (Figure 3), followed by the automobile and metal sectors, which comprised 7.5% and 6.6% respectively.

In the trade and commerce sector, the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce (PCCC) has more than a thousand members comprising individuals, associations and companies from various sectors (Figure 4). PCCC provides services such as issuing a Certificate of Origin (CO) and supporting the application of the APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC). From 2015 to 2018, PCCC has issued a total of 24,955 COs and has coordinated 246 applications of ABTC between the applicants and the Immigration Department (Table 3).

Education is highly emphasised by the Chinese community. Most of the Chinese associations, regardless of the categorisation, provide scholarships or study loans to their members or members’ children. Figure 5 shows the number of students who received scholarships offered by PCTH and PCCC.

The number of recipients of scholarships and study loans has drastically dropped in recent years. For example, the number of recipients of PCTH’s scholarships peaked in 2008 with 87 beneficiaries. The number gradually reduced to 33 recipients in 2012 before declining sharply to less than 10 recipients in 2013. In 2018 only six students received the scholarships.

Under the category of charity and welfare, the associations of cemeteries make up the largest segment with 48.2% of total associations (Figure 6). Other welfare organisations include the Red Crescent society, education and charity funds, and residents’ associations.

1Tan Kim Hong. The Chinese in Penang: A Pictorial History. Areca Books, 2007.

2Buku Panduan Persatuan-Persatuan Cina Malaysia (2006) is by far the most comprehensive list compiled by the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Huazong). There are 897 associations in Penang listed in the book, which claims to have included about 82% of all 1,089 registered associations at the time (Source:, retrieved on 25 December 2018). It is assumed that not many new associations were formed over the last decades. Since the latest data was unobtainable from the Penang Registrar of Society (ROS), only the percentage distributions are presented for reference.

3Author’s own categorisation based on Buku Panduan PersatuanPersatuan Cina Malaysia (2006).

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