Hainan-Penang & The British Encounter(1)海南岛-槟榔屿与英国人的机缘

By Jee Say Hai  俞自海


The story of how my father first came from Hainan to Penang had since gone unrecorded.  This bit of history are not uncommon to many descendants of the older immigrants from China. As one of the witnesses to the history I am no exceptional in not paying attention to trace what had actually happened to our forefathers' migration trail.  However as time passes by and as age catches up I begin to spend some time to ponder over this unrecorded event.  To my surprise my father returned to Hainan on three occassions.  His last trip to Hainan was in 1948 and returned to Penang weeks later.  This discovery struck me deeply.  I decided to record the unrecorded.  

In the course of doing so I bumped into the business activities betweem Penang and Hainan.  Every elderly clanman acknowledged that Baiyan (白延) (a little town in Wenchang County [文昌县] in Hainan Province) played an important social and economic role from the 1930s to 1950s.  Baiyan, the locals called it "Little Shanghai" (小上海) bustled with life during those years.  Baiyan's prosperous and glorious days saw not only large numbers of Hainanese migrating from Hainan to Penang but also facilitated the commercial activities between Hainan and Penang.hainan 2 penang
 Routes taken from Hainan to Penang

There were signs that the locals in Baiyan enjoyed a glorious and prosperous years brought about by the Hainanese who returned from Penang and the roles played by the three banks, namely Bank of China, Hongkong & Shanghai Bank and Chartered Bank  ......  read more   

According to the locals, besides the Bank of China (中国人民银行)there were also three foreign banks operated there. The presence of four big banks in Baiyan in those years suggested that the volume of economic activities must be very huge to justify their existance.  The impact on finance, business, trade, migration and livelihood style and the economic opportunity brought about by the four banks can not be taken lightly.  

Bank of China and the three international foreign banks, namely Hongkong & Shanghai Bank (汇丰银行), Chartered Bank (渣打银行)and Citibank (花旗银行)were said to have operated in Baiyan up to the 1950s.  Incidentally  three of the four banks also operated in Penang then: the Bank of China operated in Penang from 1939 to 1959; the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank, with its headquarters based in Hong Kong, established its first Malayan branch in Penang in 1884; the Chartered Bank, which has its main office in London, opened its first Malayan branch in Penang in 1875.  Both Penang and Hong Kong were the British colonies at that time. Citibank commenced its operation in Malaya with the setting up its first branch in Kuala Lumpur in 1959.  It commenced its China operation in 1902.

With this international financial connection it might have attributed to the commercial linkage between Hainan and Penang in general and between the Hainanese and the British in particular.  A preliminary finding suggested that during the colonial years, the Hainanese in Penang were said to have dominated the food outlets, beverage and the leisure supply chains.  It was widely acknowledged that the Hainanese had a closer encounter with the British than other Chinese dialect community.  This had, in one way or another, attributed to the growing trend of those supply chains during the colonial years.  The Hainanese and the British relationship under those circumstances went beyond that of the master-servant (employer-employee relationship) or in a business enviroment of principal-client relationship.  It had evolved more towards a personal and family-type of relationship indeed - a trust solidified on mutual respect

A mission is on-going to explore the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth: if the two British banks, namely the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank and the Chartered Bank and the Bank of China did bring about the Penang-Hainan link and eventually paved the way  for the Hainanese-British encounter in Penang. 

bank china bank china
Left: Bank of China - the name is still visible but since the late 1950s the premises is being used as residence.  [photo taken on 1 January 2013] 

Right: Bank of China set up its first Malayan branch in Penang in 1939.  It later opened branches in other states of Malaya.  Due to historical reason all the branches ceased operation in 1959.  The Penang branch was re-opened in 2009 after the bank resumed operation in Kuala Lumpur in 2001.  [photo taken in 1959 in front of the BOC premises along Northam Road (now known as Sultan Ahmad Shah Road), Penang - source: BOC poster]   

 The Hainan-Penang Connection: as seen in the old Wenchang town, Hainan 

entrance old street
This is the entrance to the Wennan heritage road.  Along this road visitors can learn the past history about the Nanyang (Penang) stories. The buildings on both sides of the road had been renovated to give visitors a feeling of walking along a typical road in Nanyang (Penang).  

leaving home Along the Wennan Old Street, there are bronze sculpture, figures, articles and scene depicting stories related to migration era.  The scene here shows an old couple sending off their loved ones, who left for Nanyang (Penang).  
Natural disaster was the main cause that attributed to the massive migration.  Many people from Wenchang left their homeland for Nanyang (Penang) at young age by junks from Port Qinglan (in central Wenchang) and Port Puqian (north-eastern Wenchang near Haikou) during the northeast monsoon season (November to January).  .    
leaving home

A plaque displayed at the site read: VOYAGE TO SOUTH-EAST ASIA - The Voyage is said to be the China third Migration Wave.  The many sufferings such as social torture, typhoon, famine, drought and poverty compelled many Wenchang folks to look for a better livelihood in South-east Asia.  They embarked on junks from Port Qinglan or Puqian in December / January, taking advantage of the North-eastery wind.  The journey took more than a month with no precise port of landing.  Once arrived in a strange land a new tough life began.

wenchang return home 

This is another scene depicting a successful man returning to the fatherland and brought with him the wealth he had accumulated to enhance the livelihood of his village folks: The returnees shared their wealth by building new home for their family and relatives.  They also pooled their resources together by improving the infrastructure and building  school in the village.   
On their way back to Nanyang (Penang) some of them would bring along fellow village folks to assist them in their business there.  

return home

Another plaque read: WELCOME HOME - The Wenchang folks had a strong sense of kinship. When they left for Voyage to South-east Asia they did not bring their wives nor their ancestral stock along with them - they left practically empty handed.  After accumulated some wealth they would return to their village home for gathering, invested in property and spent the rest of their life there.  The buildings along this street bore testimony of the many contributions by the Wenchang folks in the past. 


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