In an unprecedented turnabout by Malacca authority, Bukit China and the 10,000 or more graves are now considered worthy of being accorded heritage site. This latest announcement must be music to the souls from the largest Chinese Cemetery outside of China and now they can rest in peace.
This latest twist of event is a remarkable departure from an earlier hostile policy to ‘redevelop’ Bukit China in the mid 80s initiated by the then rising UMNO stalwart and former CM, Abdul Rahim Thamby Chik. This controversial and elaborate scheme calls for the remains of the graves to be exhumed and the entire hill leveled to spur Malacca property markets. Centuries old cemeteries will be replaced with hotels and shop lots. A multilevel pagoda will also be built to house the urns of the deceased and served to remind Malaccans of the sanctity of this burial site.
There were uproars among the Chinese communities and the many living descendents who feared such a move has devastating impact on family fengshui and their future well being.
Opposition politicians from DAP won rousing support and its leader Lim Kit Siang was hailed as hero when he confronted the government on this massive plan. History also showed that locals voiced their displeasure by voting out the Chinese representatives from the ruling component parties in the election in the following year. Following this thrashing at the ballot box, wisdom won the day and the political masters were quick to heed the clear message about the Chinese community.
Owner of the Bukit China, the Chen Hoon Teng Temple and monks then spearheaded a clean up project to make the cemeteries more accessible to the Malaccans. Soon, Bukit China became the favorite jogging site for health enthusiasts. Some well concerned individuals contributed time, sweats and money to green up the entrance leading to the climb to the hill top.
Soon, Bukit China too became Malacca’s scout troopers’ favorite venue. After night fall, countless young scouts were ‘ordained’ here especially after they have successfully ’subjected’ themselves to a test of faith within a stone throw away from the cemetery.
While the latest call from current CM Ali Rustam goes a long way to safeguard Bukit China from wanton development, at least for the time being, one can’t help wondering if these are part of a shrewd political maneuver to win back the hearts of the minority in the country following the 12th General Election.
Malaysians are too familiar with too many instances when promises were broken even before the inks dry.
The on-off development curse that lingers around Bukit China is an example of the complexity that brews out of political necessity but if it is allowed to go ahead will surely have far reaching consequence on the community and Malacca’s unique position as the Malaysia’s foremost cultural melting pot.
The real fear is that Bukit China may again become the pawn of flicked politicians whose agenda is not revealed till the damages have come irreversable.
June 5, 2008
The Star -Thursday June 5, 2008
Bukit China now in Malacca heritage zone
MALACCA: The state’s well-known historical landmark, Bukit China, has been included in Malacca and Penang’s joint bid for listing as a World Heritage Site next month.
The decision to bring the 256ha hill within the state’s conservation buffer zone comes into immediate effect following a recommendation by the United Nations International Council on Monuments and Sites to include it as part of the listing effort.
Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam said the hill was deemed to have historical value and significance dating back to the 15th century Malacca Sultanate.
“Besides being recognised as the largest Chinese cemetery outside of China, the hill is also the site of the ruins of a 16th century Portuguese monastery,” he said after chairing the state exco meeting yesterday.
With this, Mohd Ali said, the buffer zone to protect the state’s 235ha core heritage zone in the heart of the old city would be enlarged to 1,049ha from the previous 793ha.
“This will mean that the hill will now be preserved. Any proposed development must now obtain approval from the relevant conservation agencies,” he said, adding that the World Heritage Council would sit in Quebec, Canada, next month to decide on the joint bid.
“It has taken eight years for us to prepare the dossier for submission to the World Heritage Council in Paris and there’s a good chance that we can succeed,” Mohd Ali said.
He said the state would receive recognition as “Malacca and George Town Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca” if successful.