The Early History

The history of this earliest temple is deeply woven into the struggles of the Fujian people in this land for more than 100 years. Even before the founding of Teluk Anson, the early Chinese people who came from the southern part of the Fujian Province and spoke mainly Hokkien settled along the banks of the Perak River in Durian Sebatang. The place was already lively with economic activity. In 1845 a simple but a sacred shrine was built and the people worshipped the God of Sein Kong and the Goddess Sein Ma.  

Subsequently in 1860 they moved it to Changkat Jong Road where a larger community of Hokkien people lived near the train station. This shrine was the oldest shrine in Teluk Mak Intan, as the place was then called. When Durian Sebatang became the administrative centre for Hilir Perak, the statue of the God of Sein Kong was relocated there for the benefit of the increasing number of Chinese traders and trade activities. The God of Sein Kong was also consulted for advice and guidance on safe travel, medical and health issues, marriage and household related matters.

In 1880 Governor Lt Col Archibald Anson became seriously ill with an incurable disease. His female housekeeper sought help from the Gods and requested for a sign. He was miraculously healed of his disease and out of gratitude promised to set aside a piece of land to build a proper temple. The old shrine was unable to accommodate the arrival of many of its worshippers.

Temple’s Architecture

The temple was built in 1883 as evidenced by an inscription clearly written on the temple’s main gable wall. The temple was built with Southern Chinese architecture, the most notable feature being the elaborately decorated upturned eaves reminiscent of the Ming and Ching Dynasties. In the book entitled “Landmarks of Perak” produced by HRH Raja Nazrin Shah, the Sultan of Perak, Architect Chen Voon Fee provides a detailed description of the temple’s architectural design:

“The Hock Soon Keong roof ridge maintains this characteristic and is richly decorated with exaggerated swallows’ tail and highly ornate scrolls with very pronounced up-turned corners. The temple has the traditional three-bay plan; the central hall with the main deity’s alter is flanked by side halls. No side courtyards separate them or the three parts of the temple. The entrance loggia, like a five foot way, leads straight into the three prayer halls.

Of great and unexpected interest is the ceiling of the two side loggias, marvelous examples of the old joiners’ artistry; three concentric stepped octagons of intricately carved, three-pronged bamboo shoots surround two rings of painted circling bats, symbolizing prosperity, and a shallow central floral dome. Over a hundred years of joss-stick smoke has caused the roof timbers to blacken.

A modern addition to the historic temple is the chequered pink tiles on the loggia walls”. 

The Temple Structure

The Temple was built in three stages. In 1883, the main hall and the Eastern Zen Room were built. This was built at a cost of RM3900. This was followed by the Western Zen Room and the stage in 1887 which houses the ‘The God of Nine Prince’ and a Chinese theatre built at a cost of RM1170. The donors were the founders of the temple; the late Kua Chan Seng, the late Khoo Hua Su and the late Khoo Heng Seng.

Between 1888 and 1894, stone monuments and other objects were built. While the main hall was designated for worshipping the gods, the Eastern Zen Room was used as a centre for social and welfare activities. The Hokkien people would gather here to find solutions to all types of problems, from giving aid to the poor to resolving conflicts between the clan groups.

In 1928, the temple building was renovated and the old part of the building restored with a donation of RM30,000. The temple sits within an area of 36,665 square feet. In the front courtyard towards the right side is an 8-metre high statue of Buddha, the tallest Buddha statue in Malaysia. At the front of the door leading to the 3 main entrances is a picture of a man who is considered to be the ‘God of Doors’ which prevents the entry of bad spirits.

Outside the main building is a door guarded by a pair of white lion statues known as Bao Gu Shi. Inside are the statues of the God Sein Kong and the Goddess Sein Ma placed in the middle with the ‘Gods of Tai Sui’ on the right and the ‘Tiger Gods’ and ‘Goddess Kuan Yin’ on the left.

An ancient bell made in 1891 of raw steel and about 20 centimeters in diameter and a large drum hangs on the cross-beam of the main building which is used during religious ceremonies. To the left of the main building is ‘Dao Mu Kong’ where the God of the Nine Kings is worshipped. This is yellow in colour because it is believed that it is from the Royal family in China. Two sacred palanquins dedicated to the God of Sein Kong and the Goddess Sein Ma were built in 1892 and used during parades.

The curved roof is made of Chinese imported stones and helps to protect direct sunlight and at the same time allows light into the temple. There are various ornaments of human sculptures, animals, plants, pottery and other features found on the roof. While the curved roofs are attractive and has aesthetic value, it also prevents rainwater from wetting the bottom of the building walls. At the main entrance to the temple is a small fireplace known as the Gopura.

The Parental System

The temple adopted a “parental” system to adjudicate problems that were presented. Four leaders of the temple were selected who represented the four main streets in the town area, who were credible, trustworthy and had a high social status in the community. These four leaders were the four parents who allowed each case to be heard before judgments were made in front of the gods. Decisions made were to be respected lest they offend the gods. While this system was not without its problems, it continued until 1975. However, in 1972, temple devotees unhappy with the system complained to the Registrar of Societies as reported in the Straits Times:

“The 100-year-old Hock Soon Keong Temple in Jalan Denison has been de-registered by the Registrar of Societies, Malaysia, Encik Kassim bin Haji Mohamed Ali.

This followed a written complaint to the registrar by the temple devotees led by the Teluk Anson Hokkien Association two months ago.

The complaints were that the temple has not held any general meeting for the last 15 years and that the constitution of the temple is irregular in that its power is invested in the four temple elders.”

The “parental” system was then replaced with the current Council system. Hock Soon Keong Temple was the focal point for all Hokkien people during the British colonial era. The temple has also been carrying out charitable work including the setting up of a medical charity fund to assist sick people and the Lantern Festival to distribute red envelopes to the poor.    

Contributions to Education

The temple also played a significant role in promoting education. The early Pei Hua Primary School held its classes in the temple stage area and eventually moved to the shops located behind the temple in 1913. In 1931 the school merged with two other Chinese schools namely, Hua Qiao School and Zhong Hua School to establish the San Min School of today located within the town area. Two Chinese associations established a clubhouse which was located in one of the shops belonging to the temple.

Hokkien Cemetry and its Adminsitration

Hock Soon Keong Temple constructed a Hokkien cemetery within the Durian Sebatang area and many graves have a history of more than a 100 years old. It was during the sixth year of the Republic of China in 1917. In 1921 the Hokkien cemetery on the 9 km Changkat Jong was added to its management. In 1964, on the 18 km Kuala Bikam Road, another cemetery was constructed covering an area of about 100 acres.

Collections of Ancient Relics

During the war, the temple experienced the loss of a number of artifacts of historical and heritage value. Some of the ancient relics which have been preserved over the years are the antique clocks and carvings of wooden bridges made in 1892. A donation card installed in the Western Zen Room was built in 1888. There is also a pair of bronze cymbals or gongs and an old but small statue of Sein Kong. In the Eastern Zen Room, there are three statues of “parents” to commemorate the glorious era of the parental system. There is also a collection of old books which were in the original library of the temple.

Not only did the temple experienced loss of ancient artifacts during the war, it was also not spared acts of vandalism as reported in the Straits Times of 1967:

“Vandals – believed to be frustrated punters of the 3-D lottery – desecrated two idols placed in an outer alter of the Hock Soon Keong temple in Denison Road here yesterday.

The heads of the idols, Tua Pek Kong and La Tok Kong, were wrenched off and taken away while two joss urns were thrown into a nearby receptacle for burning joss paper.

The overhanging scroll at the alter entrance was also burned.”

Hock Soon Keong Temple remains an historical building of heritage value and one can enjoy the beauty of century old Chinese religious art. The most prominent among them is these couplets in front of the main hall written by Master Ruo Yong in 1939;

“If you help yourself but harm others, no matter how hard you pray, it will not do any good”

“If you obey the rules and laws, it does not matter if you don’t worship me”

References:

1. HRH Raja Nazrin Shah, “Landmarks of Perak”. RNS Publications Sdn Bhd. 2006

2. “100 year old temple deregistered”, The Straits Times, 18 December 1972, Page 8

3. “Whom the gods do not favour….”, The Straits Times, 1 March 1967, Page 5

Other References:

4. Sin Chew Daily [Perak Edition], 9 August 2019,

5. 2019 Malaysia’s Chinese Temples

6. Tan Su Ling, 1 Feb 2010. Kajian Monumen Lama – Rumah Ibadat Lama (Tokong Hock Soon Keong di Teluk Intan, Perak. Pusat Pengajian Pendidikan Jarak Jauh, University Sains Malaysia. 

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