February 27, 2011

The Foochow Connections

In 1901 which was almost the end of the Ching Dynasty Mr. Wong Nai Siong brought 1118 Foochows (in three batches)  to settle in Sg. Ensurai and Sg. Seduan designated by the Rajah Brooke at that time. One of the pioneers was Lau Kah Tii who subsequently  had several sons and daughters. One of the sons is Lau Pang Hung - who became a famous and dedicated teacher in Sibu and Sarikei. Pang Hung is my uncle (my mother's first cousin)

Pang Hung married Ting Ping Yii the daughter of one of the first Foochow Methodist Ministers who came later to Sibu. My aunt Ping Yii's sister is Wong Meng Lei's mother.

In the first  photo below is also Ling Huong Yian who was my Sixth Form student in Methodist Secondary School  of Sibu in 1985-86. Ever since her Sixth Form days she has been a very keen scholar of history. She is now researching on Foochow Pioneering Spirit for her PhD thesis (University of Malaya).

(From Left : Aunt Ping Yii - Ling Huong Yian - Uncle Pang Hung and Wong Meng Lei)

Huong Yian 's family also originated in the Sg. Ensurai (Ah Poh or  Lower River Ensurai) area although she and her family are now based in Bintulu at the moment..

It is NORMAL for traditional and older Foochows to ask about each other's origins whenever they meet for the first time. My Uncle Pang Hung by his cultural upbringing for example would ask "Where was your father born?" or "Where did your mother live?" By asking these social questions our elders can make the "Foochow Connections". Even I do that often whenever I meet up with some nice young Foochows. However not all Foochows would communicate in this way. Because it would all depend on their upbringing. Some may be so distant that they do not ask any question at all upon being introduced.

Any way young Foochows should not be embarrassed when they are asked these questions. And please feel alright because it is the way most of the older generation behave. And I am not ill at ease at all if my Foochow elders ask where my grandparents come from ...or even where my mother came from. After getting the answers we will then learn how to address each other properly too. By answering these questions properly we are also showing great respect to our Foochow elders. I do understand that some people do not wish to reveal their origins but perhaps a carefully worded " I don't know or I am not so sure" could suffice with a nice smile too? The ability to communicate socially well and properly without being politically incorrect is still one of the most complicated skills so highly demanded by some global organisations that they spend millions each year to provide the right guru (e.g. Alan Pease).

Interestingly after some conversation with Foochow elders you might even find out that you are the grand aunty one of these days!!

And for that matter in the past it was this kind of FOOCHOW CONNECTION that many bright young Foochows were helped  by their elders to succeed and become famous. This page is too small for me to mention all the successful Foochows who have been helped (led to the shore...keng shuorn ngiang) by their helpful relatives or friends. Basically in the Chinese culture according to Confucian teachings elders are expected to be "ren" and "jun tze" meaning kind and gentlemanly which will lead to a society that is proper (li) and without strife.

Wong Meng Lei as a Foochow who has great spirit to help others has been aiding a lot of scholars in their field studies and research. Any one who is interested in Sibu history can find some resources in the Methodist Message Office . Meng Lei is the Chief Administrative Officer (Kang Shu) of MM in Sibu.

As part of her research Huong Yian went to visit my uncle Pang Hung recently. She was presented with a book on Lau Kah Tii the man who was considered the second headman of Foochow Settlement after Wong Nai Siong left Sibu to continue his own work in China. This book is a compilation of the Lau Family's history and achievement from 1901 until now. It is one of the earliest "Family" books in Sibu.

When the Foochow pioneers came to Sibu actually not many of them could read and write. Hence the dirth of books in those days. But 110 years later more than 50 schools and churches have been established  all over Sarawak  and Sabah by the Methodist Church and the Foochows to benefit the second and third generations and subsequent descendants.  My grand uncle Kah Tii for example established Su Lai Primary School in the 1940's. Recently the Su Lai Primary School was moved to Sibu.

Several  books have been written about the lives and work of the Foochow Pionners and other leading community characters - thanks to writers like Wong Meng Lei in the new age and others. A lot of writings have also been left behind by Rev Ling Kai Cheng and Rev. Ling Wen Choon. Lau Tze Cheng has been recognised as a  Sibu Foochow historian and he had written more than 10 books in his life time. Most of these works have been self financed. Fortunately today some Foundations have been set up  in order to encourage more historical studies and writing efforts.Scholars from other countries have also written books about Sibu and the Foochow pioneers.

Hopefully this interest in social - economic history of Sibu will continue and an increasing number of books will be published not only about the Foochows but about the other races and dialects  to give a more complete picture of the Rajang Valley in general and Sibu in particular.

We are looking forward to a book by the new generation scholar Ling Huong Yian!!


wenn said...


Anonymous said...

I have two suggestions to the Chinese Foochow communities in Sibu:

1. to establish an electronic archive on the historic articles and documents about Sibu.

2. to make a documentary movie about the migration and settlement of Foochow in Sibu

Thank you

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks for visiting. We can consider ourselves quite a close knit community but as our numbers grow this may eventually disappear in the bigger world....

Sarawakiana@2 said...

There are many ARCHIVES in Sibu already e.g. Kutien Archive and Culture Gallery. Even the Tiong Clan also has one. But how electronic they would become we have to wait and see. If the leaders depend on the rich and the powerful politicians we have to wait and see .
Regarding the documentary movie again a lot of funds is needed. There are many plays staged already about James hoover and even Wong Nai Siong by schools and various drama groups. I do believe that in the future when TV Sarawak is a reality these movies will be made. Pray and hope for us.

Ann said...

all are sweet potatoes.
William Hii is related to my SAM YII's husband.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Wa..Ann...I know...from 1118 people after 110 years...every Foochow might share similar DNA one way or another....I see William Hii also related to you ...what a small world!

Ann said...

Willian's dad, Hii Kui Kui is the brother of my Sam Hee's ( Mum's sis) Mother in law. That is how closely related by married. Even hakkas and Cantonese are related to Foochows.

I must trace my youngest's sis Grace's MIL. Grace husband is a Tiong. The mother in law worked in See Hua Daily News, Now we may be related.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Yes Ann...Mr. Hii Kui Kui was one of the most famous teachers of Sibu in his days..I am sure Hakkas and Cantonese are related by marriage...see the potato vines have different colours?

I am quite related to most of the Sibu Tiongs....

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