Temple with a secret history
Published/Last edited or updated: 2nd October, 2017
You hardly notice the entrance to Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple on Lebuh Armenian, and this is somewhat intentional as this temple dedicated to the god of prosperity, has a chequered history and was the former base of some of Penang’s most notorious secret societies.
Enter the low covered laneway and you are led to a spacious open courtyard walled in by the surrounding shophouses with the double-storey temple to the southeast, a perfect foil for conducting private business.
Built in the mid-19th century, among others, it was the headquarters for one underground association who were the main perpetrators of the Penang Riots, an all-out bloody street war that lasted nine days in 1867. Under opposing Red and White flags, the Hokkiens and Malays sided against the Cantonese and Indians centred around the secret societies’ Kongsi and the town’s two mosques, the Malay Acheen Street Mosque and the Kapitan Kling Mosque, resulting in cannon fire (hence the name of nearby Medan Cannon, formerly Cannon Street) and intervention by the British who henceforth banned secret societies.
The building was renovated in 2006, and today as well as serving as a place of worship is home to several affiliated Hokkien associations including the mixed clan Hokkien Kongsi. These days the peaceful ambience within barely reveals its dark history although you can still find remnants of secret passages that allowed a swift getaway to Lebuh Armenian and the adjoining Khoo Kongsi whose members were complicit in the skirmish. Also note the unique feature of a small, but fierce looking figure on top of the roof, apparently Guan Gong, a Chinese general who is worshiped as a folk deity associated with secret societies.
The laneway leading to the courtyard serves as a small museum with information boards on the history and restoration project, it makes an interesting read if you have time to linger.
Make sure you visit neighbouring Khoo Kongsi (in Medan Cannon) and Cheah Kongsi with an entrance in Lebuh Armenian, both have undergone fine restorations.
Address: 57 Lebuh Armenian, Georgetown
Coordinates (for GPS): 100º20'12.87" E, 5º24'54.83" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Penang