Malaysia Chinese Secret Society "Hong Men" Identification Tokens. Set Of 6 Pieces.(3)

Rarity: RRRR

These pieces of Hong Men token money were found at Qing Shui Guan Temple (清水观) in Lorong Kuli in Malacca. The few tokens that were found comprised some full sets of six coins plus several loose ones.

This small temple was situated in a quiet lane and its external appearance resembled an ancient wooden Chinese ship that was berthing. On the right it was joined to a double-storey linked house while on its left there was a small lane. It was in fact a double-storey linked house. On its wall facing the small lane, there were three windows in a row. Its main entrance had a three-part folding iron gate.

The internal structure of the house was designed to look like a wooden ship and the different sections had structures based on items numbering in threes, for instance, three beams on the upper floor. The upper floor had planks placed horizontally across the beams such that it looked like the deck of a ship. In the middle of the main living room there were a shrine and a bench with an incense burner. On the left wall of the living room, several flags were hung. A small door on the left led to the middle room and on top of this door, there was a glass frame showing three Chinese characters “Hong Shun Tang” (洪顺堂) meaning Hong Shun Hall.

On the left wall of this middle room, there was hung an enlarged photo copy of a Certificate of Registration of Society issued in the 1950s, with the list of names of the office-bearers then. On the right of this middle room, there was a platform of about two feet in height that was built into the wall and its top surface was covered with wooden planks. These planks could be taken out one by one to reveal hidden compartments. On the floor in front of this platform, there was a hidden trench covered with planks. The trench was deep and dark (it was understood that this was used for keeping weapons such as parangs, short spears etc).

The back portion of the house was an open space with a rack supported by three posts. In the centre of this open space, there was a small well with clear water and some fish were seen swimming in the water.

A narrow wooden staircase was leading to the upper floor where a secret escape channel could be found.

Malacca was the earliest place in Malaya where the Chinese had settled down. As early as the occupation by the Portuguese, the Chinese had already built a small settlement here. By the time of the Dutch occupation, there were large Chinese settlements comprising mainly the Hokkien dialect group. When the British established the “Three States” (三州府) in the Malay Peninsula, the labour trade market flourished due to the efforts of the Europeans to develop Southeast Asia. Malaya was then made the market base for exporting labourers to the Western countries or their colonies in Southeast Asia. Due the demand for large numbers of labourers, many of the labourers were either coaxed or abducted from the villages. Once these labourers learnt that they were cheated or when they were ill-treated, they would fight back with violence or escape. Most of them were illiterates who were very superstitious and the secret societies thus served aptly as organizations for controlling them. Qing Shui Guan Temple and Hong Shun Hall in Lorong Kuli in Malacca are remains of these management organizations of the labourers.

Judging from the structure of the construction that stressed on items numbering in threes, Hong Shun Hall in Qing Shui Guan Temple was evidently a branch of the San He Hui (三合会) or the triad. San He Hui was established in China by Su Hong Guang (苏洪光) and the name “San He” means favourable conditions of time, geographical location and human factor. After Su Hong Guang had established San He Hui, he changed his own name to “Hong Tian You” (洪天佑), which carried the meaning “protecting Hong Men in accordance with heaven’s wish”. He was generous and had recruited many members into his organization, thus attracting many anti-Qing activists from various places in China to join him. In its heyday, the organization expanded to a membership of about 300,000 people, of whom more than 4,000 were women. It became so strong that it was able to make the Qing army suffer the worst ever defeat. The Qing army then used the tactic of arranging for two spies by the names of Fu Da (符达) and Tian Jian (田坚) who led two strong teams of fighters to pretend to surrender. The fighters led by these two spies pretended to fight bravely during clashes with the Qing army and won the trust of Hong Tian You. By then the troops of San He Hui were organized in units of “platoons” (排). Hong Tian You appointed Fu Da and Tian Jian as deputy military advisors, leading the fourth and seventh platoons respectively. Finally, in a crucial battle, the two spies turned against San He Hui, causing the San He troops to suffer heavy casualties. The two spies were captured by the female fighters of San He Hui during the battle. On the night of their capture, they were trialed at Zong Yi Tang (忠义堂) or Hall of Righteousness and their hearts and livers were removed from their bodies to worship the spirits of the fighters who were killed. Subsequently, Hong Tian You was troubled by the feeling of deep guilt for having trusted easily the two spies and causing his troops to suffer great defeat. He fell sick and finally died in White Tiger Mountain. The remnant troops of the San He army then suffered defeat after defeat and were eventually wiped out. Members of Hong Men then fled to various places including the overseas countries. Having learnt this painful experience, Hong Men then refrained from using the fourth and seventh platoons formerly assigned to Fu Da and Tian Jian respectively. San He Hui and Zhi He Hui (致和会) were equally well-known overseas and they had rendered strong support to the revolutionary struggle of Dr Sun Yet Sen.

The Chinese immigrants had first intended to stay temporarily in the Malay Peninsula but eventually they settled down permanently. In order for them to contribute to their new homeland, they managed to overcome their emotional attachment to China. Through the formation of clan associations, organizations for people from the same dialect groups as well as secret societies, they had changed their emotional world while retaining the traditional Chinese customs and norms. In this way, they were able to fit in well with the local multi-racial and multi-cultural society without losing their own distinctive cultural uniqueness.

(The author is founding president of Numismatic Society (Asia),now serving as advisor to the society.)
(English translation by Ling Boo Chong)


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