Chinese Kongsi

The Chinese community in Penang grew in the middle of the 19th century as a result of migration of the Chinese hoping to escape the poverty and famine in China during the Manchu rule. As the British considered the Chinese the ideal immigrant, because of their organisational abilities and willingness to endure hardships, their immigration was encouraged. Later waves of Chinese came as settlers who pursued their traditional crafts and business.


The Chinese also brought to Malaya the clan or kongsi system; a tradition characterised by group cohesiveness and brotherhood.   (The word kongsi has been absorbed into the Malay language, taking the meaning ‘share’.)   To the Chinese, a kongsi is an association of individuals from the same dia-lect group or those from the same area in China.   These kongsi played a benevolent role to their members and often gave help and protection to the new arrivals.   Many kongsi houses were also built during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and some like the Khoo Kongsi is a landmark on the island.

There are five major Hokkien clans or kongsis (of five major sur-names) in Penang known as the Goh Tai Seh consisting of the Khoo, Lim, Cheah, Yeoh and Tan kongsi.   The Chinese also formed welfare asso-ciations among those of the same dialect group (for example the Hokkien or the Hakka dialect), usually referred to as hoi kuan (welfare associations).   Kongsis are still active associations in Malaysia.

Khoo Kongsi Penang - Chinese Clan house

You can visit some of these chines Kongsi in Penang. Many built in the 19th or early 20th Century are heritage sites in George Town. (click to read more on each of the Kongsi Houses)

Associations or Hoi Kuan in George Town

  • Teow Chew Association (Chulia Street)



Additional information