Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Museum: Cheng Ho Cultural Museum

The Cheng Ho Cultural Museum was set up in honour of a Chinese Ming Dynasty admiral called Cheng Ho or Zheng He. This famed explorer made 7 voyages of exploration, leaving his mark in the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia between 1405 and 1433. 5 of these voyages brought him through Melaka, a port he is said to have founded.

These voyages made a significant impact on Melaka's regionally important role in history. As a confidante to the 3rd Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Cheng Ho had a weighty influence on Chinese International Relations of the day.

In the mid-15th Century, he was entrusted to bring the Emperor's daughter, Princess Hang Li Po to marry the Sultan of Melaka. The Princess' entourage consisted of several hundred sons of ministers and handmaidens, a group of people who eventually intermarried with locals in Melaka, creating the Baba Nyonya culture.

Historical records reveal that Admiral Cheng Ho visited Melaka at least 5 times during his famous 7 voyages to the Western Ocean (Southeast Asia, Indian Ocean, Middle East and Africa). He set up a huge warehouse complex along the northern side of the Melaka River. Thus far, there has been no serious investigation made on this fascinating topic. 

Some people claim that Zheng He’s warehouse was located in Bukit Cina because there is a Sampo (or San Bao referring to Cheng Ho) well and the area is named Sampo Hill. However, many others do not agree. The exact location of Cheng Ho’s warehouse is certainly worth serious study.

Cheng Ho Navigation Map in Wubeizi showing the location of Man-la-ka (Melaka) and Guan Chang

In 2000, attention was drawn to a cluster of dilapidated ancient buildings in the old part of Melaka town. At least 3 of them could have been built 2 or 300 years ago. All of them have Ming architectural style. This discovery immediately rekindled interest on the mysterious location of the warehouse complex or Guang Chang mentioned in Ma Huan’s book Ying Yai Sheng Lan.
Convinced by the fact that most ancient ports are located at river mouths, it is believed that the ancient Guan Chang could be sited on the present location of Cheng Ho Cultural Museum. After three years of intensive research, many convincing evidence were found including relics found in the original house and dug up in the ground. A detailed description of the evidence can be obtained in the book Cheng Ho and Malacca written by Tan Ta Sen.  

The original Guan Chang covered an area of approx. 10 acres of low land opposite the Malay Sultan Palace, shown in pink on the map.

Present-day Melaka River is about 1/3 of its original width. This stretch shown in the photo passes beside the Palace on the left and Guan Chang on the right and empties into the Melaka Straits about 150m from here.

Descriptions by Ma Huan were used to reconstruct the Guan Chang in the design of the façade and interior of the museum. For instance, a pair of watch towers (drum and bell tower) at the front of the Museum just as it is described by Ma Huan in his book, are constructed. These have been removed subsequently.

It is believed that the present Museum is situated on the original site of Guan Chang built by Cheng Ho, the Ming Grand eunuch, about 600 years ago. His mighty fleet of several hundred ships sailed seven times to the Western Ocean from China from 1405 to 1433.

The exhibition space displays the life and times of the historic Admiral. Rooms like Tea House and Treasure Ship Living Cabin will take you back in time, and offer you a glimpse of Cheng Ho's lifestyle.

Studies of the adventures of this Muslim eunuch are fascinating and the social impact of his voyages can still be felt to this day.

Because this enigmatic, larger-than-life man gave rise to this fascinating town, it affords a perfect way to gain a better understanding of Melaka, and to get a clearer glimpse of its rich history. A museum not to be missed! 

Price for adult RM 10.00 and RM 5.00 for student / children.

Location map