PENANG READING CLUB

History

Tongmenghui Southeast Asian Headquarters moves to Penang

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An old photograph of 120 Armenian Street, reproduced from the Philomatic Union souvenir programme.


The Tongmenghui was a political party formed in 1905 in Tokyo to agitate for revolution against the Qing dynasty and Manchu regime in China. The party adopted Dr. Sun’s Three Principles of the People.

From 1906, the Tongmenghui had its Southeast Asian (Nanyang) headquarters in Singapore. In 1910, the headquarters was transferred to Penang.

In 1906, the Penang branch of the Tongmenghui was formed with 22 members.

In December 1908, a reading club called the Penang Philomatic Union (bing chen yuet soo pao ser) was established.

At the Philomatic Union’s first premises, 94 Dato’ Kramat Road, the Penang branch of the Tongmenghui operated as an underground organisation under the cover of a registered business Teong Wah & Co.

In 1909, the Penang Philomatic Union reading2moved to 120 Armenian Street. The next year, Penang served as the Southeast Asian headquarters of the Tongmenghui.

 

The ‘Penang Conference’, November 1910

The Canton Uprising was planned in 1910 through the ‘Penang Conference’ convened by Dr. Sun.

Two significant meetings were recorded, the ‘Penang Conference’ at Dr. Sun’s office in Dato’ Kramat Road, and the emergency meeting at the Penang Philomatic Union at 120 Armenian Street.

 

Revolutionary Newspaper

The house at 120 Armenian Street was the first premises of what is today one of the world’s oldest Chinese newspaper.

In 1910, the Chinese newspaper the Kwong Wah Pao, a propaganda organ of the Tongmenghui, moved from Rangoon to Penang. Dr. Sun Yat Sen, Goh Say Eng and several others in Penang relaunched the paper as a daily, and renamed it Kwong Wah Yit Poh (Glorious Chinese Daily).

 

The Neighbourhood

Armenian Street in George Town, Penang, runs between Chulia Street (named after the South Indians) and Acheen Street (named after people from Aceh).

An Armenian community lived in Penang in the early 19th century. However, they did not stay long in this neighbourhood, preferring to build their church in Bishop Street, a few blocks north, in 1822. The name Armenian Street remains, although the neighbourhood was already overtaken by the Straits Chinese in the mid-19th century.

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The most famous Armenians in Penang were the Sarkies brothers, who ran the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, established 1885.

Recommended reading: Nadia H. Wright, Respected Citizens: The History of Armenians in Malaysia and Singapore www.amassia.com.au

Why was this address chosen to be the premises of the Penang Philomatic Union?

Here is a theory. The long, narrow shophouse provided an escape route – should a raid be staged from the front of the house, the back door led into the Indian Muslim urban villages of Kampong Kaka and Kampong Kolam – the urban villages were cleared when the Kampong Kolam road was laid out in the 1920s.

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The site was located in a Straits Chinese residential enclave, away from the main commercial streets.

On the adjoining street were the Acheen Street Mosque and a neighbourhood of Arabs, Sumatrans and Malays. The Tongmenghui branch chairman Wu Shirong’s house was also at 25 Acheen Street.

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