Cheng Shin Temple, Bukit Mertajam

high-definition creative commons photographs from a typical old Shin temple in Penang, Malaysia, together with some further information.


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The Hock Teik Cheng Shin Temple (福德正神庙) in Bukit Mertajam is an old Shin Temple dating from the late 19th century, probably around 1885. It is also known as Xuan Tian Miao (玄天庙) and Po-Kung Miao (伯公庙). It is now surrounded by a ramshackle market and collection of shop-lots, and could easily be missed in the hurly-burly of the streets.

The Inscription, written in Emporer GuangXu Emperor’s 21st year, is very important as it gives a history and then announces the setting up of celebrations at the Temple (like opera performances), the establishment of the Free School and the undertaking to bury the dead.

The communities that are now there have largely grown up around the Temple following these establishments. It owns and runs one of the largest cemeteries in the district, and many of the shop houses in the immediate vicinity, which means that the temple is quite rich.

Because of this it has also been able to run a Free School, where ethnic Chinese can learn their language and culture, and which is independent of Government support. This is where the temple office is now located.

Although the temple is small it is usually quite busy, indeed the first time I saw it it was packed out during Hungry Ghost Month (2010), when everybody comes and pays respects to their ancestors.


The "Bukit Mertajam's Free School" Stone Inscription

The following is a full Translation of the Inscription in English (英文翻译) by Zen Yang ANG originally published on his interesting blog the eXp Files. Many thanks to Zen Yang for permission to repulish here.

Bukit Mertajam's Free School

Personally, we think that the establishment of something new is hard, but does that mean that the maintenance part is easy? If (we) traced back to those years in the past, Bukit Mertajam's Xuan Tian Miao used to set up vegetable and fruit farm. The farm was also the place where local Chinese traded their agricultural products and daily necessities (note that the farm is the current town centre of Bukit Mertajam). Therefore, the temple council/board set up booths for those traders and collected rent from them. Over the years, the collected rental (approximately hundreds of dollars) was used as the fees needed during the annual worshipping activities.

It had been more than 30 years since the establishment of trading booths. Within these 30 years, the in-charge person for the activities worshipping activities was changing (was not the same in-charge person). However, the ability of those managers were different between each other. Some of them were capable while the others were not; each of them was not the same. Some of them viewed worshipping activities of temple as the tool for personal profit, which means that they utilised their positions as the in-charge person to seek for own wealth. Or, some made their own benefits under the guise of other temple expenses (ie they corrupted part of the temple expenses). In some case, when they were suspected and questioned by colleagues, they would be fire disaster of temple as the excuse.

In the year of 1889, one could see that the farm was full of weed just like it was deserted/unmanaged by the people. However, the farm was still a useful wide plain. Considering that the rental collected in past was more than a thousand dollars by the time, the council subsequently had a discussion with the traders. After, they loaned money from loaner and finished their planning, then they started building shops behind the temple. Next, they proceed with the building of tents for the (vegetables) traders. In the autumn of the year, they built another classroom which was used to organise free school.

Within a few years, one could see that the past and present have vast difference. Previously, the plain which was occupied by weed, however, at the moment, the area was fully dominated by overlap-like shops and houses. Previously, the total collected rental was just hundreds of dollars. At the present time, the newly built shops had brought profit of more than a thousand dollars to the temple. The temple set up the free school in order to nurture/produce the talented or outstanding people. With these people, only then the vulgar/uncivilised culture in Bukit Mertajam/Southeast Asia can be converted into a culture which upheld politeness and righteousness.

During each birthday of Gods/Deities, Chinese opera would be performed (as the celebration with Gods/Deities). The fees needed to hire opera troupe would be paid by the temple. This enabled all villagers in Bukit Mertajam to celebrate with joy.

Do you think the change is due to different in-charge people? It was just because the Feng Shui/Fortune of Bukit Mertajam was great. Even though the local rapid development of Bukit Mertajam was due to effective plan, management and execution, the development actually relied heavily on blessings from Gods/Deities. (We) Just hoped that the future generations who succeeded our foundation/career could expand and enrich (add meaningful values into) our foundation. This was great anticipation from us. Therefore, (we) recorded these words, so that the words can be spread to the future generations forever and after. (Therefore, we wrote these words) Just as the preface.

Now, (we) make a list of all expenses and published/engraved them on the left hand side (of this stone inscription):

First decision: During the birthday of Yuan Tiao Shang Di (元天上帝Yuan Tian God Emperor), Tan Gong Bo(谭公伯) and Fu De Zheng Shen(福德正神 the God of Bliss and Virtue),(we)need to organise Chinese operas as the celebration/ceremony. The expenditure of each ceremony can be claimed for the Temple. The Temple Council will provide (a maximum of) 200 dollars to cover the fees needed to hire Chinese opera troupe and other expenses during the ceremony. If there is excess, the money shall be returned to the Temple Council. If it is insufficient, the in-charge person cannot make a second claim..

Second Decision: To organise the free school, two teachers will be employed in a year. The salary of each teacher will be paid by Temple Council.

Third Decision: If poor people is found death in the farm/surrounding of temple, and if the deceased is not claimed by any relative, friend or neighbour, then a coffin can be claimed from the Temple Council in order to prevent the corpse from laying barely in the outdoor.

Each of the decisions is engraved on this stone, so that it can be reserved as the reference in the future. (Hopefully what we do will) Bring glory to our ancestors and bring prosperity to the future generations.

Written in:

GuangXu Emperor ’s 21st year —the Yi Wei (32nd year) of Chinese Sexagenary/Sexagesimal Cycle (1895), Winter (August, September or October)

Erected together by the members of Fu De Zheng Shen (Xuan Tian) Temple Board: 黃陳慶、陳換、黃躍松、陳錦隆、陳成貴、張字、王媽賀、黃躍喜

Engraved in:

GuangXu Emperor ’s 21st year, which Yi Wei?? (32nd year) of Chinese Sexagenary/Sexagesimal Cycle (1895), Winter (August, September or October)

Erected together by the members of Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple (Xuan Tian Temple) Board: 黃陳慶、陳換、黃躍松、陳錦隆、陳成貴、張字、王媽賀、黃躍喜"

In Xin Mao 辛卯 (28th year) of Chinese Sexagenary/Sexagesimal Cycle (2011), Spring, on 25th of Plumens (梅月 Plum Month/fourth month of Chinese Calendar), on Gu Yu 谷雨(Grain rains/ the 6th solar term), at Shen Shi 卯时 (3 to 5 pm) and first Ke (approximately the first 15 minutes)-ie 3.15pm. Bentley, Western Australia..

Note that:

1. Chinese hour is in the form of double-hours where Zi Shi 子时(11pm- 1am), Chou Shi 丑时(1am-3am), Yin Shi寅时 (3am-5am), Mao Shi卯时 (5am-7am), Chen Shi 辰时 (7am-9am), Si Shi 巳时 (9am-11am), Wu Shi 午时 (11am-1pm), Wei Shi 未时 (1pm-3pm), Shen Shi 申时 (3pm-5pm), You Shi 酉时 (5pm-7pm), Xu Shi 戌时 (7pm-9pm) and Hai Shi 亥时 (9pm-11pm).

Ke 刻 is a traditional Chinese unit of decimal time lasting approximately a quarter of a western hour. Traditionally the ke divides a day into 100 equal intervals of 14.4 minutes (14 m 24 s). The ke is equivalent to the centiday. (100 x 14.4 = 24 x 60).

3. 24 Solar Terms (24 points in traditional East Asian lunisolar calendar that matches a particular astronomical event or signifies some natural phenomenon.) - each solar is 15 days. Gu Yu /Grain rains usually starts around 20th April and ends around 5th May.



Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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