Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Creating Historic Open Space in Melaka

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Creating Historic Open Space in Melaka

Article excerpt

IN the city of Melaka, Malaysia, the world's largest traditional Chinese cemetery is becoming a historical park. Bukit China, or China Hill, sprawls over forty-two hectares of undulating terrain along the southeastern fringe of the central city. The site has been a burial ground for local Chinese since the sixteenth century, and, because land pressures have compelled the removal of similar cemeteries in China and elsewhere, Bukit China may be the oldest remaining traditional Chinese burial ground in the world. Yet it took a controversy over the future of Bukit China to focus attention on the cemetery hillock. Almost a decade ago, an urban development scheme threatened the cemetery. Today, local community groups have transformed Bukit China from a burial ground into a multiple-use site in a locally defined version of open space that combines historical monuments and the amenities of an urban public park. Efforts to preserve this cemetery are examined in the context of dynamic concepts of landscape and space that flourish in contemporary geographical analysis.

In the fifteenth century Melaka was today's Singapore, the premier entrepot in Southeast Asia where merchants and traders exchanged the key commodities found between Europe and Asia. More than four centuries of subsequent colonial rule by three different regimes, Portuguese, Dutch, and British, left Melaka with a collection of historical edifices and a diverse population. In a city of many historical sites, Bukit China was comparatively neglected, except for sporadic maintenance and independent caretaking of graves. Aside from a few careful epigraphical studies of monument inscriptions, the grave sites, the hill, and its history had passed largely ignored, chronicled only in fragments until 1984.

DEVELOPMENT CONTROVERSY

In April 1984 the Melaka state government announced an urban development plan that would transform Bukit China. Residential condominiums and retail and office space would replace approximately 12,500 traditional graves and cover the largest remaining open space in the city. A private-sector plan emerged to rival the government proposal, and the development threat escalated: Bukit China seemed destined to become a construction site. The hill would be graded and the earth removed and transported a short distance to fill the Melaka waterfront, where a reclamation project, already under way, covered the historic anchorage, the source of Melaka's fame as a trading port. The waterfront was already drowned under tons of fill and awaited the same fate as that proposed for Bukit China.

The private-sector proposal deviated from the government's plan only in the character and functions of some of the proposed structures. In both plans the total built area was approximately the same--70 to 80 percent of the hill surface. The government's plan called for more diversified use. The south-facing central part of the hill was to be transformed into the biggest cultural-cum- historical center in Malaysia, and the remaining portion would be allotted to housing and retail businesses (The Star 1984a). Plans for the cultural-historical center included a hotel, a sports center, a cultural theater and library, a research institution, an area for handicraft stalls, a mosque, a pagoda, and a new temple. Only the southernmost portion of the hill would be completely preserved, and a small number of graves dating from the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) would go undisturbed on the central-west face of the hill. Where the government plan called for a hotel and research institution, the private-sector plan included a play complex for children, a time-tunnel, and a multistoried garage. Shophouse-style buildings predominated in the residential sector. The private-sector plan revealed a particular perspective: it eliminated the mosque and centralized the position of the pagoda. A group associated with a faction of the Malaysian Chinese Association devised this plan, which further fragmented support for Bukit China within the Chinese community. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.