Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Chinese Art within Thai Temples in Malaysia: The Disappearance of Thai Art

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Chinese Art within Thai Temples in Malaysia: The Disappearance of Thai Art

Article excerpt


The identity of Thai temples in Malaysia is disappearing, as the temples display more Chinese art than Thai. Thus, this research aims to investigate the patterns in Chinese art and the conditions that support the appearance of Chinese art within Thai temples. Chinese art appears within these temples in their sculptures of Buddha, pavilions, and walls. The conditions supporting the appearance of Chinese art include 1) the need for funds to construct new temples; 2) the abilities of pastors who can speak Chinese and English and are interested in art from various countries; and 3) the eastern coast of Malaysia being a place where many people of Chinese descent settled. Chinese people were not able to purchase land easily due to state laws; thus, they had to use Thai temples as places to preserve their identity by constructing Chinese art within the temple.

Keywords: Chinese art, Thai temple, Malaysia, disappearance

1. Introduction

Chinese culture has been found in Malaysia since the 15th century (Khin & Huat, 2005). This appearance has been seen in everyday life through Malaysia's faith, art, architecture, clothing, and food. Chinese culture has also influenced Thai temples. Tepsing (2011) found that a Thai temple in Penang Island was influenced by Chinese art because the island is surrounded by Chinese communities. The art of Thai temples is a mixture of Thai art and Chinese art. However, Chinese art frequently appears in Thai temples, when situated in places where the Chinese community is in the minority, especially close to the Thai border in Northern Malaysia, where many Thais settled. There are more Chinese temples than Thai temples in this area. Symbols that refer to Thai temples include Buddhist ceremonies by Thai priests and symbols indicating that the temple was constructed in a Theravada pattern. Funsion (2010) suggested that ethnic groups in southern Thailand and northern Malaysia were related to each other, especially in Kelantan State, Malaysia, where many Thais settled in. However, many Thai temples contain Chinese influences. This suggestion has been supported by a study by Ismail (1994) finding that Siamese temples typically had a statue of Quan Yin situated within them. Although belief in Quan Yin is limited amongst Thais, Thai temples had to have these statues because the temples needed the support of the Chinese community.

Accordingly, the research question is to determine how Chinese art began to appear in Thai temples and what conditions influenced its appearance. This study was based on the concepts of cultural diffusion and acculturation. We use Wat (Temple) Phothikyan Phutthathum as a case study because it has been decorated by Chinese art. The temple is located in Balai village, Bachok district, Kelantan State, Malaysia, and is 25 kilometres away from Kota Bharu city. This Thai temple was abandoned for a long time by the Siamese community. This area is settlement of Malaysian Siamese or Malaysian of Thai ethnicity. The name of the district-"Bachok"-is assumed to be the name of a Chinese silk and spice trader who anchored his boat in this area. Another assumption behind the name Bachok came from the Siamese person who named this area. Bachok came from a village that was full of "ton chak" trees, which was transformed into Malay as Bachok (Bachok: 2013). Both assumptions reflect the notion that this area was originally settled by people of Siamese descent. While Malaysians of Chinese descent mostly live in urban areas, some who also contain Siamese descent live in the countryside. This assumption supports Seong's study (2008), which stated that the Chinese in Kelantan State lived more rural lifestyles than the other ethnic groups. Thus, they and people of Siamese descent lived together because they were both the minority in Kelantan State, in which the majority of people are Muslim.

Kelantan is the Malaysian state in which Siamese individuals are the most prevalent, and they still maintain their own Thai culture strongly. …

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