Have you heard about the Peranakan Mansion in Penang? Are you unsure about what it is and whether it is worth visiting? This post answers all your questions and gives you the information you need to decide whether to visit the opulent heritage museum housed in Pinang Peranakan Mansion in George Town.
Let me first say that if you love history, museums, vibrant colours and beautiful craftsmanship, then you are going to love the Pinang Peranakan Mansion.
It is one of Penang’s heritage mansions open to visitors in the Unesco World Heritage Listed George Town and is a feast for the eyes.
See antique furniture and artefacts, ornate wall decorations and sumptuous silk coverings. And not forgetting the opulence of the intricate woodwork, crafted floor tiles, and display cabinets full of china and silverware.
The small Chinese jewellery museum also displays items such as clothing and ceremonial objects that highlight the unique fusion of Chinese and Malay cultures.
Peranakan Mansion History – The Story of Chung Keng Kwee
Born into poverty in 1820 in southern China, Chung Keng Kwee came to Penang in the early 1850s. He established himself as a successful businessman, philanthropist and community leader, making his fortunes in tin, tobacco and opium.
The position of Kapitan Cina was also held, giving him both administrative and community leadership responsibilities. He also rose to the top ranks of the Hai San Secret Society, which controlled much of the Southeast Asia tin mining industry, in which his father and brother were also involved.
By the 1880s, Chung Keng Kwee was the largest producer of tin in Perak and rich beyond his wildest dreams. He didn’t keep it all for himself; he provided amenities such as schools and temples in Penang. He also donated funds to international charities and to causes in China.
In 1893, to highlight Chung Keng Kwee’s wealth and influence, he built a 19th-century townhouse on Church Street on the former plot of the headquarters of a rival secret society, Ghee Hin. He named it ‘Hai Kee Chan,’ which literally translates as ‘Sea Remembrance Hall’. A private temple dedicated to him was also built adjacent to the mansion.
Restoring Hai Kee Chan into the Peranakan Mansion
When Chung Keng Kwee died in 1901, he was one of the world’s wealthiest Chinese men. Regardless, the mansion was left empty and fell into disrepair for much of the 20th century.
Hope emerged when Peter Soon, a devoted Penang architect and proud Peranakan, took ownership of the property in the early 2000s. Driven by his interest in genuine Peranakan artefacts, he soon embarked on a mission to revive the house, meticulously restoring it and renaming it the Pinang Peranakan Mansion.
Today, as you walk around the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, you are given a glimpse at what life must have been like for the wealthy of Penang in the 19th Century. In George Town, you will find two streets named after Chung Keng Kwee: Lebuh Ah Quee and Lebuh Keng Kwee, a reminder of how the tin magnate shaped Penang. There’s even a piece of wire rod street art in George Town as a reminder of his generosity.
Please note that if you visit Ipoh during your time in Malaysia, you can visit another Peranakan Museum. It is dedicated to Chung Keng Kwee’s son, Chung Thy Phin, who continued running his father’s tin mining empire after his death. It’s another really cool place to see.
Getting to the Peranakan Mansion
Address: 29 Church St, 10200 George Town, Penang.
Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday, including Public Holidays from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
Entrance Fee: Adults: RM 25.00 / Children (6-12 yrs): RM 12.00 / Junior under 6 are free
Don’t miss a couple of street art pieces close by. The ‘Quiet Please’ wire sculpture and Beach Street murals are a couple of minutes’ walk from the Peranakan Mansion.
Would you would prefer to see the Peranakan Museum Mansion as part of a tour? You can book a guided tour of Penang’s top attractions, including the Peranakan Mansion, with GetYourGuide.com.
What To See In Pinang Peranakan Heritage Museum
As soon as you enter the mansion, your eyes will dart around the rooms, trying to capture every detail- and there are so many of them!
Beautiful gilded and intricately carved teak furniture and panels were from China. Patterned floor tiles were from England, and ornate steel balustrades were from Scotland. In the late 1800s, superb craftsmanship was in demand from the wealthy Chinese.
The charming, intricately carved wooden screen greets you in the front hall. This wooden divider isn’t just a piece of furniture—it’s a spirit wall! Positioned in front of the entrance to the main areas of the house, it keeps mischievous spirits at bay by stopping them from entering.
And here’s a fun twist: those dainty filigree panels also serve as a handy peek-a-boo window for the ladies. In these Peranakan abodes, it turns out that male guests wouldn’t usually go past this room, so the women got front-row seats without the men knowing!
One of the rooms is lined with teak cabinets holding pink and yellow glassware, including glasses, plates and ornaments.
The Peranakan Mansion’s Bridal Suite
The bridal room is pretty stunning, with the bridal bed being its centrepiece. Commissioned and custom-made in southern China, it consists of two regular platforms surrounded by three low-back panels; four tall square posts support an elaborately carved canopy.
The actual bed was the wider inner platform, while the narrower outer platform was a settee. The bridal bed was traditionally placed against a wall at the room’s far end. The bride occupied the inner side of the bed, with the groom at the bed’s entrance.
This ensured that her husband blocked her exit route, and the low-back panels blocked the other three sides if she was less-than-satisfied on her wedding night and wanted to escape!
Is Peranakan Mansion Worth Visiting?
If you love history and culture, visiting the Peranakan Mansion in George Town is a must. This heritage property will have your heart beating just that little bit faster. It is a cacophony of vibrant hues in an opulent setting and a feast for the eyes.
The mansion has become an important cultural and historical landmark, attracting tourists and locals interested in the Peranakan community’s rich heritage and Penang’s history. The efforts to preserve and showcase the mansion contribute to the understanding and appreciating the diverse cultural influences that have shaped the region.
Overall, the Peranakan Mansion stands as an important symbol of Penang’s historical and cultural tapestry, reflecting the prosperity and cultural fusion of the Peranakan community (Babas and Nyonyas) during the 19th century. Even though the original resident, Chung Keng Kwee, wasn’t of Peranakan descent, I think he would have approved how his mansion has been lovingly restored to its former glory.
And remember, if you love the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, another heritage mansion in Penang offers visitor tours. The Blue Mansion Hotel (Cheong Fatt Tzu) is worthy of a visit. I should know because I have stayed there twice!
Please PIN for Future Travel to Malaysia
Are you looking for further inspiration for Malaysian travel? Please check out the following posts: