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The Hai San Society
which had its origins in Southern China was a Penang
Penang is a state in Malaysia and the name of its constituent island, located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia by the Strait of Malacca. It is bordered by Kedah in the north and east, and Perak in the south. Penang is the second smallest Malaysian state in area after Perlis, and the...
-based Chinese secret society established around 1820 and in 1825 led by Low, Ah Chong and Hoh Akow (also spelt Ho Ah Kow or Hok Ah Keow), its titular head. At that time the society's headquarters was located at Beach Street (Ujong Passir).
Secret societies existed well before the establishment of the Hai San Society and their existence in Penang can be traced back to the founding of Penang (1799). Thomas John Newbold (1807-1850), an officer in the 23 Regiment, Madras Light Infantry, in Malacca (1832-1835) noted:
The secret fraternities in which they (the Chinese settlers) enroll themselves for mutual protection and support, prove powerful engines for political combinations, as the Dutch have repeatedly experienced during their long administration in Java and in the Malay States. In China itself, these societies are deemed so dangerous to the Government as to be interdicted under penalty of death.
At Pinang in 1799, they set the administration in defiance and strong measures were necessary to reduce them to obedience. Even in the present-day, the ends of justice are frequently defeated both at Pinang, Malacca, and Singapore: by bribery, false swearing, and sometimes by open violence, owing to combinations of these fraternities, formed for the purpose of screening guilty members from detection and punishment.
In European Settlements, they are under the general control of an officer, or headman styled "Capitan", who receives a salary from the Government and is responsible in some measure, for the orderly conduct of his countrymen, whose representative and official organ he is. Their interior affairs, disputes, and private interests are arranged by the heads of their respective "Kongsis" or fraternities.
Bolton et al. suggest that the Hai San society started out mostly Cantonese and pro-Ghee Hin but by around 1854 had absorbed the Wah Sang society and become almost exclusively Hakka and anti-Ghee Hin. They made use of, among other things:
- an 1829 account by I. Pattullo, then Superintendent of Police and later Government Secretary
- Notes on the Chinese of Pinang, Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, Singapore VIII (1854 and expanded in 1879) by J. D. Vaughan a Superintendent of Police at Penang, a Police Magistrate and Assistant Resident at Singapore and a Grandmaster of the Freemasons (1878 and 1879)
- Rule 11 (Appendix II) in the Rules of the Kian Tek (Toh Peh Kong) society dated 30 December 1844
The Hai San society figure prominently in the Larut War
Larut War was a series of four wars started in July 1861 and ended with the signing of the Pangkor Treaty of 1874. The conflict was fought among local Chinese secret societies over the control of mining areas in Perak which later involved rivalry between Raja Abdullah and Ngah Ibrahim.-First war...
s of 1862-1873 and by that time was headed by Chung Keng Quee
Kapitan China Chung Keng Quee was the founder and administrator of modern Taiping. He was a millionaire philanthropist and known as an innovator in the mining of tin. He was involved in many other industries including farming, pawnbroking and logging. He was respected by both Chinese and European...
. At Larut
Taiping is a town located in northern Perak, Malaysia. With a population of 191,104 , it is the second largest town in Perak after Ipoh, the state capital. Taiping took over Kuala Kangsar's role as the state capital from 1876 to 1937, but was then replaced by Ipoh...
, miners who were members of the Hai San society fought with miners who were members of the Ghee Hin society over the tin-rich fields of Kelian Pauh and Kelian Baru. The two warring factions also clashed in Selangor
Selangor also known by its Arabic honorific, Darul Ehsan, or "Abode of Sincerity") is one of the 13 states of Malaysia. It is on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia and is bordered by Perak to the north, Pahang to the east, Negeri Sembilan to the south and the Strait of Malacca to the west...
The Hai San society was allied with the Penang-based Tokong or Tua Peh Kong society, members of whom financed the mining of tin in the Larut area.
The incessant warfare between the Hai San and Ghee Hin brought tin mine production to a standstill. The fighting between the two societies was brought to an end with the signing of a treaty between the two parties in 1874, known as The Chinese Engagement.
- "Chinese Secret Societies" by Frederick Boyle, published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine Volume 83, Issue 489.