JOHOR BAHRU: Johor Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar has revived the "Chinese Major" title which was first introduced in the 19th century to forge ties between the Johor royal family and the Chinese community in the southern state.
In a press statement on Tuesday (Sep 1), President of the Johor Council of Royal Court Abdul Rahim Ramli said that Sultan Ibrahim wishes to revive the title to ensure "continuity of modern Johor history".
Dr Abdul Rahim added that the sultan has appointed Mr David Wong Khong Soon as "Chinese Major" effective from Tuesday.
Mr Wong is the manager of Mado palm oil plantation, and is a descendant of Mr Wong Ah Fook, one of the founding fathers of the Chinese community in Johor who was an immigrant builder and entrepreneur.
Mr Wong Ah Fook, who died in 1918, constructed iconic buildings such as the Victoria Concert Hall in Singapore and the Istana Besar in Johor. A main street in downtown Johor Bahru is named after him.
The press statement also said: "Chinese Major David Wong Khong Soon will work and collaborate with the Sultan Ibrahim foundation and other Johor royal foundations, district officers, people's representatives, village heads and community leaders to identify beneficiaries, coordinate, arrange and implement the distribution of food and other necessities to the Johor people, especially to the Chinese community living in different areas."
"In carrying out this role, Chinese Major Wong Khong Soon cannot be regarded as a representative of the Sultan. He is not granted any power, rights, compensation, facilities or privileges," it added.
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The statement also noted that the title was first introduced in 1840 by Temeggong Daeng Ibrahim, during the rule of Sultan Abu Bakar.
Chinese immigrants who came to Johor were then relocated to areas named "Kangkar" along the banks of the Tebrau River, the statement said. The communities were allowed to farm and practise their religious and cultural traditions without disturbance.
The Temeggong then appointed a leader among the "Kangkar" residents, known as "Kangcu", to manage and ensure the safety of the community. Those among the "Kangcu" who were capable were appointed Chinese Captain and Chinese Major, the statement added.
Dr Abdul Rahim highlighted that the job of the "Kangcu" included being a link between the Johor Sultan and the Chinese community in Johor, gather feedback from the Chinese community to ensure that they were not marginalised, as well as build and strengthen their ties with the larger community.
The statement added that the Chinese community was grateful to the Temeggong and Sultan Abu Bakar. In 1873, they built and gifted a "Chinese Hall" in Istana Besar to the Sultan to conduct state assembly meetings and an area for the Johor Sultan and Kangcu to meet every year to celebrate the sultan's birthday.
Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told CNA that the "Kangcu system" refers to the lord of the river. In the 1800s, the Chinese community ran pepper and gambier plantations that flourished along Johor river banks.
He said that the sultan could be reviving the title to "reassert his royal prerogative while sending out a signal of inclusiveness".
"On the positive side, it would appear that the sultan is continuing with the tradition of inclusiveness and tolerance of Johor's multiracial society," said Dr Oh.