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Biographical Dictionary of Mercantile Personalities of Penang

Claudine Salmon
p. 216-217
Référence(s) :

Loh Wei Leng, Badriyah Haji Salleh, Mahani Musa, Wong Yee Tuan & Marcus Langdon (eds), Biographical Dictionary of Mercantile Personalities of Penang, George Town, Think City and MBRAS, 2013, 227 p. plates and maps. Foreword by Wang Gungwu. ISBN 978-967-9948-659-2

Texte intégral

1This dictionary, which focuses on the mercantile male personalities who pioneered the growth of George Town from the end of 18th century up to the mid-20th century, is the first of its kind. However the interest for local figures started much earlier when, in 1986, a book entitled Historical Personalities of Penang was published by The Historical Personalities of Penang Committee under the Auspices of Penang Festival’86, and an exhibition based on this publication inaugurated. This latter volume also included community and political leaders, civil servants, academicians, religious teachers and artists, and among them, a few prominent women, but the biographical sketches were not referenced.

2The present book highlights the life of merchants and business people from all communities, including the Acehnese, Arabs, Armenians, British, Chinese, Eurasians, Indians, Malays, Parsees, Scottish. It has been prepared with great care, thanks to the contribution of twenty authors. The entries are introduced by an overview of the historical development of the island since the coming of the Portuguese to Malacca (pp. 4-8). It appears clearly that the trader and business community has formed a major pillar since the late 18th century of the city, when Penang was made an entrepôt.

3Then the editors in a note on the biographies (200) explain how they proceeded. Each entry begins with the surname, given name (Chinese names in Hokkien dialect, followed by characters, and also in Mandarin, transcribed in pinyin), date of birth and death, profession, occupation, major role in the society. It ends with references in abbreviated form, while full references are given in a general bibliography including public records, archives and archival materials, newspapers and magazines (in English, Malay, and Chinese), unpublished theses, papers and manuscripts, personal communications, books and journal articles (in English, Malay and Chinese), and internet sources. The use of a symbol in the index allows the reader to know if a personality is listed in the main entries (pp. 12-178) or in the brief biographical sketches (24 altogether, pp. 179-191) that is those for whom the biodata are not yet sufficiently documented, but who merit inclusion in the history of Penang. If we consider that in 1810, the Indians represented some 30% of the population, Chinese 36%, Malays and Arabs 25% and that in 1860, the Chinese became the majority in Penang, one would not be surprised to notice that they are also the best represented among the biographies.

4Although this dictionary is still far from being exhaustive, as the editors admit, it does great service to the historians who want to deepen their knowledge on these personalities and their part in the making of Malaya and even Southeast Asia.

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Référence papier

Claudine Salmon, « Biographical Dictionary of Mercantile Personalities of Penang », Archipel, 88 | 2014, 216-217.

Référence électronique

Claudine Salmon, « Biographical Dictionary of Mercantile Personalities of Penang », Archipel [En ligne], 88 | 2014, mis en ligne le 10 septembre 2017, consulté le 13 novembre 2019. URL :

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Claudine Salmon

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