Discovery of Zheng He’s Guan Chang ( 官厂 )in Melaka

According to historical records, Admiral Zheng He established Guang Chang ( 官厂) or Official Factory on the left-hand side (northern) side of the mouth of the Melaka River when his fleet came to Southeast Asia. Ma Huan ( 马欢) , an interpreter who accompanied Zheng He on several of the voyages gave a detailed description of Guan Chang in his well known book entitled Ying-ya Sheng-lan ( 赢涯胜览 )(A Comprehensive Survey of the Ocean’s Shores) written in 1433 as follows:

“Whenever the treasure ships of the Middle Kingdom [China] arrived there, they at once erected a line of stockades, like a city wall and set up towers for the watch drums at four gates, at night they had patrols of guards carring bells; inside, again they erected an inner stockade, like a small city wall, within which they constructed warehouses and granaries; and all the money and provisions were stored there. The ship which had gone to various countries returned to this place and assembled there. They marshaled the foreign goods and loaded them in the ships; then waited till the south wind was perfectly favourable… and returned home…”

According to one account, the Guan Chang was burned down just before the arrival of Zheng He’s seventh voyage.

In 2003, Drs Tan Ta Sen, President of our Society discovered the above ancient site located at the present Melaka River bank opposite the Portuguese Stadhuys. The site matches the description given in Ma Huan’s records, ie. On the mouth of the Melaka River. Over a period of some 600 years, the river mouth has progressed seawards. Reclamation has also put more distance between the site and the sea.

Three mansions previously owned by several Kapitans (titles given by Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial administrators to Chinese community leaders) occupied the site. Drs Tan discovered that, within the mansions there were some historical relics including a stone well (see photo) with a specially designed locking system used by high officials in China. The well-head is small and made of granite not found in Peninsular Malaysia. The lining of the well is different from those constructed by the Portuguese, Dutch and British in the Colonial era. The well head is similar to the ones found in Zheng He’s home village in Yunnan. Also a large Ming incense burner, storage urns for preserving food, a number of Ming ceramic fragments and coins of the Ming Dynasty were found in the well. For more details of Guan Chang and Cheng Ho Cultural Museum as well as historical relics in Kapitan Lee Wei King’s mansion and Chegn Hoon Temple, see Tan Ta Sen (2005: 49-64).

Dr Tan has completely renovated the shophouses and converted them into the Cheng Ho Cultural Museum ( for details of the Museum, see Section 7.1 below). The relics – the well, ceramic shards and coins as well as wooden carvings saved from the old shophouses – are displayed in the Museum.

Sources: Slightly amended article in Newsletter, International Zheng He Society (no date), p. 4; Tan Ta Sen (2005), Cheng Ho and Malacca, International Zheng He Society (Singapore) issued by Cheng Ho Cultural Museum (Malacca).

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International Zheng He Society
The International Zheng He Society
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