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    Festival Commemorating Zheng He in Semarang

Semarang Festival in Conjunction with 600th Anniversary of
Zheng He’s First Expedition to the Western Ocean

By: Ng Yong Seng Harsono


Semarang is one of several ports in Java visited by Admiral Zheng He in his seven expeditions to the Western Ocean. The other Indonesian sites visited are Cirebon, Palembang and Aceh. Semarang is located on northern shore of Central Java and is now administered as the capital of the province of Central Java, Indonesia (see map below).

Fig. 1. Map of Indonesia indicating the location of Semarang.

When Admiral Zheng He arrived in Java, Semarang was just a small fishing village under rule of the declining Majapahit Empire which was then a Hindu state. In the following few centuries, Semarang emerged to be one of the modern cities in Indonesia. The current population of Semarang is 1.40 million (2003) and there are a significant number of ethnic Chinese populations in the city. Here, Admiral Zheng He is venerated as Sam Po Kong and there are annual celebrations held every 29 th and 30 th of the sixth month according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar to commemorate his first expedition.


Sam Po Kong Temple in Gedong Batu

In Semarang, there is a Sam Po Kong Temple which is known to locals as Gedong Batu Temple(Kelenteng Gedong Batu). According to one story, during one of the Admiral Zheng He’s expedition, one of his trusted lieutenants, Wang Jing Hong, was taken suddenly ill. As a result, the fleet stopped at Semarang and they found a cave and use it as temporary shelter. Later, people built a temple to commemorate Zheng He at that site and it was known as Gedong Batu or Kedong Batu meaning ‘piles of natural stones used for damming a river).


Fig. 2. Two views of Sam Po Kong Temple, Gedong Batu.

Source: http://www.kelenteng.com

Within the temple, there is a tomb which is venerated as the tomb of the Kiai Juru Mudi Dampo Awang ( The Venerable Fleet Helmsman and Admiral). It was believed that the tomb belonged to Wang Jing Hong. According to one source, he stayed for a time in Semarang after he recovered from his illness and he subsequently played an important part in developing Semarang. Hence, after his death, his body was entombed in the temple and venerated (kramat).  



Fig. 3. Some of the reliefs found inside the temple. Clockwise from top left: Java King paid fine of 10,000 taels of gold over the incident which caused the death of 170 Ming troops; Notorious pirate, Chen Juyi, arrested in Palembang; King of Holomosi gave a giraffe as gift to the Ming Emperor; Princess Hang Lipo was escorted by Zheng He’s fleet to Malacca

Source. http://www.kompas.com


The Celebration

The annual Zheng He celebration is one of a number of major public events in Semarang. The procession starts with a ritual performed at Tay Kak Sie Temple, Gang Lombok ( Semarang’s Chinatown). This is then followed by parading the Sam Po Kong statue worshipped in Tay Kak Sie Temple to Gedong Batu. The statue is then placed side by side with the original Sam Po Kong statue in Gedong Batu.

This unique tradition started from the second half of 19 th Century. During that period, the Simongan area where Gedong Batu is situated came under the possession of a Jewish landowner named Johannes. He imposed a hefty sum of entrance fee to everyone who wanted to worship at the Sam Po Kong Temple. Because most of the worshippers could not afford pay the fee, the worshipping activity was shifted to Tay Kak Sie Temple. A replica of Sam Po Kong statue was made and placed in the temple. On every 29 th or 30 th of 6 th month according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, this replica statue was paraded from Tay Kak Sie to Gedong Batu to ensure that the duplicate one could get blessings from the original statue that is placed inside the Gedong Batu Temple.

The Simongan land was later bought over by Oei Tjie Sien in 1879 (5 th year of Guang Xu). Oei Tjie Sien was the father of the philanthropist, Oei Tiong Ham, who was known as the “Sugar King” of Indonesia. Since then, the community could worship in Gedong Batu without being charged a fee and the management of the temple complex was handed over to the local Sam Po Kong Foundation. The parade itself was revived in 1930 and continued to be a major attraction to this day.



Fig. 4. Four photos of the festival. From top left, clockwise: (1) Horse which was symbolically used to carry the statue being escorted by Bhe Kun (horse escort); (2) The parade leaving Tay Kak Sie Temple to begin the journey; (3) The party arriving at the Gedong Batu Temple; (4) The two statues of Sam Po Kong are placed side by side.

Source. http://www.600yearschengho.org


600th Anniversary Celebration

In 2005, the annual Zheng He celebration became more special because it coincided with the 600 th anniversary of Zheng He’s first expedition. Besides the ritual of the procession, several activities were organised and these included seminars on Zheng He, conference on international business, showcase of international products, cultural shows, a lantern festival, lion dance and fireworks display. The products showcase itself involved the participation of local establishments and companies from several countries which were visited by Zheng He’s fleet. The whole celebration was inaugurated by Dr Mari Elka Pangestu, Minister for Trade of the Republic of Indonesia on August 3, 2005.


Fig. 5. [Left photo] Dr Mari Pangestu (second from the left) struck the drum thereby signalling the opening of the celebration. [Right photo] one of the stalls in the product showcase.


Fig. 6. Some of the lanterns displayed in the festival.


Fig, 7. [Left photo] An item in the Cultural Show from participating countries; and [Right photo] prize award ceremony for competitions held during the festival.

Source: Photos of the 600th Anniversary taken from http://www.600yearschengho.org




  1. Kong Yuanzhi, Muslim Tionghoa Cheng Ho: Misteri Perjalanan Muhibah di Nusantara (Chinese Muslim Zheng He: Mystery of the Expedition in Indonesia). Pustaka Populer Obor, Jakarta, 2000.
  2. Pemerintah Propinsi Jawa Tengah (Government of the Province of Central Java). http://www.jawatengah.go.id
  3. Panitia Peringatan 600 tahun Laksamana Cheng Ho (600th year Celebration of the Admiral Zheng He Organizing Committee) http://www.600yearschengho.org.
  4. Bondan Winarno, Jalansutra: She-Jit Kongco Sampo (The Anniversary of Sampo Kong), Kompas Cyber Media, 12 August 2005http://www.kompas.com/jalansutra/news/0508/12/112311.htm
  5. Photo Gallery: Dinding Relief Cheng Ho (Wall Relief of Zheng He), Kompas Cyber Media, 2 August 2005. http://www.kompas.com/utama/news/0508/02/111351.htm
  6. Kelenteng Sampo Kong, Semarang (Sampo Kong Temple, Semarang). http://www.kelenteng.com/sampokong-semarang

The term ‘ Western Ocean’ was defined by the Chinese in those days as the portion of the ocean to the west of Acheh. This was subsequently redefined as being the seaspace west of Brunei.

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