Monday, August 29, 2016

Brunei in 1916, 100 Years Ago

This article was published in my column The Golden Legacy on Sunday, 28 August 2016 in The Brunei Time Sunday.


by Rozan Yunos

As the 2016 Olympics drew to a close, not many remember that the 1916 Olympics which was supposed to have taken place in Germany never took place. In that year the world was ensnared in the first World War. In July to November 1916, in the Battle of the Somme, more than one million soldiers died with 57,470 British Empire casualties on the first day alone and 19,240 of them killed.

Despite Brunei not being impacted or involved in the war directly, prayers were offered in the mosques, according to G.E. Cator, the British Resident writing in the Brunei Annual Report 1916 who noted that “His Highness the Sultan has frequently expressed his loyalty to His Majesty the King, and prayers are offered in the Mosques for the success of the British Army.”

What else happened in the world that year? Today’s luxury car maker, the German BMW company was established in March 1916 as the Die Bayerische Motoren Werke and the plane maker, the American Boeing company was established in July 1916 as the then Pacific Aero Products.

But what really happened in Brunei in 1916, exactly one hundred years ago?

1916 was indeed an interesting year. That was the year the British Resident Maundrell was killed by a Sikh policeman. E.B. Maundrell in fact, was the first Resident to stay in Brunei. Prior to having Maundrell having a permanent appointment in Brunei, all other Residents stayed in Labuan. In fact it was the Assistant Residents who actually ran the government in Brunei.

By the time Maundrell was murdered in 1916, the British had been governing Brunei for 10 years. During those 10 years, the police force in Brunei was basically made up of Sikh and Bengali policemen with an inspector in charge. It will take another five years before the police force was made up of Brunei Malay policemen.

According to Marie-Sybille de Vienne in her book ‘Brunei: From the Age of Commerce to the 21st Century’ (2015), the fortuitous assassination of Resident EB Maundrell by a Sikh Policeman in 1916 resulted in the creation of a Malay police force in 1921 with 39 members.

The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser newspaper on 22 May 1916 reported that it was at 10 o’clock on the night of the 18th, that the Sikh sentry on duty at the government office made an unsuccessful attack on a companion. He then attempted to escape. In a daring attempt to arrest the man, at a distance of half a mile from the Government Office, Maundrell was shot. He died instantaneously. The next morning, the murderer surrendered.

The trial was held a few months later and His Honour Sir John Bucknill, Chief Justice, Straits Settlements, arrived on 27th July to try the Belait murder case (of a Chinese named Joo Chai) and that of Mr Maundrell and remained a week as reported in the Brunei Annual Report 1916. It was the first occasion on which a Judge of the Supreme Court of the Colony had sat in Brunei and the solemnity and dignity of the proceedings made a great impression.

Despite the murders, British Resident G.E. Cator who succeeded Maundrell noted that “the year on the whole was one of prosperity for Brunei in spite of the increase of prices. There is a steady movement from the old river kampongs to the land as has been said the standard of cultivation is slowly improving.”

With the migration of the Brunei people from the water village to the land, seventy nine new land titles were registered in that year and about 150 applications were made for small land holdings.

The British Resident speculated that since the Bruneis themselves have no agricultural tradition and had little knowledge of and less interest in the subject, it is “hardly surprising that on taking up land they devoted themselves to the most profitable and least troublesome products to the almost total exclusion of everything else” which is to plant rubber. However other Malay indigenous race ssuch as the Kedayans continued to plant padi, pineapples, sugar-canes.

Tutong continued to plant sago and padi, Belait planted Jelutong rubber while Temburong was the largest producer of sago and jungle produce and with three large rubber estates, rubber. The three rubber estates were the Brunei Estates Limited with 495 acres, Liverpool (Brunei) Para Rubber Company Limited with 415 acres and the Brunei-Borneo Rubber and Land Company Limited with 283 acres.

Coal continued to be mined at Brooketon (Muara) by Sir Charles Brooke’s mines at Brooketon and Buang Tawar with 27,447 tons. This was less compared to the year before of 30,413 tons. All these were exported to Labuan and the coal were used by His Majesty’s British Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy. The miners were mostly Brunei Malays and the Report noted that ‘the manager speaks well of the Brunei Malay as a miner.’
Oil had not been produced yet but there were four companies prospecting in Brunei in 1916. The Brunei Oil Royalty Limited at Jerudong did not do any work and their lease was forfeited. The other concession held by the Brunei-Borneo Petroleum Company Limited at Belait which was worked by Nederlandsche Colonial Petroleum Maatschappij only worked up to August. Whereas at Damuan and Sembatang in Tutong, it was done by the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company and another company The Shanghai Langkat Company also operated in Tutong.

Brunei’s main export was highly dependent on cutch which exported the largest amount of exports worth $285,400. In comparison the next two largest export of coal was $206,077 and rubber $142,711. The cutch was produced by The Island Trading Company. However it was noted that cutch produced from the bark of mangrove trees were getting harder to obtain.

The first Chinese school opened in Brunei towards the end of 1916 which was for the benefit of the children of the local shopkeepers. In the government vernacular schools in the Brunei Town, almost 60 children were registered and another in Muara with 40 children. The Report also noted that “it is a matter of satisfaction that some of the more influential Malays have begun to send their children regularly to school at an early age.”

Despite its small size, the country had 205 criminal and 524 civil cases in the Courts of the Resident and Magistrate. The Resident commended the Malay Magistrates “the work of the Malay Magistrates is characterised by a praiseworthy care and fairness and appeals from or complaints against their decision are rare.”

In terms of physical infrastructure, the foundations of today’s modern road systems were started in 1916. The Report noted the first section of the Brunei-Belait bridle-path namely, that between Damuan and Tutong was completed at a cost of $3,679. The last section over the Laguadau swamp proved difficult. That path has greatly improved communication between Brunei and Tutong.

Financially, the government was still paying to the Straits Settlement Government for the loans to buy out monopolies in 1906. The Government’s revenue for the year was $127,615 with an expenditure of $113,317. His Highness the Sultan was paid an allowance of $12,760 and the British Resident received $9,895 for the year.

There was an interesting note in the Brunei Annual Report of 1916 in that the first European child, the infant daughter of Mr. EG Goldfinch, the Customs Supervisor, was born in Brunei. His Highness the Sultan was said to ‘gave a name’ to her. According to a hand written footnote in the Annual Report, she was given the Malay name of ‘Dayang Kumala Indra’.

All in all, the British Resident noted that for 1916 ‘the year was one of prosperity.’

/End of Article

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Glimpse of KB's Quaint Town

Old Belait Market

Along Belait River

Add caption

Jalan Pretty

Jalan Pretty



FOR the small percentage of Brunei who call Kuala Belait their home, their perception of the town is more than just a sleepy town.

The first thing that pops to mind when the town, which is also known as KB town to residents, is mentioned are the shops along Jalan Pretty. The iconic street is home to more than 20 thriving retail businesses, which include international brands such as The Body Shop and The Face Shop.

Jalan Pretty also has more than one bookstore, footwear shops, mini markets, restaurants and a handful of stores managed by home-grown young entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, in the afternoon on the weekends, a group of stalls at Pasar Kuala Belait, which used to be a wet market behind Jalan Pretty, becomes a haven for local food favourites. Although, not as big as Tamu Gadong, the place — which is a mere five minutes’ walk from Jalan Pretty — is filled with different kinds of stall owners from all over Belait selling traditional kueh and other popular snacks.

These add character to the town, and which retired civil worker Hj Metusin Abu Bakar can attest to, was one of the favourite subjects for photography.

“There are some (avid) photographers that keep framed photos of Jalan Pretty, where the buildings are how they were when they were first built,” he said, reminiscing back to more than 40 years ago. “There are also times when it (Jalan Pretty) really comes alive, like when a kids’ rollerblading race was organised.”

However, KB town is not only about the shops. A part of its name, kuala, means mouth of a river. This refers to where Belait River — the longest river in Brunei — flows into the South China Sea. Due to this position, visitors can spend their leisure time at one of the beaches along the coastline of Belait district, Pantai Jubli Perak.

Another leisure spot is the revamped Kuala Belait Recreational Park alongside Belait River. Spruced up with the help of KB town own municipal board, the park boasts a playground and even a multi-purpose hall and stage, which can be used at a fee, based on last year’s report.

As for getting around town, there are taxi and bus stands, which are just opposite each other. You can even make a stop at the town’s first mosque, Masjid Jamalul Alam, which is located just beside the bus stand.

In addition, visitors looking to stay the night or more need not worry as there are a number of hotels within one kilometre of the town that suit a variety of budget and needs. Counting at least six hotels within walking distances and another one which sports a rooftop restaurant, travellers won’t feel short of places to stay.

To experience KB town at its liveliest, it’s best to come down when the nation is celebrating His Majesty’s birthday, where various organisations and the community will be holding fun activities throughout the month.

The Brunei Times

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Loss of Labuan Island

My article below was published on Sunday, 14 August 2016 in The Golden Legacy column of The Brunei Times.


The Signing Ceremony to surrender Labuan Island as forced by the British in 1848. Original photo source is from Frank Maryatt's book entitled "Borneo and the Indian Archipelago" published in 1848

The Loss of Labuan Island
by Rozan Yunos

DURING Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II’s skirmish with the British in the mid-1800s which resulted in the loss of the Labuan Island, there were a number of books published by different authors giving accounts of the ‘battle’ between the British attackers and the Brunei defenders. These authors were either captains or naval officers of various British battleships present during the combat and signing of the treaty surrendering Labuan Island to the British.

Another book which this writer had only come across very recently was a book with a typical long title during that period, entitled Five Years in China from 1842 to 1847: With An Account of the Occupation of Labuan and Borneo by Her Majesty’s Forces written by Lieutenant (Lt) FE Forbes. The book was published in London by Richard Bentley, London in 1848, almost 170 years ago. Lt FE Forbes RN, was commander of HMS Bonetta when this book was published.

According to an article in The Spectator published on February 5, 1848, Lt Forbes “was employed in China and Borneo from 1842 to 1847, sometimes in movement, sometimes stationary: when duty permitted, he occupied himself in collecting coins, making excursions, and studying the Chinese and their institutions both from life and books. His observations that were compiled in the volume before us; which, though somewhat deficient in the art of narration, and rather sailor-like in the treatment of topics and the management of style, conveys, so far as it goes, as lively and good an impression of the Chinese as any publication that we know of.”

Forbes focused very much on China taking up 26 chapters out of the 30 chapters in his book. It was only the last four chapters that he described about Labuan and Brunei and a chapter on the Manners and Customs of the Borneo Malays.The Spectator’s reviews on his visit to the islands as follows:

“Lt Forbes was employed at Borneo during the treaty which ended in the cession of Labuan. He also assisted at taking possession of the island; remained there for some time, and explored the country, discovering its veins of coal. His accounts of Borneo and Labuan are but slight; the history of late events not so full as has lately been published. His picture of the Sultan, however, is the best we have met with: Lieutenant Forbes saw him when he had laid aside his state. The account of Labuan is our only one.”

There was no picture of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II in the book. What was meant by “picture of the Sultan” was Forbes’ not so flattering description of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II. However, among others the Sultan was described by Forbes to be “a smart man” despite his other shortcomings. Forbes also noted that the Malays who conquered Borneo Island 380 years ago, possessed the whole line of coast and present in many separate governments but “at the head of all, not so much in a political as a religious sense is the Sultan of Borneo Proper, Omar Ali. He was considered to be a “high Mussulman” (Muslim) and “is looked upon as the religious chief of chiefs”.

Forbes also described the Sultan “besides in regal state, is in a religious point of view the head of his people, he is always surrounded by bearers of different devices of honour, and seldom left without one or more Pangeran (prince) attending on him… at his court any subject can enter the council-chamber, first performing the salam as he seats himself on his hams, provided he wears his kris. The Quran and ancient usage guide as laws…”

Lt Forbes described the battle and the forced signing of the treaty ceding Labuan very casually and calmly as compared to Frank Maryatt who wrote about how tense it all was in his book, Borneo and Indian Archipelago (published in 1848) with guns pointing at the Sultan. Forbes described the event following from the murder of Pengiran Muda Hashim and some of his followers.

“… Pangeran Muda Hashim, and several others, who were known to be friends of the British. Partly to avenge their deaths, and partly to punish some acts of piracy, and an attempt to murder Captain Egerton, the forts in the River Brunei were destroyed, with the loss of thirty or forty guns taken, and the town of Brunei deserted by the Sultan and his subjects. A promise was then held out of putting an end to hostilities, provided the Sultan would give up his piracies, and cede the island of Labuan, situated at the mouth of the Brunei , to the British forever.”

“The Admiral, having communicated with government, despatched HMS Iris and Wolf, on December 1, 1846 to Brunei, there to conclude a treaty, and thus take formal possession of the island. On December 10, the ships being anchored off the island of Mora (sic), at the entrance, the boats of the Iris, in command of Lt (now Commander) Little, those of the Wolf, under my command, started at nine in the morning for Brunei.”

“About eleven we anchored in line off the Sultan’s house, and as Captain Mundey landed … when the Sultan, Pangeran and several of the higher classes received him on the wharf.”

In the centre of his hall of audience, a plain barn like room, sat his majesty Omar Ali, Sultan of Borneo, dressed in a jacket of yellow crape, slashed with satin, a turban of black and gold, and black inexpressibles. Behind him stood his sword and betel bearers, and other attendants, with horsetails, much the same as those worn in state by Pachas in Turkey. The only other Malay seated on a chair was the Pangeran (or Prince) Moormen.”

Prince Moormen was Pengiran Anak Abdul Momin who later became Sultan Abdul Momin replacing Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II in November 1852 as the 24th Sultan of Brunei.

“The treaty was explained by Lieut. Heath as interpreter (it being written in Arabic, the Malay written character). After much discussion between the Sultan and the gentry seated around, orders were given to the chancellor, another Pangeran, to prepare the seal (which was made of metal and inserted in Arabic characters): this he did by holding it over a huge candle, made of pure beeswax; when well blacked he rubbed it smooth, then having wet the parchment, he pressed it thereon. This leaves the characters white on a black field.”

“Conversation now turned upon the relative advantages and disadvantages to be derived by both parties. Trade, it was agreed, would materially benefit both sides, as, on the one hand, the Malay would be clothed, while, on the other, gold, antimony, diamonds, coal, sago, pepper and beeswax would be plentifully supplied to the British. Under the head disadvantage to the chiefs were mentioned the loss of their slaves, who would no doubt flee.”

Forbes went on to describe about the ceremony on the possession of the Labuan Island. In his book he also described about the Malays and his survey of the Labuan Island and the most important discovery on Labuan for the steam ships of those days, coal.

Rozan Yunos, writer of The Golden Legacy — the longest running column in The Brunei Times — also runs a website at

The Brunei Times

Monday, August 15, 2016

List of Brunei's Permanent Secretaries and Deputies (Updated 15 August 2016)

Latest changes (appointment of Permanent Secretaries) included up to 15 August 2016 as announced last night:

BY COMMAND of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) yesterday announced the transfer and appointment of two officers.

Abdul Mutalib Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Setia Dato Paduka Hj Mohd Yusof, permanent secretary (Media and Cabinet) at PMO, has been transferred to the Ministry of Home Affairs as permanent secretary.

Meanwhile, Mohammed Riza Dato Paduka Hj Mohd Yunos, deputy permanent secretary (Corporate Affairs and Civil Administration) at PMO has been appointed as permanent secretary (Media and Cabinet) at PMO.

The transfer and appointment of both officials will take effect from today.

The Brunei Times



Prime Minister's Office (PMO)
Dato Paduka Yahya bin Haji Idris (Corporate Affairs and Civil Service)
Dato Paduka Haji Jamain bin Haji Julaihi (Energy)
Haji Hamzah bin Haji Sulaiman (Economy and Finance)
Dato Paduka Haji Joanda HA Rashid (Law and Welfare)
Adi Shamsul bin Haji Sabli (Industry)
Pengiran Datin Shazainah bte Pg Dato Paduka Shariffudin (International)*
Md Riza bin Dato Paduka Hj Md Yunos (Media and Cabinet)

Ministry of Defence (MINDEF)
Datin Paduka Hajah Suriyah binti Haji Umar*

Ministry of Finance (MOF)
Haji Nazmi bin Haji Mohammad (Management and International)
Ahmaddin bin Haji Abd Rahman (Performance)

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT)
Dato Paduka Lim Jock Hoi
Datin Tan Bee Yong*
Dato Paduka Haji Matnor bin Haji Jeludin
Sheikh Haji Fadilah bin Sheikh Haji Ahmad
Emaleen bte Abdul Rahman Teo*

Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA)
Haji Abd Mutalib bin Pehin Dato Haji Yussof

Ministry of Education (MOE)

Dr. Haji Junaidi bin Haji Abd Rahman (Higher Education)
Dr. Hajah Romaizah binti Haji Mohd Salleh (Core Education)*

Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA)

Dato Seri Setia Haji Abd Aziz bin Orang Kaya Maharaja Lela Haji Md Yusof

Ministry of Development (MOD)
Haji Md Lutfi bin Abdullah (Administration and Finance)
Dato Paduka Eddie bin Dato Paduka Haji Sunny (Technical and Professional)

Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT)
Dr. Haji Abd Manaf bin Haji Metussin

Ministry of Communications (MOC)
Haji Azhar bin Haji Ahmad

Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS)
Dato Paduka Dr. Haji Affendy bin Pehin Dato Haji Abidin
Datin Paduka Dr. Hajah Norlila binti Dato Paduka Haji Jalil*

Ministry of Health (MOH)
Haji Zakaria bin Haji Serudin


Prime Minister's Office (PMO)
Muhammad Nor Shafie bin Dato Paduka Haji Jalil (IT, E-Government and Industry)
Dr. Hajah May Faezah bte Haji Ahmad Arifin (Economy and Finance)*
Haji Md Azmi bin Haji Hanifah (Energy and Industry)

Ministry of Defence (MINDEF)
Capt. (R) Hj Md Amirul Shahnoel bin Hj Md Noeh (Technical)

Ministry of Finance (MOF)
Pengiran Nirmala binti Pengiran Mohamed (Performance and Compliance)*
Khairuddin bin Abd Hamid (Investment)

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT)
Haji Adanan bin Haji Jaafar
Hajah Tutiaty binti Haji Abd Wahab*
Haji Osman bin Haji Mohd Yusof

Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA)

Haji Idris bin Hj Md Ali
Haji Md Sunadi bin Buntar

Ministry of Education (MOE)

Dr. Haji Azman bin Haji Ahmad

Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA)
Haji Harun bin Haji Juned (Policy and Religion)
Haji Roslan bin Tajaah (Administration and Finance)

Ministry of Development (MOD)
Haji Marzuke bin Haji Mohsin

Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT)
Wardi bin Md Ali

Ministry of Communications (MOC)

Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS)
Noorjusmin bin Haji Abd Samad

Ministry of Health (MOH)

Dr. Hazri bin Haji Kifle
Dr. Hajah Maslinah bte Haji Mohsin*


Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Belait Museum

The Belait Museum
7 August 2016

GOING out to places in Belait is a good way to know more about the district, but if time is an issue then there’s the Belait District Museum — all the essentials that you need to know about Belait under one roof.

Located along Jalan Maulana next to the municipal field where the meet-and-greet with the monarch takes place annually, the museum is the first and so far the only museum that is outside of Brunei-Muara district. The building itself is a historical structure, built in the 1930s as the residence of the then Deputy British Resident. Until 1990, the building is the official residence of the Belait District Officers.

“Initially, the Belait District Office already have plans to have a museum here (in Belait) that represents the community and aetefacts of Belait District,” said Public Relations Officer of Museums Department, Mariani Hj Abu Bakar to The Brunei Times. “The Museums Department then took over the building, and materialised those plans to make the building into a gallery museum we see now.”

Still maintaining almost all of its original structure, the former residence combined the elements of Malay and colonial architectures. Refurbished by Belait District Office over the years, the one-storey museum is now well-ventilated and equipped with basic facilities such as washrooms.

The museum was open to visitors for the first time in July this year, and it has five galleries in total — four main galleries and one temporary gallery which currently showcases His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s meet-and-greet photos in Belait district.

As a museum that “represents the community of Belait District”, each gallery showcases history, ethnicity and wildlife found in Belait District.

The first gallery, or Gallery One is named Galeri Warisan Budaya and has the largest surface area than the rest as it is filled with items that are mostly full-size in size. Here, visitors will be able to know the ethnic groups which made up the Belait community and view the utensils used in their daily activities.

Two of the galleries — Gallery Two and Gallery Three — in the museum share the same title, Galeri Sejarah and are dedicated to the history of Belait. Gallery Two contains information on the history and administration of Belait District, including artefacts found during an excavation in Lumut in the early years.

As the district which houses the oil town of Seria, it’s not a surprise that one of the history-themed gallery is dedicated to the country’s main export. The third gallery explores the oil and gas industry, and with more infographic tables than the other galleries.

Gallery Five or Galeri Warisan Alam Semula Jadi is where “the wild things are”, literally. Birds commonly found in the district, such as hornbills and egrets can be seen up close as the museum houses its preserved remains. Some not-so-common ones, such as crocodiles and other species of mammals can also be seen at this gallery.

“People often see the hornbills in the district, but they don’t know about what they eat and where they live — we explain these things in the wildlife gallery,” explained Mariani. “Items that can be found along Belait’s shorelines are also stored here, along with their descriptions.”

The museum opens its doors to the public five days a week except Thursdays and Friday, with opening hours are from 9am to 5pm, and admission is free of charge.

The Brunei Times

Monday, August 08, 2016

Brunei's Sultan Abdul Majid and Chinese Emperor Yongle

I wrote this article when I was in Nanjing in July 2016 when I had the opportunity to visit Sultan Abdul Majid's Makam (Tomb) for the second time (the first time was in 2010). This article was published in my column The Golden Legacy on The Brunei Times on 7 August 2016.


Sultan Abdul Majid's Tomb or Makam when he died in China in 1408 built by Emperor Yongle. (Photo by Dr. Sophiana Chua)

The Pathway leading to Sultan Abdul Majid's Tomb built by Emperor Yongle in 1408. (Photo by Dr. Sophiana Chua)

This house the ancient tortoise which carried the tablet describing the tomb built by Emperor Yongle in 1408. (Photo by Dr. Sophiana Chua)

Brunei's Sultan Abdul Majid and Chinese Emperor Yongle
by Rozan Yunos

ON MAY 12, 1958 villagers of Yinxi at Yu Hua Tai District in Nanjing, China discovered a tomb in a nearby forest. Nanjing was a historic city with many artefacts left throughout the ages that at first the find did not arouse much attention.

It was not until much later that experts found that the tomb belonged to a king called “Ma Je Ne Ka Na from the Kingdom of Poli” who died while visiting China in 1408.

It seemed that in August of the sixth year of the reign of Yongle of the Ming Dynasty (1408), that the King visited China with a delegation of 150 people including his wife, brothers, sons and entourage. Unfortunately, he fell ill in Nanjing, where the Emperor ordered his imperial doctors to treat and take good care of him. The King was buried on Shizi Hill outside the Andemen with the burial rites normally offered to kings.

Today that king has been identified as Sultan Abdul Majid Hassan from Brunei and listed in the official royal genealogy as the successor to Sultan Muhammad, the first sultan and predecessor to Sultan Ahmad, the second Sultan.

According to history, Poli was one of the ancient names of Brunei and had regular contacts with China. According to Chinese records, in 1370, Shen Chi, a magistrate and Zhang Jingshi, an Imperial Supervisor from Fujian Province went to Brunei.

In 1371, Yisima, an envoy from Brunei visited China. This visit was followed by another group of envoys from Brunei in 1394, an envoy named Alibochen in 1405 and another group of envoys in 1406 before the visit by the King himself in 1408.

Friendly exchanges between the two nations have a long history dating back over 2,000 years ago. As early as China’s Western Han Dynasty, the two countries have already exchanged trade in goods. In China’s Tang Dynasty, official exchanges between the governments of the two countries started. With the advancement of navigation technology in China’s Song and Yuan Dynasties, exchanges of envoys and commercial ships became more frequent between the two countries.

In fact according to Chinese records of the Liang Dynasty, Tang Dynasty and Song Dynasty, Brunei had been sending her envoys to China and had also been receiving envoys from China. The earliest records stated that in the years 517AD, 521AD and 631AD, Brunei had sent her envoys to China. In 977AD, China sent her envoys to Brunei.

Sultan Abdul Majid Hassan paid a call on Emperor Yongle, six years after he had taken over the reign of the Ming Dynasty. Was the visit necessary? For that we need to study the then reigning Emperor Yongle.

According to Charles Hucker writing about the Emperor for the Britannia Encyclopaedia, Emperor Yongle, born as Zhu Di in 1360 was the third emperor of the the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644). One of his best known achievements was to move the capital from Nanjing to Beijing. It was Zhu Di’s father, the Hongwu Emperor who rose from a poor orphan of peasant origin who rebelled against the Mongol rulers of the Yuan dynasty to establish the new Ming Dynasty. The Hongwu Emperor sired 26 princes of which Zhu Di was one.

It was in 1368 that Hongwu inaugurated the new Ming dynasty, with its capital at Nanjing. He drove the last Mongol emperor out of Beijing and then beyond the Great Wall and the Gobi.

Zhu Di was designated Prince of Yan (an ancient name for the Beijing region). As he grew to manhood during the next decade, the new Ming empire was stabilised with an elaborate governmental apparatus. His natural leadership qualities clearly outshone those of his many brothers.

At the age of 20, Zhu Di with his older half brother, the Prince of Jin were given joint command of patrolling expeditions beyond the Great Wall. By 1393 they assumed full supervisory control over defence forces of the whole central sector of the northern frontier.

When the heir apparent died in 1392, Emperor Hongwu complied by tradition by appointing the dead crown prince’s son Zhu Junwen, 15 years old as the new heir.

However Zhu Di considered himself the de facto head of the imperial clan and expected to be treated deferentially by his nephew. But the new young Emperor Junwen instituted a series of reforms by taking regional power from the princes and Zhu Di found himself isolated and endangered. By 1399, Zhu Di rose in rebellion.

The central government at Nanjing underestimated Zhu Di’s strength and failed to muster its manpower and matériel effectively. By 1402 Zhu Di’s forces broke through the imperial armies and were admitted into the walled capital by court defectors in July 1402. Four days after the fall of Nanjing, the Prince of Yan took the throne himself, although he did not formally begin his rule until 1403. He took the reign name “Yongle” (“Perpetual Happiness”).

The Junwen emperor had disappeared and until today, no-one knows what had happened to him.

Zhu Di retained the one reform policy of Emperor Junwen that remained in effect was that, princely powers must be curtailed. Hence, the surviving frontier princes were transferred from their fiefs into central and south China and were deprived of all governmental authority.

From the Yongle period on, imperial princes were no more than salaried nobilities who socially and ceremonially adorned the cities to which they were assigned and in which they were effectively confined. No subsequent Ming emperor was seriously threatened by a princely uprising.

Zhu Di built a strong and effective administration, and during his reign China settled into the generally stable political and socioeconomic patterns that were to characterise the remainder of the dynasty.

His government sponsored the compilation and publication of Confucian and Neo-Confucian Classics, and it most notably sponsored the preparation in manuscript form of a monumental compendium of literature called Yongle dadian(“The Great Canon of the Yongle Era”) in more than 11,000 volumes, which preserved many works that would otherwise have been lost.

In the early years of his reign, Zhu Di was fascinated by the regions beyond China’s southern borders, partly due to rumours that the Jianwen emperor had escaped overseas. In 1403 he sent out three fleets to proclaim his accession throughout Southeast Asia as far as Java and southern India.

More vigorously than any other ruler in Chinese history, he sought recognition from faraway potentates in these regions. Throughout his reign “tributary” missions regularly traveled to China from overseas. Thus the visit of Sultan Abdul Majid Hassan to China was in 1408.

Most renowned of the Yongle emperor’s many ocean admirals was Zheng He, who led grand armadas on great voyages between 1405 and 1433. Zheng He visited countries as far away as the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the east coast of Africa almost as far south as Zanzibar, and from all the states that he visited, he brought home envoys bearing tribute to acknowledge the Yongle emperor’s overlordship.

With the military might of the Ming Dynasty, many kingdoms around the region must have paid tributes to the Emperor. Brunei maintained its relationship with China and according to the Chinese records, in 1415, Xiawang described as the King of Brunei sent 29 envoys to China. His uncle, Mamu (Mahmud?) visited China in 1417 as well as another two uncles, Zuxumayi (Ismail?) in 1421 and Shanaruoye in 1425.

In an article written by Carrie C Brown entitled Two Ming Texts Concerning King Manajechiana of Po’ni’ which was published in the Brunei Museum Journal (1974), she referred to two documents recorded in Ming Dynasty sources.

Of particular interest is the second text in which it was written an inscription which the Yongle Emperor composed for the “State Mountain in Po’ni”. According to Brown, this was a mark of high favour, and only four countries shared this honour. These countries were Japan, Malacca, Poni and Cochin. However this stone tablet and the table have yet to be located. It would indeed be interesting if it was ever found.

The Brunei Times

Monday, August 01, 2016

The Origin of Chinese Silk

I wrote the following article when I was in Suzhou during my trip to China from 12 to 24 June 2016. It was published in The Brunei Times in my column The Golden Legacy on 31 July 2016.


Suzhou was the Chinese Silk capital. (Photo by Stephanie Kam)

Suzhou is also famous for its beautiful gardens. (Photo by Stephanie Kam)

The Origin of Chinese Silk
by Rozan Yunos

IT WAS in November 2014 when Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced plans to create a US$40 billion development fund, which would help finance China's plans to develop the New Silk Road and the Maritime Silk Road. The Maritime Silk Road, officially known as the “21st Century Maritime Silk Route Economic Belt” is a Chinese strategic initiative to increase investment and foster collaboration across the historic Silk Road.

The historic Silk Road itself was not a single road but it was an ancient network of trade routes that were once used connecting the trade between West and East from China to the Mediterranean Sea. The Silk Road derived its name from the lucrative trade in Chinese silk carried out along the length of the road.

The silk route trade began during the Han Dynasty. The Han Dynasty controlled China for 400 over years between 207 BC to 220 AD. It was said that the Central Asian sections of the trade routes were expanded around 114 BC by the Hans, largely through the missions and explorations of the imperial envoy, Zhang Qian. Due to its texture and lustre, Chinese silk rapidly became a popular extravagance all over Eurasia.

However, even though silk was certainly the major trade item from China, there were many other goods that were traded. Similarly to goods, it was just not trade, many other items were carried and exchanged including religions, philosophies, and various technologies, as well as harmful items including diseases, which travelled along those historic Silk Routes.

According to Jerry Bentley in his book Old World Encounters: Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times (1993), that in addition to economic trade, the Silk Road served as a means of carrying out cultural trade among the civilisations along its network.

Silk was also traded along the maritime silk route which passed through Brunei through the South China Sea reaching all the way to the Mediterranean.

According to DE Brown (1970), before the 16th century, Brunei’s trade fulfilled three criteria. The first is that Brunei’s trade was basically raw materials made up of food, resources from the sea, forest and mining produce. Secondly, Brunei imported finished products such as fabric, metal and vases and porcelains. Thirdly, all trades were controlled and supervised by the central authority.

Brunei’s main market in those days was China. Among Brunei’s exports were camphor, antlers, silver and bracelets made from ivory, lipsticks and wooden pots, plates and utensils. The Chinese traded their export items including porcelain, gold, silver, colourful silk, thick silk, cotton and other products.

Silk certainly played a very important role in the development of the silk road. According to Shelagh Vainer in his bookChinese Silk: A Cultural History (2004), silk fabric was first developed in ancient China, although, wild silk had been produced and have been known to be in use in China, South Asia and Europe much earlier.

However the scale of production by the early producers was very small compared to the latter domesticated silkworm in the Chinese regions. The wild silk were less uniform, the wild silk thread were much shorter and the cocoons were covered in a mineral layer that makes them difficult to be reeled into long strands of silk.

The Chinese Legend itself gives credit for the development of silk to a Chinese empress Leizu also known as Hsi-Ling-Shih or Lei-Tzu. From the writings of Confucius and Chinese tradition, it was in the 27th century BC that a silk worm’s cocoon fell into the tea cup of the Empress Leizu. In trying to extract it from her drink, the 14-year-old girl began to unroll the thread of the cocoon.

It was then that she had the idea to weave the thread. Having observed the life of the silk worm on the recommendation of her husband, the Yellow Emperor, she began to instruct her entourage in the art of raising silk worms scientifically known as “sericulture”. The empress became the goddess of silk in Chinese mythology.

Though silk was exported to foreign countries in great amounts, sericulture remained a secret that the Chinese carefully guarded. However, by 200 BC the knowledge had reached Korea and subsequently stretched to other areas, but the prestige of having a garment made from the finest Chinese silk endured for centuries.

Suzhou, in Jiangsu Province, is not only a famous cultural city and a city of gardens, but was also the silk capital of China. Because of its historical association with riches and royalty, Suzhou has had a major part to play in the prosperity of China’s silk trade.

Since silk was the material of choice for the garments of the ruling classes and, since the arrival of the gentry, cultivation of silk has been an integral branch of Suzhou’s past. In 1276, Marco Polo described it: “… they have vast quantities of raw silk, and manufacture it, not only for their own consumption, all of them being clothed in dresses of silk, but also for other markets …”

Suzhou has been at the centre of China’s illustrious silk trade for centuries. During the Tang Dynasty (618 AD - 907 AD) and Song Dynasty (960 AD - 1279 AD), it was the silk producing centre; in the Ming Dynasty (1368 AD -1644 AD) and Qing Dynasty (1644 AD -1911 AD), most of the high-grade silk produced for the royal families was made by silk weavers in Suzhou. Marco Polo described the city as “… live by trade and industry, have silk in great quantity and make much silken cloth for their clothing."

Today Suzhou is a major city located in southeastern Jiangsu Province of East China, about 100km (62 mile) northwest of Shanghai.

It is a major economic centre and focal point of trade and commerce, and the second largest city in the Jiangsu Province after its capital Nanjing.

Founded in 514 BC, Suzhou has over 2,500 years of history, with an abundant display of relics and sites of historical interest. At around 100 AD, during the Eastern Han Dynasty, it became one of the ten largest cities in the world mostly due to emigration from Northern China.

Since the 10th-century Song Dynasty, it has been an important commercial centre of China. During the Ming and Qing Dynasty, Suzhou was a national economic, cultural, and commercial centre, as well as the largest non-capital city in the world, until the 1860 Taiping Rebellion.

The city’s canals, stone bridges, pagodas, and meticulously designed gardens have contributed to its status as one of the top tourist attractions in China. The classical gardens in Suzhou were added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997 and 2000. Similarly to Brunei, Suzhou is often dubbed as the “Venice of the East”. It is also known as the “Venice of China”. Marco Polo described the city: “Let me tell you that in this city there are fully 6,000 stone bridges, such that one or two galleys could readily pass beneath them.”

No visit to Suzhou is complete without investigating the provenance of its silk and the best place to start is the Suzhou Silk Museum as one of the best museums to showcase the history of silk. The entire museum design combined a sense of ancient civilisation with modern style.

Despite its abundance and familiarity since its discovery thousands of years ago, silk is still considered a luxury item and many people today still regard silk as a priceless treasure.

The author was the leader of the ASEAN think tanks delegation visiting China’s think tanks programme sponsored by the Chinese government from July 12 to 24.

The Brunei Times


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