A Malaysian bereavement provider launched over the weekend the world's largest Chinese stela gallery outside of China that houses 138 stone slabs carved with texts handwritten by some of the greatest historical figures in China like Confucius, Wang Xizhi and empress Wu Zetian, as well as ethnic Chinese scholars abroad.
But behind the gallery, which sits within a scenic cemetery in Semenyih,about 40 kilometers from Kuala Lumpur, shows the determination of a Malaysian Chinese to preserve his mother country's identity.
After the death of his father-in-law and with small cash in his pocket, 58-year-old Malaysian Chinese Kwong Hon Kong ventured into a mortuary business which was then deemed a taboo among many people here.
"I came from a poor family. My parents made a living from tapping rubber trees. I worked as a clerk at a pawnshop after dropping out of high school," Kwong told Xinhua in an interview.
Kwong said that when his father-in-law died, his mother-in-law asked him to handle the funeral. "I had not been able to sleep trying to think of where to bury my father-in-law. I was brought to several memorial parks that were in dire state. There were no pedestrian paths because the area was covered with weeds and you had to apologize every time you cross the graves of other people," he said.
Kwong said that he felt sorry for his father-in-law for burying him in such a place. "I thought we, human beings, deserve a better place in the afterlife. It gave me a strong urge to build a proper memorial park. And my plan became a reality five years later," he added.
His company, NV Multi Asia, grew into one of the largest private bereavement care companies in the world, covering Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand, providing funeral and burial services and cremation.
Now he wants to help others keep more than just the memories of their ancestors by building a 20-acre-large Chinese calligraphy stela gallery to perpetuate the traditional Chinese culture.
The gallery, located in the Nirvana Memorial Park near Kuala Lumpur,encompasses a pavilion and 138 tablets hand-inscribed with poems and texts.
The two-billion-ringgit gallery was modeled after the Xi'an stela museum, China's biggest and oldest that contains more than 3,000 tablets as old as 2,000 years old.
Each monument at the gallery is carefully etched by hands by 20 of the best calligraphers in China, duplicating the ancient stelas that were scattered across China.
"The Xi'an Gallery is themed after texts from Tang Dynasty and different galleries from various parts of China each have different focal point. At the Chinese Calligraphy Stone Gallery, we gathered the most outstanding pieces in China. Besides Tang Dynasty's calligraphy pieces,we also display Shang Dynasty's Oracle Bone inscription (Jia Gu Wen)and Zhou Dynasty's Bronze Inscriptions (Zhong Ding Wen)," said culture connoisseur Lai Kuan Fook, who was one of the creators of the gallery.
A tour at the gallery begins with the oldest texts in China, the Oracle Bone inscription from about 14th to 11th century B.C., to succeeding masterpieces, the Introduction of Lanting Caucus written more than 1,600 years ago and Wuwei Han bamboo slip published more than two millenniums ago.
"China historically has a tradition of building stela galleries. The Xi'an gallery for example has more than 900 years of history. In 2008 they came to our place and mentioned their plan. We were skeptical about building a stela gallery such as ours overseas," Xi'an Beilin Museum director Zhao Liguang told Xinhua at the launching ceremony.
Besides the ancient Chinese texts, some of the monuments were carved with poems written by famous scholars and educators in Malaysia like Lim Lian Geok, who toiled for centuries to keep the Chinese culture and tradition intact in his adopted country.
It was more than 600 years ago when the first Chinese was recorded to have landed in Malaysia.
The Chinese diaspora peaked during the colonial period and when Malaysia won its independence in 1957, the ethnic Chinese made up almost half the population in the peninsula.
The Malaysian Chinese preserved their identity and culture successfully,when compared with neighboring countries like Thailand and the Philippines with larger Chinese communities that have long been assimilated.
Most Malaysian Chinese still celebrate the Chinese festivities and send their children to vernacular Chinese schools that are part of the rights granted under the country's education policy.
But the passion to retain the Chinese roots is fading into oblivion,especially with the dwindling Chinese population that now stands at slightly a quarter of the Malaysia's total population.
It is here where Kwong stela gallery comes into play. "If an ethnic group has no culture and soul, it is as good as floating cloud," Kwong said.