Happenings, News

Malacca’s first Chinese Methodist wedding

Mr and Mrs Chew Cheng Yong. — Methodist Church Archives picture, courtesy of Associate Professor Ernest Chew.

In this interesting memoir, the Rev William Shellabear’s younger daughter, Fanny, recounts the wedding of Mr Chew Cheng Yong to Mr Tan Kiong Keng’s eldest daughter, Siok Kim, “Besar”, the first Chinese Methodist wedding in Malacca nearly a hundred years ago. Their family was to include Dr Benjamin Chew who became a well-known physician and Christian leader in Singapore.

‘THE first Chinese Methodist wedding in Malacca took place in our home in our parlour upstairs. Plans had been made for this wedding for some time.

Besar’s mother desired the usual Chinese customs to be observed at this wedding, but both Besar and Cheng Yong desired a Christian wedding. In this desire will be seen the distance these young people had travelled during the short time that had elapsed since they had accepted Christianity.

Chinese custom had suffered much throughout the preparation for the wedding. According to old Chinese custom, the selection of the bridegroom was completely in the hands of the bride’s parents. In this case, the bride insisted upon a Christian husband, and Tan Kiong Keng knew of no eligible Christian young men. He therefore asked my father for the names of some Christian men, and father and Kiong Keng went to Singapore, and from three young men suggested, Mr Tan Kiong Keng chose Chew Cheng Yong, and he was invited to come to Malacca to see Besar.

This was the second departure from Chinese custom, for according to that custom the bride and bridegroom must not see each other until the day of the wedding. Besar’s mother insisted on the observance of the old customs, but her husband, who had spent some time in America and had observed there what he believed to be more enlightened customs, was prepared to grant his daughter’s desires and persuaded his wife to agree to a compromise. In this way, arrangement was made where they might have the opportunity of observing each other.

Besar had a hole conveniently made in her palm-leaf fan which she held in front of her face so that she had a good view of the man suggested to be her husband. She approved of him and told her father that he might go on with the arrangements.


‘Besar had a hole conveniently made in her palm-leaf fan which she held in front of her face so that she had a good view of the man suggested to be her husband. She approved of him and told her father that he might go on with the arrangements.’

To appease the mother, Besar and Cheng Yong consented to observe the traditional Chinese ceremony for one day, wearing the conservative wedding garments. After this ceremony, Cheng Yong went to Bandar Hilir, and very early the following morning, Besar’s mother took Besar to Bandar Hilir.

The mother refused to enter our house, but Besar came in dressed in her usual sarong and kabaya with bright krosangs. Mother and Miss Pugh had the parlour decorated with flowers, and father brought Cheng Yong into that room. Afterwards, mother and Miss Pugh brought Besar in, and Margaret and I attended her as flower-girls. We were all seated and Besar was called forward for her baptism.

Then followed the wedding service, Margaret and I accompanying Besar to the place where father stood for the service. At the close, the bride, bridegroom and two flower-girls sat on the sofa, and father took a picture of the group. Then we had a wedding breakfast in our dining-room, after which we went about our usual work and left Cheng Yong and Besar on the front verandah to talk to each other for the first time. In the afternoon they went to the family home, where the bride and bridegroom were among all their relatives.

Later they went to Singapore to their new home. This was a significant day as on it had been performed the first Christian Chinese wedding. Little did I realise at this time that twenty years later I myself would be the bride of Rev R.A. Blasdell in our Kubu Road Methodist Church in Malacca and among those present would be Margaret, Besar, Cheng Yong and Miss Pugh.’ — Malacca Memories, Pt. One pages 53-54.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.