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Table of Contents
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 15-18

Traditional chinese medicine in Malaysia: A brief historical overview of the institutions

1 International Education College, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanghai, China; Department of Chinese Medicine, Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
2 International Education College, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanghai, China

Date of Web Publication18-Mar-2019

Correspondence Address:
Mr. Hon Foong Wong
Lecturer, Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, International Medical University, 126, Jalan Jalil Perkasa 19, Bukit Jalil, 57000 Kuala Lumpur

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_4_19

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Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in British Malaya developed concurrently with the influx of Chinese immigrants. To cater for this growing community, Chinese medical halls which sell Chinese herbs were established in major townships. Consultation and various TCM treatments were also offered by contract TCM practitioners in some of these medical halls. As the needs for TCM services continued to grow, dedicated TCM institutions were set up subsequently. The establishment of these institutions marked the beginning of professional TCM services in the history of Malaysia.

Keywords: Development, history, Malaysia, medical institutions, Traditional Chinese Medicine

How to cite this article:
Ng SC, Wong HF, Tan WT, Liu J, Wang H, Lin X, Goh SW, Hoo BL, Chai CE. Traditional chinese medicine in Malaysia: A brief historical overview of the institutions. Chin Med Cult 2019;2:15-8

How to cite this URL:
Ng SC, Wong HF, Tan WT, Liu J, Wang H, Lin X, Goh SW, Hoo BL, Chai CE. Traditional chinese medicine in Malaysia: A brief historical overview of the institutions. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2019 [cited 2022 Jun 26];2:15-8. Available from: https://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2019/2/1/15/254381

  Introduction Top

This article is a continuation of a previously published article in issue 2 of the Chinese Medicine and Culture 2018. The previous article examined the interactions between China and Malay Peninsula. Kuang Yu (匡愚) is believed to be the first Chinese medicine practitioner set foot in the Malacca Sultanate. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) was later systematically introduced to the Malay Peninsula during the British colonial rule, and its growth was closely related to the blossoming of tin mining industry. Over the years, many local herbs were absorbed and used by TCM practitioners in the Malay Peninsula. Some tropical herbs had even become important exports to China; influencing and reshaping the way TCM were practiced in Mainland China.

This article aims to provide a brief overview on the development of TCM institutions in the pre-colonial and post-independent Malaysia.

  Institutions of Traditional Chinese Medicine Top

During the British ruling of Malaya, the Chinese immigrants concentrated on working in the tin mining and trading. The nature of their livelihood determined that they would live nearby to the tin mines and ports. As the number of Chinese immigrants expanded, these areas formed into a larger community. Together with these growing communities laid the needs for healthcare services. Yin Oi Tong (仁爱堂) was the first Chinese medical hall operating in the Penang Straits Settlement. Established by Mr. Koo Suk Chuan (古石泉) in 1796, Yin Oi Tong offered not only hundreds of Chinese herbs for over-the-counter consumption, but also TCM consultation service by contract TCM practitioners.[1],[2],[3] This relationship between TCM practitioners and Chinese medical hall is seen mutually beneficial to both parties as it provides TCM practitioners with the lifeline of starting up a clinic, while at the same time maintains herbal demand necessary for the survival of Chinese medical hall. This mode of mutual cooperation still exists in today's Malaysia society. [Figure 1] is the facade of Yin Oi Tong [Figure 1].[4]
Figure 1: Facade of Yin Oi Tong

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In 1879, Malaya saw its first dedicated TCM infirmary, the Chha Yong Fay Choon Kuan (茶阳回春馆) set up in Kuala Lumpur. The Chha Yong Fay Choon Kuan was sponsored by the Char Yong Society of Selangor and Wilayah Persekutuan (雪隆茶阳公司), an association set up to strengthen the bond among the Chinese Hakka and to help each other during emergency. Owing to the needs, the society set up an infirmary and recruited a TCM practitioner to provide TCM consultation at this infirmary. The infirmary also acted as a wake memorial place for those families whose member had died. [Figure 2] shows the original building where Chha Yong Fay Choon Kuan was located in 1879 [Figure 2].[5] Although it was small, the infirmary managed to keep its TCM operation for a continuous 32 years.[6]
Figure 2: Chha Yong Fay Choon Kuan in 1879

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In the early 19th century, TCM institutions in Malay Peninsula were primarily owned and operated by individuals. The establishment of TCM hospitals in the 1860s was the turning point in the development of TCM in Malaysia. Not only could these hospitals accommodate a larger capacity of patient load, but they also marked the beginning of a proper and more professional TCM services in the history of Malaysia. Three of the earliest TCM hospitals in the British-ruled Malaya were the Singapore Thong Chai Medical Institution (新加坡同济医院), Tung Shin Hospital (同善医院), and Lam Wah Ee Hospital (南华医院).

The Singapore Thong Chai Medical Institution was established in 1867 by seven largest business Chinese entities in the Singapore Straits Settlement. It was originally called Thong Chai Yee Say (同济医社) with the aim of providing free medical consultation and herbal medicine to the residents of Singapore Straits Settlement. Derived from Cantonese, the name “Thong Chai” literally means helping or relieving sick people equally regardless of their socio-economical backgrounds. In 1886, a piece of land at Wayang Street was granted by the Governor of the Straits, Sir Cecil Clementi Smith in supporting the welfare work of the institute. The institute then changed to its current name in 1892 when it moved into the site at Wayang Street. Thong Chai Medical Institution played a pivotal role in charitable fundraising. From 1903 to 1961, the institution supported the communities by raising funds for disaster rescue works in both local Singapore and China. The Wayang Street site has now been gazetted as a historic building in Singapore.[7] [Figure 3] is the former Thong Chai Medical Institution at Wayang Street [Figure 3][8]
Figure 3: Original Thong Chai Medical Institution (新加坡同济医院)

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Between 1901 and 1983, the institution held an examination triennially for the recruitment of TCM practitioners. Owing to the gazetting of historic building, the institution was relocated to Chin Swee Road. This new site marked a new milestone for the institution for it included a TCM library. Chinese herbs were also on display at the new site. In 1983, the institution replaced the examination with an in-house 3-year full-time postgraduate program to nurture future TCM practitioners. Unfortunately, the program was shut down after 5 years owing to lack of students. Nevertheless, its free medical consultation and herbal medication services have survived and continue to be used by Singaporeans until today.[9]

Tung Shin Hospital was established in 1881 by Kapitan Yap Kwan Seng. Kapitan is a title honored by the British colonial government to ethnic leader who contributed to the welfare of the society. Yap felt that the tin miners in Kuala Lumpur, mainly Chinese ethnic, were not given proper medical treatment. In light of this condition, Yap donated money and established Pooi Shin Tang (培善堂) to provide free medical treatment in appreciation of the contributions of the tin miners. As the patient load began to increase year on year, Pooi Shin Tang was converted into a charity organization named Tung Shin Hospital in 1894.[10] [Figure 4] is an image of the original building of Tung Shin Hospital which is still in use.[11] In 1986, a 60-bed inpatient TCM department was set up by the hospital mainly for stroke patients. The TCM practitioners would provide a combination of acupuncture, tuina, and TCM herbal formula treatment for patients. Since then, Tung Shin Hospital has been in operations for the past 123 years and has served millions of people to date.
Figure 4: Original Tung Shin Hospital (同善医院)

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[Figure 5] is an image of the Lam Wah Ee Hospital in 1883, Penang.[12] The hospital was inaugurated in 1884 after a group of people led by Tan Ley Kum (陈俪琴) and Khoo Thean Teik (邱天德) raised sufficient funds for its operations. In Cantonese, “Lam Wah” means “Chinese in the South” and “Ee” means “medicine.” The original building at Muntri street was unfortunately destroyed in the Japanese air raids during World War II. It was rebuilt in 1955.[13] Initially, Lam Wah Ee Hospital relied on importing experienced TCM practitioners from China to provide the services. An examination system was later introduced as a selection criterion of local TCM practitioners similar to that used by the Thong Chai Medical Institution. Tung Shin Hospital also adopted a similar approach in recruiting talented local TCM practitioners. To date, the examination system is still being used in Tung Shin Hospital and Lam Wah Ee Hospital, with the aim to ensure competent TCM practitioners were recruited. Both TCM hospitals are charity organizations and are still in operation today serving all people irrespective of their race, religion, and social status. Running a charity hospital requires tremendous funding. Nevertheless, Lam Wah Ee Hospital continues to provide free treatment to the poor and needy by sourcing their expenses through direct donations and rental collections.[13] With financial support from Tan Sri Dato' Loh Boon Siew, the late Penang tycoon, the hospital later opened a separate wing for the inclusion of western medicine. Similar to the TCM services, the western medicine services are also run on charity basis. These two hospitals are the pioneers in the field of integrative medicine in Malaysia.
Figure 5: Lam Wah Ee Hospital in 1883 (南华医院)

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There was also one important TCM charity clinic established in the 1950s. The Chinese Medical Aid Department (中华施诊所) was established in Kuala Lumpur by the Chinese Physicians Association of Central Malaya. Its aims were to promote TCM, nurture future generations of TCM practitioners, and provide medical aid to the underprivileged community. On the March 17, 1954, the Chinese Medical Aid Department began its charity operations on a corner of the Chan See Shu Yuen Clan Ancestral Hall (陈氏书院).[14] TCM practitioners offering consultation were all volunteers. Public donations were used to cover the expenses of procuring and prescribing free medication to the needy. Owing to increased demand for the services, fundraising was held to support the construction of a 3-story building at the current Hang Jebat Road. In 1959, the building was completed, and the Chinese Medical Aid Department moved into the first two floors. The third floor was used as the lecture hall and library of the Malaysian Chinese Medical Institute. Such environmental settings allowed TCM students at the Malaysian Chinese Medical Institute a convenient access to observe and practice clinically.[14] [Figure 6] is an image taken prior to the fire incident[15]
Figure 6: Original Chinese Medical Aid Department (中华施诊所The building was burnt to ash in a fire incident in 2017)

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The heyday of the Chinese Medical Aid Department started from 1960 onward. Not only had the expansion allowed additional services such as acupuncture to be offered to the public, there was even an X-ray department set up within the building until the enforcement of the Atomic Energy Licensing Act in 1984. In 1989, specialist clinics including pediatric, gynecology, dermatology, rheumatology, ENT, anorectal, and andrology were set up. Patient load continued to increase tremendously throughout the period between the 1990s and 2000s. Equally, public donations also continued to pour into the department supporting the increasing expenses incurred by the growth in patient load. In 2012, a branch of the Chinese Medical Aid Department was set up in Pudu West Road. Similar to the headquarter, the Pudu branch is also used as a clinical teaching base for the Malaysian Chinese Medical Institute, INTI University, International Medical University, and Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman. Close collaborations continue to be seen between the TCM education providers and the TCM industry.[14]

In addition to medical institutions set up by local Chinese, there are also a few foreign institutions offering TCM consultation services in the 21st century Malaysia. Unlike those charity institutes discussed above, foreign institutions are mostly profit-making organizations. In 2002, Hai-O Enterprise (海鸥集团), a local TCM herbal manufacturer and supplier joint ventured with Tongrentang China Group (北京同仁堂集团) in starting the Peking Tongrentang (Malaysia) business in Kuala Lumpur. Originated as the royal-appointed herbal supplier to the Qing monarchy, Tong Ren Tang, is a good manufacturing process certified TCM herbal supplier in Beijing.[16] This is a company that offers TCM services ranging from retail herbs store and over-the-counter medicine to TCM consultation and prescribed medication all under one roof. TCM practitioners are sent from China to provide consultation in Malaysia. To date, there have been additional two branches set up in Petaling Jaya and Penang.[17]

In 2016, the Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Associations of Malaysia collaborated with Chengdu University of TCM (成都中医药大学) in starting a diabetes specialist center. Situated in Bangsar South, the center aims at promoting awareness for diabetic prevention and control.[18] The concept of setting up the center was mooted after a national survey revealed that 17.5% of Malaysia population aged 18 years and above are diabetic, with the main increase shown in undiagnosed diabetes.[19],[20] It is hoped that through strategic One Belt, One Road (一带一路) partnership that Malaysia hopes to find a TCM solution in tackling the prevalence of diabetes.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Chin C. Restoring a Legacy. Petaling Jaya: The Star; 2010. Available from: https://www.thestar.com.my/news/community/2010/10/14/restoring-a-legacy/. [Last accessed on 2018 Apr 24].  Back to cited text no. 1
Yeoh W. Trade in Its Twilight. Petaling Jaya: The Star; 2009. Available from: https://www.thestar.com.my/news/community/2009/06/19/trade-in-its-twilight/. [Last accessed on 2018 Apr 24].  Back to cited text no. 2
Xuzhao Z, Mengyao L. The Miracle of Chinese Medicine Herbal Industry in Southeast Asia during the Manchurian era (Historical Anecdote). Beijing: People's Daily Online Overseas Version; 15th September, 2016. Available from: http://www.paper.people.com.cn/rmrbhwb/html/2016-09/15/content_1712796.htm. [Last accessed on 2019 Jan 11].  Back to cited text no. 3
Picture Courtesy of Yin Oi Tong. Available from: https://www.facebook.com/YinOiTong1796/. [Last accessed on 2018 Apr 24].  Back to cited text no. 4
Picture courtesy of C Song. The Story of Petaling Street; 2009. Available from: http://www.petalingstreetstory.blogspot.my/2009/12/blog-post_4485.html. [Last accessed on 2019 Jan 11].  Back to cited text no. 5
Persatuan Char Yong Selangor Dan Wilayah Persekutuan. History of Char Yong Fay Choon Kuan. Kuala Lumpur; 2017. Available from: http://www.charyong.org.my. [Last accessed on 2018 Apr 24].  Back to cited text no. 6
Singapore Thong Chai Medical Institution. History of Thong Chai Medical Institution; 2015. Available from: https://www.stcmi.sg/Public/en/STCMI_P_History.aspx?Node=Aboutus. [Last accessed on 2018 Apr 24].  Back to cited text no. 7
Kua Bak L. Retrospection – The visit of Beiyang Navy fleet to Singapore and its position during the battle of the Yalu river. J South Seas Soc 2011;65:17-61. Available from: https://qinghistorysg.com/新加坡与清史-singapore-qing-history/柯木林/北洋水师访问新加坡的历史反思-兼谈甲午海战时/. [Last. [Last accessed on 2019 Jan 11].  Back to cited text no. 8
Singapore Thong Chai Medical Institution. The Mission and History of the 140 Years Thong Chai Medical Institution; 2015. Available from: https://www.stcmi.sg/Public/ch/STCMI_P_History.aspx?Node=Aboutus. [Last accessed on 2019 Jan 11].  Back to cited text no. 9
Tung Shin Hospital. Overview of Tung Shin Hospital History. Available from: http://www.tungshin.com.my/about-us/overview/. [Last accessed on 2018 Apr 24].  Back to cited text no. 10
Picture courtesy of Shujia. Available from: http://www.shootyoky.blogspot.my/2016/01/blog-post.html. [Last accessed on 2018 Apr 24].  Back to cited text no. 11
Malaysian Chinese Medical Association. Historical Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur; 2016.  Back to cited text no. 12
Lam Wah Ee Hospital. History about Lam Wah Ee Hospital; 2018. Available from: http://www.hlwe.com.my/about_history.html. [Last accessed on 2018 Apr 24].  Back to cited text no. 13
Malaysian Chinese Medical Association. History of Chinese Medical Aid Department. Kuala Lumpur; 2014. Available from: http://www.mcma.com.my/mcma-chinese-hospital.php. [Last accessed on 2018 Apr 24].  Back to cited text no. 14
Picture courtesy of Cherish Life. Live Out the Passion; 2014. Available from: http://www.cubatengok-lim.blogspot.my/2014/09/traditional-chinese-medicine-clinic.html. [Last accessed on 2018 Apr 24].  Back to cited text no. 15
Tongrentang. Introduction. Beijing: Tongrentang China Group. Available from: http://www.tongrentang.com/zjtrt/trtjs/index.htm. [Last accessed on 2019 Jan 11].  Back to cited text no. 16
Hai-O. Chinese Consulting Clinics. Kuala Lumpur: Hai-O Enterprise; 2018. Available from: https://www.hai-o.com.my/chineseconsulting.php?language=cn. [Last accessed on 2019 Jan 11].  Back to cited text no. 17
China Embassy in Malaysia. Ma Jiagong Attended the Opening Ceremony of Chengdu University of TCM Diabetes Centre in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur: Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Malaysia; 30th March, 2016. Available from: http://www.my.chineseembassy.org/chn/sgxw/t1351775.htm. [Last accessed on 2018 Apr 24].  Back to cited text no. 18
Institute for Public Health. National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015. Vol. 2. Putrajaya: Ministry of Health; 2015. Available from: http://www.iku.moh.gov.my/images/IKU/Document/REPORT/nhmsreport2015vol2.pdf. [Last accessed on 2018 Apr 24].  Back to cited text no. 19
Oriental Daily Online. FCPMDAM Collaborates with Chengdu TCM to Treat Diabetes. Kuala Lumpur: Oriental Daily News Malaysia; 5th February, 2015. Available from: http://www.orientaldaily.com.my/s/68526. [Last accessed on 2018 Apr 24].  Back to cited text no. 20


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6]

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