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This article is about the state of Penang. For the island, see Penang Island. For the capital and largest city of Penang, see George Town, Penang. For the mainland territory, see Seberang Prai.
Pulau Pinang
Pulau Pinang Pulau Mutiara
From upper right: George Town Skyline, Penang City Hall & Penang Bridge, Khoo Kongsi, Beach Street & Rapid Penang bus
From upper right: George Town Skyline, Penang City Hall & Penang Bridge, Khoo Kongsi, Beach Street & Rapid Penang bus
Flag of PenangPulau Pinang槟城பினாங்கு
Coat of arms of PenangPulau Pinang槟城பினாங்கு
Coat of arms
Nickname(s): Pearl of the Orient
Motto: Bersatu dan Setia (Malay)
United and Loyal
Let Penang Lead (unofficial)[1]
Anthem: Untuk Negeri Kita ("For Our State")
   Penang in    Malaysia
   Penang in    Malaysia
Coordinates: 5°24′N 100°14′ECoordinates: 5°24′N 100°14′E
Capital George Town
 • Yang di-Pertua Negeri Abdul Rahman Abbas
 • Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng (DAP)
 • Deputy Chief Minister I Mohd Rashid Hasnon (PKR)
 • Deputy Chief Minister II P.Ramasamy (DAP)
 • Total 1,048 km2 (405 sq mi)
Population (2010)[3]
 • Total 1,520,143
 • Density 1,500/km2 (3,800/sq mi)
Human Development Index
 • HDI (2010) 0.773 (high) (3rd)
Time zone MST (UTC+8)
 • Summer (DST) Not observed (UTC)
Postal code 10xxx–14xxx
Calling code +604
Vehicle registration P
Ceded by Kedah to British 11 August 1786
Japanese occupation 19 December 1941
Accession into the Federation of Malaya 31 January 1948
Independence as part of the Federation of Malaya 31 August 1957
^[a] 2,491 people per km² on Penang Island and 1,049 people per km² in Seberang Perai

Penang is a state in Malaysia and the name of its constituent island, located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia by the Strait of Malacca. It is bordered by Kedah in the north and east, and Perak in the south. Penang is the second smallest Malaysian state in area after Perlis, and the eighth most populous. It is composed of two parts – Penang Island, where the seat of government is, and Seberang Perai (formerly Province Wellesley in English) on the Malay Peninsula. Highly urbanised and industrialised Penang is one of the most developed and economically important states in the country, as well as a thriving tourist destination.[4][5][6] Penang has the third-highest Human Development Index in Malaysia, after the state of Selangor and the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur. Its heterogeneous population is highly diverse in ethnicity, culture, language, and religion. A resident of Penang is colloquially known as a Penangite.



The name "Penang" comes from the modern Malay name Pulau Pinang, which means "island of the areca nut palm" (Areca catechu, family Palmae). The name Penang may refer either to the island of Penang (Pulau Pinang) or the state of Penang (Negeri Pulau Pinang). In Malay, Penang's capital George Town was called and labelled in old maps as Tanjung Penaga (Cape Penaigre),[7] named after the many ballnut trees (also known as Alexandrian laurels, Calophyllum inophyllum) on the coast, but now usually shortened as Tanjung (the Cape).[8][9]

Penang is often known as "The Pearl of the Orient", "东方花园" (Garden of the East) and Pulau Pinang Pulau Mutiara (Penang, Island of Pearls). Penang is shortened as "PG" or "PP" in Malay.[10]

Early Malays called it Pulau Ka-Satu or "First (or Single) Island" because it was the largest island encountered on the trading sea-route between Lingga and Kedah.[11] The Siamese, then the overlord of the Kedah Sultanate, referred to the island as Koh Maak. (Thai: เกาะหมาก "Areca nut palm Island")[12][13] In the 15th century, the island of Penang was referred to as Bīnláng Yù (simplified Chinese: 槟榔屿; traditional Chinese: 檳榔嶼) in the navigational drawings used by Admiral Zheng He of Ming-dynasty China in his expeditions to the South Seas.[12][14] The 16th-century Portuguese historian Emanuel Godinho de Eredia's map of the Malay Peninsula in his "Description of Malaca" in 1613 referred to the island as Pulo Pinaom.[7]




Archaeological evidence shows that Penang (island and its mainland territory) was inhabited by the Semang-Pangan of the Juru and Yen lineage, both now considered extinct cultures. They were hunter-gatherers of the Negrito stock having short stature and dark complexion, and were dispersed by the Malays as far back as 900 years ago. The last recorded aboriginal settlement in Penang was in the 1920s in Kubang Semang.[15] The first evidence of prehistoric human settlement in what is now Penang were found in Guar Kepah, a cave in Seberang Perai in 1860. Based on mounds of sea shells with human skeletons, stone implements, broken ceramics, and food leftovers inside, the settlement was estimated to be between 3000 to 4000 years old. Other stone tools found in various places on the island of Penang pointed to the existence of Neolithic settlements dating to 5000 years ago.[16]

Early history and colonial period

See also List of governors of Penang The geographical term of "Penang Island" first appeared in the "The Nautical Charts of Zheng He" written on the expeditions of Zheng He (Cheng Ho) in Ming Dynasty during the reign of the Yongle Emperor. In the 15th century, the Chinese navy using the record of nautical chart as navigation guide from "Con Dao Islands" (Pulo Condore) to Penang Island, Penang has been seen to trade with Ming Dynasty (modern China) in the 15th century.

Kapitan Keling Mosque built in 1801.

One of the very first Englishmen to reach Penang was the navigator and privateer Sir James Lancaster who on 10 April 1591, commanding the Edward Bonadventure, set sail from Plymouth for the East Indies, reaching Penang in June 1592, remaining on the island until September of the same year and pillaging every vessel he encountered, only to return to England in May 1594.[17]

The history of modern Penang, originally part of the Malay Sultanate of Kedah, began when the island was leased by Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah to Captain Francis Light, an English trader-adventurer working for the Madras-based firm, Jourdain Sullivan and de Souza and the East India Company, in exchange for military protection from Siamese and Burmese armies who were threatening Kedah. For Light, Penang was a convenient magazine for trade and an ideal location to curtail French expansion in Indochina and Dutch foothold in Sumatra.[18] On 11 August 1786, Francis Light landed on Penang at what is later called Fort Cornwallis and took formal possession of the island in the name of His Britannic Majesty, King George III and the Honourable East India Company, and renamed the island Prince of Wales Island in honour of the heir to the British throne but the name never caught on. Penang was Britain's first settlement in Southeast Asia, and was one of the first establishments of the second British Empire after the loss of its North American colonies.[19][20] In Malaysian history, the occasion marked the beginning of more than a century of British involvement in Malaya.

Unfortunately for the Sultan, the EAC's new governor-general Charles Cornwallis made it clear that he could not be party to the Sultan's disputes with the other Malay princes, or promise to protect him from the Siamese or Burmese.[21] Unbeknownst to Sultan Abdullah, Light had decided to conceal the facts of the agreement from both parties. When Light reneged on his promise of protection, the Sultan tried unsuccessfully to recapture the island in 1790, and the Sultan was forced to cede the island to the company for an honorarium of 6,000 Spanish dollars per annum. Light established Penang as a free port to entice traders away from nearby Dutch trading posts. Trade in Penang grew exponentially soon after its founding - incoming ships and boats to Penang increased from 85 in 1786 to 3569 in 1802.[22]

He also encouraged immigrants by promising them as much land as they could clear and by reportedly firing silver dollars from his ship's cannons deep into the jungle. Many early settlers, including Light himself, succumbed to malaria, earning early Penang the epithet "the white man's grave".[23][24]

The cenotaph at the Esplanade, erected after World War I, commemorates fallen soldiers.

After Light's demise, Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Wellesley, later to be Duke of Wellington, arrived in Penang to co-ordinate the defences of the island. In 1800, Lieutenant-Governor Sir George Leith secured a strip of land across the channel as a buffer against attacks and named it Province Wellesley (today Seberang Prai). The annual payment to Sultan of Kedah was increased to 10,000 Spanish dollars per annum after the acquisition. Today, the Penang state government still pays RM 18,800.00 to the Sultan of Kedah annually.[19]

In 1796 Penang was made a penal settlement when 700 convicts were transferred thither from the Andaman Islands.[25] In 1805 Penang was made a separate presidency (ranking with Bombay and Madras); and when in 1826 Singapore and Malacca were incorporated with it, Penang continued to be the seat of government of the Straits Settlements, an extension of the British Raj. In 1829 Penang was reduced from the rank of a presidency, and eight years later the fast-growing town of Singapore was made the capital of the Settlements. In 1867 the Straits Settlements were created a Crown colony under direct British rule, in which Penang was included.[26]

Colonial Penang thrived from trade in pepper and spices, Indian piece goods, betel nut, tin, opium, and rice. The Bengal Presidency realised of Penang's potential as an alternative to Dutch Moluccas as a source of spice production. Development of export crops became the chief means of covering administrative costs in Penang. The development of the spice economy became an impellent for the movement of Chinese pioneers to the island, which was actively encouraged by the British. However, Penang port's initial pre-eminence was later supplanted by Singapore owing to its superior geographical location, but Penang remained an important feeder to Singapore – funnelling the exports meant for global shipping lines by ocean-going liners which had bypassed other regional ports. The replacement of sailing vessels by steamships in the mid-19th century cemented Penang's secondary importance after Singapore. Penang's most important trading partners were China, India, Siam, Sumatra, Java, Britain, as well as other Strait Settlements.[27]

The rapid population growth stemming from economic development created problems such as sanitation, inadequate urban infrastructure, transportation and public health. Main roads were extended from the capital into the fertile cultivated spice farms further inland. But to sate the severe labour shortages in public works, the government began the practice of employing Indian convict workers as low-cost labourers. A great number of them worked on Penang' streets, draining swamps and clearing forests, constructing drainage ditches, and laying pipeworks for clean water.[27] Indeed, convict labour was key to Penang's successful colonisation as many found employment in the civil service, military, and even as private servants to the colonial officials and private individuals.[27]

For ten days in August 1867, Penang was gripped with civil unrest during what was known as the Penang Riot which pitted rival secret societies Kean Teik Tong (the Tua Pek Kong Hoey), led by Khoo Thean Teik and the Red Flag against the alliance of the Ghee Hin Kongsi and the White Flag, which the British under newly appointed lieutenant-governor Col. Edward Anson put down with sepoy reinforcement after days of chaos.[28]

At the turn of the century, Penang, with her large population of Chinese immigrants, was a natural place for the Chinese nationalist Sun Yat-sen to raise funds for his revolutionary efforts in Qing China. These frequent visits culminated in the famous 1910 Penang conference which paved the way to the ultimately triumphant Wuchang Uprising which overthrew the Manchu government.[29]

World Wars

During the First World War, in the Battle of Penang, the German cruiser SMS Emden surreptitiously sailed to Penang and sank two Allied warships off its coast – the Russian cruiser Zhemchug in the North Channel, and as it was leaving the island, the French torpedo boat, Mosquet 10 miles off Muka Head.[30][31]

In the interwar years and during the Great Depression, the Penang business elites suffered numerous setbacks but also witnessed the rise of the nouveau-riche such as the legendary Lim Lean Teng. Rice-milling, opium syndicates, and pawnbroking were among the most lucrative businesses. In 1922, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) visited Penang amid much splendour.[32]

During World War II, Penang, then a British island garrison, suffered devastating aerial bombardments and finally fell to invading Japanese forces on 19 December 1941 as the British withdrew to Singapore after declaring George Town an open city.[33] Penang under Japanese occupation was marked by widespread fear, hunger, and massacres which targeted the local Chinese populace.[33][34] Especially feared was the Japanese military police Kempeitai and its network of informants. Penang was administered by four successive Japanese governors, beginning with Lt-Gen Shotaro Katayama.[35] Penang also served as a U-boat base for the Monsun boats in the Indian Ocean for Japan's ally, Germany during the War.[36] The destruction of the Penang Secretariat building by Allied bombing in the final months of the Occupation caused the loss of the greater part of the British and Japanese records concerning the island, causing enormous difficulties to compile a comprehensive history of Penang.[37] Following Japanese surrender in the War, on 21 August 1945 the Penang Shimbun published the statement of capitulation issued by the Emperor. The official British party reached Penang on 1 September, and after a meeting between the Commander-in-Chief of the East Indies Fleet and Rear-Admiral Uzumi on 2 September, a detachment of the Royal Marines landed and occupied the island on 3 September. A formal ceremony to signify British repossession of Penang took place on Swettenham Pier on 5 September 1945.[37]

Incorporated into Date
Straits Settlements 1826
Crown Colony 1867
Japanese occupation 19 December 1941
Malayan Union 1 April 1946
Federation of Malaya 31 January 1948
Independence of the Federation of Malaya 31 August 1957
Malaysia 16 September 1963

Independence and after

The British returned at the end of the war and was intent to consolidate its rule over its possessions in British Malaya into a single administrative entity called the Malayan Union, but by then British prestige and image of invincibility were already severely dented. The Malayan Union was vehemently rejected by the people, and the Federation of Malaya was formed in its place in 1948, uniting the then Federated Malay States, Unfederated Malay States, and the Straits Settlements of which Penang was a part. Independence seemed an inevitable conclusion. Nonetheless, the idea of the absorption of the British colony of Penang into the vast Malay heartland alarmed some quarters of the population. The Penang Secessionist Movement (active from 1948 to 1951) was formed to preclude Penang's merger with Malaya, but was ultimately unsuccessful due to British disapproval. Another attempt by the secessionists to join Singapore as a Crown Colony was also unfruitful.[38] The movement was spearheaded by, among others, the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Penang Indian Chamber of Commerce, and the Penang Clerical and Administrative Staff Union.[39]

Penang, with the rest of Malaya gained independence in 1957, and subsequently became a member state of Malaysia in 1963.[19] Wong Pow Nee of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) party was Penang's first Chief Minister.[40] He presided during the period of the Communist insurgency and the formation of Malaysia.[41]

The island was, since colonial times, a free port until its sudden revocation by the federal government in 1969.[42] Despite this abrupt setback, from the 1970s to the late 1990s the state under the administration of Chief Minister Lim Chong Eu built up one of the largest electronics manufacturing bases in Asia, the Free Trade Zone in Bayan Lepas located at the southeastern part of the island.[43]

The symbiotic coexistence of a heritage building with a modern high-rise in Penang reflects the conflicting urban hunger for space to develop and the deep-rooted respect for the past.

The pre-War houses in the historic centre of George Town was for half a century until January 2001 protected from urban development due to the Rent Control Act which prohibited landlords from arbitrarily raising rentals as a measure to provide affordable housing to the low-income population.[44] Its eventual repeal visibly changed the landscape of Penang's demographic pattern and economic activity: it led to overnight appreciation of house and real estate prices, forcing out tenants of multiple generations out of their homes to the city outskirts and the development of new townships and hitherto sparsely populated areas of Penang; the demolition of many pre-War houses and the mushrooming of high-rise residences and office buildings; and the emptying out and dilapidation of many areas in the city centre. Unperturbed development sparked concerns of the continued existence of heritage buildings and Penang's collection of pre-War houses (southeast Asia's largest), leading to more vigorous conservation efforts. This was paid handsomely when on 7 July 2008, George Town, the historic capital of Penang, was formally inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, alongside Malacca. It is officially recognised as having "a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia".[45]

The Indian Ocean tsunami which struck on Boxing Day of 2004 hit the western and northern coasts of Penang island, claiming 52 lives (out of 68 in Malaysia).