Yap Ah Loy

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Yap Ah Loi
Yap Ah Loy.jpg
Founder of Modern KL
In office
Personal details
Born (1837-03-14)14 March 1837
Huizhou, Guangdong, Qing Dynasty
Died 15 April 1885
Kuala Lumpur
Spouse(s) Kok Kang Kweon
Residence Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Yap.

Yap Ah Loy (Chinese: ; pinyin: Yè Yàlái; Cantonese Yale: Yip A-loi; Hakka: Ya̍p Â-lòi; 14 March 1837 – 15 April 1885), also known as Yap Tet Loy and Yap Mao Lan. He is regarded as the founding father of Kuala Lumpur, he developed Kuala Lumpur as a commercial and mining centre during the mid-19th century. Yap Ah Loy became a Kapitan Cina and the headman of a settlement of Chinese inhabitants. After the independence of Federation of Malaya from the British Empire on 31 August 1957 and later the Formation of Malaysia in 1963, Kuala Lumpur became the capital of Malaysia. Today, there is a street named after him in the heart of Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur, known as 'Jalan Yap Ah Loy' or Yap Ah Loy Road.


Yap Ah Loy was born in Guangdong (formerly known as Canton) province, southern China on 14 March 1837. His parents lived in the town of Danshui/Tamsui (Chinese: 淡水; pinyin: Dànshuǐ) in Kwai Yap district, Huizhou prefecture. He was a Hakka of the Fui Chiu clan. Yap Ah Loy left China via Macau for British Malaya in 1854. On his arrival in Malaya, he found the place very different from China. The scenery, with tall coconut and betel palms, and the small Malay houses with atap (nipah thatch) roofs, was a new and fascinating experience to him.

On his arrival at Malacca, Yap Ah Loy was given shelter by one of his clansman called Yap Ket Si. He was then taken to a tin mine in Durian Tunggal, where he stayed for 4 months. At the end of that period he left for Kesang where he found work in the shop of a relative named Yap Ng. He remained there for a year before arrangements were made to send him back to China via Singapore. Misfortune befell him when he lost all his money while waiting for the junk to set sail in Singapore for China. Instead of going back to Malacca he and another of his relatives named Yap Fook traveled on foot to Lukut in Negeri Sembilan.


Yap Ah Loy arrived in Lukut, in the state of Negeri Sembilan, in 1856 at the age of 19. He spent his early years in the peninsula as a miner and petty trader, but in 1862 his fortunes improved when his friend Liu Ngim Kong (Chinese: 劉壬光, Pinyin: Liú Rènguāng) succeeded Hiew Siew to became the second Kapitan Cina of Kuala Lumpur, a position not only of leadership within the Chinese community but also of liaison with the Malay political system and, after British intervention in 1874, with British officials as well. He served as Liu's trusted lieutenant and became the third Kapitan Cina of Kuala Lumpur after Liu's death in 1869, after which he began to put together a sound administration and a strong fighting force.

When the Selangor Civil War broke out in 1870, Yap Ah Loy was faced with internecine fighting among dissident Chinese groups as well as attacks from Malay factions. The two largest Chinese gangsters, the Hakka-dominated Hai San and the Hokkien-dominated Ghee Hin, frequently engaged in warfare to gain control of tin production in the town.[1] The incessant warfare between the two factions brought tin mine production to a standstill.[2] Hiew Siew, the owner of a mine in Lukut, was elected as the first Kapitan.

Yap's decisive victory at Kuala Lumpur in 1873 proved to be the turning point in the war and left him in a strong political position. Until 1879 he was almost supreme in the interior of the state. As the acknowledged leader of the Chinese community he had been given the powers of a Malay ruling chief by the British except for the right to tax, a restriction he easily evaded.

He achieved a striking post-war recovery in the mining industry and established Kuala Lumpur as the economic centre of the peninsula. Through his control of the tin market, his ownership of local "farms" (monopolies on the sale of items such as opium and exclusive control of activities such as gambling, prostitution, racketeering and loan sharking), and his diverse business interests, he amassed a considerable personal fortune.

In 1879, the first British resident (government advisor) was assigned to Kuala Lumpur, and from that time the power of the Kapitan began to be undermined. None of Yap Ah Loy's successors approached his power and independence of action.

In 1884, Yap Ah Loy began to plan a visit to China. He proposed to appoint Yap Ah Shak and Chow Yuk to manage his property in his absence. For some reasons the plan was postponed. On the 1 September 1884, natural catastrophes caused widespread damage to property in Kuala Lumpur. The violent storm blew down 14 houses and a wing of the newly built Police barracks. The storm also damaged the barrack's residential area and the flagstaff.

The developer of Kuala Lumpur[edit]

During the early times, Kuala Lumpur had many problems, including the Selangor Civil War; it was also plagued by diseases and constant fires and floods.[3] Around the 1870s, the third Chinese Kapitan of Kuala Lumpur, Yap Ah Loy, emerged as leader, and became responsible for the survival and subsequent systematic growth of this town. He began to develop Kuala Lumpur from a small, obscure settlement into a booming mining town.[4] In 1880, the state capital of Selangor was moved from Klang to the more strategically advantageous Kuala Lumpur.[5]

In 1881, a flood swept through the town following a fire which engulfed it earlier. These successive problems destroyed the town's structures of wood and atap (thatching). As a response, Frank Swettenham, the British Resident of Selangor, required that buildings be constructed of brick and tile.[5] Hence, Kapitan Yap Ah Loy bought a sprawling piece of real estate for the setting up of a brick industry which would spur the rebuilding of Kuala Lumpur. This place is the eponymous Brickfields. Hence, destroyed atap buildings were replaced with brick and tiled ones. He restructured the building layout of the city. Many of the new brick buildings mirrored those of shop houses in southern China, characterised by "five foot ways" as well as skilled Chinese carpentry work. This resulted in a distinct eclectic shop house architecture typical to this region. A railway line increased accessibility into the growing town.

Development intensified in the 1890s, leading to the creation of a Sanitary Board. Kapitan Yap Ah Loy spent a sum of $20,000 to expand road access in the city significantly, linking up tin mines with the city, these roads include the main arterial roads of Ampang Road, Pudu Road and Petaling Street.

As Chinese Kapitan, he was vested with wide powers on par with Malay community leaders. He implemented law reforms and introduced new legal measures. He would also preside over a small claims court. With a police force amounting only 6, he was able to uphold to rule of law. He built a prison which could accommodate 60 prisoners at any time. Kapitan Yap Ah Loy also built Kuala Lumpur's first school and a major tapioca mill in Petaling Street of which the Selangor's Sultan Abdul Samad had an interest.

Hence, laying the foundations for the modernization of the city. In 1896, Kuala Lumpur was chosen as the capital of the newly formed Federated Malay States.[6] Kuala Lumpur is currently the capital of modern Malaysia mainly due to his contributions.


At the end of 1884, Yap Ah Loy fell ill with bronchitis and an abscess of the left lung[citation needed]. In March 1885, he made little recovery before he died on 15 April 1885. The doctor examined Yap's body and later confirmed that his death was either due to heart failure or poisoning by the fumes of the charcoal brazier. The doctor also noticed the exceptional brightness of his eyes.[citation needed]. He is buried in the large Kwong Tong Cemetery in Kuala Lumpur.


Through his grandson George Yap Swee Fatt, Yap Ah Loy is the ancestor of the Indot family.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "From tin town to tower city", kiat.net, Retrieved 2010-09-28
  2. ^ "Kuala Lumpur History". Kuala-Lumpur.ws. Retrieved 2010-09-28. 
  3. ^ Old-World Charm, Virtual Malaysia Magazine, Retrieved 2007-12-18
  4. ^ "Sejarah Malaysia". Sejarah Malaysia. Retrieved 2007-12-15. 
  5. ^ a b "Kuala Lumpur". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2007-12-06. 
  6. ^ "The Federated Malay States (1896)". Nation History. National Library of Malaysia. Retrieved 2007-12-06.