Goddess of Mercy Temple

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Goddess of Mercy Temple
觀音亭 (Traditional Chinese)
Kuan Yin Teng (Hokkien)
廣福宮 (Traditional Chinese)
Kong Hock Keong (Hokkien)
Kong Hock Keong Penang Dec 2006 002.jpg
Goddess of Mercy Temple is located in central George Town, Penang
Goddess of Mercy Temple
Location within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site (purple)
Basic information
Location George Town
Geographic coordinates 5°25′06″N 100°20′20″E / 5.418444°N 100.338792°E / 5.418444; 100.338792Coordinates: 5°25′06″N 100°20′20″E / 5.418444°N 100.338792°E / 5.418444; 100.338792
Affiliation Taoism
Deity Guanyin
Municipality Penang Island
State Penang
Heritage designation 2008
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iii, iv
Designated 2008 (32nd session)
Reference no. 1223
Region Asia-Pacific
Architectural description
Architectural style Chinese
Groundbreaking 1728
Construction cost $4,000 (Spanish dollar)
Direction of façade East

The Goddess of Mercy Temple, also known colloquially as Kuan Yin Teng or Kong Hock Keong, is a Taoist temple in the city of George Town in Penang, Malaysia.[1] Situated at Pitt Street, it was first built in 1728, making it Penang's oldest Taoist temple.

Today, the Goddess of Mercy Temple is dedicated to the Taoist Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin. However, the temple had been originally established for the worship of Mazu, a sea deity.[2][3] Following an influx of ethnic Chinese into George Town after the founding of the settlement in 1786, the temple transitioned into one dedicated to Guanyin in 1824; by then, it also began to function as a neutral mediator between the rival Cantonese and Hokkien communities.[4][5]

While the temple's more secular functions have since been passed on to the Penang Chinese Town Hall, it retains its religious significance and remains popular amongst Penangites of Chinese descent. It becomes a focal point for Chinese festivities such as the annual feast days for Guanyin and the Jade Emperor's Birthday, attracting devotees from across Southeast Asia.[3][6][7]


Roadside stalls selling prayer paraphernalia beside the Goddess of Mercy Temple.
Southern Chinese architectural influences can be seen on the roof, which is adorned with various figurines.
The temple's main altar to Guanyin

What is now the Goddess of Mercy Temple was first constructed in 1728.[1][7] The temple, built at a cost of $4,000 Spanish dollars, was dedicated to Mazu, a sea goddess worshipped by the Hokkiens as a patron for seafarers.[2][3] At the time, Penang Island was sparsely populated and the temple, built by the seafaring Hokkiens, was located relatively closer to the sea.

The temple was renovated in 1824, during which the temple's main deity was changed from Mazu to Guanyin.[3] Other Chinese deities, including Guan Yu and Tua Pek Kong, were also added into the temple, reflecting the more diverse Chinese community in George Town by that point.[3][4] Decades of Chinese immigration since the founding of George Town by Captain Francis Light in 1786 had resulted in several Chinese dialect groups establishing themselves within the new settlement, including the Hokkiens and the Cantonese.

The temple also began to play the role of a mediator in the increasingly frequent disputes between the Hokkiens and the Cantonese. In the temple's early years, it was run by a committee that consisted of equal numbers of Hokkiens and Cantonese.[3][4] Thus, the temple was able to serve as a council and a tribunal for Penang's Chinese community up until the mid-19th century.[5]

However, the worsening feud between the various Chinese dialect groups in George Town, which culminated in the Penang Riots of 1867, eventually led to the establishment of the Penang Chinese Town Hall in 1881 to take over the temple's more secular role as an arbiter for the Chinese community.[5][8] From then on, the temple serves a more religious purpose amongst Penang's Chinese.

The temple has been rumoured to possess magical qualities, as it miraculously survived the several attacks on the temple since its inception in 1728. For instance, the temple remained unscathed when the Imperial Japanese Army bombed and invaded Penang in December 1941, and survived a handful of terrorist attacks in the 1960s.[3][9][10][11]

The Goddess of Mercy Temple was last renovated between 2012 and 2017.[12][13]


Steeped in Chinese architecture, the Goddess of Mercy Temple features sweeping roofs typical of Chinese temples and has gigantic doors adorned with paintings of Taoist deities. Dragon-entwined pillars support the high roof as well, which is decorated with more dragon figurines at its top ridges.[2][14] The temple is fronted by a large courtyard that faces Pitt Street to the east.

The temple was also built according to feng shui principles; it has three wells - one to the right of the main shrine, another at the front courtyard and the third hidden under the main altar of Guanyin.[3] The courtyard well is for public use, while the one beside the main shrine is reserved for monks.[2] Urban legend has it that the water from the hidden well has medicinal properties.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Goddess of Mercy Temple". Time Out Penang. Retrieved 2017-05-22.
  2. ^ a b c d "Kuan Yin Temple in Penang - Georgetown Attractions". penang.ws. Retrieved 2017-05-22.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ting, Ong Yee. "Old world charm of a goddess' temple - Community | The Star Online". Retrieved 2017-05-22.
  4. ^ a b c "Sacred space for the gods 212-year-old temple retains charm - Malaysia Premier Property and Real Estate Portal". Malaysia Premier Property and Real Estate Portal. Retrieved 2017-05-22.
  5. ^ a b c Khoo, Salma Nasution (2007). Streets of George Town, Penang. Penang, Malaysia: Areca Books. ISBN 9789839886009.
  6. ^ "Devotees pack jetty to observe Heavenly God's birthday - Nation | The Star Online". www.thestar.com.my. Retrieved 2017-05-22.
  7. ^ a b "PressReader.com - Connecting People Through News". www.pressreader.com. Retrieved 2017-05-22.
  8. ^ Leong, Ho Kai (2009). Connecting and Distancing: Southeast Asia and China. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 9789812308566.
  9. ^ DeBernardi, Jean Elizabeth. The Way That Lives in the Heart: Chinese Popular Religion and Spirit Mediums in Penang, Malaysia. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2006: 17. Print.
  10. ^ "Bomb Attack on Penang Power." The Straits Times 3 Jan. 1950: 1. Print.
  11. ^ "Midnight fire guts stalls." The Straits Times 1 Nov. 1964: 3. Print
  12. ^ "200-year-old diamond stolen from Goddess of Mercy Temple in Penang - Nation | The Star Online". www.thestar.com.my. Retrieved 2017-05-22.
  13. ^ "Devotees throng Goddess of Mercy Temple for consecration". www.thesundaily.my. Retrieved 2017-09-10.
  14. ^ "Kuan Yin Temple (Goddess of Mercy Temple) | Tourism Malaysia". www.malaysia.travel. Retrieved 2017-05-22.