History of Kuala Lumpur in brief

The very first days of Kuala Lumpur

The subsequent metal deposits discovered began Kuala Lumpur’s meteoric rise to being recently acclaimed as among the top ten cities in Asia by Asiaweek magazine.

Kuala Lumpur history – founding of a city

The history of KL officially began in 1857 when 87 Chinese immigrants searching for their fortune started digging in the dense jungle that once covered the area. Although almost 70 of these pioneers perished from disease in the process, the remainder managed to establish a small tin mine. This set up attracted travelling merchants who traded various goods in return for the mineral, and eventually the area flourished.

These merchants soon became instrumental in turning Kuala Lumpur history into a story of massive boom. And before long the British, who had colonised Malay, felt the need to appoint an administrative leader to ensure the area continued to thrive and protect their interests. Hiu Siew was chosen to be the first Kapitan Cina but it was the third, Yap Ah Loy, who presided over the transformation of Kuala Lumpur from sleepy village into the greatest city of Selangor.

The history of Kuala Lumpur owes a great deal to Kapitan Yap who successfully rebuilt the settlement after it had been ravaged by two civil wars. He attracted more Chinese labourers to the area, thus expanding the mining operation. Furthermore, he persuaded Malay farmers to relocate to the surrounding land and so ensured a ready supply of food for the burgeoning workforce.

Rapid growth

In 1880 Kuala Lumpur was proclaimed capital of Selangor due to the success of Kapitan Yap’s initiatives. The system of frontier justice that he introduced effectively maintained order and respect for the law, allowing various parties to trade in the area and commerce to thrive on top of mining. And even when the city was levelled by fire the following year, the charmed history of Kuala Lumpur continued and it was immediately rebuilt in brick with a homeless shelter and school established in the town.

However, Kuala Lumpur history under Kapitan Yap was not all so wholesome as he licensed casinos, brothels and drinking saloons. After the death of Kapitan Yap, Sir Frank Swettenham was appointed Resident of Selangor and was responsible for turning the city into the administration centre of the province. And when the Federated Malay States became incorporated in 1896 under Swettenham’s control, Kuala Lumpur maintained its place as capital.

As there was no central planning involves in the growth of the settlement, the area has expanded organically with winding narrow streets and a unique mix of Chinese and European architecture.

Japanese occupation

During the Second World War the Kuala Lumpur was occupied by Japanese forces for just under four years which almost halted the city’s economy. At this time numerous policies were launched by the occupying forces with Chinese Malaysians treated especially harshly due to their support for China during the 1895 and 1937 Sino-Japanese Wars.

But Indians and Malays were treated much better in order to keep the country moving on an administrative level. The Japanese National Anthem (Kimigayo) was obligatory sung to show loyalty to the Emperor and all Chinese and English schools were forced to close.

Food rationing and hyperinflation ensued as the Japanese Military Yen (or ‘Banana notes’) were introduced. This era of Kuala Lumpur history ended when the two atomic bomb attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima prompted General Seishiro Itagaki to surrender control of the city to the British.

Kuala Lumpur history – Malayan Union

The British officially declared the Union of Malay and Kuala Lumpur the administrative area on April 1, 1946 in Carcosa Seri Negara (known then as King’s House). The history of Kuala Lumpur entered the democratic realm as the city held its first election in February, 1952. The Malaysian Chinese Association-United Malays National Organisation coalition party winning nine out of 12 available seats.

End of colonial rule

The history of KL entered the modern era in 1957 when the Malayan flag was raised over the cricket field at Merdeka Square and the country officially gained independence from the British. Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s first prime Minister, declared the nation’s independence before a massive crowd. The lowering of the Union Flag of Great Britain was especially symbolic here as the site was the foremost symbol of British sovereignty with the cricket ground flanked by the whites-only Royal Selangor Club.

After independence, Kuala Lumpur was made capital of Malaya Federation and in 1963 continued as capital of greater Federation of Malaysia. Independence Stadium (Stadium Merdeka) was built to commemorate the event. On February 1, 1974, Kuala Lumpur officially seceded from Selangor and became a Federal Territory in its own right.

Modern KL

The history of Kuala Lumpur developed most during the 1990s when the Asian economic boom saw an average annual growth topping 10 per cent. The skyscrapers that characterise the modern city sprang up and its reputation as one of Asia’s most lively, vibrant and advanced metropolises really took hold. This sudden rise to prosperity has come with its share of problems, with huge motorways having to be constructed to deal with the sudden increase of traffic which the antiquated roads could not cope with.

Imposing skyscrapers such as the KL Tower and Petronas Twin Towers (formerly the world’s tallest buildings) mix with some of the old colonial buildings such as the Railway Station, Central Market and Carcosa Seri Negara. But still it seems that much of the architectural history of Kuala Lumpur has been demolished to make way for glass and steel modernity.

November of 2007 saw two of the largest political rallies ever to take place in the history of KL. A total of 60,000 people took to the streets to demand electoral reform in the country and equal rights for the composing factions that comprise the diverse socio-political make-up of the city.

Despite a large proportion of Malaysia’s wealth and business interests being under Chinese control, there Malaysian legal system still discriminates against nationals who are not of Malay decent, prompting criticism from international bodies such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.