Prof. Dr Danny Wong — Sabahan Historian

Sabah is very proud of its eminent historian, Professor Datuk Dr Danny Wong Tze Ken. I have included a summary of his distinguished career at the bottom of this post. So when my friend Yap said, “Eh, I’m bringing you to this,” I thought: Far out!

Professor Danny (I want to refer to him in a friendlier way than Prof. Datuk Dr Wong) was speaking at a public event held by The Sabah Society.

Who better to take us on a journey, exploring the many factors which could have contributed to ‘British North Borneo’ being renamed ‘Sabah’?

Who better to take us on a journey, exploring the many factors which could have contributed to ‘British North Borneo’ being renamed ‘Sabah’?

Recently I’ve seen Professor Danny everywhere. He was at Datuk CL Chan’s book launch, where he spoke about the importance of history, stories and memoirs. He encouraged everyone to write their own stories to add to the collective pool of knowledge about our individual lives as Sabahans and the Chinese diaspora, so we grow our data about our lives. 

That resonated with me. As I sat at the piano (I was the pianist) listening to him, I wished I could have asked him for advice on writing about one’s own life while avoiding writing about other people who are connected with you. That rabbit hole opens up with almost every sentence I write, and I find it hard to continue.

The next day Professor Danny was at the Q&A session after the world premiere screening of ‘The Sight of Borneo Kirin’ — speaking in the Hakka dialect, no less! So cool! But I don’t speak Hakka so I can’t paraphrase what he said.

Q&A after ‘The Sight of Borneo Kirin’ 📷 Chris Pereira, KKIFF

It is so good to see young people revere their scholars. It makes me feel optimistic. It makes me feel happy for Sabah.

Back to “The Name of Sabah” event — the organisers were excited as it was the first public event held since the lockdowns due to Covid-19. The turnout was great, which made it even sweeter. At the bottom of this post there is a link to the video recording of the event, which was live-streamed.

Allen Lin is to my left 📷 Rakam Sijim

The Sabah Society promotes Sabah art, craft and literature, and Mr Nicholas Tan also donated rare prints to auction to raise funds for the Society on the sidelines of this event.


Afterwards, Yap said:

So, do you want to meet Professor Danny?

No! I haven’t got anything intelligent to say!

But we waited in a long queue of people who wanted to speak with him and ask him to sign various things. We lurked around at the back of the line, and voilà here we are. I’m nervous and look like Wallace from Wallace and Gromit.

, Prof. Dr Danny Wong — Sabahan Historian
L to R: Prof. Danny Wong, me and Yap 📷 Allen Lin

So did I ask Professor Danny how to go about writing my stories?

Yes I did.

He was very kind, and said to simply write and not worry too much. The important thing is to start writing, and everything else can be worked out later.

Serendipity is always with me in Sabah. One day I might read this again, and think that this was an auspicious day.


Here is the event as it was live-streamed on The Sabah Society Facebook page.


Professor Dr Danny Wong’s career as summarised on the Universiti Malaya website

Danny Wong Tze Ken is Professor of History at the Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Universiti Malaya where he teaches history of Southeast Asia and History of China. His research interests include the Chinese in Malaysia, China’s relations with Southeast Asia and History of Sabah. 

He is currently Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Universiti Malaya. He was Director of Global Planning & Strategy Centre, Universiti Malaya and former Director of the Institute of China Studies and former Head of the Malaysian Chinese Research Centre at the same university. 

He was Visiting Professor at Peking University (2018). He was also Visiting Yip (China) Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge University (2017-2018); Visiting Scholar at the Hakka College, National Central University, Taiwan (2017); and Visiting Professor at the Center for Integrated Area Studies, Kyoto University (2010). Professor Wong is a Member of the Board of Governors, Chinese Heritage Centre, Singapore and Council Member of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society Member of the Board of Trustees, SEASREP Foundation, and a former Chairman of the UNESCO Southeast Asian Shared-History Textbook Technical Committee. 

Among his publications are: The Kinabalu Guerrillas and the 1943 Jesselton Uprising (2020), Chinese Studies in Malaysia and Singapore in a Global Context (2019), One Crowded Moment of Glory: The Kinabalu Guerrillas and the 1943 Jesselton Uprising (2019), The Diaries of G.C. Woolley, Vol. 1: 1901-1907 (2015); Vol. 2: 1907-1913 (2016) & Vol. 3: 1913-1919 (2018); The Chinese Overseas in Malaysia in an Era of Change (2018), Historical Sabah: The War (2010), The Nguyen and Champa during 17th and 18th Century (2007), Historical Sabah: the Chinese (2005), Historical Sabah: Community and Society (2004), The Transformation of an Immigrant Society: a Study of the Chinese of Sabah (1998).

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