Kuala Lumpur, often abbreviated as K.L.,s the federal capital and most populous city in Malaysia. The city covers an area of 243 km2 and has an estimated population of 1.6 million as of 2010. Kuala Lumpur is the seat of the Parliament of Malaysia. The city was once home to the executive and judicial branches of the federal government, but they were moved to Putrajaya in early 1999.
The founding of KL was almost an accident. In 1857, 87 Chinese prospectors in search of tin landed at the meeting point of the Klang and Gombak rivers and set up camp, naming the spot Kuala Lumpur, meaning ‘muddy confluence’. Within a month all but 17 of the prospectors had died of malaria and other tropical diseases, but the tin they discovered in Ampang attracted more miners and KL quickly became a brawling, noisy, violent boomtown, ruled over by so-called ‘secret societies’, a network of Chinese criminal gangs. As in other parts of the Malay peninsula, the local sultan appointed a proxy (known as Kapitan China) to bring the unruly Chinese fortune-seekers and their secret societies into line.
The successful candidate, Yap Ah Loy, took on the task with such ruthless relish that he’s now credited as the founder of KL. According to legend, Yap Ah Loy was able to keep the peace with just six policemen, such was the respect for his authority in the Chinese community. Loy had only just established control when local sultans went to war over the throne of Perak and its tin mines, marking the start of the Malay Civil War.
KL was burnt to the ground in 1881. This allowed the British government representative, Frank Swettenham, to push through a radical new town plan which transferred the central government from Klang to KL. By 1886 a railway line linked KL to Klang. A year later a new city was constructed in fire-resistant brick, and in 1896 KL became the capital of the newly formed Federated Malay States.
The British surrendered Malaya early in WWII and KL was brutally occupied by Japanese forces. Many Chinese were tortured and killed, and many Indians and British prisoners of war were sent to work on Burma’s notorious ‘Death Railway’. The British temporarily returned after WWII, only to be ousted when Malaysia finally declared its independence in 1957 at Merdeka Square (Independence Square).