Bukit Brown Cemetery has international recognition

There are more than 200,000 graves at Bukit Brown Cemetery.
There are more than 200,000 graves at Bukit Brown Cemetery.ST FILE PHOTO

In comparing Bukit Brown with Borobudur and Angkor Wat, Mr Heng Cho Choon seems to suggest that Bukit Brown is not architecturally worthy and does not have a long enough history ("Bukit Brown not worthy of World Heritage status"; last Saturday).

Mr Heng will be glad to know that the Unesco World Heritage Site selection process is not as stringent as he is. To qualify as a site of "outstanding universal value", nominations must satisfy at least one of 10 criteria, which include "exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilisation" and being "directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance".

Bukit Brown has also garnered international recognition. It was on last year's World Monuments Watch List and has been featured in the international media and many publications around the world.

More importantly, Bukit Brown has triggered grassroots activism, which has seen volunteers learning about the histories of the personalities interred there and offering public tours.

The community engagement it has nurtured is immeasurable.

But, let's get to the heart of Mr Heng's question on why Bukit Brown should be considered.

Bukit Brown is the largest Chinese cemetery outside China, with more than 200,000 graves.

It is a uniquely South-east Asian space with a mix of cultural features such as Peranakan aesthetics, Sikh stone guards and Anglo-Chinese influence intermingling with the main Southern Chinese influence.

It is the final resting place of many of our country's pioneers, such as Chew Joo Chiat, Gan Eng Seng and Lim Chong Pang.

While the Singapore Heritage Society believes that Bukit Brown is worthy of inscription as a World Heritage Site, only the Government can submit a nomination to Unesco. For this to happen, the Government must agree on the site's value and be committed to its protection.

What we need in Singapore is a framework and platform for the open discussion of heritage issues and a thorough evaluation of sites with heritage potential.

Chua Ai Lin (Dr)
President
Singapore Heritage Society

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2015, with the headline 'Bukit Brown Cemetery has international recognition'. Print Edition | Subscribe