Contribute to this book about the Chinese community in Singapore

One Hundred Years' History Of The Chinese In Singapore, one of four primary sources on the history of colonial Singapore, can be annotated via the Citizen Archivist website.
One Hundred Years' History Of The Chinese In Singapore, one of four primary sources on the history of colonial Singapore, can be annotated via the Citizen Archivist website.PHOTO: NATIONAL LIBRARY BOARD

Help fill in gaps historians have missed in a book about the Chinese community in colonial Singapore from 1819-1919

The National Library Board is crowd-sourcing annotations for a 1923 book about the Chinese community in Singapore, in the hope that members of the public will be able to fill in gaps that historians have missed.

The book One Hundred Years' History Of The Chinese In Singapore, by Song Ong Siang, is one of four primary sources on the history of colonial Singapore.

Written in English, it is considered a seminal text by researchers studying pioneer Chinese immigrants in Singapore, and is also a crucial tool for families trying to trace their genealogies.

An annotated edition of the book by the Singapore Heritage Society was completed in October last year and is available as an e-book on BookSG.

From last month, members of the public have been able to contribute annotations to the book, which is out of print, via the Citizen Archivist website.

National Library director Wai Yin Pryke says: "We are inviting the community to contribute and further enrich the book's annotations, such as providing new information and photographs on the personalities or events mentioned."

She adds: "Annotating this book provides sources for the accounts and, in turn, allows readers to have a glimpse of our pioneers and strengthen the sense of rootedness for the Chinese community."

The book details the contributions of key figures in Singapore's Chinese community between 1819 and 1919.

It is full of colourful stories, such as businessman Tan Kim Seng's luxurious balls, where rich feasts of bird's nest soup and kangaroo tail pilau were served.

There is also the story of the tiger scourge of the 1840s and 1850s, when so many people were killed that a Calcutta newspaper theorised that the victims must have been murdered by Chinese secret societies, who covered up their crimes by simulating wounds inflicted by tigers.

The project has received 13 annotations from five people to date.

Among the contributors is art therapist Joyce Tan, 62, who wrote in to provide details on her grandfather, businessman Tan Tat Tek, whom she knew as Tan Boon Kwang.

The book had not mentioned his contributions as one of the founders of Thomson Road Baptist Church. Ms Tan was able to supply this information, along with photos of her grandfather and grandmother.

"That I could find my roots in this hundred-year history gave me a sense of recognition and identity with that generation of Chinese," she says.

The contributions by the public will be reviewed by heritage expert and law professor Kevin Tan, who edited the edition annotated by the Singapore Heritage Society.

Mrs Pryke says a second annotated edition may be considered at a later stage.

•The annotated One Hundred Years' History Of The Chinese In Singapore by Song Ong Siang is available as an e-book at bit.ly/2jzQiGo. Public contributions to the book can be made via www.nas.gov.sg/CitizenArchivist until August.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2017, with the headline 'Contribute to Singapore history'. Print Edition | Subscribe