English book explores Singapore Teochew culture

An Introduction To The Culture And History Of The Teochews In Singapore provides an overview of Teochew culture in Singapore across two centuries.
An Introduction To The Culture And History Of The Teochews In Singapore provides an overview of Teochew culture in Singapore across two centuries.PHOTO: WORLD SCIENTIFIC

Curious about her own heritage, author Tan Gia Lim searched for an English book on Teochew culture but was unable to find any.

The fourth-generation Teochew decided to write one for others who were English-educated like herself as she felt that her culture was "very rich".

"Even though within the Chinese there are different dialects, we don't have books talking about each dialect's culture," said Ms Tan.

"We have books talking about the history of the Chinese in Singapore as a community. We know that there is Cantonese opera, Teochew opera, Hokkien opera; the way the Teochews celebrate Chinese New Year is also different from the Hakkas or Cantonese. The Chinese culture is not homogeneous."

The book, An Introduction To The Culture And History Of The Teochews In Singapore, which provides an overview of Teochew culture in Singapore across two centuries, is the author's first. It was launched at Chui Huay Lim Club yesterday.

Penned in three sections covering a wide range of topics from history and architecture to customs and the performing arts, the 164-page book published by World Scientific is one of the few of its kind in English.

It even includes a section on Singaporean politicians who are of Teochew descent. Former foreign minister George Yeo wrote in the foreword that the book is a "treasure trove" of information on the history and culture of the Teochews in Singapore.

 

"The book will help many young Teochews understand their own heritage better and others to understand them," he added.

Ms Tan said she was taken aback by the support she received from the Teochew community while doing research for the book.

"One thing that struck me was that the Teochews value their own culture. When they learnt that I was writing a book on their culture, they didn't hesitate to help," she said.

"I suspect this passion for culture that the Teochews have is the reason why there are so many Teochew artists and writers out there. This deep-rooted appreciation for art and culture - it's as if it's in our blood."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2019, with the headline 'English book explores S'pore Teochew culture'. Print Edition | Subscribe