Hokkien clan group gifts records to NLB

Donation of over 4,300 documents includes one signed by Tan Tock Seng

A set of two original land sales records - one of which bears the original signature of Tan Tock Seng, one of SHHK's founding leaders. These were presented to Mr Ng to symbolise the handover of the documents to the National Library Board. Deputy Prim
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at the handover ceremony of the documents from the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan (SHHK) to the National Library Board (NLB) at the SHHK Cultural Academy yesterday. With Mr Heng are (from left) the clan group’s president Tan Cheng Gay and immediate past president Chua Thian Poh, as well as NLB chief executive Ng Cher Pong. ST PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM
A set of two original land sales records - one of which bears the original signature of Tan Tock Seng, one of SHHK's founding leaders. These were presented to Mr Ng to symbolise the handover of the documents to the National Library Board. Deputy Prim
A set of two original land sales records – one of which bears the original signature of Tan Tock Seng, one of SHHK’s founding leaders. These were presented to Mr Ng to symbolise the handover of the documents to the National Library Board.

Historical records bearing the imprint of Singapore's early Hokkien pioneers such as Tan Tock Seng and Tan Lark Sye will soon be available for public viewing, following the donation of more than 4,300 original documents from the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan (SHHK) yesterday.

To symbolise the handover of the documents to the National Library Board (NLB), a set of two original land sales records - one of which bears the original signature of Tan Tock Seng, one of SHHK's founding leaders - was presented to NLB chief executive Ng Cher Pong at the SHHK Cultural Academy in Sennett Road.

The document with Tan Tock Seng's signature, dated 1838, was created when the Hokkien philanthropist bought land to build Thian Hock Keng temple. The temple, which is the oldest Hokkien temple here, was completed in 1842.

An accompanying land sales record, dating back to 1828, also documents how the land on which the temple sits was originally owned by the British East India Company.

These materials, passed on to successive generations of clan leaders, will be made accessible to researchers and members of the public at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library at the National Library from next year, said NLB.

A selection of the materials will be digitised and made accessible on PictureSG at eresources.nlb.gov.sg /pictures and on NLB's BookSG website from next year.

Other documents chronicle the role played by SHHK in developing educational institutions in Singapore, as well as the changes that the clan experienced during the Japanese Occupation of 1942 to 1945.

These include meeting minutes from the 1950s that chronicled plans by the clan to expand two of the schools that it had set up: Ai Tong School and Chong Hock Girls' School, which is now known as Chongfu School.

The donated documents also include a letter from the treasurer of Thian Hock Keng temple to clan leaders, requesting that they partially waive fees given the financial difficulties faced by the temple during World War II.

During the war, SHHK owned 16 properties and collected rental as well as fees for usage of these premises.

The request was eventually granted, signifying the role the clan played in providing social assistance to the Chinese community in such times of crisis.

Also noteworthy in the collection are photos of mass wedding ceremonies that were organised by SHHK between 1956 and 1960 to encourage prudence in Chinese wedding ceremonies, said NLB senior librarian Seow Peck Ngiam.

"These archival materials are important historical records that will help Singaporeans understand the history of the Chinese diaspora in South-east Asia and the contributions of Chinese clan associations."

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was the guest of honour at the ceremony, said SHHK has played an important role in Singapore's history and helped lay the foundations for the nation's development alongside other community groups.

In recent years, SHHK has not only adapted to the new environment, but also contributed to the community by helping groups affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Heng said.

This spirit of solidarity remains vital amid the pandemic, he said, noting that the Government has continued to help with Budget 2021, unveiled last month, industries and individuals who have borne the brunt of Covid-19's impact.

"This donation today will help us preserve an important part of our heritage... I encourage the Hokkien Huay Kuan and all our community groups to continue working together so that we can emerge stronger from this crisis to a better Singapore," Mr Heng added in a Facebook post.

Separately, NLB and SHHK will co-develop a resource guide that will bring together historical documentation about the Hokkien community, the library board said in a press statement. It will be accessible through NLB's Resource Guide website in phases from next year.

Mr Ng said NLB is grateful to SHHK for the donation.

"We hope that this donation will also encourage many other organisations to donate their valuable materials... so that the present and future generations will be able to access, learn and research."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2021, with the headline 'Hokkien clan group gifts records to NLB'. Subscribe