New book on 19th-century Singapore and Malaya Chinese community unveiled

The book is an adaptation of a historical tome published in 1894 as a training textbook for colonial officers of the Straits Settlements.
The book is an adaptation of a historical tome published in 1894 as a training textbook for colonial officers of the Straits Settlements.PHOTO: SFCCA.SG

SINGAPORE - A new book launched on Sunday (Sept 26) gives insights into the happenings of the 19th-century Singapore and Malaya Chinese community, including the lives of those considered lower-class back then.

The book is an adaptation of a historical tome published in 1894 as a training textbook for colonial officers of the Straits Settlements.

It was published in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA), together with New Era University College, a private education institution in Malaysia.

At its launch at the National Library on Sunday afternoon, SFCCA president Thomas Chua Kee Seng said he hopes that scholars on this topic will be able to discover meaningful academic research through the resource materials provided in the book.

The original book, titled A Text Book Of Documentary Chinese, Selected And Designed For The Special Use Of Members Of The Civil Service Of The Straits Settlements And The Protected Native States, is kept in the National Library.

The new publication, Collection Of Chinese Documents In The Straits Settlements (Special Edition), showcases a selection of 162 of the 383 documents from the original textbook.

They include official Qing correspondence, excerpts from local Chinese newspapers, petitions, official notices, commercial correspondences and miscellaneous essays.

To facilitate ease of reading, the new publication features simplified Chinese characters, rather than the traditional Chinese characters of the original book, and the text is arranged horizontally.

The book also has explanations for street names, Peranakan language and vernacular language.

Mr Chua noted that this is SFCCA's first time compiling and publishing a manuscript with more than 100 years of history.

"We plan to recurate more historically valuable documents and literature and to present them to everyone," he said in Mandarin.

Guest of honour Chang Hwee Nee, chief executive officer of the National Heritage Board, noted that among the ancestors who crossed oceans to plant roots in Singapore, many of their stories have yet to be discovered.

"Only through historical research can we discover these little-known stories. Understanding history can also allow us to better understand ourselves, deepen ties between communities, and strengthen our identities," she said, adding that the new book serves this purpose.

The book is available for purchase at this website. The paperback edition costs $38, while the hardback edition is $48.