New database to remember Chinese pioneers who built Singapore

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann at the launch of the Singapore Biographical Database of Chinese Personalities on Feb 1, 2019.
Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann at the launch of the Singapore Biographical Database of Chinese Personalities on Feb 1, 2019.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - Church sacristan Robert Lim grew up hearing stories about his grandfather, stories that can now be shared with millions of other Singaporeans thanks to some very modern tech.

These pioneering tales from Singapore's past have been collected on a new database to coincide with the nation's bicentenary.

That means Mr Lim, 71, will know that new generations will be able to appreciate the work people like his grandfather, Mr Lim Nee Soon, did for Singapore's development.

Mr Lim, who lived from 1879 to 1936, played a key role in developing rubber plantations in Nee Soon, now known as Yishun, and was a businessman and philantrophist.

He is one of the 200 prominent Chinese men and women who are captured in the interactive website known as the Singapore Biographical Database of Chinese Personalities, which is now up online.

The database has been compiled by the National Library Board, the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations and the Department of Chinese Studies in the National University of Singapore.

It was launched on Friday (Feb 1) at the National Library and traces personalities who contributed to Singapore from the 19th to 21st century. This includes well-known figures like businessman and philantrophist Eu Tong Sen, businessman Chew Joo Chiat and war hero Lim Bo Seng.



Senior Minister of State Sim Ann (centre) with Mr Robert Lim, a descendant of pioneer Lim Nee Soon, as well as Ms Katherine Hoo (far right), a descendant of pioneer Whampoa Hoo Ah Kay, at the launch of the database. Also present was NUS Department of Chinese Studies head Kenneth Dean. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Ms Gladys Low, senior manager of content and services for SingSEA and Exhibitions at the National Library, said: "Through this, we hope to inspire Singaporeans and see if they can also connect to their ancestors and learn from their tenacity. It's about remembering where we came from."

Mr Lim added: "Finding more information on my grandfather makes me realise he was such a brave person and under difficult situations, he held his cool. I am very proud to be associated with him."

 

The website features an interactive quiz with information on Chinese pioneers. It also has a visual map with nodes that show how the pioneers were connected to each other. The public and researchers can also share their knowledge for the less known pioneers by filling in information gaps, making the database more comprehensive.

Take Mr See Hoot Kee, a Hokkien pioneer who lived from 1793 to 1847 and helped build some of the first Chinese temples in Singapore.

His descendant from about seven generations later, neurologist Raymond Seet, 43, said: "The story we often hear is about what the British did, but Singapore is also about the undercurrent of people here who made things possible and passed down this culture.

"Our forefather was here at the time of Raffles but so much about him has been forgotten. It is urgent that we bring these things up now. The database is a baby step towards remembering."

Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Culture, Community and Youth, said at the database's launch: "2019 marks an opportunity to look deeply at our history and reflect on how Singapore has evolved. Singapore is where we are today because of the contributions of many individuals who worked hard, made sacrifices, and left a legacy.

"I hope the database will inspire more Singaporeans to connect with, learn about and deepen their appreciation for the contributions of prominent Chinese personalities to Singapore."