Thousands of historical records from Hokkien community to be made publicly available

The Thian Hock Keng temple's original land sales record. One dated 1828 (left), shows how the land on which the Thian Hock Keng Temple sits was originally owned by the British East India Company. The other, dated 1838, bears the original signature of Mr Tan Tock Seng. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
(From left) Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan President Tan Cheng Gay, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, SHHK Immediate Past President Mr Chua Thian Poh and CEO of National Library Board Ng Cher Pong. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
1955 SHHK exco photo with prominent Chinese businessman and philantrophist Tan Lark Sye. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Historical records bearing the imprint of Singapore's early Hokkien pioneers such as Tan Tock Seng and Tan Lark Sye will soon be made accessible to the public following the donation of more than 4,300 original documents from the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan (SHHK) made to the National Library Board (NLB) on Sunday (Feb 28).

To symbolise the handover of the documents, 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, dated 1838, was given when the Hokkien philanthropist bought land to build the Thian Hock Keng Temple - Singapore's oldest Hokkien temple, which 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 in the SHHK, will be made accessible to researchers and members of the public at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library at the National Library, said the NLB on Sunday.

A selection of the materials will also be digitised and made accessible on PictureSG and on the National Library Board's BookSG website from 2022.

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.

This includes meeting minutes from the 1950s, which 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 Primary School.

Today, the clan is affiliated to six schools - Chongfu, Nan Chiau High School and Primary School, Ai Tong, Kong Hwa, and the oldest among them, Tao Nan School.

During World War II, the SHHK owned 16 properties, including Thian Hock Keng temple and the Heng San Teng temple in Silat Avenue which was gutted by fire in 1992, and collected rent as well as fees for use of these premises.

The donated documents include a letter from the treasurer of the Thian Hock Keng temple addressed to clan leaders requesting for them to partially waive fees given the financial difficulties faced by the temple during the war.

The request, written to four clan leaders, including philanthropist and businessman Lee Kong Chian, was eventually granted, signifying the role that the clan played in providing social assistance to the community in such times of crisis.

Also noteworthy in the collection are photos of mass wedding ceremonies that were organised by the SHHK between 1956 and 1960 to encourage prudence in Chinese wedding ceremonies, said Ms Seow Peck Ngiam, a senior librarian at the NLB. Couples were required to pay $30 and wear their own wedding attire, with remaining expenses borne by the clan association. The practice stopped when it became required for couples to register with the Registry of Marriages in 1961.

"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 towards the welfare, education and cultural development of the Chinese community in Singapore," said Ms Seow.

Group photographs of the couples who participated in the second to sixth mass wedding ceremonies held by the Hokkien Huay Kuan in 1956 and 1957. PHOTO: NATIONAL LIBRARY BOARD

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was 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 community groups of other ethnicities and religions, from opening schools to providing social assistance to the community.

In recent years, the SHHK has not only adapted to the new environment, but also contributed to the community by helping groups affected by the pandemic, said Mr Heng. This included distributing masks and hand sanitisers, and helping residents apply for Covid-19 relief schemes in partnership with other organisations.

This spirit of solidarity remains vital amid the pandemic, said Mr Heng, noting that the Government has continued helping those industries and individuals that have borne the brunt of Covid-19's impact at Budget 2021, which he unveiled earlier this month.

"This donation today will help us preserve an important part of our heritage. In the spirit of Singapore Together, 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 be co-developing a resource guide that will bring together historical documentation about the Hokkien community, said the NLB in a press release.

It will include archival records, newspaper articles and book chapters, and will be accessible through NLB's Resource Guide website in phases from 2022.

"This guide will make the rich heritage of the Hokkien community easily accessible to everyone," it said.

NLB chief executive Ng Cher Pong said the NLB is grateful to the SHHK for its generous donation. "We hope that this donation will also encourage many other organisations to donate their valuable materials to the National Library Board for safe-keeping so that the present and future generations will be able to access, learn and research."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.