13. Chwee Eng Chinese School, 1854, conserved


Hokkien Quanzhou style architectural style

The slender moon beams (月梁) found in the entrance truss and overall straightness of the gong (拱) suggests of Quanzhou workmanship.

History of Former Chui Eng Free School

Date of Construction: 1854        Date of Gazette: Not gazettedAddress:                    130 Amoy Street Singapore 049959                 Founding date: 1854

Built in 1854, this is the second oldest private traditional Chinese school in Singapore after the first private school setup in Chong Wen Pavilion, Thian Hock Keng (1849). Although there were already nine Chinese free schools in 1815 in Malacca, Chui Eng was considered the largest Chinese school during the time. The main benefactor of both Chinese free schools was Tan Kim Seng , a third generation Malaccan Straits Chinese with Quanzhou Yong Chun ancestry. Shortly after its founding, Chui Eng Free school became a boys school while Chong Wen Pavilion was converted into Chong Fu Girls School. Initially, these schools adopted Qing China’s education system and taught the Chinese classics, such as – Analects of Confucius (论语) and the Three-Word admonition (三字经) in Hokkien. The relaxation by the 1870s of China’s law forbidding emigration encouraged wealthy local Chinese to send their sons to study in China. Interest in education, however, turned towards England with the Queen’s Scholarships founded in 1889. Dr Lim Boon Keng was the first Chinese to earn a Queen’s scholarship. The original plaque with the inscription of ‘Chui Eng Institute (翠英书院)’ above the doorway is permanently exhibited at the Overseas Chinese Museum in Xiamen.

Architectural elements


In its original layout, there was a single storey inner hall built in the style of the entrance gate. A painting of Confucius was hung in the centre of the hall. The courtyard between the entrance and the hall was used for classes when weather permitted. Unfortunately, the school ceased operation in 1954 and the dilapidated inner hall was replaced by a new building along with the Far East Square development.

Door stones – Stone pillows (门枕石)

In Beijing, stone drums were reserved for officials and the wealthy. Motifs carved on the stone drums usually corresponded to imperial badge ranking (补子图). The Qilin would indicate the owner as a first grade general whereas the Crane would signify a first grade scholar. Civilians with no official titles were only allowed to use square door stones which resembled book chests used by the Confucian scholars. The doorway of Chui Eng Free School is flanked by a pair of chest-shaped stone pillows. The curvature on top of the stones is a style commonly found in Fujian province but not in Beijing.

Granite Carving

Quanzhou is well known for granite carving. Traditionally, organic color pigments would be applied on the granite carvings to accentuate the depicted objects. Above the lintel of the doorway, we see a pair of bas-relief dragons with a blazing pearl (双龙戏珠), a symbol of auspiciousness. To the right and left of the dragon panel is the Peony and the Lotus respectively, representing Spring and Summer. Directly below the flower panels is a pair of swastikas carved in sunken relief representing eternity. The lower granite wall of the entrance gate has a pair of deers in a bamboo forest on the left while the right is a bas-relief with a pair of cranes resting under pine trees signifying prosperity and longevity (松鹤延年,竹鹿平安). 竹鹿 is homophonous  with  得禄 in Hokkien and hence ‘Siong hou yan lian, Tek lok beng an’.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s