Situated along the oldest street of Singapore, Telok Ayer Street, Ying Fo Fui Kun is one of those national monuments that people would easily miss compared to those more tourist oriented landmarks such as Thian Hock Keng or Fuk Tak Chi which is a few shophouse away. Probably due to its rather austere bare façade, passerbys could hardly associate such a plain building with the other national monuments. However, if one looks beyond the humble façade, within this clanshouse is a well-kept secret not known to many locals – this is the oldest surviving clanshouse in Singapore that is still in function! During weekends, this place will be thronged with Hakka amahs, ladies and men vying for a seat at the second floor KTV. The most interesting part is, not only are they crooning over classics by Teresa Teng or the likes, they also sing Hakka MTV! Wonder if they would ever hold a “Hakka Idol’ in Singapore. Their care and concern over historical artifacts in the building are meticulous – the granite tablets are protected by acrylic sheets and properly numbered. Rubbings are displayed prominently on the walls informing visitors on the history of the clanshouse. Other interesting artifacts on display on the ground level include a gigantic iron safe that resembles a sarcophagus, an antique school-bell and lots of beautiful Qing teak furniture that are still in use. On the second level are two separate halls supported by beautiful timber trusses built in traditional Teochew style. One may wonder why we should see architectural elements that do not belong to the Hakka tradition in this building. The answer is simple, the founders of this clanshouse came from eastern Guangdong which is the same region where the Teochews had originated. Timber parts of the building were shipped from eastern Guangdong, prefabricated, and put on site by local workers who were most likely to be of Guangdong origins (Cantonese or Hakkas). Even though there were no records on where the workers had came from for Ying Fo Fui Kun, my speculation is based on the close affiliation between the Hakkas and Cantonese in the 1820s where they had also jointly looked after the Fuk Tak Chi Temple around the corner. The Hakkas and Cantonese were outnumbered by the Hokkiens and Teochews in those days and in addition, the secret societies formed were mainly dialect-based. I highly suspect the hall where a tablet of Kuan Kong is housed was a gathering place for secret society members of Hakka/Cantonese origins in its early founding days.
History of Ying Fo Fui Kun
Date of Construction: 1844 Date of Gazette: 18 December 1998Address: 98 Telok Ayer Street Singapore 048474 Founding date: 1822
Ying Fo Fui Kun is a Chinese clan association was founded in 1822 by Guangdong Hakka immigrants from 5 counties of Jiaying Prefecture (present-day Meizhou City) – Meixian, Xingning, Wuhua, Pingyuan, Jiaoling (梅县， 兴宁， 五华， 平远， 蕉岭). The association was established to promote the welfare of early Hakka immigrants by addressing their needs for accommodation and jobs, and by attending to their funeral arrangements. It is the oldest surviving clan association in Singapore.
The original clan house was constructed in 1822 was a single storey building. 18 granite columns were imported from China for the reconstruction of the 2-story building in 1844 – the form we see today. The association founded the Yin Sin School in 1905 to provide education for Hakka children in an extension built in 1875. The school functioned for 65 years within the association’s premises until 1970. The school wing was demolished in 1980 due to road expansion. Today, Ying Fo Fui Kun continues to serve the Hakka community by promoting Hakka heritage and identity. This includes the provision of scholarships, organization of Hakka language classes, singing of Hakka folk songs and the celebration of important Hakka festivals. The Ying Fo Fui Kun building underwent renovations in 1997 and was gazetted as a National Monument in 1998.
Additional Notes. The name of Meizhou City (梅州) originates from the Mei River and the Plum Blossom (梅花).The plum blossom (also the logo of Ying Fo Fui Kun and national flower of Taiwan) represents strength as it blooms only in winter. It is the logo of Ying Fo Fui Kun and a symbol for the Hakka people. Meizhou was established as a prefecture named Jingzhou in the Southern Han (917-971). It was changed into Meizhou in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) and Jiaying Prefecture (嘉应州, named after Jia ying zi, a type preserved fruit) in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). After several subsequent shifts of jurisdiction, it became Meizhou City in 1988.
Hakka Meizhou architectural style
Characterised straight ridgeline, granite walls and grey roof tiles. Timber details are influenced by Teochew wood carving styles but less ornate. The present roof made use of local clay tiles.
Ying Fo Fui Kun’s gable ends are fashioned according to the ‘wood’ elemental shape whereas Thian Hock Keng’s side buildings employed the ‘earth’ elemental shape. The determination of the gable-end elemental shapes is based on both the orientation and the zodiac sign of a building’s owner. The only ‘water-element’ shaped gable ends can be found in the former Thong Chai Medical Hall.
The exterior façade of Ying Fo Fui Kun look deceptively plain, supported by two solid granite columns in the Tuscan style. On closer scrutiny, the capital is simply constructed as a timber box. The timber trusses above the columns are carved in a distinctive Hakka style with carvings akin to the Teochew style yet maintaining restraint virtuosity. Qi lin struts supporting the beams of the roof truss act as overhead guardians for the clan association. A comparison of the details in the trusses between the right and left would show significant differences, indicating the use of competitive workmanship (对场作). The dragon head ends of the lower beams protruding over the granite columns is a typical Teochew stylistic feature. Due to the proximity to Chaozhou (潮州), the architectural details of the Hakka dwellings and temples have strong Teochew influence. The recently re-painted timber trusses on the upper floors utilise a three-beamed five-strut system (三通五瓜) is analogous to the Teochew/Zhangzhou Hokkien style in designing trusses for formal spaces. However, the marked difference between Hakka and Teochew wood carving lie in its robustness and simplicity over intricacies.
The plan layout of Ying Fo Fui Kun is similar to ancestral halls found in Meizhou Wei Long dwelling (围龙屋) where the families of the same clan are housed in the semi-circular rings radiating from the ancestral/entrance hall. Usually, the ancestral hall would be facing a semi-circular pond (半月池). Following traditional Fengshui principles, this type of layout are well suited for the dwellings to be built on slopes with water running naturally into the pond.
The trusses on the upper floor
Two types of truss systems are used, namely, the horizontal system (抬梁式) and the vertical system (穿斗式). The horizontal system allows for more elaborate structural expression and therefore is reserved for formal spaces. The vertical system is the basic system consisting of riveted horizontal beams and vertical struts used in less formal spaces. The Chinese do not like diagonal struts although they existed for a short period during the Tang dynasty. The camel’s hump (驼峰) dougong supporting the eave is a typical Teochew/Hakka feature. The struts next to the camel’s hump feature a pair of male and female lions. The timber beams under the lions are decorated with an original gold-leaf over black lacquer painting (擂金画). Painting or lacquering over timber in Chinese architecture is a traditional way of preserving wood.
Li Yi Lian Chi (礼义廉耻), undated – Calligraphy by Chiang Kai Shek, 1st – 5th term president of the Republic of China. Located in the KTV room on the second floor.
Other notable Hakka architectural-style buildings in Singapore
Fook Tet Soo, 1844, 50H Palmer Road
Fong Yun Thai Chong De Tang, 1882, 33 Holland Link
Wu Shu Temple, 1903, 9 Commonwealth Lane