The 5 elements of fengshui symbolically sculpted on the ends of gable ends are found in temples and shophouses in Singapore, Taiwan and Southern China. The most commonly seen gable-end motifs in Singapore would be that of the ‘metal-element’ and the’wood-element’ motif that is in the shape of a mount and vertical hump respectively. According to fengshui principles, a wood-element can counter earth-element. Perhaps using fengshui, our early Chinese immigrants wanted to have their assets firmly grounded on unfamiliar soils!
So which temple belongs to what dialect group?
Here are some handy tips for you to tell the difference between architecture of the various Chinese dialect groups in Singapore .
Nanyang architecture – our very own architecture, essentially a hybrid between Chinese and shophouse architecture.
Representative Nanyang architecture in Singapore – Koon Seng Teng
Hokkien architecture – characterised by orangey clay roof tiles. Finial ends of the curved roof ridge sweeps outwards like ‘swallow tails’. Heavy use of granite as Quanzhou is a reknowned export center of granite sculptures.
Representative Hokkien architecture in Singapore – Thian Hock Keng
Teochew architecture -characterised by greyish clay roof tiles. Finial ends of the gently-curved ridge coils backwards like ‘coiled grass’. Exterior beams are often cantilevered and sculpted in the form of ‘dragon heads’.
Representative Teochew architecture in Singapore – Former House of Tan Yeok Nee
Cantonese architecture – characterised by sheer height of the halls and shapely gable wall ends. Roof ridge is straight with Shek Wan ceramic decorations appearing like Chinese paintings from far. In the old Thong Chai Medical Hall, the gable ends are fashioned in the ‘Wok Goi Ee’ gable wall or literally – ears(handles) of the Wok cover! This is actually the form of the water-element. Compared to all the other dialect groups (except Hainanese), Cantonese gable walls enlarges the 5 element motifs across the entire span. This is very similar to the gable walls found in Jiang Nan (Suzhou, Hangzhou etc).
Representative Cantonese architecture in Singapore – Former Thong Chai Medical Hall
Hakka architecture – characterised by straight roof ridge and greyish clay tiles. The Hakka temples in Singapore are heavily influenced by Teochew architecture. However, distinction can still be made as Hakka architecture in Singapore is usually simple and less ornate than the Teochew temples.
Representative Hakka architecture in Singapore – Foong Yun Thai Chun De Tang
Hainan architecture – similar to Cantonese architecture except that roof ridge decoration uses ornate plaster figurines without ceramic mosiac. The only surviving Hainanese temple built jointly by Teochew and Hainanese craftsmen is the Ban Siew San Temple. The Hainan temple shown above has been rebuilt and incorporated to the rear of the Hainan association building along Beach road.
Representative Hainanese architecture in Singapore – Ban Siew San
Heng Hwa architecture – although belonging to the Hokkien province, the Heng Hwa dialect group shows distinct differences in their language, Taoist practices and architecture. As the emigration of the Heng Hwa people to Singapore happened rather late, all of their temples built in Singapore are less than 50 years of age (based on 2007). Although new, most of the Heng Hwa temples have elaborate interiors modelled after original village temples in China.
Representative Heng Hwa architecture in Singapore -Tioh Hin Cho Beo
Here are some dates according to the reign of the emperors that are commonly found in Chinese temples and courtyard buildings in Singapore :
Dao Guang (Dao Kuang) 1821-1851
Emperor who lost Hong Kong to Britain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daoguang_Emperor
Xian Feng (Hsien Feng) 1851-1862
Emperor who married Cixi, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xianfeng_Emperor
Tong Zhi (Tung Chih) 1826 – 1875
Emperor who died of STD, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tongzhi
Guang Xu (Kuang Hsu) 1875 – 1908
– Reformist emperor with tragic end, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guangxu
Xuan Tong (Hsuan Tung) 1908 – 1911
– Puyi, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puyi
Min Guo ( Min Kuo) 1911 – present Taiwan
– Sun Yat Sen, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Yat_Sen