Category Archives: 4. Nanyang Architecture

Nanyang Architecture

Kim Mui Hoey Kuan, 1870, demolished

Chinese Chamber of Commerce, 1878, rebuilt

Koon Seng Ting, 1905, needs to be gazetted  

Map 4 Telok Blangah Drive (S) 109257

Chua Village Temple, Tan Kong Tian Temple, 1919

Map 14 Jalan Kebaya (S) 278319

Nanyang Sacred Union building, 1903, needs to be gazetted

Map 253 River Valley Road (S) 238289 Tel: 6737 2985; 6235 5975

Unidentified temple in Kampong Mata Ikan, demolished  


16. Kim Mui Hoey Kuan, 1870, demolished


20. Chinese Chamber of Commerce, 1878, rebuilt


39. Koon Seng Ting, 1905, gazetted

This temple is related to the Ban Siew San Temple above it. First established in 1880 in the form of an attap house, the temple in its present form was constructed in 1905 and expanded in 1928. The land was donated by Madam Tan Geok Hup, daughter of Tan Kim Seng. While Ban Siew San was founded by a male lay taoist practitioner, Koon Seng Ting was looked after by a lay female taoist practioner. Her name was Mdm Teh Chit Yee, a Teochew lady. According to the caretaker of Ban Siew San, the present temple building was constructed 20 odd years after Ban Siew San. In the early days, orphans or abandoned baby girls would be brought to this temple for refuge. Over the years, these girls grew up and left the temple one after another. The sifu got so upset at one point, believing that it was the visiting male devotees that lured the girls out of the temple, that she closed the temple from the public. The present caretaker, by the name of Chua Peng Nyet, was one of these adopted girls of the temple. She was brought here at the age of 5 by a Peranakan Nyonya from Penang, Chew Nee Lock, who passed away in 1970. Chew was a disciple of Mdm Teh Chit Yee.

Chua Village Temple, 1919


Ji Yang Primary School (left), Wayang stage (middle) & Tan Kong Tian (right)

The current area of Ulu Pandan Area bounded by Sungei Ulu Pandan and Ulu Pandan Road is now a private residential area.

However, at the turn of the century  the area was actually a swamp infested with snakes and wild animals.

In 1904, a Chua, Chua Hu Fan came from Anxi Province Kang Nai District to search for a new life in Singapore.

At that time, as the journey to an unknown land was fraught with danger, sickness and uncertainties, Chua brought along him a statue deity Tong Kong Zhen Ren from his ancestral village temple Jin Hock Tian. 

Tong Kong Zhen Ren is known as a deity with healing power. He is also a deity who is adept at fengshui.

Together with other Chuas from the same ancestral village, they build a small temple in a hill (Feng Heng Hill) and worshipped the deity there.

In 1919, the small Chua settlement extended to tens of families clusters. The place was known as Tua Kang Lai 大港内.

They work in rubber plantations, rode bullock carts, planted vegetables and reared pigs. 

Soon they were able to buy a plot of land near  Feng Heng Hill to rebuilt their temple for their deity Tong Kong Zhen Ren (Tan Kong)

At that time land was $450 – 500 per acre for a 999 year lease. Besides the land for the temple, which was a joint purchase, many of the Chuas brought land  to plough the land.

As they were 2 temples in their ancestral village 进福殿 (Jin Hock Tian) and 圆潭殿 (Yuan Tan Tian), 4 more dieties –  Kuan Kong, Fan Hou Xian Shi, Fu Xi and Shen Nong – were brought to Tan Kong temple from the village temples. 

They also built a wayang stage at that time.  They engaged Sin Sai Hong, (the oldest Hokkien opera troupe in Singapore)and also Kim Eng Teochew Opera. It is one of the 2 surviving temple wayang stages remaining on minaland Singapore now. A third village wayang stage can be found in Pulau Ubin.

Birthday celebrations in the form of wayang performances were held in honour of these deities not unlike practices back in China before the cultural revolution. These were the grandest occasions for the Chua village. During non performance days, the wayang also served the purpose of a school for the children of Chua village to learn and study.Similar village temples with their permanent wayang stages dotted Singapore before the advent of mass housing development. Good exmaples would be the Ama Keng and Phua village temples.

In 1927, Li Qun Primary School was built next to the temple. It was the earliest primary school in a village.  It would serve to educate the village’s children for many more years before being demolished in 1980.

In the early 1970s, land developers start to approach these farmers, and land was exchanged for cash at $18 per sq foot.
Many Chuas sold off their farming land and ventured into other business.
The temple plot was kept, after all, it was specially chosed by Tong Kong,  the deity who is supposed to be adept in fengshui.

In 1983, the temple committee set up Tua Kang Lai Temple Ltd to administer the existing property. Despite being offered S$10 million a few years back by a condo developer, the temple committee decided that they would rather keep the property intact as it is. Recent renovations of $150,000 on the wayang stage shows the Chuas’ determination to keep a piece of memory that is uniquely theirs.


Text by Raymond Goh, Edited by Kent Neo, Sept 2007


Anxi association 1982 souvenior magazine

Oral interviews by Kent Neo and Raymond Goh at Yuan Hock Tian premises in Sep 2007

For more information contact Mr Chua, 93801105 (hp) or Ji Yang Hui Guan

41. Nanyang Sacred Union building, 1903, needs to be gazetted

confucious.jpgconfucious2.jpg Song seah houseriver valley

This was the former mansion of Seah Song Seah built in 1903, third son of Seah Eu Chin. This Nanyang style mansion infused with Teochew traditional detailing was designed by Almeida & Kassim in 1896 and completed with additional buildings no. 251 and no.255 in 1903. The Nanyang Chinese shophouse style developed roughly from the mid 1860s and flourished between 1880 and 1890. It was used in both townhouse and shophouse architecture. As opposed to the Chinese Rococo style that peaked in the 1920’s, featuring dragons and Sikh guards plaster high reliefs, ornamentation was still restrained and relatively flat towards the end of the 19th century.  A consistent feature of houses belonging to Teochew merchants in Singapore was the use of an elaborate Teochew style entrance gate. Archival photographs indicate the prominence of entrance gates fronting houses belonging to Seah Eu Chin, Tan Yeok Nee, Wee Ah Hood and Seah Boon Kang’s  No. 45 Emerald Hill (still standing today, Seah Boon Kang was a grandson of Seah Eu Chin).

Seah Song Seah stayed here till his death in 1930s. After which, the house was temporarily used as a Chinese antique shop in 1938. In 1949, the building was acquired by the Nanyang Sacred Union as a place for worship of Confucius. The Union’s history can be traced to 1914 when it was known as Straits Sacred Union with Dr Lim Boon Keng as one of early members. After the Japanese occupation,  a group of former members from Foochow district in China gathered funds to purchase the River Valley compounds as the headquarters of a sect that has about 10 branches all over Malaysia. Straits Sacred Union was formally renamed as Nanyang Sacred Union in 1949, the only edifice in Singapore dedicated to Confucius.

There are 3 separate buildings in the Union’s compound – no. 251, on the left, for the worship of Goddess of Mercy; no. 253 – the central and main building – for Confucius; and no. 255, on the right, for Lao Tse. This arrangement again reflects the emphasis on placement of male(yang) elements and female (yin) elements. From the altar’s facing, the yang elements would always be on the left while the yin on the right. This rule can also be seen in Wak Hai Cheng Bio, where Ma Cho Por’s shrine sits on the right side of Lau Ya’s shrine (in the direction of the deities’ eyes). Likewise, the dragon gates of traditional Chinese temples represent the yang element whilst the tiger gate signifies the yin. The abundance of plaster relief wall murals depicting symbols of good luck and scenes from Chinese fables can also be seen in few other restored traditional Teochew and Peranakan homes in Singapore. These include the former House of Tan Yeok Nee, Lian Yi Xuan (River House) and Baba house at 157 Neil Road.


History of Nanyang sacred union (in Chinese)

Singapore Shophouse by Julian Davison

Unidentified temple in Kampong Mata Ikan, demolished