Category Archives: 9. Hainanese Architecture

Hainanese Architecture

Hainan Mazu Temple, 1878, rebuilt 

Map 47 Beach Road, Kheng Chiu Building (S) 189683, Tel : 6336-3457

Ban Siew San Temple, 1880, needs to be gazetted 

Map 2 Telok Blangah Drive (S) 109256


19. Hainan Mazu Temple, 1878, rebuilt


Founding dialect group – Hainanese; Main diety – Mazu; status – demolished & rebuilt

The Hainanese community is one of the smaller dialect groups in Singapore. The Hainan Clan was formed in 1854 with their first clan house(1857) setup in a shophouse along Malabar Street. In 1881, 3 years after the new temple was built, there were 8,319 Hainanese in Singapore. They were the 4th in size after Hokkiens, Teochews and Cantonese. There were only 6,170 Hakkas then. Now according to statistics in 1990, the Hainanese population was 0.3% less than the Hakkas. Four other dialect groups forming the real minority Chinese dialect groups are Foochow, Heng Hua, Shanghainese and Hock Chia respectively. The scale of the original temple along Beach Road resembles the Hainanese temple in Penang (still standing ). In terms of architectural style and temple layout, this Hainanese temple really looked like a Cantonese temple! However, in Cantonese temples, the front entrance would normally be a brick wall with an entrance in the centre. The frontage of the Hainan temple were sealed by timber doors with a triple door-entrance much like a Hokkien temple. Interestingly, the Hainanese language itself is related to the Hokkien dialect group. The picture on top shows the rear hall of the old temple. This picture has always been confused by local writers with the Thian Hock Keng temple. From the architectural style and the chinese characters that suggests Hainan, this altar in the picture is more likely to be that of the Hainanese Tian Hou Temple and Clan house in Beach Road.

The rear hall of the temple along Beach Road was incorporated to the back of the Hainan Association Building in 1962. The altar and candle stands can still be seen in the rebuilt temple today. For more information, see

22. Ban Siew San Temple, 1892, gazetted

Founding dialect group – Hainanese; Main diety – Kuanyin; status – gazetted

Also known to the Cantonese as Koon Yam Tong, this temple was founded in 1880 by a Hainanese Taoist priest by the name of Wong Guan Teck. The temple land was donated by Madam Tan Geok Hup, daughter of Tan Kim Seng. Built 2 years after the Hainan Tinhou (Mazu) temple in Beach Road, it was originally an attap building in 1880. The structure that we see today dates back to 1892, with the the rear hall added in the same year.

My first impression of this temple when I visited it years ago, I thought it was a Cantonese temple because of its straight roof ridge and the relatively unadorned building parts. According to the current caretaker, an elderly Hainanese man, this temple was actually built by Teochews and Hainanese craftsmen. From my observation, the layout and height of the temple follows a Hainanese format while the actual building components such as the ridge and secondary ridge beams are Teochew-influenced. There used to be a small Kampung around the hill in the early days with a community of Hokkien, Cantonese and Hainanese with the Hokkiens being the larger dialect group. This would explain why some of the dieties found in this temple are not commonly found in other temples as it is frequented by a majority of Cantonese and Hainanese. This is the only historical Hainanese temple left in Singapore, I strongly urge the authorities to give it a conservation status. In fact, there are only a handful of Hainanese temples left in Malaysia now. Although this is a very simple building architecturally speaking, it has an old world charm throughout the interior spaces – from beautiful antique floor tiles to wall paintings and Qing furniture etc. The charms and value of a building is not judged by ornamentation, size or popularity but in the atmosphere it evokes. When I was in Ban Siew San, I could imagine Kampong folks, mothers and amahs dressed in samfoos kowtowing earnestly before the dieties for prayers. No videos, or pictures can exactly bring you to that kind of space in time as compared to a real place that has survived the vissitudes of time. We should treasure history, authenticity and the stories they have for us.