Guided Walks: Info

Dear Visitors,

Information on our regular free guided walks and all events under All Things Bukit Brown on weekends and registration a are now available on  Peatix. Please click on this link to register.

Sunday Nov 29, 2015 @ Bukit Brown 9am to 12 pm. Guided Walk with Raymond Goh please register here

Sunday Nov 29, 2015 Battlefield with Jon Cooper 9.30am – 12pm

Last guided walk of the year LIMITED TICKETS, please register here

The guided walks  are organised on an ad hoc basis, weekly  depending on availability of volunteers with the exception of the first weekend of every month, where there are guided walks available on a Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon, should you want to plan ahead.

The Battlefield Guided Walk conducted by Jon Cooper is available every last Sunday of the month.

As far as possible we will update this blog post with a direct link to upcoming events for easy reference, but this may not always be possible because we are site run by volunteers.

For Tuesday 10 Nov’15 (Deepavali day), there is an Hill 1 Guided Walk by Keng Kiat at 9.00am. Please register at Peatix.

Please take note of the new access routes and meeting points and check where the meeting point for your guided walks is on the event page.  

If you are interested in organising a private guided walk for a minimum of 15 pax, please email  As we all volunteers, weekends are easier to arrange then weekdays, weekdays means volunteers will need to take time of from work.

Useful information on guided walks and Directions to Bukit Brown

Our guided walks about two and half hours to three hours duration

Brownie Code: We guide rain or shine.

Victors and Vanquished (a walk with Fabian) | Peatix

The walk WILL BE CANCELLED if the 3-hour PSI reported at is 101 or above (unhealthy range).

Please take note:

1. We will be walking through the undergrowth so dress appropriately, especially your footwear.
2. Wear light breathable clothing. Long pants and long sleeves if you are prone to insect bites or sunburn. Bring sunblock and natural insect repellent.
3. Wear comfortable non-slip shoes as safety is important. Walking sticks are recommended.
4. Do read up on Bukit Brown before going so you have a better understanding of the place
5. Do bring water, light snacks, poncho/umbrella, sunhat and waterproof your electronics.
6. Please go to the toilet before coming. There are NO facilities anywhere there or nearby.

How to get there by MRT / Bus:

Bus services available: 52, 74, 93, 157, 165, 852, 855.

From North: Go to Marymount MRT and walk to bus-stop #53019 along Upper Thomson Road. Take Buses 52, 74, 165, 852, 855
Alight 6 stops later at bus-stop, #41149, opposite Singapore Island Country Club (SICC), Adam Road. Walk towards Sime Road in the direction of Kheam Hock Road until you see Lorong Halwa.

From South: Go to Farrer Road MRT and walk to bus-stop #11111 at Farrer Road, in front of Blocks 2 & 3. Take Buses 93, 165, 852, 855. Alight 5 stops later at bus-stop, #41141, just before Singapore Island Country Club (SICC), Adam Road. Cross the bridge, walk towards Sime Road, follow the road until you see Lorong Halwa.

By car:
Turn in from Lornie Road, to Sime Road. Then, turn left into Lorong Halwa, where parking is limited. Try to use public transport to get there.






The recent discovery of Wee Theam Tew’s tomb

The tomb of Wee Theam Tew is yet another significant discovery made by tomb whisperer, Raymond Goh in the Greater Bukit Brown. Wee Theam Tew was a lawyer and died at the age of 52 due to his failing health. His tomb has inscriptions in both English and Chinese, and a set of poetic couplets, which is believed to enhance the livelihood of the deceased’s family. This one reads:


Poetic inscriptions on Wee Theam Tew's couplets

Inscriptions on Wee Theam Tew’s couplets



This is how one  member of the Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Cemetery Facebook community, James Koh translated the couplets to English and added his interpretation of the significance of the words  :

The mountain sits with honorable aura
The river flows with abundance
The hills add charm to the landscape
The earth becomes pleasing to the eye with accumulated lustre

He adds that the couplets “represent the things which Mr. Wee wish to bestow on his descendants — reputable status, decent lineage and legacy, strong prospects, and a happy home.

What makes these couplets interesting is, in each sentence, there is supposed to be a stop after the first two words. For e.g., 坐山 ¶ 脈正派. But the second and third words actually form a noun which is related to Mother Nature — 山脈, 水源, 秀山, 華地.  This, in turn, displays Mr. Wee’s brilliance in Chinese literature.”

We are assuming these were either written by Wee or chosen by Wee.

Do join the discussions in the Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Cemetery Facebook group page, a platform for all members like James Koh, to learn, as well as contribute and share their knowledge in all things related to heritage, habitat and history.



Due to the road constructions, there are new access roads into Bukit Brown cemetery and the former entrance is closed and inaccessible.

As there are two roads going in, we have two new meeting points depending on which part of the cemetery the guided walk will cover. So, please check which meeting point is assigned to your tour to avoid confusion!



MEETING POINT A – Hill 2 & 5

The first meeting point is following the new access road to hill 2 & 5 and meet at the end of the access road. For photos of the location and parking info, see below.

BBC new access map-hill5n2 access


hill 2 & 5 access road entrance coming from Sime Road

hill 2 & 5 access road entrance coming from Sime Road

hill 2 & 5 access road coming from Kheam Hock Road side

hill 2 & 5 access road coming from Kheam Hock Road side

hill 2 & 5 access road, parking and meeting point

hill 2 & 5 access road, parking and meeting point

MEETING POINT B – Hill 1, 3 & 4 

The second meeting point is following the new access road to hill 1, 3 & 4 and meet at the platform at hill 1. For photos of the location and parking info, see below.

BBC meeting pt hill1n3

hill 1, 3 & 4 access road entrance coming from Sime Road

hill 1, 3 & 4 access road entrance coming from Sime Road

hill 1, 3 & 4 access road entrance coming from Kheam Hock Rd

hill 1, 3 & 4 access road entrance coming from Kheam Hock Rd

hill 1, 3 & 4 access road

hill 1, 3 & 4 access road

hill 1, 3 & 4 parking and meeting point

hill 1, 3 & 4 parking and meeting point

hill 1 platform meeting point

hill 1 platform meeting point





[Singapore] — Oct 3rd 2015 — An mobile application to discover sites of Sikh Heritage in Singapore is now available for iOS devices. This interactive medium has been created and launched by brownies Ishvinder Singh and Vithya Subramaniam, with funding support from the National Heritage Board’s Participation Grant. This mobile app is for those interested in exploring Singapore’s rich urban history in a new interactive and situated way, where one may revisit sites throughout the island while retracing the movements and lives of Singapore’s Sikh community.


Current trails feature the Sikh Guards of Bukit Brown Cemetery, and the Sepoy Lines of Outram. Whether the user follows these trails by foot or thumb, the app brings to life these sites through accessibly told histories and by situating them within a network of narratives that underscore the connections and nuances between spaces. Users are also encouraged to share their stories and memories of these sites towards building a collective archive of the Sikh community in Singapore (and later, Malaysia). This initial release will include the trails and sites within Singapore, with sites in Malaysia and other avenues for greater community interaction forthcoming. The android version is set to be released in March 2016.







Liberation 70 by All Things Bukit Brown

Publishers: Singapore Heritage Society and Ethos Books

Date Of Publication: 5 December, 2015

The Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) and All Things Bukit Brown (atBB)  are pleased to announce their plans to publish a collection of essays and poems, mined mainly from oral history and family archives, which looks at the Second World War (1942-1945) and the impact in Singapore from the perspective of those interred at Bukit Brown Cemetery.

The book commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Singapore under Japanese Occupation (Sept 1945) by offering new material and insights into the human tragedy of war, which adds another layer to the already vast literature on WWII in Singapore.

“The stories have taken us to the Endau Settlement in Johor, to Taiping (Malaysia) and to the beaches of Normandy in ways so unexpected they took our breath away,” said Claire Leow and Catherine Lim, co-founders of All Things Bukit Brown, a group of volunteers who work to raise awareness of the municipal cemetery. “It is a slow and at times painful unravelling of family history, lost in memory but for the persistence of descendants. It has taken seven decades for some of these fragments to be pulled together, and we see this not as a one-off book but a first step in the difficult journey of re-discovery and re-membering. The narratives also re-affirm to us Singapore’s place in regional and global historical narratives.”

It is a known fact that many who lived through the horrors of war and Occupation barely spoke about those days. The 70th anniversary of the Liberation, coinciding with an outpouring of emotion as Singapore celebrated the Jubilee of independence (SG50), unlocked the memory vaults of strangers who entrusted the editorial team with intimate familial stories and memorabilia. The compilation will span across the immediate pre- war, occupation and post-war years for the people of Singapore. It will also feature a poem of lamentation for soldiers lost in the battle at Bukit Brown, juxtaposed against recently unearthed official archival material on the battle that was fought at Cemetery Hill aka Bukit Brown Cemetery, with anecdotes from the diaries of soldiers, the pastor who bore witness to the aftermath, as well as memories of surviving prisoners of war who lived in the nearby Sime Road POW Camp. Most of this will be new, unpublished material.

SHS is pleased to support this ground-up project, as an extension of the advocacy the society encourages and the Bukit Brown cause that SHS has backed since 2011, when the cemetery came under threat of development first through a highway and later, housing.

“Bukit Brown has unexpectedly turned out to be a touchstone about the loss of heritage – tangible and intangible – in a Singapore eager to modernise and develop,” Chua Ai Lin, President of SHS. “The book is an important evolution of the civil society movement to uphold Bukit Brown as a site of national significance, and illuminate one of its more fragile narrative threads. It brings together at once the strategic and personal importance of the site, and SHS is pleased to once again support All Things Bukit Brown, which has evolved from a volunteer base guiding weekly public tours and regular customised tours, to hosting exhibitions and participating in arts programmes to reach as broad a support base as possible to save what is left of the site.”

The book, which now has the working title “Liberation70”, is ultimately a tribute to those among us,  civilians and soldiers who laid down their lives. In the Ode of Remembrance read at most war commemoration ceremonies worldwide, the public repeats the key line, “We will remember them.” This is our collective act of remembrance.

The book will be co-published by the Singapore Heritage Society and Ethos with a partial grant from the National Heritage Board, under its Heritage Participation Grant. All proceeds from the book will be channelled into future Bukit Brown projects.


Singapore Heritage Society was founded in 1987 and is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation and registered charity with Institution of Public Character (IPC) status. It is Singapore’s leading organization dedicated to research, education and advocacy on Singapore’s history, heritage and identity. SHS is behind many significant publications on Singapore history including Syonan: Singapore under the Japanese, 1942-1945 (1992); Memories and the National Library: Between Forgetting and Remembering (2000); Spaces for the Dead: A Case from the Living (2011).

All Things Bukit Brown (atBB) is the banner for a community of volunteers who conduct independent research and guided walks on Bukit Brown Cemetery. Since they came together as a community in 2012, they have collectively organised public talks with partners such as the NUS Museum and Chui Huay Lim Club, two exhibitions and successfully nominated Bukit Brown Cemetery as the first site in Singapore to be placed on the World Monuments Fund Watch list 2014-2016. Claire Leow and Catherine Lim, co-founders of the blog, are the editors for the book, backed by a volunteer editorial team from within the community.

Drama Box_

(Photo credit Han Xuemei, Dramabox)

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 11.57.13 pm


An update on this post as Jing Xiang has completed his Masters thesis

Abstract : Housed within Bukit Brown Cemetery are the many tombs of pre-independent Singapore pioneers with syncretic elements of a multicultural milieu. It remained a largely forgotten site except to families who visit the burial ground especially during the annual Qing Ming (tomb sweeping) festival.

In 2011, the state announced plans to redevelop Bukit Brown. Civil society groups, who saw the site as one rich in biodiversity and embedding an important historical past, contested the decision. This contestation rehearses a long-standing tension between heritage and progress in Singapore. This dissertation recasts Bukit Brown Cemetery as a highly charged site where notions of identity and belonging are latent.

The dissertation argues for an understanding of this forgotten landscape as integral to the Singaporean psyche of home and nation. Using Benedict Anderson’s concept of imagined communities and Henri Lefebvre’s spatial trilectics as its theoretical
frameworks, this paper outlines the spatial taxonomies present in Bukit Brown, and how identity is produced and anchored in those spaces. The inquiry unfolds on two scales: the first is a micro-territorial scale where the spatial practices of the individual and domestic unit are studied in relation to the tombs and myths found within and around Bukit Brown. The second one looks at Bukit Brown as macro-territory dotted with cultural anchors signifying collective histories.
Taken together, these two scalar frames reveal the complex structures of individual and collective identity, and how such structures are still actively forming/reforming at the Bukit Brown Cemetery.

His thesis can be found here


First Published on the blog on 20 August, 2014

I am Jing Xiang, an architecture student from NUS. I would like to dedicate a drawing of Bukit Brown I did in 2013 to Bukit Brown, those interred there whose histories precede their death and of histories yet discovered, and to All Things Bukit Brown for raising awareness of this rich heritage site.
About the Drawing…..
It’s not an accurate depiction of the physical landscape, but rather it represents the landscape as imprinted onto my mind that which is then translated into a drawing. In short it is my memory of the landscape. The section drawing also reveals the underground, a condition that we cannot see but doesn’t mean it isn’t present. The roots of the trees intermingle with some remains of the body. This relationship is open for interpretation, one obvious one is the connection between bodies (pioneer/ancestors) and ‘root’.

Some elements in the drawing are all too familiar landmarks in the cemetery, while others suggest hidden secrets, or things that,as of the present moment, has disappeared due to the roadworks. The drawing straddles between what is real and what is imagined, what is there and what is not there, or ‘not there’ because we can’t see it (yet) like other intangible (forces or) values of Bukit Brown.

(please click to view and appreciate full image)

sectional landscape Jing Xiang

Sectional landscape by Jing Xiang

“The use of the image for private or educational purposes is permitted, however, for public related matters that involves making the image physical such as publication, mass-printing, or for other forms of commercial purpose; I would appreciate that the relevant person would first seek my consent”  Jing Xiang

As a team of 6, Hock Chuan, Sumin, Yik Han, Cuifen, Hang Chong and Bianca, will be walking 50km on 5 Sep’15 as part of the Let’s Take a Walk (LTAW) event organised by Raleigh Society. This is a mental and physical challenge for us and we are doing this to raising funds for Hospice Care Association (HCA). So, we would like to get our friends, family and other supporters to pledge an amount to be donated to Hospice Care if at least 2 of our team make it to the 50km finish line.

Donate via this website:
4 of the Brownie Walkers at a training walk

4 of the Brownie Walkers at a training walk

More information on the walk and Raleigh Society here:

For Singapore residents who donate to HCA, there is a tax benefit of 300% this year of the donated amount.
If you prefer to donate to Raleigh Society, this can only be done by cheque and there will be no tax benefits. Raleigh Society will then transfer the full paid amount to HCA.
Do let us know if you have donated an amount to HCA or Raleigh and how much, so that we can inform the total funds raised by our team to HCA.

The team of 6 Brownie Walkers are all volunteers who are active and met at Bukit Brown Cemetery, where we share our passion for heritage and nature with the public. We decided to come together and challenge ourselves to do this walk for a good cause. We are all not very experienced long distance walkers, so it is a challenge for all of us, both mentally and physically and we have learned to stimulate each other as a team.
The theme for this walk is Celebrate Life! and that’s we plan to do!

Thanks to all our supporters!

It all began when a descendant asked for help in the FB group Heritage Singapore Bukit Brown in locating the grave of his maternal grandmother Yang Shu Hua 楊淑華, whom he just discovered was buried in Bukit Brown.
Madam Yang it transpired is the first wife of  Prof Lim Hui Siang (pinyin Lin Huixiang, 林惠祥) who was a co founder together with Tan Yeok Seong of the Amoy Anthropological Museum in 1935. The museum still exists today.
Lim Hui Siang with Tan Yeok Seong  ([hoto Alex Tan Tiong Hee

Prof Lim Hui Siang with Tan Yeok Seong (photo Alex Tan Tiong Hee)

Tan’s son Alex  then contributed a photo of both, followed by a calligraphy by Prof Lim dedicated to his father. 
Lim Hui Siang Calligraphy _Alex Tan

Lim Hui Siang ‘ calligraphy dedicated to his colleague Tan Yeok Seong  (photo Alex Tan Tiong Hee)

Jason Kuo a member of the group,  impressed by the calligraphy started to unravel its meaning. Together with inputs from Khoo Ee Hoon, this is  the translation arrived at with disclaimers.
 By Jason Kuo:
As far as we can decipher, these are the character in the piece (all transcriptions in traditional characters):

When the country is broken and families are upturned, fame and fortune mean nothing.

Although I am forced to wander, I am not yet lamenting that our cause is hopeless.

My eyes may be luckier than that of Lu You, for I may (live to) see the day when the righteous army sweeps north and pacifies the central plains

[i.e., when we have driven out the Japanese].

A line by line breakdown:
國破 guo2 po4, the broken country
家傾 jia1 qing1, the family fallen (families upturned)
名利 ming2 li4, fame and fortune
空 kong1, emptiness, nothingness (also with Buddhist connotations)
Probable translation:
When the country is broken, and families upturned, fame and fortune become meaningless
飄零 piao1 ling2, wandering (often used as in “forced to flee”)
尚未 shang4 wei4, yet, not yet
嘆 tan4, lament, sigh, cry
途窮 tu2 qiong2, no more paths, dead end, no way to go.
Probable translation:
(Although) wandering (as a refugee), (I am) not yet lamenting that (we have; China has) reached a dead end (i.e., that our cause is hopeless)
王師 wang2 shi1, literally, the king’s army, imperial army, also implies righteous army, since 王道 is the righteous (Kingly/ Princely) Way. Here a reference to the Chinese army.
北定 bei3 ding4, literally, “north pacify”. Pacifying the north (much of which was then occupied by Japan).
中原 zhong1 yuan2, the Central Plains, the heartland of traditional China and the cradle of Chinese civilization.
日 ri4, day
Probable translation:
The day when the righteous army sweeps north and pacifies the Central Plains.
*(Note that this is a verbatim copy of a line from the famous Southern Song Dynasty patriot, Lu You 陸游, whose style name is Fang Weng 放翁 (man who has discarded everything?),
眼福 yan3 fu2, gift for the eyes, i.e., lucky enough to get to see ….
猶能 you2 neng2, can even
勝 sheng4, victorious, be better than
放翁 Fang4 Weng1, the patriot Lu You, or Lu Fangweng
Probable translation:
My eyes may be lucky enough than those of Lu Fangweng (to see the day when the Chinese army triumphs).
The poem was written in 1938, one of the darkest periods in modern Chinese history. However, though defeated in many battles, and with its capital Nanjing routed, the Chinese army continued to defy the Japanese, and achieved a few brilliant victories such as Taierzhuang. Lim’s poem alluded to two Southern Song patriots. The first one, Lu You, was born in the Northern Song era but died during the Southern Song, and saw northern China being conquered by the Jurchen (女真) Jin 金 dynasty. Throughout his life Lu advocated the re-conquest of the north, but the Southern Song court, having fled the north (and with two of its emperors held hostage under the Jurchens), was in no mood for such an undertaking. (Some also speculate that the Southern Song emperor may not have wanted his captured father and brother to return to the throne.) Compare one of Lu’s most famous poems against our 1938 poem:
Rough translation: Although I know that when I die, all will be empty (notice use of word 空, as in 1938 poem), but I am saddened that I cannot see the reunification of China. When the righteous army sweeps north and pacifies the Central Plains (note direct copy by 1938 poem), do not forget to tell this old man (of the good news) during your ancestral rites.
The second patriot is the famous Wen Tianxiang 文天祥. He lived much later than Lu and saw the conquest of the Southern Song by the Mongol Yuan dynasty. He died while in prison in the Yuan capital, modern Beijing. (In fact, it was the Mongols who made Beijing the capital for the first time of all of China. Before then Beijing had often been a capital for divided regimes.) Wen’s most famous work is the Song of Righteousness 正氣歌. In any case, (thanks to research by Khoo Ee Hoon,) he also wrote these words in his poem, En Route to Yangzhouli 至揚州里: 飄零無緒嘆途窮, roughly, Endlessly wandering, I lament that our cause is lost. Compare this against the 1938 poem, where the author is much more optimistic about China’s prospects (but using the exact same words except replacing “endlessly” with “not yet”).
It is somewhat interesting that Mr Lim chose two tragic figures as his role models. One saw the destruction of northern China, while the other saw the conquest of the remaining part of China still under Han rule.
Bonus points: Mongol rule in China has been deeply influential. It was the first time that the historically Han areas of China and the Tibetan areas came under one ruler. Since the modern Chinese states (both the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China) both view the Mongol Yuan dynasty as a continuous Chinese (though not Han) dynasty, Chinese sovereignty over Tibet is traced to the Mongol period. Some Tibetans have a different view: they argue that China was conquered by the Mongols, and that the Mongols ruled both China (i.e., what Chinese nationalists would call the Han areas of China) and Tibet as parts of their empire. Under this view, after the Mongol defeat, China (under the Ming) and Tibet became separate countries again. This argument is compounded when the Manchu dynasty (a successor to the Jurchen Jin dynasty, ironically) conquered Ming China, the Mongols, and Tibet. When the Republic of China defeated the Qing in 1912, the new state’s view was that it had succeeded to all of Qing territory, which it viewed as indelibly “Chinese”. Many Tibetans, however, believed that the Qing were also an alien empire, and that its defeat meant that “China”, Tibet and Mongolia would go their separate ways. In modern times, this view has become academic as the People’s Republic has firmly secured its hold on Tibet (while northern Mongolia, under Soviet support, has long been independent. It’s ironic that most ethnic Mongolians still live within China’s borders, in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region). It is still an emotional issue, though. The Dalai Lama now accepts Tibet as part of the People’s Republic, and only argues about the degree of autonomy Tibet ought to have. However, he is very reluctant to state that Tibet has been part of China “since ancient times”. Yet this statement has been insisted upon by the PRC government.
Further comment: Because the Republic of China, in the form of the Kuomintang regime, was later defeated in the Chinese civil war, the contributions of China during World War II has been muffled for much of the last 70 years. But with greater openness in mainland China and more Western scholarship of that era (see Rana Mitter’s excellent work), the Chinese war effort under Chiang Kai-shek’s government has generated renewed interest, and usually a more favorable assessment. Throughout Chinese history, it has been extremely rare for southern regimes to reconquer the north. If anything, the thrust of history has been for the north (often non-Han regimes) to conquer the south (almost always a Han regime), and with reunification leading to hanification of the non-Han, and ironically expanding China’s territory (so one could say China expands its territory through defeats). The ROC was the only Chinese regime in centuries to accomplish total victory over an alien aggressor. On top of that, it had regained control of both Manchuria and Taiwan, which were thought to be long lost to the Japanese.
So what became of the search for Madam Yang’s grave at Bukit Brown? It was found to be one of the tombs affected and already exhumed for the highway. Her grandson is arranging to claim her remains to be interred by family.
All remains not claimed are kept for a duration of 3 years for any claimants before it is cast to sea
Keng Lecks Maternal grandmother Yang Shu Hua 楊淑華

Yang Shu Hua 楊淑華  #1146 (photo Bukit Brown Documentation)


Meeting point, Bukit Brown gates at the end of  Lorong Halwa.
In the event that the old main Gate has been closed, kindly wait / meet at the new connecting road which is after the old road.

10 am – 12.30pm with Keng Kiat covering Hill 3. Please register on peatix which has details  here

4pm – 7 pm  with Darren Koh : An Introduction to Bukit Brown. Please register here

Disclaimer: By agreeing to take this walking tour of Bukit Brown Cemetery, I understand and accept that I must be physically fit and able to do so.To the extent permissible by law, I agree to assume any and all risk of injury or bodily harm to myself and persons in my care (including child or ward)

March 25 tour: volunteer guide Keng Kiat educates a child (photo: Claire Leow)

March 25 tour: volunteer guide Keng Kiat educates a child (photo: Claire Leow)

Darren Koh 2_ Mr. Foo

Darrej Koh (photo Mr. Foo)

By Zhang Jiayi

In the early afternoon last Sunday (2 August, 2015) I dreaded my decision to go for a guided walk  around Bukit Brown cemetery. However, I have promised my friends that I will turn up, so grudgingly, I made my way to the meeting point for the walking tour. Three hours and a lot of mosquito bites later, it is a decision that I did not regret.

Tombstones don’t lie. All aspects of the tombs – from the layout, the materials used, the carvings and statues around the tomb – give us snippets of information about the individuals and the Chinese immigrant community in early Singapore. The tour shed light on the stories of the individuals; after the tour, the occupants of Bukit Brown turned from random people to dignified individuals who made a difference to the social reality we experience today. Our history and social studies curriculum doesn’t do justice to the various individuals who made a difference to Singapore. While we know a significant bit about Tan Tock Seng, we overlooked the contributions of his eldest son, Tan Kim Ching, who is also buried in Bukit Brown. Tan Kim Ching not only participated actively in philanthropy, just like how Tan Tock Seng did, he also had a close relationship with the royal family of Siam (known as Thailand now), and played an important role in diplomatic relations between the Straits Settlements and Siam. It is also to my surprise that the 72nd generation of Confucius also set foot in Singapore, and is also buried in Bukit Brown cemetery *.

The diversity of the ‘residents’ of Bukit Brown was jaw dropping. Tombs of Hokkiens, Teochews, Cantonese, men, women, the rich and the poor can be found in Bukit Brown cemetery. A range of calendars was used in the inscriptions of headstones in documenting the time of birth and death of individuals. Some Chinese pledged allegiance to the Ming dynasty of China and at their time of death dreaded the fact that they would be buried in a foreign land, while others were content to call Singapore home and to be buried here.  I saw for myself the intricate Peranakan tiles laying some of the tombs of wealthy Peranakan Chinese, who chose to be buried in Bukit Brown as they did not identify with their Chinese dialect clans. It was also fascinating to gain an insight on how the early Chinese viewed death – many of them viewed their tombs as their homes in afterlife, and the layout of the tombs resembled the layout of homes. Much thought was put into the building of tombs; some tombs had carvings transmitting values like filial piety, some had intricate statues symbolizing prosperity, fertility and abundance, while other had inscriptions revealing how they felt when they were buried in Singapore. The trip was especially meaningful for me, as a female.

I learned more about the contributions of early Chinese women to the cause of gender equality we have today. Ms Lee Choo Neo, the founder of a Chinese Ladies Association, lobbied for the right of females to live a more enriching life. The Association taught domestic skills, supported education for females, and sponsored a rescue home for women. She was in her teens when she started these big projects. She can be rightfully known as, according to my understanding, the grandmother of the civil society in Singapore. The experience exposed how much I didn’t know about the history of Singapore, beyond what was taught in our social studies and history textbooks. I was deeply humbled by the number of times I widened my eyes in surprise as the volunteer guides (Brownies) dropped nuggets of trivia about prominent early Chinese immigrants. There is just so much the cemetery revealed about who we are as Singaporeans before Singapore’s independence, and the place unjustified the sweeping claims about how Singapore is ‘cultureless’.

As we celebrate 50 years of Singapore’s independence, let us remember, as the guides rightly pointed out, that it is also our 70th year of liberation from the Japanese Occupation, and almost a century from the time we were first part of the Straits Settlements. It is my hope that the stories told during the tour are documented and made available to a wider audience, lest our social history be like those resting in Bukit Brown cemetery – buried six feet underground, never to be seen or heard by the future generations of Singaporeans.

*Editors Clarification:  The 72nd direct descendant of Confucius had prepared his grave with the intention of being buried beside this wife who passed away before him, but he was buried at Bidadari instead.  We thank Jiayi for taking time to pen her thoughts on her first visit to Bukit Brown and invite anyone who would like to contribute a blog post to write to For information on guided walks please visit for weekly updates.

About Jiayi: Jiayi is a young Singaporean still in search of what makes her Singaporean. She is interested in issues relating to the Singaporean society as a whole, including social stratification, education and national identity.


Preps 21 Lawrence ChongNational Anthem 2 _ Lawrence Chong


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