Mdm Chng of the Pang Family – A Mother of Journalists, Educationists and Revolutionaries
by Ang Yik Han
Located at Hill 4 in Bukit Brown, the Teochew style tomb of Mdm Chng of the Pang family (方母莊太夫人) is simple and nondescript. A sharp-eyed observer will notice however that the calligraphy on the tombstone came from the hand of Lin Sen (林森), Chairman, of the ruling pre war Nationalist government in China.
Another sign of her family’s close connection to the Kuomintang was the fact in her obituary in the Nanyang Siang Pau, she was described as the mother of a martyr. This was in reference to her second son, Pang Nam Gang (方南岡), whose story was recorded in Feng Ziyou’s “Anecdotal History of the Revolution《革命逸史》” published in 1948.
Although two of Mdm Chng’s sons passed away before her, the names of all her sons were inscribed on her grave: Siao Cheok少石 (deceased), Nam Gang 南岡 (matyred), Chee Dong 之 棟, Huai Nam 懷南, Chee Cheng 之楨. Also present were the names of two daughters, though her obituary only mentioned one surviving daughter.
Pang Nam Gang had a good grounding in classical Chinese education. However, he spurned the traditional path of becoming a mandarin and chose to pursue his studies in Japan. There, he joined the Tongmenghui. Deeply committed to overthrowing Manchu rule, he devoted his time outside of studies to learning how to make bombs.
In 1905, Pang and eleven of his compatriots in Japan were ordered by Sun Yat-Sen to return to China to assist in the Huang Gang uprising in the Teochew region. Injured while preparing bombs, he was brought to Hong Kong and hospitalised, hence missed out on the action. When the uprising petered out, Pang decided to join his uncle who was a local governor in Gansu, with the intention of seeking opportunities to incite the local Hui people to rise against the Qing. His uncle was initially pleased to see his nephew, but flew into a rage when word reached him that Pang was a revolutionary. Locked up by his uncle, Pang escaped with the help of other relatives, stealing two horses and riding to Hankou, where he sold the horses and boarded ship for Japan to continue his studies. Eventually, he made his way to Penang where he became the editor of the Kwang Wah Yit Poh newspaper which was linked to the Tongmenghui.
The young revolutionary could not sit still for long. When news of the successful 1911 uprising in Wuhan reached the Nanyang, Pang rushed back to China where he raised a fighting force in his home county of Pho Leng. When Yuan Shikai was elected the first President of the nascent Chinese Republic, Pang felt that Yuan could not be trusted as he had too many links with the old regime. Disgruntled, he returned to Penang where he took up his old job at the newspaper.
Pang’s worst fears came true in 1915 when Yuan Shikai assumed the title of Emperor. This time, he could no longer abide the situation and returned to China again to fan the flames of revolution. Unfortunately, he was captured in Macau by Yuan Shikai’s agents and smuggled across the border and imprisoned. At first, he assumed a false identity and did not divulge any information even under torture. However, his fervent preaching of revolutionary ideas to his fellow prisoners gave him away and he was summarily executed. So perished a martyr of the Chinese Revolution at the age of 29.
Mdm Chng’s obituary also mentioned that her three surviving sons were active in the areas of journalism, education and social works. Her youngest son, Pang Chee Cheng (方之楨), was in the limelight as well for his involvement in politics. A journalist, he was a KMT cadre who actively canvassed support for the party as one of the main committee members of the Nanyang branch headquarters.
In 1930, Sir Cecil Clementi became the Governor of the Straits Settlements. He had a dislike of the KMT due to its instigations of strikes during his previous posting in Hong Kong. On the day that he arrived and assumed office in Singapore, it was unfortunate that the KMT Nanyang branch headquarters chose to hold its general meeting at the same time.
One of the first acts of the Governor was to summon the KMT representatives to his office where he told them in no uncertain terms that the KMT was not allowed to operate local branches in the Straits Settlements and Malaya. A few months later, the Governor upped the ante by issuing orders to deport Pang Chee Cheng and another KMT stalwart; well aware of the situation, they left on their own for China first.
Quiet diplomacy between the British and Chinese governments behind the scenes eventually led to the deportation orders being rescinded. In later years, Pang Chee Cheng was based largely in China where he was active in the Overseas Community Affairs Council (僑務委員會) set up by the Nationalist government.
Pang Chee Cheng often met with renowned personalities of the day. So it was that when the Indian poet Tagore visited in 1927, Chee Cheng arranged for him to travel to Muar and visit Zhonghua School (中華學校, a forerunner to today’s 中化), where Tagore was received by his brother Pang Chee Dong (方之棟) who was the principal then. A graduate of a university in Beijing, Chee Dong was successively principals of Chinese medium schools in Kajang, Muar and Batu Pahat. In 1933, he may have worked as editor of a Chinese newspaper in Rangoon as well.
After the Japanese invaded, he perished during Sook Ching in Singapore, leaving behind his widow and 2 sons.
The fourth son Pang Huai Nam (方懷南) was the first editor of Nanyang Siang Pau (南洋商報) established by Tan Kah Kee in 1923. Slightly less than a month into its publication, he left the newspaper as the Straits Settlements authorities found his writing too political for their liking. He was also a committee member of the Poit Ip Huay Kuan and principal of Choon Guan School. It was mentioned in Phua Chay Leong’s “The Teochews in Malaya” that he shared the same sad fate as his elder brother Chee Dong during Sook Ching.
Mentioned as well in Mdm Chng’s obituary was one of her grandsons, Pang Say Hua (方思法). Born in Singapore to her eldest son, he was “fostered” to his uncle Pang Nam Gang; his father was convinced that his second brother would come to no good end with his revolutionary ways and hence it was better that he had a son to his name. Pang Say Hua went back to China to study and subsequently became a signaler in the Nationalist Army. He was one of the many caught up in the tumult of the times. Due to his background, he suffered after the Communists took over, being imprisoned for over ten years. After his release, he worked at various jobs and retired in 1980. His story became known when a civic organisation in the Teochew region which sought to recognize veterans of the Sino-Japanese War found him and publicised his story.
Single for life, he attended church regularly and spent his last days in a Christian old folks’ home where his favourite pastime was to watch Teochew opera. He died in Jan 2015, a month after he celebrated his 104th birthday.
He was an old trustee of the Soon Thian Keing (Temple) who together with his wife is buried at Bukit Brown. Through his personal memories, Ho Siew Tien (1864-1960) helped shed light on the temple’s history.
This story by Ang Yik Han begins with the origins of one of the oldest temples in Singapore.
In the 1980s, a debate took place in the local newspapers over the age of an old Chinese temple dedicated to the earth deity Tua Pek Kong in Malabar Street. Historians argued over an ambiguous phrase in one of the temple’s old stelae, which stated that the temple, the Soon Thian Keing (順天宮), was established during the years of the reigns of Jiaqing and Daoguang (“嘉道之際”). As the Jiaqing Emperor ruled from 1796 to 1820 and Daoguang from 1821 to 1850, proponents of an earlier dating for the temple argued that its establishment may have predated the founding of Singapore in 1819. However, there was no direct evidence to support this claim. No artefacts survived from the temple’s earliest days and the stele in question was erected only in 1902 when the temple was reconstructed.
One the earliest known accounts of the Soon Thian Keing before its reconstruction was an interview given by one of its trustees, Ho Siew Tian (何秀填), in 1949. He recalled that when he first arrived in Singapore in 1882 at the age of 18, the temple was only a small shrine located next to a tree which housed the Tua Pek Kong statue. The shrine was refurbished by two merchants in 1888. It was only in 1902 (28th year of Guangxu’s reign) that some merchants based in the Sio Po area (the colloquial Chinese term for the part of town north of the Singapore River) came together to construct a proper building for the temple.
Other than getting a new building, the turn of the 20th century was significant for the temple for another reason. Some Hokkien merchants started a school in 1903 and then turned to the temple committee for funding to sustain the school. Thus began the decades long association between the temple and the Chung Cheng School (崇正学校) [not to be confused with Chung Cheng High (中正學校) which was managed by the Hokkien Association].
Every year, the temple provided for the school’s upkeep from the money paid by the resident monk who was contracted to run the temple. In 1916, a school for girls, the Chong Pun Girls School (崇本女校) was started and likewise funded by the temple. Committee members of the Soon Thian Keing sat on the boards of both schools. Prominent alumni members of the Chung Cheng School over the years included Lee Kong Chian and President Ong Teng Cheong.
As the number of students increased, the need for new premises for both schools was keenly felt. In 1938, the construction of a new school building at Aliwal Street was completed. This housed both the Chung Cheng School as well as the Chong Pun Girls School under one roof. It was recorded that Ho Siew Tian was a prime driver in the construction of the new school building along with the then temple chairman. A trustee of the Soon Thian Keing since 1933, he was concurrently the treasurer of the temple and the two schools, a position he held till after the war.
Hailed as one of the most modern Chinese school buildings of its day, the building has been preserved and is today the Aliwal Arts Centre.
As Aw Boon Haw donated substantial funds towards the building’s construction, the school hall was named after his company, Haw Par.
Old photos dating from 1950 which showed girls of Chong Pun exercising in the school field, today a carpark. Sultan Mosque can be seen in the background.
Ho Siew Tian ran a thriving hardware and building materials business under the chop Ho Hock Ann (何福安) at Beach Road. He also owned a number of twakows for transporting goods. As his wealth grew, he made substantial investments in properties. In 1948, he incorporated his firm as a limited company and handed over its running to his sons, who subsequently expanded the business to firearms.
It was urban redevelopment which spelled the end for the temple and the schools. In 1980s, the temple was acquired by the government for building the MRT. It moved successively to various temporary sites before its present building at Lorong 29 Geylang was completed. With the resettlement of the urban residents in the area, dwindling student enrolment led to the closure of Chung Cheng School in the 1980s as well. Its name was transferred to a primary school in Tampines.
Soon Thian Keing today in Lor 29 Geylang (photo Yik Han)
Ho Siew Tian is buried at Hill 4 together with his wife who died 12 years before him. According to obituaries in the Straits Times and the Singapore Free Press, he was one of the oldest men in Singapore at the point of his death at the age of 96. He was survived by 5 sons (2 other sons died before him), 3 daughters, 2 sons-in-law, 7 daughters-in-law, 81 grandchildren, 8 grand sons-in-law, 4 granddaughters-in-law and 37 great grandchildren.
Ang Kok Kian – A Pioneer of the Soap industry
by Ang Yik Han
It is not clear if Ang Kok Kian (洪轂堅) grew up in Penang or he travelled there from his ancestral village in Nan’an county, Fujian province. During the 1910s, he moved to Taiping with his family but left after two years for Singapore, where he felt there were better prospects.
Of the businesses he established in Singapore, the most successful was the See Sen Soap Factory (時鮮肥皂廠), one of the local firms which rose to challenge the dominance of the market by Western manufacturers then. Although sales trailed behind another local firm Ho Hong Soap Factory, its distinctive “Dog’s Head” (狗頭標) brand soap was popular in Singapore, Malaya, Borneo and Hong Kong, both before and after the war.
Ang Kok Kian passed away in 1939, leaving behind 4 sons. By then, his eldest son Ang Hai Sun (洪海山) was actively involved in the family business. Not content with expanding the soap factory, he went into oil milling to ensure a stable supply of raw materials for the factory.
Although “Dog’s Head” soap has disappeared from the market for decades, the mark of this locally produced soap can still be seen today adorning the house which Ang Hai Sun built, where his descendants still reside.
More information on his descendants here
Double tomb of Ang Kok Kian and his wife at Bukit Brown Hill 4
Researched by Ang Yik Han
Died in the year of the Horse, 19 July 1942 and survived by one son named Kah Bo (嘉謀), Hou Xiu Xi ( 侯秀西 )located at Hill 1 was said to be a good orator and a staunch supporter of the China Relief Fund led by Tan Kah Kee.
He spoke at public rallies and occasions such as temple celebrations to exhort the local Chinese to support the anti-Japanese cause. According to an account, he was beaten to death during the Japanese Occupation for refusing to cooperate with the Japanese authorities.
Remembering Yeo Bian Chuan
by Simone Lee
Qingming or Tomb-Sweeping Day is a traditional festival on the Chinese calendar in remembrance and respect of ancestors. Families visit their ancestors’ ‘home’ – the grave, for a ‘spring clean’ and replenish their needs by leaving ‘worldly’ offerings. This year, the festival fell on the 5th of April and 10 days before and 10 days after is the period where rituals are conducted.
Bukit Brown is busiest at this time of the year. Jams are not uncommon. Throngs of people drive around the historic cemetery to look for their ancestors’ tomb. They carry with them bags of offerings and cleaning tools. Yet, for another year, Yeo Bian Chuan’s grave laid forgotten.
In February 1915, during the Indian Mutiny in Singapore, Yeo Bian Chuan saved 17 Europeans’ lives by hiding them in their home from a bloody massacre. For this he was awarded a commemorative gold medal but died before receiving it.
Today, Yeo Bian Chuan’s tomb is in a state of neglect, not what a hero deserves. We can only hope that soon a descendant would identify him and restore the glory of his ‘home’, one which he deserves.
Read more on Yeo Bian Chuan’s story at Peter Pak’s blog here.
In Bukit Brown, one can find various forms of art, structure and inscriptions, auspiciously incorporated within individual tombs to enhance the happiness and prosperity of the deceased’s family.
Tomb whisperer, Raymond Goh translates a poem found on the couplets from a tomb in Bukit Brown:
The Golden Sheep leads the eternal dance
The Earthen Ox draws the rising tide
The earth presents the elegant vigor
The hill offers the heroic spirit
On a different tomb, Raymond translates the poem engraved on its couplets, with the help of Alex Loh and Tan Kim Hong, members of the Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Cemetery Facebook group:
The green dragon forms the mountain in front of the tomb
The white tiger meets with a good water formation
The spiritual mountain concentrate the earth veins
The elegant water produces academic descendants
Do join the discussions in the Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Cemetery Facebook group page, a platform for all members to learn, as well as contribute and share their knowledge in all things related to heritage, habitat and history.
A photo essay by Simone Lee
“I was a little apprehensive at the beginning. Even as a Malaysian, I’ve never heard of anyone raving about a visit to Taiping. But while we were there, I fell in love…………” Simone Lee
Romancing Taiping 1 continues with part 2 as Simone Lee takes you through to sights and sounds from cemeteries – of course - to temples and museums. Hokkien Cemetery
The most valuable tomb in Taiping belongs to Ng Boo Bee. Penniless when he left China, he became the wealthiest man in Taiping from running tin mines, opium farms and construction. He was the first contractor to the British, building the first railway line in Malaya running from Taiping to Port Weld. He made many contributions to society during his lifetime. He built schools in Perak and China, public fountains, shophouses, donated land to the Hokkien Association and more. In fact, he built half of Taiping and owned many properties and plantations in both Perak and Penang. At death, his wake lasted for about 2 months to allow time for his friends to travel, some from as far as England. The entire town of Taiping shut down to join the procession, which took 4 hours to pass his house. Today, he rests on a 3-level tomb accompanied by guardian generals, lions and other mythical creatures, which showcase his wealth and influence while he was alive.
Kwantung Cemetery Kwangtung Cemetery contains burials mostly of Cantonese and Hakka residence.
Taiping War Cemetery The fallen soldiers who defended Malaya from the invading Japanese forces were interred in this cemetery. There are 3 sections of the cemetery; the Christians (on one side of the road), the Muslims and Indians (on the other side of the road).
Amongst over 850 tombs are tombs of 4 volunteer soldiers. Three of them, Lim Poh Ann, Tang Bee Choon and Ong Kim Sai, were sent to fight in Singapore where they died. After the war, their bodies were returned and given a soldier’s burial.
As more immigrants were brought in to work in the booming new town, many temples were built. A temple which has stood the test of time is the Sam Wong Yah temple. The temple was built by Loke Yew, a millionaire and philanthropist who came to Singapore to seek his fortune. He started work at a provision shop at Market Street until he saved enough to open one of his own. He then travelled to Taiping to explore the tin mining businesses. However, he did not do well and was soon broke. He sought shelter at the hut housing the Sam Wong Yah deities. One night, in a form of a white figure, he dreamt of the deities advising him to go further south to strike it rich. And strike it rich, he did. He returned to Taiping to build the temple around the hut where he had taken shelter.
In Singapore, a road was named after him (Jalan Loke Yew, opposite of the Peranakan Museum at Armenian Street) in honour of his contributions while the Cathay Gallery at The Cathay (founded by Loke Yew) showcases the history of the building and the Loke family.
Matang Museum aka Ngah Ibrahim Mansion Ngah Ibrahim succeeded his father, Long Jaafar as the Malay chieftain of Larut. He fortified his mansion by building thick brick walls around it, resisting the violence between the Ghee Hin and Hai San fights. Part of the wall was damaged by a Japanese war plane which crashed into it. In the mansion are stories and artifacts belonging to Ngah Ibrahim and showcased what the mansion was used as after Ngah Ibrahim was exiled in Seychelles. He was never allowed to return and died in Singapore (1887). In 2006, his remains were exhumed from Masjid Al-junied and reinterred in the compound of his grand old mansion which now is the Matang Museum.
Upon our return in Singapore, a fellow member of the Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown group asked, “did you guys do anything else in Taiping but eat?”, questioning the amount of food postings (and food) we had on the our Facebook pages. We certainly did and visited many more places apart from the ones featured in this write-up but there is simply too much to write in just one post. Besides, the best way to learn more about a place is to be there in person. There are many more that we didn’t get to explore. We certainly fell-love with Taiping’s charm and hope to go back in the near future. If you do plan to visit Taiping, do contact Lee Ah Kew through http://ahkew.blogkaki.net Ah Kew is a freelance writer and field historian, whose knowledge and collection of folk stories would enhance your experience at Taiping. Ah Kew’s article on the Brownies
Editor’s note: If you have enjoyed Simone’s blog post and photo essay, do leave a comment and encourage her to do more. She is the “official” brownie travel concierge
武吉布朗坟场的坟墓建筑是它独特物质文化的一部分，为新加坡和本区域以及中国南方之间在社会、文化和经济上的联系提供不少重要的资料。讲座将探讨武吉布朗坟墓建筑的记录和这项工作的重要性。主讲者也将利用纸模型让出席讲座的孩童对 坟墓健 筑有更深一层的认识。
Public Talks in association with the Bukit Brown Exhibition (In Mandarin)
Saturday, 20 September 2014
Speaker: Dr Lai Chee Kien
Title: Tomb Architecture
Speaker: Ang Yik Han
Title: Story Telling Stones – Tales from the Stone Carvings of Bukit Brown Cemetery
Speaker: Mok Ly Yng
Title: Documenting Bukit Brown: Maps and Mapping
Please register your attendance at the following website if you are interested to attend these Mandarin talks:
The material culture at Bukit Brown cemetery, including tomb architecture, is unique and offer many insights on Singapore’s social, cultural and economic connections to the region and to Southern China and Singapore. This talk discusses the documentation of tomb architecture at Bukit Brown and the importance of such records. There are also opportunities for children at this talk to learn about tomb architecture using paper models.
Dr Lai Chee Kien is a registered architect, and graduated from the National University of Singapore with an M Arch. by research , and then a PhD in History of Architecture & Urban Design from the University of California, Berkeley . He researches on histories of art, architecture, settlements, urbanism and landscapes in Southeast Asia.
Story Telling Stones – Tales from the Stone Carvings of Bukit Brown Cemetery
The large number and varied themes of stone carvings in Bukit Brown veritably make it a museum of stone carvings where masterpieces of the past can be encountered at every turn. Many of the intricately carved stone structures in the cemetery are untouched by the ravages of time, and visitors can still see them in their full glory a century after they were created. Be it themes of heroes and beauties, appointing wise officials, filial piety or the supernatural, folktales and historical stories which have been passed down for centuries come to life in the hands of skilled craftsmen. During this talk, numerous pictures will be used to introduce the themes found in the stone carving stories.
Ang Yik Han is an engineer by profession. He is involved in conducting tours in Bukit Brown Cemetery and historical and cultural research. His posts on the decorative motifs of tombs in Bukit Brown Cemetery have appeared on the All Things Bukit Brown website (bukitbrown.com).
Documenting Bukit Brown: maps and mapping
This talk showcases the various historical maps and air photos which were collected during the Bukit Brown Cemetery Documentation Project. Interesting details from these maps and air photos will be highlighted. The process of surveying and mapping the affected graves as part of the documentation will also be covered. The potential uses of these maps and surveyed data will be briefly touched on.
Mok Ly Yng is a member of the Bukit Brown Cemetery Documentation Project team and the Working Committee. He researched and sourced for the historical and current maps of the Bukit Brown area for the project. He had worked in Mapping Unit and the National Archives of Singapore. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London. He researches the history of surveys and mapping of Singapore as a hobby.
A postscript : Saturday 2 nd August, descendants are brought to visit the cluster of tombs belonging to Chua Kim Teng, Seow Geok Luan and Chua Eng Cheong by Raymond Goh
“Touching and joyous moments as descendants of Chua Kim Teng’s family pay respects to their ancestors for the first time. Even the ground was pulsating with energy as my compass luopan went haywire” Raymond Goh.
Today’s Chinese newspaper Zaobao, reported on a significant find of Lee Kuan Yew’s maternal ancestry in the depths of the forest of Bukit Brown. It is the find of the year (2014) for Bukit Brown researchers and bloggers Raymond Goh and Walter Lim.
Please click on image to enlarge
“The 4 related tombs ranging from 70 to 127 years in Bukit Brown and Greater Bukit Brown (Lao Sua) has been rediscovered by local historical researchers and are valuable resources for the study of our founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s maternal grandfather, Chua Kim Teng family history “
The find was discovered on 1 st July. From photos sent to Raymond by a tomb keeper in the area, Raymond subsequently on the same day, verified it on site as belonging to Lee Kuan Yew’s family. The find was kept under wraps to allow Zaobao correspondent Chia Yen Yen, time to conduct further research with family members of Lee Kuan Yew, specifically his brother, Dr Lee Suan Yew contributed this family photo to the article.
The 4 tombs were identified as belonging to Chua Kim Teng and his two wives Seow Geok Luan and Leong Ah Soon, and Lee Kuan Yew’s maternal great grandfather Chua Eng Cheong. They are from Lee Kuan Yew’s mother side ie Mrs Lee Chin Koon nee Chua Jim Neo. Leong Ah Soon’s grave is situated in Bukit Brown Cemetery, the other three are situated close together in a family cluster in Lao Sua Hokkien Cemetery which is located in the hill known as Bukit Brown in old maps. Lau Sua Hokkien Cemetery is adjacent to Bukit Brown Cemetery.
This extended family portrait was taken at 92 Kg Java Rd bungalow where Lee Kuan Yew was born.
Additional info on the house: The Cheng Kee Hean Association celebrated its silver jubilee in June 1918 with the taking of group photograph and a thanksgiving ceremony at the house of Mr Chua Kim Teng (vice-president) in Kampong Java Road.
The link to the FB posting by Raymond Goh when he first identified the tombs here (only accessible if you have a facebook account)
“The inscriptions also attest to the rich burial Chinese culture and customs being practiced in Bukit Brown cemetery. As the dragon dance and flag beats, the gates of Heaven are opened (Chua Eng Cheong’s tomb inscriptions)” Raymond Goh
Translation of Zaobao Article
The tombs of Chua Ying Chiang and son Chua Kim Teng were rediscovered by local history researchers, Raymond Goh and Walter Lim. Although they have seen the tombs before, it left no earlier impression on them until a news report about the rickshaw puller who saved Lee Kuan Yew’s life emerged recently. Raymond then remembered, Lee Kuan Yew had mentioned his maternal grandfather Chua Kim Teng and grandmother Leong Ah Soon in his memoirs. Coincidently at the same time, Soh Ah Beng, a tomb keeper had used his mobile phone to take a photo of the tombstone and forwarded it to Raymond who later confirmed that the tombs belong to the ancestors of the Chua family.
Zaobao correspondent, Chia Yen Yen together with Raymond Goh and Walther Lim specially made a trip to the deep forested area of Bukit Brown known as “Lau San”, meaning old hill to substantiate the find. They also discovered the tomb of Chua Kim Teng’s second wife, Seow Geok Luan next to Chua Ying Chiang (Chua KimTeng’s father). However, the tomb of Lee Kuan Yew’s maternal grandmother, Leong Ah Soon was missing. On conducting further research and the Bukit Brown’s burial register, they finally located the tomb of Leong Ah Soon.
Two descendants of the Chua family, retired accountants, Seet Keong Fatt and Seet Keong Hoe, told Zaobao, that every year during “Ching Ming”, they would visit their maternal grandmother, Leong Ah Soon’s grave to pay their respects. However, they were no longer aware of the whereabouts of their maternal grandfather and great grandfathers’ graves. The mother of the two Seet brothers, Chua Swee Neo is the the youngest daughter of Chua Kim Teng and Leong Ah Soon. Chua Swee Neo is also the younger sister of Chua Jim Neo (Lee Kuan Yew’s mother). She had married Seet Cheng Kang in a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony in 1937 and their wedding was reported in the press.
Based on the “Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew”, for a married daughter’s family to live with the in-laws (as was the case for Lee Chin Koon and Chua Jim Neo living with the Chuas) was not accepted in a traditional Chinese family. But to a Chinese Peranakan family from Malacca it was common.
Although Chua Kim Teng was born in Singapore, his father Chua Ying Chiang came from a typical Peranakan family in Malacca. Chua Ying Chiang’s tomb at the 127 year old “Lau San” of Bukit Brown is very large, estimated to be 40 feet in length and 24 feet in width, reflecting on his illustrious life. However, it is a pity that what information about his life that can be found today is limited.
Chua Kim Teng’s second wife, Seow Geok Luan’s tomb is next to Chua Ying Chiang, and much smaller.
According to the old map, the 3 tombs are at the “Lau San” of Bukit Brown.
The inscription on Chua Ying Chiang’s tombstone recorded his death date as April 1887. On the tombstone are carvings of dragons, unicorns, cranes and deer. This reveals the beliefs and importance placed on the “dragons’ veins” and “fengshui” meaning posterity and prosperity.
The other couplets are “龙挺旗鼓天门开、虎拒艮宫地户闭and “排衙之砂真有情、癸向艮流富贵龙” which translates to : “As the dragon dance, and the flags beat, the gates of heaven are open. The surrounding terrain gives support, and prosperous and illustrious the dragon becomes”
The names of Chua Ying Chiang’s son, Chua Kim Teng and daughters: Beow Neo, Tam Neo and Cheng Neo are inscribed on the tombstone. However, based on family tree records, the names of the other two sons, Kim Tiong and Kim Tye are missing from the tombstone.
Chua Kim Teng (1865-1944) outlived his 3 wives. On his tombstone are names of 6 sons and 8 daughters. However, the name of his adopted son, Keng Seng (adopted by wife Leong Ah Soon) was omitted. His other 2 daughters, namely Sim Neo and Siew Neo were also omitted. There is a possibility that that the names of his descendants were copied from the tombstone of his second wife, Seow Geok Luan which explains why the 2 youngest daughters’ names were omitted.
According to Dr Lee Suan Yew, both his paternal grandfather, Lee Yun Long and his maternal grandfather, Chua Kim Teng died during the Japanese Occupation. He was 11 years old when his maternal grandfather passed away and he still remembers his mother Chua Jim Neo making arrangements for his grandfather’s funeral and burial.
Chua Kim Teng was born in 1865 and died in 1944 . As recorded on his tombstone, his ancestors are from Fujian, Zhangzhou, Haicheng, Zhen village (福建漳州海澄陈莊).
Dr Lee Suan Yew has the impression that his maternal grandfather was wealthy, lived in a big house, was generous and often gave his grandchildren money to buy preserved olives, sour plums and other snacks. He said that his brother Lee Kuan Yew was born in his maternal grandfather’s 2-storey bungalow at No. 92 Kampong Java. He has an old photo of the family, including his mother, maternal grandfather and grandmother, aunties and uncles, taken in front of the big bungalow.
The Chua family later moved to another big house at Lorong L, Telok Kurau. Based on a “For Rent” advertisement in the Straits Times dated 28 July 1928, the bungalow at Kampong Java had water and gas supply, telephones lines, a garage and a tennis court. It was a magnificent bungalow.
Dr Lee said that his maternal grandfather had three wives. First wife, Seow Chue Luan and second wife, Seow Geok Luan are sisters. His maternal grandfather had one son and 3 daughters with his first wife and 2 sons and 3 daughters with his second wife. He had 3 sons and 4 daughters with his third wife.
Based on records in the “Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew”, Leong Ah Soon was a Hakka woman from Indonesia. She was a young widow with 2 young children. Lee Kuan Yew’s mother, Chua Jim Neo is the eldest daughter of Chua Kim Teng and Leong Ah Soon.
According to Dr Lee, besides the Kampong Java and Telok Kurau bungalows, his maternal grandfather owns several properties at Claymore Road. The properties were subsequently sold due to the Great Depression.
Based on old newspaper records, Chua KimTeng was the owner of a market at East Coast. Lee Kuan Yew in his memoirs mentioned that his maternal grandfather owned a large rubber plantation and the family sometimes took the bullock cart to the plantation for vacations.
Although Chua Kim Teng was a successful businessman, he was only actively involved in the mutual aid organisation Cheng Kee Hean Association which was founded in 1893. In November 1921, on the 25th anniversary of the association, a celebration dinner was held at the Kampong Java bungalow. Chua was then the Vice President of the association.
The tombstone of Lee Kuan Yew’s maternal grandmother, Leong Ah Soon is on a hillside of the Bukit Brown cemetery. Although the tombstone is not considered big, neither can it be considered small and is well kept. According to records in “Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew”, Leong Ah Soon had 9 children. However, on her tombstone inscribed were the names of 7 sons and 10 daughters, a total of 17 children. There were also names of 7 grandsons and 6 granddaughters.
According to Dr Lee Suan Yew, the name of Leong Ah Soon’s adopted son, Chua Keng Seng (formerly Tan Keng Seng – son of sworn sister) was also inscribed on the tombstone. Leong Ah Soon’s daughter, Watt Neo is from her previous marriage. The names of Leong Ah Soon’s sons and daughters which were inscribed on her tombstone include the children of Chua Kim Teng’s first and second wives.
It is interesting to note that the couplet “源前皆赤子，益上是青天” on the tombstone has been amended and it differs from the original couplet “眼前皆赤子、头上是青天” which refers to court officials who are impartial. Does it imply that she treated all her children equally? Another couplet reads“自得山中趣，谁论世上名”. It literally translates to “when you know the pleasures of the hills , who cares about fame in one’s lifetime”.
Not only did Leong Ah Soon marry her daughter, Chua Jim Neo to Lee Kuan Yew’s father, Lee Chin Koon, she also took Lee Chin Koon’s sister, Lee Kim Neo as the bride for her eldest son Chua Keng Hoe.
Lee Kuan Yew, in his memoirs, said that his maternal grandmother had a different view on his education. His maternal grandmother had insisted on sending the young Lee Kuan Yew who was barely 6 years old to a private class in an attap house to learn and recite the Chinese Classics. When he complained to his mother about the difficulties he had learning Chinese, his mother pleaded with his maternal grandmother on his behalf to let him discontinue Chinese lessons. However, his maternal grandmother insisted that he learned some Chinese and transferred him to a private school in Joo Chiat. The school was impressive with 10 classrooms and had between 35 to 40 students per class. The young Lee Kuan Yew still had difficulties learning Chinese. Three months later, Lee Kuan Yew’s mother again pleaded with his maternal grandmother who finally agreed to let him transfer to an English school.
Based on records on Leong Ah Soon’s tombstone, she died on October 9, 1934. She was born in 1881 and was 16 years younger than her husband, Chua Kim Teng.
Based on archival records, Leong Ah Soon had on the eve of World War I, in 1916, with the joint effort of women in Malaya purchased fighter jets as gifts for the British government. She had donated ten dollars.
(Thanks to Elaine Tan for the translation with inputs from Raymond Goh)
蔡金鼎虽是成功商人，但从旧档案看，他只活跃于1893年创立的互助组织正气轩（Cheng Kee Hean Association）。1921年11月，这个组织庆祝25周年时，曾在蔡金鼎上述甘榜爪哇别墅举行盛大庆祝会，他当时任正气轩副会长。
by Norman Cho
In 2011, I discovered the grave of my paternal grandfather, Cho Kim Leong at Bukit Brown Cemetery. Since then, I have been trying to locate the tomb of his father, Cho Boon Poo (Cho Poo), who was laid to rest in Malacca. I had absolutely no clue as to which cemetery he was buried. Bukit Cina and Jelutong cemeteries came to mind but these are huge cemeteries with more than a hundred thousand graves each. They are maintained by the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple but pre-war records are unavailable. It seemed that I had hit a dead-end!
However, miracles do happen. To me, these are little blessings from above. Perhaps, the old man had wanted his descendants to visit him and had influenced how things turned out. It must have been decades since the last time any descendants paid their respects at his tomb. He must have known my sincerity and had helped me along without my knowledge. The breakthrough came in April 2014. A relative whom I had never known, contacted me via Facebook to introduce himself as the maternal great-grandson of Cho Poo, after he had discovered that we have matching ancestors from an online Family Tree software on the internet. 70 year old Vincent Lee was descended from Cho Poo’s eldest son, Cho Kim Choon, while my paternal grandfather, Cho Kim Leong, was the third son. He resides in Australia and was planning a trip down to Singapore in April 2014. He requested my assistance to put him in touch with the relatives in Singapore.
It turned out to be a blessing for me! I talked to my eldest aunt, Rose Cho (88 years old), to ask for the contacts of other relatives from the Cho clan. That was how I found aunt Elizabeth Cho (62 years old), who was the only child from the fifth son, Cho Kim Hock, a famed state badminton player for Malacca in the 1930s. We organised a dinner for our overseas relative and his wife. During dinner, I had a nice chat with Elizabeth – whom the family affectionately calls Bert – about Cho Poo. She told me that her only visit to his grave was when she was a child of 9 years old. That was more than 50 years ago! Her father who was the only surviving son at that time dreamt of his father asking him why he had not visited him in such a long time. Heeding the call, he brought his wife and daughter to pay their respects to his father. Since then, he had visited the grave alone every year till several years before his death in 1990.
Aunt Elizabeth, had the memory of an elephant! She vividly recalled that the cemetery was about a 40-minutes-drive from the Malacca Town, but had no inkling about the name of the cemetery. She further described that the cemetery was sliced into two by the main road, there was a cemetery on the left and another on the right, and Cho Poo’s was on the right. The tomb was relatively large and on a gentle-sloping plain. It faced a vast and beautiful paddy field. She added that the cemetery was on the land which once belonged to Cho Poo and was probably the private burial ground of the Cho family. Later, when the family was not doing well financially, it was sold to the Malacca’s Eng Choon Hway Kwan and it became a cemetery for the Eng Choon community. She thinks that the tomb should still be there, given the leisurely pace of development in Malaysia. She asked if I would be able to find the tomb. I told her that I could try. All her clues were useful, except for the paddy field. I told her that I doubt the paddy field in her memory still exists. Nevertheless, I took whatever clues that I could use and converted them into intelligent information.
Firstly, I eliminated Bukit Cina as it was near Malacca Town and therefore could not be a 40-minutes-drive. Next, I looked at the map of Jelutong cemetery but it was not sliced into two by any road. I asked a few Malaccan friends of other lesser-known cemeteries and searched the Google Map for them. Finally, I found a relatively small cemetery, probably no larger than 20 acres, which was dissected by a main road. It was away from the Malacca Town and would probably take about 30 minutes to get there by car. This was the Krubong Cemetery. To be certain that I had located the correct cemetery, I contacted a Malaccan friend who verified that this cemetery is indeed managed and owned by the Eng Choon Hway Kwan. He helped me to obtain the mobile contact of the tomb-keeper to locate the grave. With modern technology, I communicated with the tomb-keeper via Whatsapp to economize on the phone bill. Amazingly, he found the tomb the very next day. The search was completed successfully in less than a week since I started piecing the information together!
I informed aunt Elizabeth who was extremely excited and delighted with the news. We decided to go on a trip to Malacca to pay our respects to our common ancestor, Cho Boon Poo. He was the first ancestor who came to this part of the world to carve a better life for himself and his family. By braving the elements to come to the land across the Southern Seas, he had changed his destiny and that of all his descendants. It was through sheer grit and hard work that he built a successful business and owned vast plantations in Malacca and Seremban dealing in palm leaves, gambier, tapioca and rubber. We all had to be grateful to him for being able to lead good lives in Malaya and Singapore for six generations and counting. He married nyonya wives and that was how my Peranakan roots came about. Being a strict father, all his children were well-brought up and a few of his descendants took on key positions in the civil service.
I was told how strict he was about punctuality. The family would have dinner at 7pm sharp and everyone was expected at the table. Nobody could join in once dinner was served. If you missed dinner, it meant that there would be no dinner for you. During one occasion, his fourth son, Kim Tian came home late but the kind servant saved some food for him. When found out, the servant was sacked. He had a strong character and was on the board of the executive committee of the Eng Choon Hway Kwan.
We arrived at his grave on the morning of 23 June 2014 and I noticed that his tomb was the largest amongst the 50-odd tombs in the vicinity.
What captivated me were the Peranakan tiles (Majolica tiles) which adorned his tomb. No other tombs in the surrounding area had this feature. I was told that having Peranakan tiles on the tombs was not widely popular with the Malaccans. Unlike in Singapore, figurines of the Golden Boy and Jade Maiden were conspicuously absent in Malaccan tombs of even the very wealthy. The tomb used to face water-filled paddy fields which are supposed to be auspicious – water and rice. Unfortunately the paddy fields had since given way to modern development. Cho Poo’s tomb seems to be steep in Fengshui elements : the front courtyard of the tomb forms part of a hexagon instead of the normal rectangle or semi-circle. Along the perimeter of the front courtyard lies a water catchment channel which would collect water when it rains. This had since been covered with soil. The tomb shoulders are angular but eventually taper to form convoluting arms that seem to embrace the courtyard. Likely, it symbolizes a firm hold on wealth.Through the tomb inscriptions, I found the names of one of his wives (Lee Hong Neo) and that of the male descendants – sons, grandsons and even great-grandsons! He died at the age of sixty-nine in 1930. My aunt offered joss-sticks and joss-paper as a form of respect to our ancestor.
This trip has been very fruitful not only about finding out more about Cho Poo and paying our respects to him, but it has built a closer bond between aunt Elizabeth, her husband and I, even though we had known each other only recently.
More on Norman Cho’s journey of discovery, here