Moved by “unseen” hands, the deities which used to be located at the former entrance of Bukit Brown Cemetery, were also moved  when the pillars of the gates were relocated.

They now have a brand new shelter –  we have been informed by a credible source – which was “upgraded”  by Fusion Clad Precision (of their own initiative),  the company commissioned by the National Heritage Board to restore the gates.

Photos captured by Brownie volunteers help document the “sheltering” of the deities which we believe are the efforts of a community who work behind the scenes.

unsheltered in May 2016 Bianca Polak

An unsheltered Earth Diety also known as Tu Di Gong or Tua Pek Kong taken sometime in May 2016 by Bianca Polak before a new shelter was put in place.

Guanyin 2015 Photo Darren Koh

Guanyin captured in 2015 by Darren Koh before the gates were moved. According to Darren,  Guanyin is a heavenly deity unusual for a cemetery which is traditionally the purview of the Earth Deity . But then, this is Guanyin who will take any form necessary to help humankind.

Earth Deity flanked by 2 Datuk Kongs June 2016

Fast forward to June 2016, and the altar, now relocated along with the gates, have now been “regularised” with the disappearance of the Guanyins, and the installation of a “new” Tua Pek Kong flanked by two Datuk Gongs, one on each side. (photo by Darren Koh)

The “upgrade” by Fusion Clad include the paint job and sensor lights, shelving and a dry place to store  joss sticks and  with even a lighter in place (although the last may have been placed there by others for convenience). The community who work at Bukit Brown have been observed by Brownies to pay respects before they start each construction work day  as a mark of respect and request blessings for a “safe environment”

Upgrading (photo Catherine)

Lighter hidden out of sight (photo Catherine Lim)

Bamboo with felicitious wirtings on left Darren Koh June 2012

Together with this new shelter interesting is the emergence of the green bamboo inscribed with felicitations – not our local tradition, according to Darren and he wonders wonder what is the story behind them (photo June 2016 of bamboo inscriptions on left side of altar by Darren Koh)

Bamboo with felitications wriiten on right wall Darren Koh

Bamboo inscriptions on right side of altar (June 2016 photo by Darren Koh)



Change is inevitable; Memories endure; The tangible is the gateway to the intangible.


A closeup of the iron wrought  design  detail shows what uncannily  looks like a bat . In Chinese “Fu” is a homonym for fortune.  (photo Chua Ai Lin)

The iconic gates of Bukit Brown which had stood in the same spot for some 90 years were removed on September 2015,  and have been  undergoing the delicate process of refurbishment since January 2016. It   is expected to be relocated back in June 2016 and enjoined with the pillars which  have already been relocated to the new entrance.

Members of All Things Bukit Brown and the Singapore Heritage Society as part of the working committee on Bukit Brown chaired by the Ministry of National Development  were invited to a private viewing of the work in progress in March. The refurbishment is being undertaken by Fusion Clad Precision who were  hired by the National Heritage Board.


Explaining the process (photo Chua Ai Lin)


SHS, NHB and ATBB representatives at Fusion Clad Precision premises in March 2016 (Photo Chua Ai Lin)

According to a Straits Times report published on May 3, 2016 “Iconic Gates to Greet Visitors to Bukit Brown Cemetery Again” :

“The refurbishment, which started in January, has five core steps. Rust is first removed before coatings are applied to reduce future corrosion.

The gates’ lock and latch components as well as lampholders are then repaired before missing parts are replaced. The last step is to reinforce the gates’ structural integrity.

The team, comprising four master craftsmen and three other members, is at step two of the process.

Its managing director Teo Khiam Gee said the gates need a lot of attention as well as “the human touch”.

“Skilful hands are important as the parts are in varying states of disrepair. Its original state was very fragile. It is like handling a baby,” he said.

The structure is made up of parts, such as a pair of cast-iron gates through which cars used to pass, two side gates for pedestrians, and four free-standing square columns.

It was likely prefabricated in Britain and shipped to Singapore. Its square columns were cast on the spot.”

The report adds:

“NHB’s assistant chief executive of policy and community, Mr Alvin Tan, said retaining and refurbishing the gates are important as they “provide a sense of arrival to the cemetery and preserve a sense of continuity for visitors and interest groups”.

The refurbishment is an initiative of a multi-agency work group chaired by the Ministry of National Development. It includes NHB, the Land Transport Authority (LTA), and civic organisations All Things Bukit Brown and the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS).

The effort is guided by conservation best practices shared by SHS. The heritage board also has its own in-house metals specialist, Mr Ian Tan, manager of the heritage research and assessment division.

When ready, the gates will be painted black – a common colour for outdoor use.”

You can find  is a  step by step graphic representation provided by ST on the process here

NHB produced a short documentary on the removal of the gates and the relocation of the pillars which supports it:

Bukit Brown Gates March 2012_Chua Ai Lin

The Way We Were : Bukit Brown Gates at Lorong Halwa Qing Ming, March 2012 (photo Chua Ai Lin)


We honour the memory of the gates in our recently launched book WWII@ Bukit Brown.


An artist impression of the iconic gates which graces the back cover of the recently launched WWII @ Bukit Brown book

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


The  Art Nouveau (Peranakan) tiles of Bukit Brown have caught the attention of a French academic who helms an international research team. The team  has embarked on a 4 year study of the tiles in Asia, under an MOU with the Unesco University and Heritage Forum.

Professor Chantal Zheng together with her husband, Dr Zheng Shun-De, visited Bukit Brown recently, guided by our tiles expert, Victor Lim.

Victor Lim guiding.a grooup  Chantal Zheng ( ) with her husband

Victor Lim with Chantal and Shun De Zheng, pictured here nearest to Victor.  (photo Claire Leow)

The visit, so impressed them, they wrote to All Things Bukit Brown to tell us more about their project and how they hope, they can include Bukit Brown in their study. Reproduced here with Professor Chantal’s kind permission.

“I am very grateful to your association and to Mr Victor LIM for having introduced me to this fascinating Singapore Cultural Heritage field concerning « Art nouveau tiles ». As a matter of fact, this is particularly interesting for the Tiles research team I am responsable for in the IRASIA (Research Institute for Asian Studies): Aix-Marseille University in the south of France. My Research Institute (IRASIA) is conducting historical, anthropological and sociological researches on many countries in East and South-East Asia such as China, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, India, and Taiwan.

Three years ago, we submitted on the behalf of the University a research project on “Art nouveau tiles” in Asia to the Unesco University and Heritage Forum. The project has been accepted and a MOU has been signed by Aix – Marseille Université and The Unesco Forum for 4 years (2012-2016). The first objective being to make a survey of the presence of these specific tiles in East Asia (China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea), South-East Asia (Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia) and even in South Asia with India. The second objective is to select and write a report on some particular and (to use Unesco vocabularly) “exceptional” places where tiles are found in great number.

It appears that these tiles have been diffused by the Chinese Diaspora and the Peranakan culture in Asia. They constitute a cultural asset common to many Asian countries, are the testimony of cultural, artistic and even commercial exchanges between East and West at the beginning of the XXth century and that is why they present a very great interest for the research. In Singapore, I have discovered many districts with very beautiful and unique houses decorated with a profusion of tiles, all in very good state and very well preserved. And I also had the opportunity to make a visit to Bukit Brown Cemetery

I was very surprised to see so many beautiful Peranakan tombs decorated with old tiles. As far as I understand the situation, this cemetery is now on the way to being destroyed for the construction of a road. That is a real pity indeed and I do hope very sincerely the tiles may be preserved, as I doubt there is another place in the world comparable to Bukit Brown. It is our hope that these tiles will be kept in good condition as they must be considered an important element of the Singapore national treasure.

Conscious of the interest that Singapore presents and of the precious contribution of the Peranakan culture to its cultural heritage, my research team on Asian Art nouveau tiles (which includes 7 French researchers and architects, a Japanese Museum director: Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Archaelogy, a Taiwanese Association for Cultural Heritage, a Taiwanese historian and a Taiwanese architect: University of Kaohsiung), is prepared to focus now on the history of the Republic of Singapore to discover the cultural and commercial links with other Asian countries in the diffusion of Art Nouveau tiles (Japanese or European). We are very grateful to your association and to your colleagues for the help in our research during our short stay in Singapore and hope we will continue in the future to cooperate with you and with Singapore architects and historians on the tiles subject.” Chantal ZHENG, Professor, Department of Asiatic Studies, Aix-Marseille Université

Victor together with the Zhengs at his office

The Zhengs at Victor Lim’s office showcasing his collection of tiles

Montage of Tiles (photo composite: Joy Loh)

Montage of Tiles (photo composite: Joy Loh)

book (photo Victor Lim)

A book on art nouveau tiles in French published by the Zhengs (photo Victor Lim)

You can learn more about the tiles this Sunday 12 January at Bukit Brown with Victor Lim. Details here




Kwong Tong Cemetery Kuala Lumpur

 by Simone Lee

4 November, 2013

The Kwong Tong Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Kuala Lumpur, covering 343 acres of land. It is the final resting place of many prominent city pioneers including Yap Ah Loy, the founder of Kuala Lumpur. In 2007, the 112-year-old cemetery – a green lung in the city – was named a Heritage Park.

My great grandparents are buried in Kwong Tong Cemetery  and in October this year I visited them for the second  time in 20 years.  I can barely remember my first visit as a child. The visit was a result of a confluence of events, the  catalyst : Bukit Brown.  I first  visited Bukit Brown  in July,  a week after the death of my father. In the weeks that followed I joined  the Brownies regularly on their guided walks. I  was moved by the stories they told of the pioneers buried there and their contributions.  On October 5th, after  I conducted  my first guided walk “Stories of Ladies in the Straits Settlements”,  I felt I was ready  to trace the path of my roots.

Even as I embarked on the journey , I was helped by a  fellow Brownie, Jonathan Siew who introduced me to his friend Boon Hin  who knew Kwong Tong Cemetery well. He  drove my mother and I  around the cemetery. Naturally, our first stop was at my great grandparents’ tomb .

My Great grandparents Graves

Just like many other sinkehs (new comers, fresh from the boat from China) at that time, my great grandfather, 利曉春(1888-1962) and his wife arrived from Meixian, Guangdong in the 1930’s. He was a tailor but soon went  into tin mining, a thriving commodity  in Kuala Lumpur at that time. He was successful and brought my grandfather over to help him in the tin-mining business. The entire family (3 generations; great grandparents, grandparents’ siblings and their children) lived in a large British colonial villa at Bukit Bintang (which was later torn down to build shopping malls).

1 Kwang Tong Simone Lee

Kwang Tong: The graves of 利曉春(1888-1962) and his wife, Simone’s great grandparents (photo Simone Lee)

Mah Kan Poh

My great grandparent’s neighbour is  Mah Kan Poh

2a Nearly next to great grandfather is Mr.Mah Kan Poh (photo Simone Lee)

Kwong Tong: Mah Kan Poh (photo Simone Lee)

The epitaph  on  the late Mah Kan Poh’s tombstone erected by his descendants.

“Born on the 14th day of the 12th Moon of Thung Chee Yam Shutt Year, or the 1st of February 1863; and Died on the 29th of May, 1938, or the 1st of 5th Moon, Mo Yen Year – at the age of 77 years.  The late Mr.Mah Kan Poh was a native of Yong Kow village, Soon Tuck District – in the province of Canton. He was very thrifty and hardworking, and took to silk trading as his first walk of life. At the age of 26 years, he came over to Malaya. He was first interested in tin-mining and then – revenue farms. Later on he took to rubber planting and he could walk for miles daily in his estate and mines.  One of his favourite hobbies was hunting. On many occasions, we advised him to give this up, but he turned a deaf ear to our counsel.  In summing up, we might say that the deceased was a man of great courage and determination, and that we and our descendants should follow his footsteps as best we could.”

3 .Mah Kan Poh names of descendants (photo Simone Lee)

Kwong Tong : Mah Kan Poh’s epitaph .(photo Simone Lee)

The  Nanyang Volunteers Memorial erected in 1947

When the Sino Japanese War erupted on 7 July 1937, the Chinese government’s logistic concern was security of supply routes importing war materials into China. This led to the construction of the Burma Road linking Kunming with Yangon port in British Burma. The Chinese government also realized the lack of skilled drivers and mechanics in China. To solve this problem, they turned to China Relief Fund headed by Mr Tan Kah Kee to recruit drivers and mechanics from all over Nanyang, today’s South East Asia. These drivers and mechanics are known as the Nanyang Volunteers, 南侨机工. From February to September 1939, 3200 Nanyang Volunteers left in 15 batches and most eventually served on the Burma Road. Most of the Nanyang Volunteers were Chinese man but there were also some Malay and Indian men and four Chinese women. Source

Nanyang Volunteers Memorial (photo Simone Lee)

Kwong Tong: Nanyang Volunteers Memorial (photo Simone Lee)

The Japanese War Memorial

This site marks a 10,000 square feet mass grave of the casualties during the Japanese occupation. Remains of close to a thousand victims were relocated from the original site, “Tomb of War Victims of the Compatriots of the Republic of China” which was in a dilapidated state.

10 Japanese War Memorial (Simone Lee)

Kwong Tong : Japanese War Memorial (Simone Lee)

The Butcher’s Guild Graves

The "entrance" to the Butcher's Guild graves (photo Simone Lee)

The “entrance” to the Butcher’s Guild graves (photo Simone Lee)

Built in 1931, from the back, it’s a  walk through concrete grids towards the front yard.

13a  Concrete grids of graves  (Simone Lee)

Kwong Tong:concrete grids of the graves of the Butcher’s Guild, view from the back (photo Simone Lee)

The Lim Lian Geok Memorial

Lim Lian Geok (1901-1985) was former Chairman of The United Chinese School Teachers’ Association Of Malaysia (popularly known as Jiao Zong), was a great educationalist as well as a famous social activist.

People from all over the country, put aside their works and came all the way to pay their last respects to him, including high-ranking leaders of political parties. A fund in memory of him was set up, which was later registered as LLG Cultural Development Centre, a non-profit organization. Source


Kwong Tong Lim Lian Geok Memorial (photo Simone Lee)

Lim Lian Geok (photo Simone Lee)

Kwong Tong Lim Lian 1 Geok Memorial (photo Simone Lee)

Kampong house near Lim Lian Geok ( photo Simone Lee)

Kwong Tong: Kampong house near Lim Lian Geok ( photo Simone Lee)

Chua Cheng Tuan : The Cycle & Carriage Family

The Cycle & Carriage family: All except for the 2 tombs at extreme left and right (forefront) are in the Chua family gated plot. You can even see the fence surrounding the cluster behind the trees on the left of photo. At the centre of the plot is Mr.Chua Cheng Tuan, the founder of Cycle & Carriage. His brother Chua Cheng Hock  is buried in Bukit Brown.

Kwong Tong centre of the plot is Mr.Chua Cheng Tuan, the founder of Cycle & Carriage (photo Simone Lee)

Kwong Tong : centre of the family cluster is plot of Mr.Chua Cheng Tuan, the founder of Cycle & Carriage (photo Simone Lee)

kwong Tong 1 Cycle and Carriage (photo Simone Lee)

Kwong Tong Another view of the Cycle and Carriage family grave (photo Simone Lee)

A pavilion was built by Chua Cheng Tuan’s family, in front of the family plot, in his memory. Today many other graves surround the pavilion.

A pavilion was built by Chua Cheng Tuan's family  (photo Simone Lee)

Kwong Tong : Memorial pavilion was Chua Cheng Tuan (photo Simone Lee)

Other interesting tombs at Kwong Tong Cemetery

This collective teochew  tomb has a large mound and a tortoise supporting the tomb stone. Engravings of the Confucian story; 24 filial exemplars lines the arms of this large tomb.

11a Large tomb (Simone Lee)

11 Large tomb (Simone Lee)

Kwong Tong:panels with stories of the 24 filial piety exemplars on the “arms” on the Teochew tomb (photo Simone Lee)

5 Interesting Tombs (Simone Lee)

8 interesting tombs.jpg (Simone Lee)

Kwong Tong Tiles (photo Simone Lee)












31  October 2013

At Bukit Brown, it is not uncommon to find ceramic photos of the deceased on their tombstones.  They have withstood the test of time and weathered the elements of sun and rain. This one was spotted in pristine condition during the guided walk on tiles and tomb carvings on Sunday 27 October.

Ceramic photo Tay Koh Bok  1927 Peter Pak

Ceramic photo of Tay Koh Bok who died in 1927 (photo by Peter Pak)’

Mrs Tay Koh Bok (Madam Wee Geok Kiew )

The technology for ceramic photos date back to 1854, originating from France. How are they made?

“A porcelain (or ceramic) portrait is produced by firing an image onto a porcelain plaque at very high temperatures in a kiln for several hours, creating a permanent bond. The result is a vivid portrait that resists fading and the elements for 100 years or more.” source

“….transferring photo images to ceramic was a multi-step, laborious, time-consuming & potentially hazardous process, involving photographic glass plates & several types of light-sensitive emulsion salts (some of which are highly toxic). The emulsified ceramic piece (ie. now affixed with the photo) was then repeatedly fired at high temperature for many hours to obtain an impervious vitrified surface, which was then coated with a protective sealant.” source

Ceramic photos b Joyce Le Musurier

Another view of Mrs Tay Koh Bok  (photo Joyce Le Musurier)

From the mid 1930s onwards, the technology for ceramic photos became  available in Singapore   Before that, ceramic photos were mostly made in China, Holland, Germany & America. So the photo of Tay (1929) could  conceivably have been ordered from China.

Nah Guan Seng of Scientific Photo Studio appeared to be the 1st person to offer photo ceramic services here. His photo studio was located at Bras Brasah Road, while the photo lab was at Paya Lebar.

New Singapore Industry: Ceramic Portraits (ST – 15 Sep 1935):…

EXCERPT: “The advantages of ceramic portraiture over ordinary photography are many. It never fades, whether exposed to sun or rain, and for use [on] a grave, it has no rival.Kiangsi porcelain is said to be the best in the world for this purpose and is largely used. The work of burning, the most difficult part of the job, is done at the Studio’s laboratory at Paya Lebar. Expert knowledge of the art and great care are necessary in regulating the heat. ”

More on ceramic photos here

Ceramic photos a Joyce Le Mesurier

Ceramic photos (photo Joyce Le Mesurier)

The most spectacular portraits of the deceased are the A4 size photos on the Tok tombs, although it is unclear whether the ceramic photo technology was used. The photo of Onn Cheng Tuan shows her in traditional nonya wear and accompanying  jewelry which also speaks to the material culture of those times.

Tok photo a Joyce Le Mesurier

The Tok tombs (photo Joyce Le Mesurier)

Editors note: Research by Pat Sg of Heritage Singapore Bukit Brown Cemetery



An Unusual Tableau


Dateline” 21 October 2013

The carvings on the tombs at Bukit Brown are commonly drawn from the 4 Chinese classics. Brownie Yik Han spotted one particular carving on an altar table which intrigued him.

The Tableaux of Virtues  (photo Ang Yik Han)

The Tableau of Virtues (photo Ang Yik Han)

His observations  of the characters depicted in the tableau taken from the Romance of Three Kingdoms and what they represent:

Instead of the usual set of suspects this tableau has a rather unique combination of figures which I have yet to come across in other tombs.

The one in the middle seems to be Zhuge Liang from his garb and feather fan. On the right is almost certainly Shun and the white elephant which helped him till his fields. And I guess the one on the left of  Zhuge Liang is Liu Bei as he looks rather regal. Now, each of these characters exemplify a certain virtue: Zhuge Liang – loyalty (忠), Liu Bei – benevolence (仁),Shun – filial piety (孝), so there we have part of the traditional set of virtues 忠孝仁义, the last being righteousness which is as close to the meaning in chinese as we can get in a word.

If the martial figure to the right of Zhuge Liang represents 义, the question is who can this be as it certainly is not Guan Yu, the usual poster boy for that virtue. Of course, this interpretation assumes the two figures at the extreme left are calefaire.

Editors note: If you would like to weigh in on the mysterious characters which have not been clearly  identified, please add your comments on this post.

Your can read more about other tomb carvings by Yik Han on The Wayang in the Tombs , Romance of the Three Kingdoms,  

The Four Professions, 

The Four Loves, 

The Four Appointments, 




Two Cats

Two cats flanking a deity’s marker (Photo: Peter Pak)

Are these a tiger and a lion?


Related posts:

Protective Guardian

Lions as Guardians

Door Protectors




An Unusual Elephant

Elephant (Photo: Raymond Goh)


Compare it with others:



A Protective Guardian

Fu De Zheng Shen protecting the tomb of Yeo Lock Ghee who died in 1925, as found by Raymond Goh:


Fu De Zheng Shen (Photo: Raymond Goh)


Notice the tiles, as well as the tiger guardians.


December 2017
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