Hong San See Temple

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By Claire Leow

True to the multi-cultural mosaic of Singapore, off a street called Mohamed Sultan Road is a magnificent Chinese temple of Minnan style, Minnan being the southern Chinese who immigrated to Singapore. This is Hong San See (凤山寺) – the temple on Phoenix Hill – which after restoration between 2007 and 2009 won a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2010. It topped 33 entries from 14 countries.

all things Bukit Brown organised an off-site tour to the temple to better understand the culture our forefathers practised and passed on to followers today.

We entered the temple through the Dragon Door on the right, stepping over (and not on) the threshold and left through the Tiger Door on the left. The centre entrance is closed as it is reserved for the gods.

Hong San See facade (Photo: Claire Leow)

Lim Loh’s name on a Hong San See pillar (Photo: Claire Leow)

The names of those who contributed to the building of the temple can be found inscribed in the elaborately decorated pillars of the temple.

 

Lim Bo Seng’s father Lim Loh, also known as Lim Hoon Leong’s (Lin Yun Long or 林云龙 – 林雲龍 in traditional Chinese script) name is seen inscribed on one of the pillars, one of many benefactors.

 

Lim Loh was buried in Bukit Brown. His son Lim Bo Seng is a renowned war hero of the famed Force 136.

 

Now, Lim Loh is from Na’an

 

Our knowledgeable guide Yik Han led our tour, telling us the history of the temple, its architecture, the early Lam Ann immigrants who brought the temple to Singapore, and the deity Guang Ze Zun Wang.

 

Lets start at the beginning. Hong San See is a temple at Lam Ann (Nan’an) in China, dedicated to the deity Guang Ze Zun Wang (广泽尊王) who is also referred to by several names including Guo Sheng Wang (郭圣王) and Guo Sheng Gong (郭圣公).

In Singapore, a pioneer from the Lam Ann clan, Neo Lim Kwee, built a temple in Tanjong Pagar, near Wallich Road, as a tribute to that original temple. That was in 1836. However, in 1907, that piece of land was acquired for development, and the temple moved to Mohd Sultan Road, with construction spanning 1908 to 1913, a grand project built at a then-cost of S$56,000. It was conceived in the traditional Min-nan style, aligned in a North-South axis, with courtyards and walled enclosures.

Singapore’s Hong San See still stands today. In greater glory than ever.

In the most recent restoration, master craftsmen from Quanzhou in Fujian Province crafted the exquisite carvings on the front of the temple. The restoration committee, which included a consultant for the Beijing Palace Museum, did extensive historical research to restore it to its former glory. UNESCO cited this rigorous attention to authenticity as a reason for the award.

 

 

 

 

the inner courtyard, towards the altar, Hong San See (Photo: Claire Leow)

 

the altar at Hong San See (Photo: Claire Leow)

 

the beams of Hong San See (Photo: Claire Leow)

 

“The Jury praised the Award of Excellence winner, Hong San See Temple Singapore, for reviving an important icon of Minnan temple architecture of the late Qing dynasty which is a living heritage landmark for the Lam Ann settlers and the Singapore community as a whole. The project’s rigorous conservation methodology has ensured that the authentic structure and fabric of the building are well-preserved. The community-based approach to restoration at Hong San See Temple stands to have a major impact in shifting the paradigm of conservation policy and practice in Singapore and around the region.” (Source)

 

There are some exquisite dragons….

 

Dragon on a beam, Hong San See (Photo: Claire Leow)

 

In fact, there are so many dragons, you would have a field day looking for them. They come gold and gilded, slithering up pillars, hiding under beams, carved onto beams, guarding the joss stick burners, in jian-nian glory on the roof beams (jian-nian = using tiles in a cut-and-paste style of construction.) Knock yourself out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But there is so much more to admire about the craftsmanship that went into the temple….

 

Jian-nian intricacies at Hong San See (Photo: Claire Leow)

There’s honestly so much to see that I cannot post them all. I can only say, go pay a visit and admire this work of art. It will also help you understand the pioneers’ longing for vestiges of home, and building a new life in early Singapore with roots reaching to China for inspiration and comfort.

 

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