History of Chinatown

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					History of Chinatown

     Draft Version
        Early Chinese Immigrants
• Earliest Chinese immigrants to Singapore arrived long before
  Raffles in 1819
• Cultivated gambier and pepper
• When Singapore's free port was established under the British
  administration, more Chinese immigrants flocked to Singapore
• By 1824, there were 3,317 Chinese settlers, almost one-third
  of the total population
             Origins of Chinatown
• Part of Raffles’ Town Plan, aka Jackson Plan (1823)
   • Carved out different ethnic enclaves in the new
     “downtown” of Singapore
   • An area each for the Malays, Indians, Chinese and
   • All enclaves are located around the Singapore River
       Plans for a Chinese Enclave
• Raffles had envisaged the Chinese people to form the bulk of
  the future town dwellers
• Thus, he allocated the whole area west of the Singapore River
  for a Chinese settlement
• The original kampung was divided into zones, a sector for
  each Chinese community of the same provincial origin and
  dialect group
  - Cantonese: Temple and Mosque Streets
  - Hokkiens: Telok Ayer and Hokkien Streets
  - Teochews: South Canal Road, Garden and Carpenter Streets
• The different trades were confined to specific areas, so each
  street took on its own identity
     Early Growth & Development
• Surge in Chinese immigrant numbers in early 20th century
    • Limited housing
    • Overcrowding
• Sub-divided rooms, called cubicles, were created for more
  living space
    • Crammed, unhealthy and unsafe
• Inevitably slums developed
• In the mid-1960s urban renewal schemes started
    • Residents were rehoused in housing estates
    • Street hawkers moved to Kreta Ayer Complex
    • Shophouses were upgraded
   Serving the Chinese Population
• Commerce
   • Wholesale and retail merchants
   • Godowns
• Places of worship
   • Wak Hai Cheng Bio (1820)
   • Fu Tak Chi (1820)
   • Thian Hock Keng Temple (1824)
• Entertainment
   • Theatre
   • Brothels
• Other services
   • Medical: Eu Yan Sang Pharmacy, Thong Chai Medical Hall
   • Money remittance
                 Chinatown Today
• Singapore's largest Historic District consisting of 4 sub-districts
   • Bukit Pasoh
   • Kreta Ayer
   • Telok Aye
   • Tanjong Pagar
• Given conservation status in the late 1980s
• Centre of Chinese festivals such as the Lunar New Year and
  the Mid-Autumn Festival
   • Street decorations
   • Festival markers
   • Performances
                 Interesting Fact
• Contrary to its name, Chinatown was not exclusively Chinese
   • Small communities of Indians traders around the junction
     of South Bridge Road and Upper Cross Street in the early
   • Indian temples (Sri Mariamman Temple, Nagore Gurgha
     Shrine) and Muslim mosques (Masjid Jamae, Al-Abrar
     Mosque) are located in the area as well
               South Bridge Road
• An major and important thoroughfare
   • It linked Singapore town to the New Harbour, Keppel
• As part of the "big town", import and export businesses
  including assorted wholesale and retail merchant traders,
  godowns, goldsmith shops (today still around the South
  Bridge Road/Cross Street junction), and more, set up shop
• The first steam tramway ran the full length of South Bridge
  Road from 1885, but ceased operations in 1894
                     Smith Street
• Smith Street lies between South Bridge Road and New Bridge
  Road, located at the centre of Chinatown
• Named after Sir Cecil Clementi Smith, Governor and High
  Commissioner of the Straits Settlements between 1887-1893
• Smith Street is also said to be the birthplace of Cantonese
  opera in Singapore
   • Popularly referred to as hei yuen kai or "theatre street", a
     reference to the 834-seat Chinese theatre Lai Chun Yuen,
     which was located at No. 36 Smith Street
• A red light area between 1901 and 1930 – at least 25 brothels
  on the street
• Job seekers would congregate at this street for hire by
  prospective employers
              Smith Street (cont’d)
• Today, Smith Street is an outdoor eating area known as the
  Chinatown Food Street which officially opened in 2001
   • The attractions are the hawker kiosks and shop-house
     restaurants offering a variety of Chinese delicacies
• This section of the street is closed to traffic in the evening
                   Temple Street
• Originally named Almeida Street
• Later renamed Temple Street after the Sri Mariamman
  Temple, or the many temples located nearby
• In the 19th century, the area around Temple Street was also
  home to the Malays and Indians, thus explaining the presence
  of Muslim and Hindu places of worship in the vicinity
• Currently, Temple Street is lined with quaint 2-storey baroque
  style shophouses, some of which have been rebuilt or
  renovated as part of the Chinatown conservation plans
• In 1997, a part of Temple Street was converted into a
  pedestrian mall
                        Sago Street
• Sago Street named after the many sago factories were located on it
   • In the 1850s, nearly 30 sago factories were operating in
      Singapore, mostly located at Sago Street and Sago Lane
• Many brothels that sprung up on Sago Street
   • Next to Smith Street which was a notorious red-light area from
      1901 to the 1930s
   • In 1901, there were about 14 prostitute dens on Sago Street
• Jinrickshaw station, housed in a colonial building was at the end of
  Sago Street
• Today, as part of the Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) efforts to
  revitalise Chinatown and bring back some of its old magic, stalls
  engaged in traditional trades were set up here in 2003
   • Including the fortune teller, clog maker, furniture restorer and
      rattan mat weaver
                         Sago Lane
• Located next to Sago Street
• Went from being a sago flour manufacturing centre in the mid-19th
  century to a prostitution area in the early 20th century
• However the street was most famous for its Chinese death houses
   • People believed to be living the last days of their lives would be
      left at death houses to die, and among them were destitutes
   • A death house consisted of a living space on the first level and a
      funeral parlour below
• Many shops that sold paraphernalia used in funerals were located
  along the street
• Currently, shops selling such items are located in the nearby Banda
• Death houses were banned in 1961
                      Trengganu St
• Trengganu Street is a focal point as it connects four popular streets
  of Chinatown – Pagoda Street, Temple Street, Smith Street and Sago
• An infamous recreation outlet – opium and gambling dens and
  brothels on the street served the Chinese coolies
• Many roadside stalls were also found along the street. The wide
  range of goods sold on Trengganu Street led it to be dubbed “the
  Piccadilly of Chinese Singapore”
• Hawkers serving exotic recipes were also what made Trengganu
  Street famous
• During the Japanese Occupation, the block of flats that lined
  Trengganu Street, from Smith Street to Sago Street, became home
  to Malay families who sought shelter and protection
         Trengganu Street (cont’d)
• Today, Trengganu Street is part of the Chinatown Conservation Area
   • One noted building on this street is the Chinaman Scholar's
      Gallery which depicts the home of Chinese scholars of the 1920s
• Many old and conserved beautiful baroque-style shophouses
   • Some of the shophouses have verandas in the upper storey that
      project outwards, a feature not commonly found in other
      shophouses in Singapore
• In order to revive the glory of 19th century Chinatown, Trengganu
  Street was converted into a street market with stalls selling a
  plethora of goods
   • Traditional trades such as watch repairing, fan-making and
      fortune-telling were also reintroduced on this street
                     Pagoda Street
• Pagoda Street got its name from the Sri Mariamman Temple
   • Pagoda, meaning a temple, is also used to refer to a temple's
      pyramidal tower
• Pagoda Street was well known for its opium-smoking dens in the
  early 19th century
• In the late 19th century, the street became a coolie trading centre
   • A popular coolie firm, Kwong Hup Yuen, made Pagoda Street
      famous. Kwong later became a bicycle trader and their shop,
      now called Kian Seng Heng Bicycle Trader, is situated at 37
      Pagoda Street
• Also became a coolie lodging place in the early 20th century
   • Around 12 coolie lodging houses were located on this street in
             Pagoda Street (cont’d)
• Chinatown Heritage Centre, opened in 2002, represents part of
  STB's efforts to rejuvenate Chinatown
   • Housed in 3 restored pre-war shophouses
   • Features the different aspects of Chinatown that existed in the
     19th and early 20th centuries
   • STB has also built resemblance of opium-smoking dens,
     gambling houses and prostitute's parlour within some
     shophouses on this street
   • Street markets on this street have reintroduced stalls that
     provide traditional trades such as watch repairing, fortune
     telling and clog making
                  Ann Siang Road
• Originally named Scott’s Hill, then Gemmil’s Hill, and finally
  Ann Siang Hill, after Chia Ann Siang (1832 - 1892) who was a
• A Cantonese burial ground, one of the oldest Chinese burial
  grounds in Singapore, used to be located at the foot of this hill
  where it met Mount Erskine and was in use until 1867
   • This graveyard was exhumed in 1907
• Apparently Ann Siang Hill and Ann Siang Road, being situated
  atop a hill, did not share the hustle and bustle of Chinatown
   • A rather quiet, predominantly residential, place
          Ann Siang Road (cont’d)
• Still lined with quaint old restored shophouses and richly
  decorated terrace houses
   • Most of these buildings were constructed between 1903
      and 1941 and are today home to offices and enterprises
   • Eating places, commercial units, trendy bars, restaurants
      and eating places, as well as boutique hotels
• Historic sites include
   • The first Anglo-Chinese School in Singapore is located at
      number 70, Amoy Street
   • The original building of the Pondok Peranakan Gelam Club
      or Pondok Gelam located at Club Street
•   NLB Singapore Infopedia
•   Jinrickshaw station
•   Chinatown Heritage Centre
•   Lai Chun Yuen
•   . Built in 1887, the Lai Chun Yuen occupied a three-storey shophouse and was a
    834-seater theatre. It was considered the Broadway or West End of Cantonese
    opera. Between 1910s to 1920s, the theatre hosted performances of famous opera
    stars. It was so well-known that neighbourhood residents used it as a reference
    point. By the 1920s, the theatre was losing its popularity to cinema halls and
    amusement parks, resulting in fewer performances right up to the 1930s. It was
    rented out to Shaw Brothers after 1940 and renamed Sin Seng Theatre. The
    theatre was badly damaged by a bomb during WWII. Post-war renovations were
    made to its structure but by then the building was no longer entertaining
    audiences, rather operated as a merchandise shop and later a warehouse for
    street hawkers. It was restored to its Victorian splendour in 1998 and was bought
    over by a Taiwanese businessman for $50 million. He later donated it to the
    Taiwan-based Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation which now occupies
    the premises. The conversion of this shophouse into a commercial complex earned
    it an entry to the 2002 Unesco's Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage

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