Passion & Knowledge: Singapore Chinese Pioneers in Education
After Singapore became a free trading port in the early 19th century, Chinese from places such as Malacca, Riau and China, migrated to Singapore in search of a greener pasture. Though the primary focus of these Chinese was on economic activities, they were also aware of the importance of developing a comprehensive education system for the local Chinese. Two groups of Chinese, namely the businessmen and the educators, played a crucial role in the shaping of the education scene in Singapore. The wealthy businessmen contributed financially to the establishment and operation of schools in Singapore, while the educators established visions for the schools, provided the necessary materials and devised curriculum for the students.
This exhibition is co-curated by Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and Chung Cheng High School (Main), and features the contributions of four loca Chinese business and education pioneers, namely Aw Boon Haw, Liew Yuen Sien, Tan Boo Liat and Tan Yeok Seong, who contributed much to the development of education in Singapore. The exhibition narrates a brief biography of the four pioneers, and highlights their contributions towards the Chinese society, in particular the educational and cultural sphere.
Aw Boon Haw (1882 – 1954)
In 1908, Aw Boon Haw and his younger brother, Aw Boon Par inherited their father’s Chinese medical shop, Eng Aun Tong. They expanded Eng Aun Tong’s business to all parts of Southeast Aisa, and produced the well-known Tiger Balm. Besides Eng Aun Tong, Aw also ventured into the printed media, and established presses such as Sin Chew Jit Poh. As an advocator of education, he donated generously to fund schools in both Singapore and China. He is also a philanthropist who contributed generously to welfare organisations.
Liew Yuen Sien (1901 – 1975)
Liew Yuen Sien was appointed as principal of Nanyang Girls’ School by Lee Chin Tian, then Chairman of the school’s Board of Director. During her 40 years of service, she initiated several reforms, including advocating physical education, and establishing course at the pre-school level to provide a more comprehensive education for girls. In 1930, Liew worked with several educators and implemented graduation examination for Chinese schools in the effort to standardise the academic ability of the students across the nation. This system was eventually adopted by many local schools.
Tan Boo Liat (1874 – 1934)
As a leader in the Chinese community, Tan Boo Liat played an active role in the promoting of social welfare, reformation of the Chinese society and expansion of Chinese education. Being concerned about the current affairs in China, he joined the Tong Meng Hui (Chinese Revolutionary Alliance) and supported Dr. Sun Yat Sen in his revolutionary cause. Tan also founded the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School and Taonan School, and served in the Board of Directors for several other schools.
Tan Yoke Seong (1903 – 1984)
Tan Yoke Seong received both English and Chinese educations in Penang, before he furthered his studies in Amoy University (Xiamen University) in China. He worked in the Tan Kah Kee & Co. in Singapore upon his graduation in 1926. Later, he served as the Inspector of Chinese Schools for 15 years. Tan’s contributions to education and academia included the establishing of the Nanyang Book Co., Ltd. which focused on the publication of educational materials, advocating founding of schools and promoting research on the Nanyang (Southeast Asia) region.
Content updated on 25 Jan 2017