Sunday 30 March 2014

Singapore pioneers' exploits unearthed

Pioneer JC team pens new book on contributions of 12 buried at Bt Brown
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2014

BUS tycoon Tay Koh Yat was good at moving people: he pulled together a 10,000-strong Chinese Civil Defence force to keep peace and order before the Japanese troops invaded Singapore in 1942.

And after the war, as chairman of the Singapore Chinese Appeal Committee, Tay submitted evidence which led to the punishment of Japanese generals and officials responsible for the massacre of the Chinese on the island.

The Kinmen-born Tay was also part of the overseas Chinese movement involved in the 1911 revolution against the Qing Dynasty.

He is one of 12 trailblazers featured in a new book, 1911 Revolution: Singapore Pioneers In Bukit Brown, by a team of 23 students of Pioneer Junior College.

The 60-page book has old photos, illustrations and sketches of their graves at Bukit Brown, and serves as a record of the 1922 municipal cemetery, part of which will be making way for a highway.

Available at Kinokuniya for $15, the book has had "promising sales", said the college, though the bookstore could not give figures. The college said it is also considering using it for teaching.

Tay's contributions and patriotism left a deep impression on former Pioneer Junior College student Lim Hyesu, 19, part of the team behind the book. "He struck me as a caring and compassionate man, who put the welfare of his fellow countrymen first."

The students - from the college's History, China Studies in English programmes and Art Club - delved into the National Archives of Singapore, and scoured journals, news articles and the Internet. They also made trips to Bukit Brown cemetery to unearth stories about these stalwarts.

Said Madam Carolyn Ng, 37, one of the teachers in charge: "One of the objectives of the books was to also enable students to gain a deeper understanding of Singapore's history and to introduce them to heritage sites here."

The project, which was not part of academic course work, falls under the college's Engaging China Programme in collaboration with the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall. The e-book version can be viewed on the museum's website.

The book starts with Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat Sen, who came here between 1900 and 1911 to garner the support of overseas Chinese against the Qing Dynasty. It then zooms in on the individual efforts of pioneers here who helped in the 1911 revolution.

It also highlights the contributions of various pioneers to Singapore. Some were business leaders and others were education and welfare advocates.

National serviceman Gabriel Lim, 19, said while there were challenges such as getting pictures and data from the 1910s, the effort was worth it. "The book helps make history accessible to many... hopefully this will create a greater awareness of our past and our heritage as Singaporeans."

Two trailblazers

Khoo Kay Hian (1878 to 1966)

The rubber broker was a dedicated member of the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance led by Sun Yat Sen, the founding father of the Chinese Republic. Khoo raised money with other Chinese leaders to help maintain law and order in Fujian and Guangdong provinces as revolutionaries fought to overthrow the Qing Dynasty.

Khoo also set up Chinese stock-broking firm Kay Hian and Co in 1921 - known as the UOB Kay Hian Holdings today. He donated generously to the construction of StAndrew's Hospital in 1923 and the Nanyang University Fund in the late 1950s.

He was also assistant secretary of the Ee Hoe Hean Club, one of Singapore's oldest millionaire clubs that was founded in 1895.

Lim Keng Chiew (date of birth unknown; died on Feb 29, 1942)

One of the earliest members of Sun's Chinese Revolutionary Alliance, Lim was also its first secretary. As an ardent supporter of Sun, Lim wrote articles promoting Sun's political ideas in pre-war newspapers such as the Chong Shing Yit Pao.

The classical scholar, who wrote poetry and calligraphy, came to Singapore after the death of his father. He worked as a Chinese teacher and also started the Zhe Zhe Gong Leather Shoe Shop, which was well known in South-east Asia for producing shoes of exquisite quality.

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