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Bukit Brown Video

In this video, Yihao explores the concept of “Chineseness After Death”!

The Value of Bukit Brown Cemetery

In response to LTA’s decision to build an expressway through Bukit Brown, Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) published a book “Spaces Of The Dead: A Case From The Living” that argued the case for Bukit Brown preservation (click here to find out more about the Bukit Brown Espionage).

SHS’s Proposed Values

The Singapore Heritage Society (SHS), have long recommended the preservation of Bukit Brown Cemetery as a heritage site, and its conversion to a heritage park. Accordingly, SHS proposed 5 areas where value may be derived from the preservation of Bukit Brown:

  1. Space Specific to the Region
  2. Historical Connectivity to the Region
  3. A more Democratic Singapore Story
  4. Safeguarding Cultural Practices
  5. A History of People, Streets and Places

Space Specific to the Region

The gravestones and their inscription contains vital information relating to our forefathers’ provincial origins, descendants, and personal epigraphs (click here for more information on how to read gravestone inscriptions). Certain graves and tombstones contains elaborative details of artistic embellishment and inscription, and/or exhibit certain Feng Shui orientations (click here to see Ong Sam Leong’s grave site photos). These invaluable information are significant in both their historical and cultural values that they bring to us, which is also specific to our region – Straits Settlement; that would otherwise have been completely lost or forgotten.

The use of Sikh guards statues for example are perfect illustrations of our Strait Settlement history, where rich Chinese businessmen use to employ Sikh guards to guard their properties. The practices have been brought into the afterlife where statue replica have been erected besides their tombstone to watch over their graves.

Historical Connectivity to the Region

Singapore Heritage Society have described Bukit Brown as a social networks of sort. Mapping ancestral to descendent have revealed historical insights and connections that we never knew exists. For example, the cluster of graves of Chinese from Semarang, or of Tong Meng Hui members who support Sun Yet Sen, reveal connections that might sometimes not be documented elsewhere. Investigating female graves which are often left out of Chinese genealogies, enable anthropologists to construct more genealogies, that may reveal stronger links and ties to other prominent individuals or other regions within the Straits Settlement. Therefore, Bukit Brown holds significant historical meaning for more than just Singaporean but to the entire Straits Settlement as a whole.

A More Democratic Singapore

Tens of thousands of graves in Bukit Brown belong to ordinary migrants buried alongside prominent figures. The cemetery – with a large section for “paupers” – is a poignant remainder of the ordinary people who anonymously contributed to the development of our city’s port. The preservation of Bukit Brown would serve as a reminder as well as to enrich and democratise the Singapore story.

Safeguarding Cultural Practices

The value of Bukit Brown may be found in the living practices of people who continue to pay their respects to their ancestors in the form of ceremonial rituals, offerings, and other highly personalized ways. The lost of the cemetery to the construction of a dual 4-lane carriageway would deal a significant blow to our cultural practices, in sense that these traditional practises will cease to exist or lessen.

Ever since the public gained significant interest in Bukit Brown, several tours and studies have been regularly conducted within the cemetery thus, the lost of the site will inevitably diminish some of the traditional teachings and passing of knowledge to our Singaporean youths.

A History of People, Streets and Places

Underneath Bukit Brown Cemetery lies the final resting place for many prominent Chinese businessmen including:

  • Ang Seah Im, community leader and business owner of several mining, rice and rubber trading companies
  • Cheang Hong Lim, philanthropist and Chinese community leader
  • Chew Joo Chiat, property owner in Katong area and coconut plantation owner
  • Chew Boon Layfamous Chinese businessman (Boon Lay New Town was named after him)
  • Gan Eng Seng, philanthropist, Chinese community leader, and founding member of Thong Chai Medical Institution
  • Ong Sam Leong, from the Ong Clan (Sam Leong Road was named after him)
  • Tan Ean Kiam, founding member of Tong An Clan Association and Chinese philanthropist
  • Tan Cheng Sionggrandfather of current President, Dr. Tony Tan

The graves and contributions of these individuals have significant value to both Singapore and Chinese history, as well as greatly enhancing the study of toponymics.


Bukit Brown Cemetery holds significant value to our nation-building project. Its inherited historical and cultural values would go a long way to unlocking our roots and determining the value we place on our collective identity, our multi-texture heritage and our sense of belonging.

Bukit Brown Espionage

It was reported in the The Strait Times (Friday, 30 March 2012) that LTA will go ahead with its road expansion plans to build a road that passes through the Bukit Brown cemetery, amidst controversies that activists assumed the plans would be scrapped. Minister for State for National Development, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin says that careful consideration have been put in placed to minimize the potential land take and impact on the cemetery – some 3,764 of 100,000 graves will be affected. He however regrets that some things could have been done better to manage the expectations of the public.

“The Government was engaging on how to build “a better road with minimal impact” – not whether to do so – and how affected graves can be documented. But some interest groups thought they could work at undoing the road decisions” – http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_783399.html

Meanwhile, activists and several members of the public have been outraged by the decision citing it as “a backwards in evolving relationship between state and citizen” – (The Straits Times 30 March 2012). While others are willing to view this entire espionage as a valuable learning lesson for the future – communicating and matching government’s and civil societies’ expectation.


The following timeline depicts Bukit Brown Cemetery’s saga  (replicated from “Navigating a new terrain of engagement- The Straits Times” by Grace Chua, 30 March 2012):

  • 1872: Seh Ong (Hokkien) cemetery set up.
  • 1922: Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery officially opened on the site
  • 1973: Municipal cemetery is closed to burials
  • 1991-2001: In the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA’s) Concept Plan for 1991 and 2001, which guides development for the next 40 to 50 years, the site is zoned for residential use.
  • 2003-2008: In the URA’s Master Plans for 2003 and 2008, which set out plans for the next 10 to 15 years, it is marked as a cemetery.
  • March 2011: The Straits Times reports that Bukit Brown will eventually make way for housing.
  • June 2011: The Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) publishes its book “Spaces Of The Dead: A Case From The Living”, reviving public interest in Bukit Brown. Interest groups explore and give walking tours of the area. Responding to the Straits Times Forum writers, the URA says Bukit Brown is needed for future housing, and that many such “difficult trade-off decisions” are made in land scarce Singapore.
  • Sept 13: The Land Transport Authority (LTA) announces a new four-lane dial carriageway to be built by 2016 to ease congestion. Heritage groups ask for more time to graves. Some 5 per cent of the area’s 100,000 graves to be affected.
  • Sept 27: Following a spat of letters in The Strait Times, the LTA says the new road is needed to ease Lornie Road traffic and serve the area’s future plans.
  • Oct 19: The Straits Times publishes a letter by descendants of famous pioneers, including Chew Boon Lay and Tan Tock Seng, who want Bukit Brown left alone.
  • Oct 21: Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) issues a statement on how the group was not consulted over whether Bukit Brown should be developed.
  • Oct 24: Officials meet privately with, heritage groups to explain the Government’s reason fir developing a new road, and reaffirm plans to go ahead.
  • Oct 26: Heritage groups and preservation project leader, appointed by the Government, raise concerns over insufficient time given to document the graves.
  • October 2011: Documentation of graves begin.
  • Nov 6: Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin reiterates that Bukit Brown will not be spared the bulldozers, but the affected graves will be thoroughly documented.
  • Nov 19: Participants at a public heritage forum air concerns that activist groups have given up the fight to protect the graves wholesale.
  • Feb 3, 2012: Mr Tan Chuan-Jin’s Facebook note says the carriageway will go ahead as planned.
  • Feb 4: Singapore Heritage Society expresses disappointment that there was no public consultation before the zoning decision and before the road was planned, and maintains the area should be protected as a historical site.
  • March 5: In Parliament, MPs make a last-ditch appeal to save Bukit Brown.
  • March 19: The LTA announces that part of the road through Bukit Brown will be a bridge over a depression, protecting some biodiversity. Exhumation is pushed back to early next year instead of late this year to give next-of-kin more time to register claims.Mr Tan Chuan-Jin meets privately with civil society representatives, who are upset that the meeting was open only to select members. They call for a moratorium on housing and transport infrastructure, including the new road, while national discussions are still under way over housing, transportation and immigration.

Welcome to our Bukit Brown Site

Hi guys, welcome to our blog!

This blog is created for our mobile learning project for the module MGMT 304: Chinese Entrepreneurship and Asian Business Networks.

The objective of this blog is to share with you guys the following:

  1. The History of Bukit Brown (Singapore’s Oldest Chinese Cemetery)
  2. What is so “Chinese” about the practices for the departed
  3. How to read the engravings of Chinese tombstones
  4. The stories of the ancestors of famous Chinese businessman and political figures