The Ancients regarded an oath as a thing that is binding by its sincerity and its righteousness, and usually considered that “plighted words once uttered make the heavens tremble and the earth shake.”
Therefore in the midst of tribulation and of wealth and prosperity, their purpose remains unchanged. For this reason, succeeding generations earnestly desire to imitate them… Under the present dynasty, our people have for more than 200 years enjoyed prosperity. It is therefore that we, who live in this part of the world, should according to custom respect age and revere the teachings of the Sages…
We 36 persons who are followers of the Sages, one and all now undertake to form this Association. We invoke for this movement the blessing of the God Sam Kwan Thai The*, in whose presence we take this oath to become brothers (Hianh Tee), though we have different clan names.
An altar in front of Keng Teck Whay worshipping :
The Three Pure Ones, The Jade Emperor and The Three Officials of Heaven, Earth and Water*
(extracted from Emporium in Imperio: Nanyang Networks and the Straits Chinese in Singapore, 1819 - 1914, pg 42 - 43)
Zaobao news on the restoration of the 170 year old Keng Teck Building
Keng Teck Building Pagoda
It was the year 1831, 12 years after Raffles landed. The new city was expanding rapidly, and attracted many people from Malacca.
A group of 36 young Hokkien Chinese baba traders, in their early 20 and 30s, from middle to upper income families most in Malacca, too came to seek their fortune in this new city.
Although they came from well to do families, business at that time was still considered risky. They have alliances with the Europeans, and can take goods on credit with them, but depending on
the business situation, they will have to pay the Europeans with equivalent goods or cash in a few months. Sometimes if the goods cannot be sold within this period, they would have to “lelong” the goods, resulting in financial problems for them hence the need to form such a mutual aid association for these businessman and their families.
Each of the 36 member would have to contribute 100 big dollars to the Association fund, which will be used as seed money for the businessman’s families.
The Association chief has the greatest responsibilities, and all meetings must be chaired by him and all matters notified to him.
Since this Association main purpose is for financial support to the families, the most important committee of this Association is of course the Treasury Committee, of which there are 6 members:
3 assistant treasurers, and 3 treasury staff : one manager, one supervisor, and one inspector.
For the 3 assistant treasurers, one is in charge of the fund, one is in charge of the key to the money chest, and one is in charge of checking the accounts.
To prevent misuse of the Association’s funds, all the 3 assistant Treasurers should be witness to any monetary transactions. As for the 3 treasury staff, they assist the chief and co-ordinate with all the members.
The 3 staff were also in charge of informing all the members regarding the 3 main worshipping dates : the 15th day of the 1st, 7th and the 10th man when the 3 officials of the Heaven, Earth and Water comes down to the mortal world for inspection.
There is another post which is the Incense chief, which have to be chosen yearly and the succession taken under the presence of the San Guan Da Di, which is the 3 officials.
Other rules and regulations of the Association, based on the teachings of the Sages..
Rule No 12:
When a member or his father passes away, and their families fell into financial difficulties, he should inform the association chief. The chief will then convene a meeting to decide how to help the family financially.
Rule No 13:
When a member passes away, and his family fall into financial difficulties, and his children are unable to be self sufficient due to young age, this association shall financially support the family till the son is sixteen years old, or the daughter get married off.
Rule No 14:
When a member passes away, and his widow has financial difficulties, this association shall withdraw from the fund every month to assist her, until she remarries, or until her son can be self sufficient
Rule No 25:
Every member must treat other members’ wives and children with respect. If any member should be accused of mis-behavior towards them, a disciplinary meeting will be held. If the claims were verified, his membership will be revoked. This rule shall also applies to members’ sisters as well.
Rule No 26:
If any member does not listen to his parents’ instructions and teachings, and his parents complained to the association, then a meeting will be convened and a warning will be issued to the member. If the member still faults again, and his parents complained again, then the member shall be given 20 strokes of the whip. If he faults a third time, he shall be given 100 strokes of the whip.
If he still faults again after this whipping, then he will be expelled from the association, and he and his descendants shall be denounced as the most worthless people in this world. His contribution of 100 big dollars will also be confiscated and his son shall not be able to succeed him as member.
Many of the 36 members did well in later life and have successful business. Some of them were managers of the neighbouring Thian Hock Keng. They constructed their HQ just next to Thian Hock Keng.
Together with Chong Wen Ge, the Keng Teck Building and Chong Wen Ge formed the left and right pavillion of Thian Hock Keng.
Some of the notable members:
Yeo Kim Swee – originally from Penang. Came to Singapore in 1829, donated to Heng San Teng $100 in 1830, and donated to Thian Hock Keng $350. He also owned a land title deed in Malacca St and businesses at Collyer Quay. Seah Eu Chin worked as a clerk for him before.
Chee Kim Guan - from Malacca, was one of the 2 Chinese out of 11 committee members in the 1st Chamber of Commerce Committee in 1837. His son Yam Chuan also became the head of Hokkien Huay Kuan in Malacca and also in the directorate of Cheng Hoon Teng temple in Malacca
Tan You Long (1797 – 1867) – brother of Tan Tock Seng, business partner of Kiong Kong Tuan, who was directorate of Thian Hock Keng. Ever borrowed a loan from Thian Hock Keng before, as a signboard mentioned the temple collected his interest of $40. Donated to Thian Hock Keng, Heng San Teng etc
Chua Yan Ling – Grandfather is Chua Su Cheong and father is Chua Chong Long. Yen Ling donated to Thian Hock Keng $55 and Heng San Teng $120
There used to be a hill called Chong Long Hill and Chong Long Road in the past.
Chia Poh Eng – father of Chia Ann Siang
Seet Boon Tiong (1807 – 1888), born of humble origin, came to Singapore in 1825, in 1831 partnership with Si Ho Keh to set up Boon Tiong Company.
In 1860s, was a directorate of Malacca Cheng Hoon Teng temple
Tan Koh Teou : GM of Malacca Qing Hua Temple in the 1840s, partner of Tan Kim Seng company from 1850 – 1851
Neo Chan Guan – was a contractor for Chong Wen Ge and also supplies to Thian Hock Keng during its construction. Was a General Manager of Thian Hock Keng in the 1840s
Ang Choon Seng (1805 – 1852) – born in Malacca. Set up Chop Chin Seng in Philip St. Has 2 sailing ships Patah Salam and Kong-Kek, travelling between Saigon and Bangkok. Has also nutmeg plantations
in Moulmein Road.
Ang Choon Seng’s grave in Bukit Brown cemetery. His grave was originally at the junction of Moulmein Road/Thomson Road, and moved to Bukit Brown on 28 March 1932.
Chee Tiong Why – set up Chop Ghee Ho in Market St. One of the petitioners to the Governor Butterworth in 1850
So Guan Chuan – GM of Thian Hock Keng in 1840s, one of the 2 Chinese committee member of the first Chamber of Commerce in 1837. Guan Chuan street in Tiong Bahru is named after him.
Tan Koon Swee – although he was one of the 36 founders, his name did not appear in the ancestral plaque found in the Association ancestral hall of which there are only 35 inscribed names of the 36 founders. According to National Archives oral history, one member was expelled from the Association. He was a GM of Thian Hock Keng, and a good friend of J R Logan. His children was involved in a famous case whereby one of his grandsons pawned away some land to a money lender who then auction off the land.
Full list of the 36 founders of Keng Teck Whay
薛文仲 - Seet Boon Tiong
洪俊成 - Ang Choon Seng
翁如水 - Ang Jee Swee
徐长怀 - Chee Tiong Why
徐钦元 - Chee Kim Guan
苏源泉 - Soh Guan Chuan
谢宝荣 - Chia Poh Eng
陈国朝 - Tan Koh Teou
陈坤水 - Tan Koon Swee
蔡延龄 - Chua Yan Leng
陈有郎 - Tan You Long
陈合意 - Tan Hap Hee
陈天全 - Tan Tiang Chuan
陈应策 - Tan Eng Chek
陈武略 - Tan Boo Liap
陈明宗 - Tan Beng Chong
陈明荐 - Tan Beng Choon
何栋梁 - Ho Tiong Liang
李珍元 - Lee Tin Guan
李建安 - Lee Kian Ann
梁瓒元 - Neo Chan Guan
梁添益 - Neo Thiam Eak
邱青山- Khoo Cheng San
王彩凤 - Ong Chai Hong
许贵郎 - Koh Kwee Long
许广生 - Koh Kong Seng
徐钦三 - Chee Kim Sam
薛荣山 - Seet Eng San
颜元珍 - Gan Guan Tin
杨金水 - Yeo Kim Swee
杨青山 - Yeo Cheng San
叶永和 - Yap Eng Ho
曾梅生 - Chan Buay Seng
曾明珍 - Chan Beng Tin
郑荣华 - Tay Eng Wah
钟贤元 - Cheong Yan Guan
Altar whereby the 36 founders of Keng Teck Whay was honoured in Keng Teck Whay (pic courtesy of Taoist Mission)
Other members of Keng Teck Whay buried in Bukit Brown
His son Ang Kim Tee was the chief of Keng Teck Whay from 1890 – 1892. 3 of his daughters were married to Tan Jiak Kim
Another son of Ang Choon Seng – Ang Kim Cheak (1827 – 1870) who also was one time chief of Keng Teck Whay
Ang Kim Cheak son Ang Teow Guan, whose wife was Tan Yean Neo, at one time she was the land owner of Bukit Pasoh
See Tiang Kiat (grandson of See Boon Tiong - Boon Tiong Road named after him)
pic courtesy of Walter Lim
1) Song Ong Siang : One Hundred Years’ History of the Chinese in Singapore
2) A research on Singapore Kheng Teck Whay – David K Y Chng, Lim How Seng, Asia Culture 5, Apr 1985, 58 – 65
Zaobao.com 2 Apr 2010 by Xie Yan Yan
The heritage national monument “Keng Teck Building” which is desperately in need of
restoration and repair works, yesterday have a change of owner.
Keng Teck Whay, which was established in 1831, has transferred the ownership rights of Keng Teck building to
the Singapore Taoist Mission.
Taoist Mission will in turn need to raise $3.5 million of funds from the public, in order to start
work on this heritage building.
The Preservation of Monuments Board expressed their agreement to the transfer of ownership, and
will help the new owner utilize existing financing schemes available, such as the National Monument
Fund and Donation Tax Exemption scheme etc, in order to help the restoration work.
Keng Teck Building is like Thian Hock Keng a gazetted monument, although it was gazetted as early as 1977 as a
National Monument, but the lack of funds hamper its restoration work. The last few years, the old pagoda is being supported by wooden planks and
iron frames, and the building is looking more and more in danger of collapsing as the time goes by.
Taoist Mission President Master Lee Ziwang and three management committe members of Keng
Teck Whay together with two trustees, yesterday signed the transfer deeds at the lawyer’s office.
At the closing ceremony of Taoism Day Festival last night, Master Lee made this announcement to the
500 plus audience.
As the new owner, Taoist Mission immediate task is to source the $3.5 million funds for the restoration
works. Actually Master Lee informed Zaobao that they have started the funding campaign much
earlier, but so far has collected less than $500,000
For the transfer of the ownership, Taoist Mission will give a token compensation to Keng Teck Whay,
which Master Lee did not disclose the actual amount. Master Lee hope to start work half a year
later, and finish the restoration work in 2 years’ time.
Keng Teck Whay was established 12 years after Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore, and is the
oldest Chinese merchant mutual aid association. This low key and secret organization was first
established by 36 Malaccan Chinese businessman and in the early begnning only allowed entry to
male descendents of the founding members.
Keng Teck Whay has stood next to Thian Hock Keng for nearly 170 years, and is Keng Teck Whay ancestral hall
Keng Teck Whay Chairman Chua Sian Kay revealed that besides Taoist Mission, both Singapore
Hokkien Association and developer Teo Xiao Tong and his group of friends were also interested to take
over Keng Teck Building, but at an AGM, a majority of members decided to let Taoist Mission to take over.
Chua said that as they have lack of funds for the restoration work to this National Monument which has
danger of collapsing if no restoration work is done soon, they have started to find a new owner 2 years ago.
Although Keng Teck Whay has close association with Thian Hock Keng and Chong Wen Gu, but the
reason revealed by Chua that Hokkien Association is not the take over party is that both parties did not agree on the token transfer fee.
Chua said that actually they first ask Hokkien Association, but they were not interested in the
beginning, and only latter did they changed their minds and submit a detailed proposal, which
unfortunately was rejected by Keng Teck Whay members.
As for not accepting Developer Teo proposal, it was because the developer wanted to change the usage
of the building and convert it into an art and healthy living centre, and not a place for deity and ancestral
worship, which goes contrary to Keng Teck Whay mission.
According to the understanding by this newspapers, Tan Clan Association was also
interested to the take over, but they will too late to contact with Keng Teck Whay, whose AGM in
March has sealed the decision.
Taoist Mission has taken over Keng Teck Building and now sourcing for funds for the restoration work
Pic courtesy of Victor Yue
Has this broken the No Lady Allowed Upstairs Taboo?
The usually closed Keng Teck Building will now be opened to the public and worshippers once Taoist
Mission take over.
Keng Teck Whay has always forbid women to go up to the 2nd storey to worship the Jade Emperor, but will the Taoist Mission allow women to
worship and visit the shrine upstaris?
Master Lee Ziwang said that he need to discuss with his management about this matter and also
consult the deity before making a decision. As for any change of name to Keng Teck Building, he said
that he has not made any decision, but even if there is a change, at least the ‘Keng Teck” name will be preserved.
As Keng Teck building has limited land space, not even a toilet, Master Lee hope to get a lease from
URA to rent the back of Keng Teck Building, and develop a Tao Theology and Cultural Centre there.
Keng Teck Whay Chua informed the press that for the next 5 years after Taoist Mission take over, they will still let Keng Teck Whay
members come on 5 occasions for worship activities (Shang Yuan, Zhong Yuan, Xia Yuan, Qing Ming and Dong Zhi)
Currently the ground floor of Keng Teck Building house the San Guan Da Di, the 2nd storey the Jade
Emperor, while the 3rd storey did not house any deity.
Taoist Mission is considering whether to house any new deity on the 3rd storey.
Master Lee said that they will start restoration works along with the sourcing of funds, especially
since some parts are in danger of collapsing.
For those who want to contribute to the restoration fund, please contact Taoist Mission at 62956112
Preservation of Monument Board told the press that they did not object to Taoist Mission taking
over Keng Teck Building as the mission and objective of Taoist Mission is clear, and they want
to restore this monument.
Keng Teck Whay, Thian Hock Keng and Chong Wen Ge
Keng Teck Whay has an earlier history than Thian Hock Keng, but from historical background, all
three of them can be said to belong to one another. Some founders of Keng Teck Whay were important
members of Thian Hock Keng and Chong Wen Ge, and Keng Teck members like Tan Oo Long is Tian Hock
Keng Board Member Tan Tock Seng brother, Liang Zhan Yuan was the General Manager of Thian Hock
Keng and also architectural contractor of Chong Wen Ge. and Hong Jun Cheng was the assitant
manager of Chong Wen Ge etc
According to Lin Xiao Sheng article : Keng Teck Whay, Chinese Business Mutual Aid Co-operation and Operations, many founders of Keng Teck Whay were from Malacca. These businessman came during the early pioneering days to invest and trade.
As those were uncertain times, so they decided to set up a mutual aid association to take care of each other families and welfare in case of business failures or other mishaps.
There were 20 surnames among the 36 founding members , but all of them were from the Fujian Zhangzhou Qianzhou Region. Like the 3 sworn brothers in the 3 kingdoms period, they also swore in front of the San Quan Da Di as sworn brothers.
That should any of their sworn brothers’ families were to land themselves into difficulties later on, this Keng Teck Whay will come to the rescue and contribute to the livelihood of the affected family.
Keng Teck Building should be built not long after Thian Hock Keng was built. Keng Teck Building and Chong Wen Ge are like the East and West Pagodas of Thian Hock Keng.
Thian Hock Keng and Chong Wen Ge are currently the properties of Hokkien Assoication whereas Keng Teck Building belong to Keng Teck Whay
Translated by Raymond Goh
Reference : Xie Yan Yan, “Taoist Mission to take over Keng Teck Building,” Lian Hup Zao Bao, 2 Apr 2010