The Bicentenary of Seah Eu Chin’s Arrival in Singapore
The year 2023 marks the 200th anniversary of Seah Eu Chin’s arrival in Singapore.
In 1823, he arrived in Singapore at the age of 18. With hard work and persistence, he eventually established himself as a successful merchant and landowner, dealing in commodities such as gambier and pepper. He also became a respected community leader and helped to bring peace and stability during riots. We commemorate the bicentenary of his arrival by remembering and celebrating his contributions to Singapore.
Today, Singapore is a country renowned for peace and stability; wealth; and rich cultural diversity. However, it is important to remember our pioneers, like Seah Eu Chin. They worked hard, made sacrifices, and showed vision and determination in the face of great challenges. Remembering our pioneers deepens our appreciation of our roots and values. Their stories inspire us to work hard, never give up, and strive for progress.
As we celebrate our pioneers who contributed to Singapore, we are reminded that we all have a part to play in shaping the future. By building upon the foundations laid by those who came before us, those of us who came after can build an even better, brighter, and stronger Singapore.
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In 2019, I was honoured to be featured on the National University of Singapore’s University Scholars Programme (USP) website: “USP Alum Launches His Second Book on His Ancestors’ Long History in Singapore“. Currently, both Seah Eu Chin – His Life & Times and Leader and Legislator – Seah Liang Seah are available at Kinokuniya (and online). I hope to receive your support, and thank you very much.
From 1 January 2019, Seah Eu Chin – His Life & Times (1st edition, 2017) became available at Johor Bahru Chinese Heritage Museum, 42 Jalan Ibrahim, 80000 Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Thank you volunteer, Alan Ng, for your help as well; I could not have done it without you.
I would like to thank you very much for your kind support as well. With your support, writers who record and reflect on our history will thrive; I am deeply, deeply grateful. Feel free to contact me or write to me.
Exciting Past Events
Sharing Stories with Volunteers on 17 January 2020
I was kindly invited by Friends of the Museum (FOM) to give a talk to their volunteers at URA Centre, which is near Peck Seah Street. I shared several stories of Chinese pioneers in Singapore—Seah Eu Chin, Seah Liang Seah, and their contemporaries such as Sir Song Ong Siang and Tan Jiak Kim, the grandson of Peranakan philanthropist Tan Kim Seng.
Dedicated museum volunteers are unsung heroes who devote their time and effort to promote history and heritage in Singapore. Thank you.
At the Official Launch of #FutureTogether Digital Art Exhibition at Gardens by the Bay, on 15 January 2020
On 15 January 2020, I attended the official launch of the #FutureTogether digital art exhibition. I loved the digital experience, and the flowers at the nearby Floral Fantasy. I was also very honoured to chat with DPM Heng Swee Keat. It was a most beautiful way to cap off the Singapore Bicentennial. A special thank you must definitely go to the good people of the Singapore Bicentennial Office for their hard work over the past year.
Monday Morning Lecture: “The Original Crazy Rich Asians”, at Ngee Ann Auditorium, Asian Civilisations Museum, on 21 October 2019
I spoke about Seah Eu Chin, Seah Liang Seah, and my author’s journey at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) on Monday, 21 October 2019, at 11am. The talk was at a symbolic venue: the Ngee Ann Auditorium!
About 70 people came to the talk, and several asked insightful and interesting questions. I was very happy to see that there are so many people invested in our local history and heritage, and volunteering time and effort as docents and walking tour guides. And I was also happy to connect with my extended family and two members of the Chew Boon Lay family.
A big thank you to the kind and supportive people of the Friends of the Museums.
Students’ Tea at Tembusu College, NUS on 18 September 2019
On 18 September 2019, I was invited to speak with students of Tembusu College, National University of Singapore at a closed-door Student’s Tea Session. Hosted by final year NUS student, Imaan Rowter, I was happy to have deep conversations with the students on my journey as an author; interesting episodes of history I have uncovered; and my personal views on Singapore identity; the trade-offs between heritage conservation and development; and economic history.
And now, I am the owner of a limited edition Tembusu College T-Shirt! Special thank you to students from Tembusu College and the NUS University Scholars Programme.
Guest Lecture at Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, NUS on 4 September 2019
Today, I gave a guest lecture on prominent Chinese in colonial Singapore, namely Seah Eu Chin and Seah Liang Seah, and briefly about Tan Kim Seng, Tan Jiak Kim, and Sir Song Ong Siang. I shared about “Power, Pepper, Pineapples, and Parties”. I also covered topics like the gambier and pepper plantations; pineapple canning; the Legislative Council of the Straits Settlements; the Sembawang Hot Spring; and Seah Liang Seah’s unusual will, which was linked to the death of the longest liver of King George V’s children. Generally, the talk at Lecture Theatre 9 at 10am was well-received and I must have reached out to about 100 undergraduate students.
In related news, I also became the subject of graded homework for the first time! Q&A was effectively class participation and I was the subject of 10% of the students’ grade – they had to write a reflection on what they had learnt! This was the best advanced Teachers’ Day gift ever!
A special thank you to Prof. Wong Sin Kiong for this kind invitation. Thank you very much!
Speaker at Eunoia Junior College (EJC) at Deep Dive Day on 31 July 2019
I was privileged to be a guest speaker at EJC (at 53 Mount Sinai Road) on 31 July 2019 to speak to around 80 students about Leaders with Courage, as part of Deep Dive Day.
I talked about challenges and successes in writing and talking about local pioneers. I also shared some leadership lessons I learnt along the way and from my ancestors’ lives. Seah Eu Chin and Seah Liang Seah were leaders of not only the Teochew community, but the larger Chinese community. Generally, the EJC students were attentive and engaged, and several asked insightful and interesting questions. At the tea session after the talk, some students asked even more questions which showed maturity, thought, and reflection. Hopefully, I inspired some of them to pursue their dreams and lead with courage.
A big thank you to the college’s Deep Dive Day team for this amazing student-centred programme, and special thanks to Mrs Brigitte Koh for the kind invitation. Thank you!
Panel Discussion with Vivienne Tan at the Inaugural Baba Nyonya Literary Festival (20 July 2019)
Enjoyed Day One of the inaugural Baba Nyonya Literary Festival (20 July)!
Baba Eng Thai’s dondang sayang was beautiful. I also had the personal pleasure of meeting writers Josephine Chia, Lee Su Kim, Stella Kon, and Robert Yeo. In fact, my chapter on “Parties at Bendemeer House” (in Leader and Legislator) starts and ends with lines from Yeo’s poem, “Coming Home, Baby”. It concludes poignantly with “Five years ago/we had no history/and therefore no historical/monument/to preserve”. Things are much better today.
I talked about Seah Eu Chin (1805–1883), Seah Liang Seah (1850–1925) and Tan Kim Seng (1806–1864), with Vivienne Tan, in a panel discussion moderated by Goh Eck Kheng.
Congratulations to The Peranakan Association Singapore (TPAS) for organising this meaningful event. And thank you everyone for your kind support!
Capital 958 Radio Talk
I appeared on Capital 958 on Tuesday (16 July), Wednesday (17 July), and Thursday (18 July 2019) to talk about Seah Eu Chin and Seah Liang Seah… in Mandarin Chinese! It has been an enriching and exciting experience, as I would never have envisioned myself speaking Mandarin on radio.’
A wonderful big thank you to Shujun from Capital 958 for her help, encouragement, and support. It has been amazing to reach out to the kind, encouraging, and friendly Chinese listeners. Thank you.
Book Talk at Blackbox @ Fort Canning Centre
On the afternoon of 23 June, I talked about prominent pioneer Seah Eu Chin and his Singapore-born son, Seah Liang Seah, at Fort Canning Centre during The Bicentennial Experience. These illustrious pioneers’ stories are part of the larger Singapore Story, and I hope to have inspired others to find out more about their roots and their own family history — every one a part of the larger Singapore identity.
I also spoke about my personal journey in writing local history. A decade ago when I first started writing, I never imagined the reception and outreach my books would eventually garner. Many years ago, no one thought I would ever reach a mainstream bookstore. It was a challenging journey to promote local history, but I never gave up. In this Bicentennial year, I am encouraged to see more people interested in learning about our history.
However, I did not do this alone. A big thank you to the 37 kind souls who braved the heat and challenging car parking to make your way to Fort Canning Centre to attend my talk! And heartfelt appreciation goes to the Singapore Seah Clan Association for the consistent support. Special thanks also goes to the people of the Singapore Bicentennial Office for helping to coordinate this event.
Last, but definitely not least, I would like to thank my fellow volunteers for taking precious time out of your weekends to help me with this event, even helping with the design and preparation of publicity. Without all of your help, it would not have come along successfully. From the bottom of my heart, thank you very much!
Mandarin Book Talk at Grassroots Book Room at 25 Bukit Pasoh Road on 12 May 2019
I spoke in Mandarin and English at the Grassroots Book Room at 25 Bukit Pasoh Road on Sunday, 12 May, at 3pm. This event was special, because it was so far the only one where I spoke largely in Mandarin! The focus of the talk was on Seah Liang Seah (1850-1925). Singapore’s “original crazy rich Asian” was a colourful character who was an excellent party host at Bendemeer House. We played one of the games he would have played then (i.e. “Guess the Advertisement”), and the audience today totally aced the games!
More importantly, Seah Liang Seah contributed much to society: he served on the Legislative Council of the Straits Settlements and the Municipal Commission; led the Ngee Ann Kongsi; and founded the Straits Chinese British Association (the SCBA). I believe we must document the contributions of our pioneers so that we can inspire current and future generations.
A big thank you to Grassroots Book Room for hosting me; the Singapore Seah Clan Association for the support; and the many other people who came to spend their time listening to my first Mandarin talk. Greatly appreciated! And sincerest, sincerest apologies for my Mandarin.
Walk and Talk at Grave Hill on 5 May 2019
Today is the anniversary of the 5 May 1854 Hokkien-Teochew riots. A trusted Teochew community leader, Seah Eu Chin (1805-1883) assisted the British colonial government in mediation and negotiation. So this was a good opportunity to speak about Seah Eu Chin’s life and times at Grave Hill (yes, his magnificent tomb is located there).
“Emperor Seah”, also known as the “King of Gambier and Pepper”, was an influential business and community leader. In 1845, he founded the Ngee Ann Kongsi, a Teochew welfare organisation. He was a member of the Grand Jury, Justice of the Peace, and even a writer… writing journal articles on the Chinese in Singapore.
Interestingly, I also saw Mr Low Peng Soy’s tomb at Bukit Brown. Who was he? As far as we know, he was a Teochew merchant, rubber plantation owner, and property tycoon. But he was also husband to Seah Hoh Ngoh, my ancestor Seah Peck Seah’s daughter.
According to the Singapore Teochew Group, more than 60 people joined the walk. I am deeply grateful that they spent Sunday morning with me. Special thanks to Gary Yeo of the Singapore Teochew Group and Beng Tang for leading the walk.
Book Launch at the Peranakan Museum on 23 March 2019
On the morning of 23 March, I talked about Seah Liang Seah’s life and times at the Peranakan Museum. We covered his business successes in pineapple canning and rubber; leadership of the Teochew and even the Chinese community; and amazing parties at Bendemeer House, with driving, shooting, and “guess-the-advertisement” competitions.
We also had conversations on many topics, including family, different views on identity, and Seah Liang Seah’s unusual will. To me, it was interesting to hear his direct descendants talk about their personal experiences with his will; memories of Bendemeer House; and the larger family. (Some later told me that it was like a family reunion.)
Thank you for your overwhelming support – many more came down than anticipated. Because people were still streaming in after all the seats were filled up, we had to bring out more chairs. Including my volunteers, a total of 85 people attended. This was a happy problem!
The Peranakan Museum brings fond memories of my first public talk in 2017 and I have added to those fond memories. Thank you Mr John Teo and NHB colleagues as well for your kind support.
Book Launch at the Nanyang Sacred Union on 16 March 2019
On 16 March 2019, I talked about the stories of Singapore pioneers Seah Eu Chin and Seah Liang Seah at the Nanyang Sacred Union, from 10:30am.
Significantly, this venue is connected to Seah Song Seah, the third son of Seah Eu Chin. The central main hall of the Nanyang Sacred Union, dedicated to the worship of Confucius, was once Seah Song Seah’s mansion. The Nanyang Sacred Union is an exclusive venue, not open to the public on normal days.
The venue was fully packed with 58 people in total. We had great conversations, for example, on food preferences, street names, Crazy Rich Asian properties, and even where Singapore would be in 100 years. There was plenty of laughter and I met many long-lost relatives, who taught me a lot about my family’s history as well. We extended way past the time to end only after 1pm.
All this was only possible because of the Nanyang Sacred Union’s and URA’s kind assistance in connecting me to this meaningful venue. Thank you everyone who took valuable time out and came down today for your kind support!
“Visiting the Pioneers and Notable People” on 19 August 2018
On 19 August 2018, I went with the kind people of the Singapore Teochew Group (STG) Trekking to visit Seah Eu Chin’s grave at Grave Hill. This Sunday morning visit, graciously guided by Brownie Beng Tang, started from Blk 154 Lorong 2 Toa Payoh, near the MRT station.
At Grave Hill, I talked about Seah Eu Chin and his life and times, and was happy to answer questions and comments about him and his family.
After visiting Seah Eu Chin’s grave, we also visited nearby Bukit Brown and learnt about Tan Kim Cheng, Cheang Hong Lim, Lim Nee Soon, and many other famous pioneers and notable people who contributed to Singapore. We also learnt about the differences between Teochew (e.g. gentle curved look) and Hokkien tombstones (e.g. angular look). It was an interesting learning experience for everyone.
A special and big thank you to the kind people of STG Trekking for their encouragement and support!
Talk on “Seah Eu Chin – His Life & Times” at Eu Chin Street on 7 April 2018
On Saturday, 7 April 2018, I finally held my book talk and engagement session at Tiong Bahru Community Centre, located at Eu Chin Street – it was significant, because the street was named after him. The talk was kindly organised by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) at Tiong Bahru CC’s Multi-Purpose Hall, Level 2, as part of the larger Singapore Heritage Festival, an island-wide celebration of Singapore’s heritage and culture.
More than 70 people registered for the free morning talk with URA, but several others just turned up directly at the venue which catered for 200. My three volunteers and I counted about 85 in total, with several coming in after 11am, the starting time. Many were historians and docents, including an Australian lady from the Asian Civilisations Museum and a gentleman from NHB. And according to some others, they turned up because they were interested in finding out more about our local history. A few Brownies came to the talk. There were also two Nanyang Technological University (NTU) students who asked me questions – I hope I managed to help them – and a young 17 year old student who was very interested in the history of the Teochew community in Singapore.
During the talk, I shared anecdotes about Seah Eu Chin’s life, as well as the stories behind several streets in Singapore – Seng Poh Lane and Road, Liang Seah Street, Peck Seah Street, Seah Street, and Purvis Street. I also talked about my journey as an author writing about local history, and my thoughts and reflections about preserving our history; the Singapore Story; and issues of cultural identity.
The dialogue session was interesting (at times a little intense and passionate) and many views were exchanged – and I learnt a lot, as I was not an expert. In fact, there were many experts in the room, especially experts on land use and housing, and to a large degree I learnt from them. Some historians and experts argue about history a particular way, and others another – and I meant to tell a larger story and hopefully spark conversations.
And spark conversations I did – and the conversations even lasted beyond the end of the talk. I enjoyed sharing my views and perspectives with my audience, and I sincerely hope I raised some awareness of the importance of understanding, and writing and reflecting on, our own Singapore history.
As for the books at the launch, they were once again sold out – even though I brought about 40! Some buyers had to be referred to BooksActually and Select Books directly, and one even gave my volunteers his contact details as he wanted to buy even more. That was a very pleasant surprise and I was very happy about it!
(As at the time of writing, my book can also be bought at the full retail price at BooksActually, Select Books, and The Peranakan Museum. Thank you very much for your support.)
Overall, I think the talk came along very well and some kind participants said that it was engaging, passionate, and interesting – that really made my day. I appreciated that.
Thank you all for your generous support, one way or another!
Invitation to the 88th Anniversary of the Founding of the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan, 30 September 2017 at 3pm
On 30 September 2017, the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan celebrated their 88th anniversary with the launch of a historic gallery at Marina Bay Sands. (Earlier, the Huay Kuan had asked me for permission to share some of the images from my book, Seah Eu Chin – His Life & Times.) In this exhibition, Seah Eu Chin was featured prominently throughout, with panels about his life and contributions in both English and Chinese. In this event, he was given his due recognition and respect as the leader of the Teochew community in Singapore’s early history, the founder and leader of the Ngee Ann Kongsi, and one of the earliest and most prominent Teochew settlers in Singapore.
In addition, I was deeply honoured to be invited to attend the Huay Kuan’s dinner at 6:30pm, where there was Singapore’s first dialect-based Miss Teochew beauty pageant. Such activities will go a long way towards promoting Teochew culture in Singapore as well as keeping clan associations engaging and therefore relevant to the young.
The successful launch of the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan’s historic gallery, which featured prominent Teochew community leader Seah Eu Chin, at Marina Bay Sands, on 30 September 2017. The image on the right is of the Miss Teochew beauty pageant, which helps to keep the clan association’s activities engaging and relevant to the young in Singapore.
尊敬我们的祖先，是我们华人的优良传统 – 佘有进是新加坡19世纪初的领袖人物，也是义安公司的创办人。
It is a meaningful and significant Chinese tradition to honour our ancestors, and it is great that the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan honoured the Singapore pioneer Seah Eu Chin, one of our earliest Teochew community leaders in Singapore, and founder and leader of the Ngee Ann Kongsi.
A sincere and grateful thank you to the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan for the kind invitation, hospitality and generosity, and the honour and respect given to Seah Eu Chin.
Closed-door Engagement with Some Defence Executive Officers (DXOs) and Officers, 29 September 2017
I engaged around 40 DXOs and Officers who work on National Education and Total Defence at 2pm on 29 September 2017. Sharing about my book, Seah Eu Chin – His Life & Times, I talked to them about the importance of history and heritage in building a strong and cohesive Singapore national identity, and how in each family and community story is the larger, national Singapore Story. I also shared some thoughts and reflections on the challenging trade-offs between economic development and heritage, and how we as Singaporeans can better remember our own local history.
Book Launch at the Peranakan Museum – This event was successfully concluded on 19 August 2017. The books at the launch were sold out!
The successful book launch of Seah Eu Chin – His Life & Times at the Peranakan Museum, on 19 August 2017. Apart from the insightful and engaging sharing, there were interesting conversations on history, culture, and identity. And in addition to enjoying the talk, book reading, and book signing activity, participants also got the chance to visit and tour the Peranakan Museum.
I had a Book Launch for Seah Eu Chin – His Life & Times at the Peranakan Museum’s Ixora Room on 19 August 2017 at 2:30pm. Admission was free and this event was open to the public.
I talked broadly about my journey of discovery, research, and the process of writing the book. There was also a book reading and signing. There were also interactive and engaging discussions, which were very well-received.
Seah Eu Chin – His Life & Times was on sale at the event, and those who already had the book brought their copies along for the signing. The books on sale at the event were totally sold out even before the event was completed. One piece of feedback I received from someone who attended many book launches that was that this was a first for her!
A special thank you to the Peranakan Museum for their kind support!
I hope you have enjoyed browsing through the photographs and reading about how the events came along.
Thank you for visiting this website or supporting my talks, seminars, and book launches. In fact, thank you for even visiting this website.
Many people have given me kind advice and assistance along my journey, and I would like to thank them – I could not have done without the help of NHB, TPM, URA, Tiong Bahru CC, the Brownies, STG, and other agencies and individuals as well. A whole list of acknowledgments can be found on this website. And a big and personal thank you to my volunteers for the invaluable help, kind understanding, and incredible presence as well.
To contact me for questions on the book, or talks on Seah Eu Chin, or talks about Singapore’s history and heritage in general, do please use the Contact tab on this website to reach out to me and I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.
As I am often busy on several projects, I seek your kind patience and understanding if there are any delays in my response to you. Thank you very much!
Shawn Seah Li Song
Webpage updated: 19 February 2023
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