Hong San See at 31 Mohamed Sultan Road was built between 1908 and 1913.1 It was gazetted as a national monument on 10 November 1978.2 The temple was originally located on Tras Street in Tanjong Pagar when it was first established in 1829. However, that structure was demolished for road widening and replaced with the present building.3
In 1829, migrants from Nan’an (or Lam Ann) county in China’s Fujian province established a temple dedicated to the deity Guang Ze Zun Wang on Tras Street. However in 1907, the government acquired the land for road widening, and the temple had to be moved. The government paid $50,000 as compensation, and this sum was used to purchase the site at Mohamed Sultan Road for the construction of a new temple.4 Construction work began in 1908, with the building materials and statues of deities imported from China.5 The temple was completed in 1913 and cost $56,000.6
In 1915, Nan Ming School was started within the temple complex to provide education for children from Bukit Ho Swee and other nearby villages. The temple’s side halls were used as classrooms. Ten years later, the school closed down because of financial problems.7
Hong San See, which means “Temple on Phoenix Hill”, is situated at the side of Institution Hill and overlooks Mohamed Sultan Road. It originally had a view of the sea, but high-rise buildings constructed in the area over the years have blocked the view.8
Designed by Lim Loh, a well-known building contractor, the temple was built in accordance with the traditional Southern Chinese temple architectural style. This is distinctively reflected in its axial planning, courtyards and walled enclosures.9 The entrance hall and the main hall are separated by a courtyard and arranged along the north-south axis with the entrance facing south.10
The entrance consists of three sets of double-leafed timber doors.11 The main doors have been painted with phoenixes, while the two side doors are painted with door gods. Two granite columns at the entrance are carved with entwined dragons, and two columns after the entrance have carvings of flowers and leaves. Covered walkways connect the entrance hall to the main hall, which houses the altar of Guang Ze Zun Wang, the main deity worshipped at Hong San See.12
The temple’s beam-frame structural system is also typical of traditional Southern Chinese buildings, and the exposed structural elements are richly decorated. The curved roof ridges and eaves feature ornamentation made of ceramic tile pieces brought together using the jian nian (or chien nien) method (a method of cutting and pasting mosaic tiles).13 On the roof ridge of the entrance hall is a hu lu or “bottle gourd” flanked by a pair of dancing dragons. The hu lu is believed to ward off evil spirits.14 Another two dragons sit on either side of a blazing pearl on the roof ridge of the main hall. The pearl symbolises the celestial power of the heavenly gods.15
Management and restoration
Since 1924, the temple has been managed by the Singapore Lam Ann Association, a Hokkien clan group. A full-scale restoration was undertaken between 2006 and 2009 after the corner of a roof collapsed. To ensure authenticity, technical consultants from the Beijing Palace Museum were engaged to draft a detailed restoration plan, and a group of craftsmen who had expertise in restoring China’s national treasures were brought in to undertake the restoration work. The project cost S$3 million, two-thirds of which came from clan and temple devotees and the rest from the Lee Foundation. In 2010, the temple became the first building in Singapore to receive the Award of Excellence in the annual UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.16
In 2018, the Singapore Lam Ann Association donated seven account books to the National Library Board, among other documents, some of which are dated to 1924–35. The account books contain details of how the temple was built, including the names of the craftspeople and expenditure on construction and building materials.17
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja & Valerie Chew
1. Lee Geok Boi, The Religious Monuments of Singapore: Faiths of Our Forefathers (Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, 2002), 32. (Call no. RSING 726.095957 LEE)
2. Preservation of Monuments Board Singapore and Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Hong San See Preservation Guidelines, vol. 1 (Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board, 1992), 4. (Call no. RSING 363.69095957 HON)
3. Gretchen Liu, In Granite and Chunam: The National Monuments of Singapore (Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, 1996), 151. (Call no. RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
4. Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 32; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 151.
5. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 151.
6. Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 32; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 151.
7. Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 32.
8. Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 32, 36; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 151–52.
9. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 151–52
10. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 152; Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 36.
11. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 152.
12. Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 36.
13. Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 36.
14. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 152.
15. Evelyn Lip, Chinese Temple Architecture in Singapore (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1983), 46. (Call no. RSING 726.1951095957 LIP)
16. Yen Feng, “The Little Temple That Could,” Straits Times, 19 September 2010, 8; Lin Wenjian, “Hong San See in Its Glory,” Straits Times, 25 September 2010, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
17. National Library Board, National Library Board Annual Report 2017/2018 (Singapore: National Library Board, 2018), 20.
Singapore Lam Ann Associationæ°å å¡åå®ä¼é¦, Xinjiapo nanan huiguan zhencang: Feng shan si xinjian feng shan si zhangbu æ°å å¡åå®ä¼é¦çèï¼å¤å±±å¯ºãæ°å»ºå¤å±±å¯ºå¸ç°¿, 1907–1945 [Treasures of Singapore Lam Ann Association: Hong San See, account books of newly built Hong San See] (Singapore: Singapore Lam Ann Association, 1945). (Call no. Chinese 657.2095957 XJP)
Singapore Lam Ann Associationæ°å å¡åå®ä¼é¦, Xinjiapo nanan huiguan zhencang: Feng shan si chong xiu zhi chu shou ju æ°å å¡åå®ä¼é¦çè: å¤å±±å¯ºéä¿®æ¯åºæ¶æ® [Treasures of Singapore Lam Ann Association: Receipt of expenditures for reconstruction of Hong San See] (Singapore: Singapore Lam Ann Association, n.d.). (Call no. Chinese 380.5957 XJP)
Singapore Lam Ann Associationæ°å å¡åå®ä¼é¦, Xinjiapo nanan huiguan zhencang: 1924–1935 nian xingzhou nanan hui guan jian guan chou bei hui yi ji lu æ°å å¡åå®ä¼é¦çè: 1924–1935å¹´ææ´²åå®ä¼é¦å»ºé¦ç¹å¤ä¼è®®è®°å½ [Treasures of Singapore Lam Ann Association: Minutes of the preparatory meeting for the construction of the Singapore Lam Ann Association] (Singapore: Singapore Lam Ann Association, 1935). (Call no. Chinese 203.5095957 XJP)
The information in this article is valid as at August 2021 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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