Straits Chinese British Association

Singapore Infopedia


The Straits Chinese British Association (SCBA) was one of the many early Straits Chinese (Peranakan) clubs.1 It was founded on 17 August 1900 by Peranakans Tan Jiak Kim, Seah Liang Seah, Lim Boon Keng and Song Ong Siang, with the aim of being a voice for their community.2 It was the forerunner of The Peranakan Association in Singapore.3 Shortly after the SCBA was established locally, a branch was set up in Melaka in October 1900, followed by a Penang branch in 1920.4

According to historian C. F. Yong, there were three reasons behind the formation of the SCBA. First, the increase of the Straits-born Chinese population from 9,500 in 1881 to 15,000 in 1900 had resulted in a greater awareness of the Straits Chinese as a distinct group. Second, there was a rise of English-speaking, university-trained leaders including Lim Boon Keng and Song Ong Siang, who initiated new ideas among the Straits Chinese community. Finally, there was also a growing need among the English-educated Straits Chinese to pledge loyalty towards the British crown.5

Many of the approximately 800 founding members were from the Chinese Philomathic Society of Singapore, which had been established in 1896 and known to hold discussions on topics concerning the Chinese, ranging from political to social issues.6

A number of the association’s early leaders were educated in Britain. They also served as models, shaping social and political mindsets not only through debates but also through contributing finances as well as their time and effort. For at least the initial 40 years, the SCBA was fertile ground for raising Straits Chinese leaders.7

To demonstrate its allegiance to the British, one of the first achievements of the SCBA was the formation of a Straits Chinese company in the Singapore Volunteer Infantry in 1901 for the purpose of local defence. During World War I, SCBA leaders donated funds and even purchased warplanes to aid the British war effort. In addition, they sat on school committees to improve English education in schools and donated money for the establishment of the Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School (later renamed King Edward VII College of Medicine) in 1905. SCBA members were also active in social work. For instance, Lim launched a campaign against opium smoking in 1906.8

The SCBA contributed to establishing a more prominent presence of the Straits Chinese in the colonial government. In 1931, Lim Han Hoe, Heah Joo Seang and Tan Cheng Lock – presidents of the Straits Chinese British Associations of Singapore, Penang and Malacca respectively – jointly petitioned to the Straits Settlements governor and high commissioner, Cecil Clementi, to have three elected representatives in the Legislative Council, in addition to the three government nominees.9

Peranakan Association
The SCBA was renamed Singapore Chinese Peranakan Association in 1964, and then The Peranakan Association in March 1966.10 The Peranakan Association celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2000.11

17 Aug 1900: SCBA set up in Singapore.12
Oct 1900
: Melaka branch established.13 

1920: Penang branch established.14
7 Dec 1964: SCBA renamed Singapore Chinese Peranakan Association, in view of Singapore’s independence from the British following its merger with the Federation of Malaya.15
23 Feb 1966: SCBA renamed The Peranakan Association.16
1988: First Baba Convention (presently known as the Baba Nyonya Convention) held in Penang. Melaka, Penang, Singapore and Phuket later would take turns to hostthe annual event.17

Zoe Yeo

1. John R. Clammer, Straits Chinese Society: Studies in the Sociology of Baba Communities of Malaysia and Singapore (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1980), 9. (Call no. RSING 301.45195105957 CLA)
2. “Straits Chinese British Association Meeting,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 18 August 1900, 3; “Untitled,” Straits Times, 21 June 1900, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
3. The Peranakan Association, All Things Peranakan: Chakap Chakap Baba Culture (Singapore: The Peranakan Association, 2013), 2. (Call no. RSING 305.895105957 CHA)
4. Tan Chee Beng, Chinese Peranakan Heritage in Malaysia and Singapore (Kuala Lumpur: Fajar Bakti, 1993), 23. (Call no. RSING 305.895105957 TAN)
5. C. F. Yong, Chinese Leadership and Power in Colonial Singapore (Singapore: Time Academic Press, 1992), 52. (Call no. RSING 959.5702 YON-[HIS])
6. “Chinese Philomathic Society,” The Straits Chinese Magazine 1, no. 1 (1897), 32. (Call no. RRARE 959.5 STR; microfilm NL267)
7. Yong, Chinese Leadership and Power in Colonial Singapore, 53–54, 61.
8. Yong, Chinese Leadership and Power in Colonial Singapore, 88–89.
9. “Straits Chinese and the Council,” Straits Times, 19 October 1931, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Catherine G. S. Lim, Gateway to Peranakan Culture (Singapore: Asiapac, 2003), 20 (Call no. RSING 305.8951 LIM); “‘Malaysia and S’pore Must Work in Harmony’ Call,” Straits Times, 5 June 1967, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Theresa Tan, “Peranakan Group Celebrates 100 Years,” Straits Times, 28 August 2000, 37. (From NewpaperSG)
12. “Straits Chinese British Association Meeting.”
13. “Straits Chinese British Association,” Straits Times, 22 October 1900, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Council Reform,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 27 November 1920, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Singapore, Government Gazette, 11 December 1964, 3194 (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 SGG); “SCBA Now Becomes Peranakan Chinese,” Straits Times, 26 November 1964, 5 (From NewspaperSG); The Peranakan Association, All Things Peranakan: Chakap Chakap Baba Culture, 2.
16. Singapore, Government Gazette, 4 March 1966, 679. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 SGG)
17. The Peranakan Association, All Things Peranakan: Chakap Chakap Baba Culture, 2; S. B. Tan, “Colourful Community,” The 15th Baba Convention,” The Peranakan (January–March 2003), 6–7. (Call no. RSING 305.895105957 PAN)

The information in this article is valid as at 21 November 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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