Early Straits Chinese associations and clubs

Singapore Infopedia


The early Straits Chinese associations and clubs were not only meeting places for the Peranakan (Straits Chinese) community, but had also served as educational platforms and the political mouthpiece of the community.

Literary and intellectual associations
The first association established by the Straits Chinese was the Celestial Reasoning Association, a literary and debating society. It held its inaugural meeting on 27 May 1882, with Chinese Consul Tso Ping Lung as the first president. The objectives of the society – the first of its kind among educated Chinese – were to help members improve their English language skills as well as to “encourage learning and morality”. The association had, however, dissolved by 1889.1

In June 1909, the Straits Chinese Reading Club was established as a branch of the Chinese Christian Association. The club played an instrumental role in helping young Straits Chinese improve their command of the English language and strive for higher goals in life.2

In 1911, the Straits Chinese Literary Association (SCLA) was formed by several Straits Chinese, most of whom were former students of the Anglo-Chinese School. The association was registered on 17 June 1911 with just eight members. During its fortnightly meetings, the young members were coached in public speaking. They were also introduced to a variety of indoor and outdoor games. In January 1919, the SCLA published the inaugural issue of its bi-monthly publication, S.C.L.A. Recorder, with Reverend Goh Hood Keng as editor. The publication was distributed free-of-charge to members and friends of the association.3

Cultural clubs
The Straits Chinese Amateur Musical Society was established in 1906. It had a well-furnished clubhouse on Wallich Street, and was supported by a strong membership base. The society was, however, short-lived.4

In the 1910s, Chia Keng Tye  formed and financed the Chia Keng Tye Orchestra. The orchestra’s conductor was Tay Lian Teck, an outstanding violinist who later became the first Asian to be admitted into the all-Caucasian Singapore Philharmonic Orchestra.5

Social and sports clubs
The Straits Chinese Recreation Club (SCRC) was founded sometime at the end of 1884 by Koh Tiong Yan, Koh Seck Tian, Chia Keng Chin, Tan Chew Kim and Ong Kim Cheow. It was reported in The Straits Times on 14 January 1885 that the club was formed “for the purpose of playing lawn tennis, cricket and  practising English athletic sports”. Members played cricket, football, hockey and tennis, and indoor games such as chess and billiards. The club held its first Chinese New Year sports event at Hong Lim Green on 22 February 1896.6

On 2 July 1887, the SCRC’s club house was officially opened by Chinese Consul Tso, who proposed a toast to the club’s future success and prosperity. The invited guests – which numbered more than one hundred and comprised both Chinese and Europeans – were entertained by the band of the 2nd South Lancashire Regiment. The club house was built in the centre of Hong Lim Green (later renamed Dunman’s Green), Singapore’s first public park managed by the municipality. Located adjacent to the Police Court, the site of the club house was given by the Straits government, while Cheang Hong Lim donated money for the iron fence built around it. Funds for the construction of the club house were raised by President of the SCRC Tan Keng Wah, Honorary Secretary Low Cheng Koon, Assistant Honorary Secretary Tan Chew Kim as well as some other club members.7

Besides the SCRC, there was also the short-lived Straits Chinese Social Club. Its demise was immediately followed by the formation of the Straits Chinese British Association (SCBA) on 17 August 1900.8 Now known as The Peranakan Association, the SCBA was founded by Tan Jiak Kim, Seah Liang Seah, Lim Boon Keng and Song Ong Siang, all prominent members of the Straits Chinese community. The association, which served political, social and recreational functions, was formed with the objectives of educating the Straits Chinese and improving the community’s poor living conditions.9

The Straits Chinese Football Association was formed during a meeting held on 20 May 1911 at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, with S. C. Yin elected as its first president. All Chinese clubs that could form a football team were invited to join the association, which held its first match at the St Joseph’s School playground on 15 July 1911.10

Today, organisations dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the Peranakan culture in Singapore include The Peranakan Association and the Gunong Sayang Association.11


Vernon Cornelius

1. Song Ong Siang, One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 209–10, 254. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
2. Song, One Hundred Years' History, 491.
3. Song, One Hundred Years' History, 501–02.
4. Song, One Hundred Years' History, 378–79.
5. “An Amateur Orchestra,” Straits Times, 13 August 1931, 18; “Amateur Orchestra Which Plays only Classical Music,” Straits Times, 16 April 1939, 10; “82 Years in Tune,” Straits Times, 9 August 1982, 45; “Music Gift to S’pore By Chia Family,” Straits Times, 8 March 1967, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Song, One Hundred Years' History, 216, 227, 287–88.
7. Song, One Hundred Years' History, 168, 226–27; Lai Chee Kien, “Maidan to Padang: Reinventions of Urban Fields in Malaysia and Singapore,” Traditional Dwellings and Settlement Review, 21, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 60. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
8. Song, One Hundred Years' History, 319.
9. C. F. Yong, Chinese Leadership and Power in Colonial Singapore (Singapore: Times Academic Press, 1992), 52, 57–60 (Call no. RSING 959.5702 YON-[HIS]); 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)
10. Song, One Hundred Years' History, 466, 468.
11. “Home,” The Peranakan Association Singapore, accessed 31 May 2019; “Home,” Gunong Sayang Association, 31 May 2019.  

The information in this article is valid as at May 2019 and correct as far as we can 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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