Chinese Swimming Club

Singapore Infopedia

by Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala


The history of the Chinese Swimming Club on Amber Road began in 1905 as an informal gathering of a small group of swimming enthusiasts. The club is known for having produced a number of national swimmers.


The beginnings of the Chinese Swimming Club can be traced to 1905 as an informal gathering of six or nine (according to differing accounts) swimming enthusiasts who called themselves the “Tanjong Katong Swimming Party”. These middle-class Peranakan (Straits Chinese) men used to swim in the sea off Marine Parade every Sunday and played water polo on the beach there. As the group became known in the area, many other swimmers joined them.1 The Tanjong Katong Swimming Party was recorded in the government gazette on 2 June 1909 as one of the societies exempted from official registration.2 The party comprised Cheong Keng Liat, Chia Teck Chye, Tan Kim Chuan, Charles Kenneth Chia, Khoo Wee Tong, Sim Cheng Boon, Yeo Wah Liap, Lo Cheng Guan and Seah Eng Tong.3

In 1910, the swimming party renamed itself as the Chinese Swimming Club, and continued to be exempted from registration under the Societies Ordinance.4 Four of the nine founding members were part of the 1910 society’s committee and listed swimming instructors: Goh Khek Kiam (president), Chew Woon Poh (vice president), Chan Sze Onn and Cheong Keng Liat (joint honorary secretaries), Sng Teong Geok (honorary treasurer), Chia Teck Chye (honorary auditor), Chia Cheng Kang, Kiong Chin Eng, Seow Poh Leng and Song Chin Eng. The honorary swimming instructors were Chia Teck Chye, Chia Cheng Kang, Tan Kim Chuan and Cheong Keng Liat.5

By 1911, the club had 100 members. They began meeting in their first clubhouse in a rented building at Chapel Road. Ten years later, it moved to a permanent site on Amber Road, renting the famous Bungalow C from wealthy philanthropist Lee Choon Guan, who was also the club’s patron. The clubhouse still occupies the same site today. Back then, the club was the Chinese answer to the exclusive European-only Singapore Swimming Club set up by the British in 1894.6

Early developments and Word War II
By the early 1930s, there were plans to increase membership and upgrade the clubhouse facilities. In 1939, Bungalow C was torn down to make way for a brand new three-storey clubhouse and the club’s first concrete 25-metre swimming pool, which was filled at high tide with natural seawater.7 The pool became very popular and the club membership soared. The Chinese Swimming Club became a landmark institution and was a gathering place for many English-speaking middle-class families living in Katong. During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45), the Japanese used the club building as a recreation centre and an interrogation room, and the pool’s platform became a stage for the Japanese firing squad.8

After the war, the British Military Administration – the interim military government established in Singapore and Malaya before the restoration of civilian rule – was stationed at the clubhouse until 1946 when it returned the building to the Chinese Swimming Club. As life was slowly returning to normal, members did not immediately come streaming back to the clubhouse. Furthermore, the Japanese had vandalised much of the building. It was only in 1947, after the introduction of life membership at $100, that business once again picked up for the club.9

In 1951, a new club building and swimming pool were constructed for its nearly 8,000 members. The building was officially opened by the then Governor of Singapore Franklin Gimson on 24 March 1951. The club president during that time was Lee Kong Chian.10 Ten years later, Chinese Swimming Club finally registered itself officially as a society.11 In February 1966, the club organised a dinner to celebrate Singapore's swimming achievements at the recent Southeast Asian Peninsular Games held in December the previous year in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.12

In 1980, a new sports complex with blue-tiled roofs and arches as well as a tiled wall with nine dragons was built. It was officially opened by E. W. Barker, then minister for law, science and technology, on 15 December 1979.13 In 1991, a recreation complex was constructed to provide other sporting and leisure activities. Then President Wee Kim Wee and his wife were the guests-of-honour at the opening ceremony of the S$10-million complex, held on 29 February 1992.14

The club celebrated its centenary in 2009. The S$16-million four-storey arrival pavilion – which occupies the site of the former sports complex demolished in 2002 – was officially opened on 4 November 2009 by then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng during the club’s centennial charity dinner. Located just behind the arrival pavilion is the new S$27-million glass-and-steel sports complex which opened on 19 February 2005.15 The club’s upgraded recreation complex was officially opened by President Tony Tan on 22 March 2013.16

Facilities at the club include a conference room; a reading room; a TV room; restaurants; a grand ballroom; swimming pools; indoor and outdoor jacuzzi; slot machines; badminton, tennis and squash courts; a billiards and snooker lounge; a gymnasium; a bowling alley; and a table-tennis room.17

The Chinese Swimming Club is reputed for having produced many of Singapore’s swimming bests – such as Patricia Chan, David Lim, Desmond Koh and Mark Chay – with a number being awarded academic scholarships. Coaches can be seen training future national swimmers from the poolside.18 Although the club’s core activity is still swimming, it aims to be the premier sports club in Singapore by offering its members a wide range of facilities and services.19


Naidu Ratnala Thulaja

1. “Milestones,” Chinese Swimming Club, accessed 22 May 2017; Singapore Chinese Swimming Club: 88 Years and Beyond (Singapore: Singapore Chinese Swimming Club, 1998), 20, 30 (Call no. RSING q797.200605957 SIN); Song Ong Siang, One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 380 (Call no. RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); Ginnie Teo, “It All Began 90 Years Ago with 6 Pals,” Straits Times, 1 June 1998, 31. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Straits Settlements, Order by the Governor in Council under the Societies Ordinance 1889, no. 574 of Government Gazette, 4 June 1909, 1176 (Call no. RRARE 959.51 SGG; microfilm NL1067); Straits Settlements, List of Existing Exempted from Registration in the Settlement of Singapore Published in Accordance with the Provision of Section 6 of The Societies Ordinance, no. 561 of Government Gazette, 29 April 1910, 846. (Call no. RRARE 959.51 SGG; microfilm NL1070)
3. “Chinese Swimming Club,” Sunday Tribune (Singapore), 17 February 1935, 2 (From NewspaperSG); 88 Years and Beyond, 22.
4. Straits Settlements, The Societies Ordinance 1909, no. 1305 of Government Gazette, 11 November 1910, 2309 (Call no. RRARE 959.51 SCG; microfilm NL1072); Straits Settlements, The Societies Ordinance 1909, no. 1405 of Government Gazette, 9 December 1910, 2800. (Call no. RRARE 959.51 SCG; microfilm NL1072)
5. “Chinese Swimming Club,” Straits Times, 17 November 1910, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Lily Kong and T. C. Chang, Joo Chiat: A Living Legacy (Singapore: Archipelago Press, 2001), 37, 111 (Call no. RSING q959.57 KON-[HIS]); 88 Years and Beyond, 20, 22–36; Teo, “It All Began 90 Years Ago.” 
7. Aerial View of Joo Chiat with Chinese Swimming Club Visible, Identifiable By Its Enclosed Swimming Pool Jutting Out into the Sea, 8 August 1958, photograph, British Royal Airforce Collection, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 20120000752-0054); 88 Years and Beyond, 76, 128.
8. Kong and Chang, Living Legacy, 111; Uma Devi, et al., Singapore's 100 Historic Places (Singapore: Archipelago Press, 2002), 106 (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS]); 88 Years and Beyond, 92; Teo, “It All Began 90 Years Ago.” 
9. 88 Years and Beyond, 94–100.
10. “‘Club Is Worthy of Community’,” Straits Times, 25 March 1951, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Parliament of Singapore, The Societies Ordinance (Cap 228), G. N. 1963 of Government Gazette, 1 September 1961, 1213. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 SGG)
12. “‘Not Enough to Pass Exams’ Says PM Lee: We Need New Breed Equal to Anyone in SE-Asia,” Straits Times, 7 February 1966, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Lee Kuan Yew, “A Dinner Held at the Chinese Swimming Club,” speech, Chinese Swimming Club, 5 February 1966, transcript, Ministry of Culture. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. lky19660205)
13. “New Complex,” Straits Times, 9 December 1979, 7; Tay Suan Chiang, “Club’s Centenary Splash,” Straits Times, 3 October 2009, 113. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Rent an Apartment, Dive into the Pool Next Door,” Straits Times, 1 March 1992, 3 (From NewspaperSG); President Wee Kim Wee and Mrs Wee Attending the Opening of Chinese Swimming Club Recreation Complex at 21 Amber Road, 29 February 1992, photograph, Ministry of Information and the Arts (MITA) Collection, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19980000171-0101)
15. Tay, “Club’s Centenary Splash”; Low Lin Fhoong, “Out to Make Sports Part of the Singapore Lifestyle,” Today, 5 November 2009, 50. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Page 28 Advertisements Column 1,” Straits Times, 22 March 2013, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Facilities,” Chinese Swimming Club, accessed 31 December 2016.
18. Patricia Chan Li-Yin, oral history interview by Denise Ng Hui Lin, 2 April 2015, transcript and MP3 audio, 37:35, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 002629); 88 Years and Beyond, 116–25; “$45M Facelift for Chinese Swimming Club,” Straits Times, 24 January 2002, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “$45M Facelift for Chinese Swimming Club”; Tay, “Club’s Centenary Splash”; Chinese Swimming Club (Singapore), Free Style (November–December 2009). (Call no. RSING 797.210605957 FS)

The information in this article is valid as of 2016 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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