Chinese villages in the North

Singapore Infopedia

by Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala


Several Chinese villages in the northern part of Singapore, from Kranji through Woodlands to Yishun.

Nee Soon Village
The origins of Nee Soon Village can be traced back to 1850 when 44 acres of land in the kangkar (meaning the land around the riverbank, river mouth or river's leg in Teochew) in Seletar was purchased for gambier and pepper plantations. Situated along the upper portions of the Seletar waterway, the kangkar was made up of the area around the junctions of Sembawang Road and Mandai Road. Apart from Nee Soon Village, there were other surrounding villages, such as Chye Kay Village, Mandai Tekong Village, Kampong Jalan Mata Ayer, Heng Leh Pah Village, Bah Soon Pah Village, Hainan Village, Hup Choon Kek Village, Kampong Telok Soo, Kum Mang Hng Village, Kampong Jalan Kula Simpang, Sembawang Village and Sungei Simpang Village.

The kangkar was the commercial centre of Nee Soon estate all through the nineteenth century. Nee Soon estate grew from the gambier and pepper plantations that started along the Seletar River from the 1930s onwards. These plantations lured employment-seeking immigrants who then set up settlements or villages along the Sungei Seletar waterways. Villages were also established along old roads such as Upper Thomson Road, Seletar Road, Mandai Road, Yio Chu Kang Road, Sembawang Road, Bah Soon Pah Road and Chye Kay Road.

Nee Soon Village was originally called Chan Chu Kang after its owner, and was later named Nee Soon Village after Lim Nee Soon for Nee Soon's contribution to the rubber industry. Lim Nee Soon set up the Thong Aik Rubber Factory at the kangkar in 1912, which was renamed as Nee Soon & Sons in the 1920s. It was purchased by Lee Kong Chian in 1928 and its name was changed to Lee Rubber. In the early 20th century, Bukit Sembawang Rubber Company set up district offices in the kangkar area, at Chye Kay Village and in the Bah Soon Pah area. In the 1930s, attap houses were built in the kangkar area and a bridge laid across the Seletar River to enable communication between the kangkar and the villages across it. A cinema called Pei Li Cinema was opened here in the 1930s. It was renamed Seletar Cinema after being purchased by Lim Chong Pang in the same decade.

After the war, the kangkar developed rapidly. In 1947, Koh Chin Chong constructed the Nee Soon Market at the junction of Thong Aik Road and Nee Soon Road which led to the development of the road and its surroundings. Burnt down in 1979, a makeshift market was built there until it gave way to urban redevelopment work that formed the Yishun New Town. With the development of land transport in the post-war years, the kangkar became one of the most densely populated rural areas in Singapore. A taxi stand was built in the kangkar in 1951. In 1953, the government reconstituted the Rural Board and it looked into the development of villages. As a result amenities like maternity clinics and standpipes were added, and by 1955, all roads were officially named and postal services established.

In the mid-1960s, traditional traders dealing with firewood, laundry and bicycles gave way to motor-car and electrical appliances dealers. Modern shophouses were also built, replacing the attap and zinc ones. With the introduction of television in Singapore in the mid-1960s, the charm of open air cinemas and opera shows began to decline. Piped water, electricity, refrigerator and hi-fi set joined the list of daily necessities in Nee Soon Village. The signs of urban development were seen in the English schools and the medical and community facilities established here. Three community centres were opened here in 1963, one at Bah Soon Pah, another at Mandai Tekong and yet another at Ulu Seletar. Three more community centres followed - the Nee Soon Community Centre in 1965, and the other two at Chye Kay Village and Kampong Sah Pah Siam.

In 1976, the Yishun New Town Project was initiated by the government. Made up of 919 ha of land, the Nee Soon estate was converted into an urbanised town with public housing and industries. Residents of Nee Soon Village were first relocated to different places according to their profession before construction of the New Town began in 1977.

Kangkar Village
Located at the end of Upper Serangoon Road, this kampong was pulled down in 1984. It was a coastal village made up of attap houses and was popular for its wholesale fish market. The kampong was cleared to make way for the construction of the S$ 11 million Ponggol fishing port.

Chye Kay Village
This village was located within the old Nee Soon estate or present-day Yishun New Town. In 1905, Chen Chia Keng (b. 21 October 1874, Jimei, Tong'an, Quanzhou, Fujian - d. 12 August 1961, Beijing, China), set up a pineapple canning factory in Nee Soon Village. To ensure a continuous supply of pineapples for his factory, he purchased 500 acres of land to plant pineapples. In 1907, when he learnt that rubber was a profitable crop, he planted rubber between pineapple plants. This plantation presumably provided employment to the residents of Chye Kay Village. The villagers here constructed the Chu Sion Tong Temple, which also served as a charity home for the aged and destitute people. A school called the Lee Cheng School was constructed here in the 1930s. Classes used to be conducted on a wayang stage. It closed down during the war and was re-established after the war with the Japanese war-time offices being used as classrooms. In the early 1930s, another school called Kwang Teck School was constructed here by the Ngee Ann Kongsi. In 1948, the Lee Teck School was constructed with funds donated by the residents of Chye Kay Village. English schools were established in the kangkar from the late 1940s onwards, beginning with the Sembawang School along Sembawang Road. The main economic activities of the villagers here were vegetable farming, fishing and orchid farming.

Chong Pang Village
Part of Nee Soon estate, Chong Pang Village was originally called the Westhill Village or Westhill estate. Westhill Village was located at the twelfth milestone at Seletar opposite the Sembawang Aerodrome. It was named by the government as Chong Pang Village in 1956 as a tribute to Lim Chong Pang (b. 6 June, 1904 Singapore - d. 1956 Singapore), the son of Lim Nee Soon. Lim Chong Pang was a businessman who served as a member of the Rural Board from 1929 to 1938. Chong Pang Village centred around a row of shophouse units which made up the village's business, commercial and residential core. The western and south-western boundaries of the village were next to the extensive Ulu Sembawang vegetable and fruit farming regions. To the north of the village was the former British Naval Base constructed in 1938.

Heavily dependent on the rubber plantations for their living, the villagers were adversely affected by the collapse of the rubber in 1935. Thankfully, the British Naval Base came into the picture and provided plenty of employment. The construction of the Paya Lebar Airport in 1953-1954 led to an exodus of households from Paya Lebar into Chong Pang, leading to a swelling of Chinese households in the village, even outnumbering the Indians who were until then the majority of the village's population. During the Japanese invasion, many inhabitants fled the village for fear of being killed by the Japanese soldiers. The area around Sultan Theatre, which was built by Lim Chong Pang, was converted into a red-light district and the theatre itself was used to store ammunition.

In March 1989, the village was razed to the ground and in its place today stands the Sembawang New Town. The present day Chong Pang housing estate, known as Chong Pang Garden, is in the Yishun New Town. Built in 1981, Chong Pang Garden is made up of 923 housing units and is flanked by Sembawang Road, Yishun Ave 5, Yishun Ave 2 and Yishun Ring Road on its four sides.

Heng Leh Pah Village
Part of Nee Soon estate, this village was situated off Upper Thomson Road. It was also called Phua Village. Phua Village was home to the Heng San Temple. The villagers here brought along their ancestral deity from their village in Nan An district in Fujian and established this temple in the 1910s. The land owners of this village took up coconut planting in the early 20th century. The government granted 50% land rebate for six years to all land owners to grow coconuts. The coconut plantations were useful to the pig farmers in this village as well because coconut residue was used as pig feed. There was a boom in pig farming after scientific methods were introduced in the 1960s, resulting in more income for the pig farmers. In 1979 however, the government decided to restrict pig farming to Lim Chu Kang and Ponggol.

Mandai Tekong village
Situated off Mandai Road, the Mandai Tekong Village boasted the largest number of big vegetable farms than others in the Nee Soon estate. Like Phua Village, the boom in pig farming in the 1960s also boosted the income of the villagers here until the restriction in 1979. Traders would ply Mandai Tekong Village and the villages in Bah Soon Pah to buy vegetables from the farmers for sale in town. The villagers also took to large-scale orchid farming in the 1960s.

Bah Soon Pah
The Bah Soon Pah area in the Nee Soon estate was made up of a cluster of villages such as Kampong Telok Soo, a.k.a., Kampong Kitin, and De Lu Shu Village. These villages were situated around the Bah Soon Pah Road, off Sembawang Road. The villagers in Bah Soon Pah reared chickens which became a thriving business from the 1960s onwards. They also reared ducks and grew vegetables. The low-lying swampy area favoured prawn and fish breeding, leading to prawn and fish ponds. Similar ponds were also found in Chye Kay Village and Heng Leh Pah Village. Tropical fish breeding caught on In the 1960s. In 1934, the villagers of Bah Soon Pah set up the Hua Shun Gong Fu De Ci temple, a.k.a. Hua Shan Gong temple. In the 1930s, the Teochews and Hokkiens set up the Chian Nan School and Hua Soon School respectively.

Hup Choon Kek Village
Part of Nee Soon estate, this village was home to the Wei Leng Keng temple, built in the 1930s.

Yio Chu Kang ("Chia Keng" in the Chinese dialect) Village
Situated along Yio Chu Kang Road, it remained in existence until the late 1980s.

Yew Tee Village
This village was located off Woodlands Road. Yew Tee means "oil pond" in Teochew and the name came about as this place was used by the Japanese to store oil during the Occupation. Yew Tee became a household name with the construction of the Yew Tee MRT station which is located where the village used to be, near Stagmont Ring. It was once a bustling village numbering 300 families. The residents worked mainly as small-time vegetable and poultry farmers. When the land in Yew was developed and new estates like Chua Chu Kang and Jurong East came up, many residents began moving out. The Yew Tee Community Centre, set up in 1963 and one of Singapore's oldest community centres, closed down in 1998. The closure was due to under-utilisation which reflect the exodus of population from the area. In 1991, it was an obscure sleepy village with less than 20 zinc-roofed houses.

Naidu Ratnala Thulaja

Oral History Department. (1987). A pictorial history of Nee Soon Community (pp. 107, 121-179). Singapore: The grassroots organisations of Nee Soon Constituency, National Archives, Oral History Department.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 PIC)

Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2003). Toponymics: a study of Singapore street names (p. 215). Singapore: Eastern Universities Press.
(Call no.: SING 915.9570014 SAV)

Yeoh, S. A. B., & Kong, L. (Eds.). (1995). Portraits of places : history, community and identity in Singapore (pp.180-201). Singapore : Times Editions.
(Call no.: SING 959.57 POR)

Yap, N. (1988, April 5). Yew Tee CC calls it a day. The Straits Times.

Station names for Woodlands line have ties to surroundings. (1991, November 20). The Straits Times, p. 3.

Further Readings
Bungar, J. (1992, September 25). Yishun museum and video tell Nee Soon story. The Straits Times, p. 33.

Different problems now that Nee Soon has grown from kampung to town. (1995, September 22). The Straits Times, p. 34.

ProActive Media Pte Ltd. (n.d.). Ho Kah Leong - charity calendar 1991. Retrieved November 07, 2003, from

Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2002). From kampong to regional centre: Woodlands in the making. Retrieved February 2, 2005, from

The information in this article is valid as at 2005 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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