Yueh Hai Ching Temple

Singapore Infopedia

by Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala


Yueh Hai Ching Temple is one of the oldest Taoist temples in Singapore.1 It was established by the Teochew community and is also known as Wak Hai Cheng Bio in the Teochew dialect.2 The temple was likely established at its current location at 30B Philip Street in either 1819 or 1826, based on movable stone censers dated to those years, and a pair of couplets dated to 1826. The building was gazetted as a national monument on 28 June 1996.3 The temple received an imperial signboard from Emperor Guang Xu of the Qing dynasty in 1899, an honour accorded to only two temples in Singapore, the other being Thian Hock Keng.4

The temple is believed to have been started in 1826 by Teochew settlers from Guangzhou, China, who built a simple wood-and-attap shrine on Philip Street, which was then located near the sea. It was a place where newly arrived Chinese immigrants, including sailors, fishermen and traders, travelling between China and Singapore, came to offer thanks for their safe sea voyages.5 This is reflected in the temple’s name, which means “Temple of the Calm Sea”.6

In 1895, a major renovation of the temple was undertaken by the owner, Ngee Ann Kongsi, an association formed by a group of Teochews to look after the interests of the Teochew community.7 By the late 19th century, the Teochews had become the second-largest Chinese dialect group in Singapore after the Hokkiens, and the temple played an important part in the Teochew people’s daily lives as a community meeting place and place of worship.8

In 1899, the temple was honoured with an imperial signboard bearing its name from the Qing Emperor Guang Xu, thereby uplifting its status.9 The temple was gazetted as a national monument in 1996 and thereafter underwent repair and restoration work.10

The temple is built in a traditional Chinese architectural style. Covering a total area of 695 sq m, it is situated within a walled compound fronted by a main entrance gate leading to a spacious forecourt.11 The temple consists of two separate shrines, each with its own entrance. One block houses the shrine of Tian Hou, the Mother of Heavenly Sages, while the other block is home to the shrine of Xuan Tian Shang Di, the Heavenly Emperor.12

The two blocks differ in ornamentation and elevation. The ornament on the roof ridge of the Heavenly Emperor’s shrine features two dragons flanking a blazing pearl, while the shrine of the Heavenly Mother features dragons guarding a miniature pagoda.13 The elaborately constructed roof with mythical animal and bird motifs, as well as the richly carved beam-and-bracket roof support system, gives the temple its stunning appearance.14 Three-dimensional scenes of Chinese opera can be seen in relief work done on the interior walls of the temple.15

Naidu Ratnala Thulaja

1. Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage: Through Places of Historical Interest (Singapore: Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, 2010), 346 (Call no. RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS]); G. Uma Devi, et al., Singapore’s 100 Historic Places (Singapore: Archipelago Press; National Heritage Board, 2002), 73. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
2. Lee Geok Boi, The Religious Monuments of Singapore: Faiths of Our Forefathers (Singapore: Landmark Books, 2002), 22 (Call no. RSING 726.095957 LEE); Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 417. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW); Yeo Kang Shua, Divine Custody: A History of Singapore's Oldest Teochew Temple (Singapore: NUS Press, 2021), 9–10.
3. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 346; Gretchen Liu, In Granite and Chunam: The National Monuments of Singapore (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1996), 155. (Call no. RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
4. Liu,  Divine Custody, 38.
5. Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 22; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 155.
6. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 155; Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 346.
7. Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 22–23; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 155.
8. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 155; Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 346.
9. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 155; Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 346; Yeo, Divine Custody: A History of Singapore's Oldest Teochew Temple, 38.
10. “Yueh Hai Ching Temple,” National Heritage Board, accessed 29 April 2016.
11. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 155.
12. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 155; Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 22.
13. Liu, Granite and Chunam, 155.
14. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 417; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 155.
15. Lee, Religious Monuments of Singapore, 24; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 155.

The information in this article is valid as at 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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