China Town in Singapore (Singapore)

It seems to be strange to name this area with Chinatown in Singapore where Chinese is a majority.

Raffles, who had built the foundation of Singapore, planned residential districts for each ethnic group for immigrants coming from various countries at the time of the construction of the town in the early 19th century. The area from Singapore River bank to the present Chinatown was assigned to Chinese citizen. It is the origin of this district.

However, those time there were no restrictions on the place of residence not only for the Western European people of the ruling class but also for Asian wealthy people including Chinese, and the ruling class set up a vast mansion meanwhile many Chinese citizen were forced to live in places like Chinatown with high residential density. Such gap makes associate the gap between the current Singaporean people and foreign workers and incentives for wealthy immigrants.

Perhaps the reason why the prime minister Lee Kuan Yew tried to redevelop Chinatown by sweeping it for a period of time would be because it was a negative place symbolizing the lower class’s Chinese residents under colonial rule ?

However, the prime minister Lee, who had felt excessive, corrected the direction in the early 1970s. He started preservation activities from Tanjon Bagar which was his own electoral district.

From now on, that may seem to be a profit guidance to the constituency. But, those days when it was difficult to judge about whether the direction change was correct or no, the truth would be not that the prime minister Lee selectedhis constituency, which is easy to silence criticism, for an experiment ?

Thanks to Lee Kwan Yew style which was executed thoroughly if the direction was determined, shophouse streetscapes are preserved in a much larger scale that I had expected.

Basically, a shophouse puts a roof of red tile on a facade of three stories with a narrow frontage, and a boundary wall with a neighboring house protrudes a little from the roof. It is said that a covered gallery with 5 feet width on the ground floor was according to Raffles' ordinance.

The triple windows basically put a fan window on their heads and some windows add arch windows or square windows. On the outside, the window is equipped with a louver door which derives from the Portuguese colony to avoid the sun and secure ventilation.

Shophouses built early were partly decorative, but, later, according to the influence of neoclassicism that was adopted to colonial architecture, orders were placed on a column capital, and an imitating keystone with wedge-shape or a cornice was added. Decoration came to be excessive like the Baroque and the Mannerism, .

Furthermore, in the 20th century, under the influence of Art Deco, the facade divided by a straight line rose as a signboard architecture, and the flag pole stood up from the top cut out at the jagged edge.

In that way, the style of each era was combined with the Chinese style aesthetics and was metamorphosed into it while an inner door called as Pintu Pagar originating from Malay had been taken over by most shophouses, regardless of the eras.

Pintu Pagar is a half door to block the passersby's eyes when opening a big door to ventilate during the daytime. It corresponds to the climate and has functions of exquisitely protecting privacy, observing the outside situation even if it looks old-fashioned. It must be so suitable gimmick for a town in the tropical zone that a new trend could not present an alternative.

Most of shophouses in this area are restored (too) properly and now they attract tourists as a fashionable cafe or a restaurant. However, in reality, as a result of having refurbished, the rent has risen and residents, who have lived for a long time, had to go out. That seems to have been a point of compromise for the prime minister Lee between the negative memories and the preservation of culture.

Here, excessive crowd, loud noises, fusion of smell of gastronomy, offensive odor and events occurring here and there, which are peculiar to Chinatown, are like a distant memory. Anyway, it is a well-behaved Chinatown.

What I felt in the crowded subway was the discipline of Singaporean citizen. It is a different country from Singapore in the 1960s written in the memoir of the prime minister Lee. The time of half century made possible to remodel the mental structure of people by the prime minister Lee. And the air of this maturing and stable society is also reflected on this Chinatown.

To Japanese Version

Google Maps

Around "China Town Station".




2010.02 Photos in English version, and photos and text in Japanese version

2018.01 Change of photos
2018.04 Text in English version

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Townscpae of the China Town in Singapore

Photo by Daigo Ishii