Tensions in Singapore’s Education System

Lim Boon Keng
Lim Boon Keng

A Doctor and Civic Leader

A Peranakan doctor, public intellectual and writer. He won the Queen’s Scholarship and was a member of the Legislative Council who pushed for social and educational reforms.

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A Doctor and Civic Leader

I’m delighted to be the first Chinese to win the first Queen’s Scholarship
The colonial government introduced the Queen’s Scholarship in 1885 for top students in Singapore and Malaya to enrol at a British university. Lim Boon Keng was the first student in Singapore to receive the scholarship. Awardees were selected through a competitive examination, which was set up by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate from 1886. The scholarship was suspended in 1911, but the efforts of educators and former scholars such as Lim Boon Keng and Song Ong Siang, as well as public support, helped it get restored in 1924.
, founded by Sir Cecil Clementi Smith. This could not have been achieved without the unwavering support of my principal, R.W. Hullet
Richmond William Hullett was the longest-serving headmaster of Raffles Institution, from 1871 to 1906. Today, the Hullett Memorial Library, the Hullett House in the house system, and the Hullett Block in the Raffles Institution Boarding Complex bear his name. He was also a renowned botanist and a member of several learned societies such as the elite Straits Philosophical Society. It held regular discussions on philosophy, theology, history, literature, science and art, and was very much a part of the intellectual and cultural life of colonial Singapore.
, as well as Mr. Wee Theam Tew
Born in Singapore and educated at Raffles Institution, Wee was an outstanding student of English and Chinese literature in his youth. The Peranakan lawyer was also fluent in English, Chinese and Malay. In 1902, Wee accepted the appointment of secretary to Prince Su, the military governor of Beijing and Minister to the Emperor. In 1904, he went to China and returned to Singapore the following year to resume his legal practice. However, his failing health led to a serious illness from which he never recovered, and he died at the age of 52.
, who granted me free access to his expansive collection…
R.W. Hullet
R.W. Hullet

A School Headmaster

Headmaster of Raffles Institution from 1871 to 1906. He was also a renowned botanist and intellectual.

A School Headmaster
Circa 1887
The Queen’s Scholarship is only awarded to one candidate each year. Although Song Ong Siang
Song Ong Siang was a prominent Peranakan figure in Singapore and the first Chinese in Malaya to be knighted by the British. He won the Queen’s Scholarship the year after Lim Boon Keng did, and distinguished himself as a community leader, lawyer, legislator, church elder, scholar and captain in the volunteer corps.
was placed first in the examinations, he is underage and does not qualify for the scholarship.

Boon Keng, I'm sure you will distinguish yourself, for I have watched many boys leave school and go out into the world, but I seldom parted with anyone whose future I feel more confident about. You are an outstanding student and I’m proud to have been your mentor.

The Peranakan Identity

Lim Boon Keng
Lim Boon Keng

A Doctor and Civic Leader

A Peranakan doctor, public intellectual and writer. He won the Queen’s Scholarship and was a member of the Legislative Council who pushed for social and educational reforms.

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A Doctor and Civic Leader

I’ve finally been appointed to the Straits Settlements Legislative Council, replacing the retiring Seah Liang Seah
A wealthy Singapore Chinese merchant, Seah Liang Seah was a keen proponent of British rule, co-founding the pro-British Straits Chinese British Association to be the voice of the Peranakan community. In 1885, Seah became chairman of the Ngee Ann Kongsi, a welfare organisation his father Seah Eu Chin—a wealthy merchant himself—helped establish for the Teochew community. Seah served on the Legislative Council for two terms from 1883 to 1890 and from 1894 to 1895. He later quit in protest of a tax imposed by the colonial government that would contribute to British military spending.
. But the entire process has been far from smooth sailing. Governor Sir Charles Mitchell
Sir Charles Mitchell was the 13th Governor of the Straits Settlements, and the first governor to serve as High Commissioner to the Federated Malay States. Mitchell had been posted to the West Indies, South Africa and the Pacific before taking up the position of Governor in Singapore. His tenure coincided with a regional economic slowdown, which was compounded by British Colonial Secretary Lord Ripon’s demand for substantial contributions from the Straits Settlements for protecting Singapore. Local protests eventually saw the amount reduced. He died in office on 7 December 1899 and was buried at St. Andrew’s Cathedral.
initially rejected my nomination, as he thought I was too young.

My support for those opposing the…
A Corps Recruiter
Circa 1901
Lim Boon Keng, thank you for leading by example and enlisting as a private with the Chinese company of the Singapore Volunteer Rifles Corps
The Corps was started in 1854 by 61 European volunteers, to counter the increasing lawlessness caused mainly by clashes between Chinese secret societies. It played an important role in Singapore’s security, and helped to quell the Singapore Mutiny of 1915, in which a number of officers lost their lives. The Corps also helped defend Singapore against the Japanese during World War II. In the late 1890s, local Chinese leaders like Lim Boon Keng and Tan Jiak Kim began encouraging local Chinese to join the Chinese company of this once all-European Corps.
. You did so at the age of 32, clearly proving that age is no barrier to enthusiasm and patriotism, and your enlistment has encouraged many other local Chinese to join the Corps!

In fact, we were first inspired by your talk ‘Our Enemies’, given at the Chinese Philomathic Society
The Chinese Philomathic Society was established in 1897 by Lim Boon Keng. It was a Baba association focussed on the study of English culture such as literature and music. Members also studied the Chinese language and held discussions on Chinese issues ranging from political to social matters. Many of the 800 members of the Straits Chinese British Association were also members of the Chinese Philomathic Society.
four years ago. You spoke of the transition of Singapore and other colonies, both socially and intellectually, towards new ideas from European civilisation.

Singapore’s Public Health Issues

Lim Boon Keng
Lim Boon Keng

A Doctor and Civic Leader

A Peranakan doctor, public intellectual and writer. He won the Queen’s Scholarship and was a member of the Legislative Council who pushed for social and educational reforms.

Explore

A Doctor and Civic Leader

A huge thank you to the medical community for hosting a dinner to celebrate my appointment to the Legislative Council. I am pleased to hear that many of you feel that the honour of the appointment has brought prestige to our profession. I promise to repay your faith by representing…
A Physician
Circa 1896
Locals in Singapore have almost no public health services. Currently, medical services mainly cater to British officials and military men, European merchants and seamen, Sepoys and the local police. The local population tends to seek assistance from traditional practitioners instead.

As such, there is an urgent need to expand medical services for the locals.

Lim Boon Keng’s Social Reforms

Lim Boon Keng
Lim Boon Keng

A Doctor and Civic Leader

A Peranakan doctor, public intellectual and writer. He won the Queen’s Scholarship and was a member of the Legislative Council who pushed for social and educational reforms.

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A Doctor and Civic Leader

I founded the Chinese Philomathic Society of Singapore
The society was established in 1897 by Dr. Lim Boon Keng. The Baba association primarily studied English culture such as literature and music. However, it also retained an interest in the Chinese language and held discussions on various Chinese issues, ranging from political matters to social reform. Many of the Straits Chinese British Association’s 800 members were also members of the Chinese Philomathic Society of Singapore.
, a Peranakan association that will host regular and vigorous discussions of English literature, Western music and the Chinese language, as well as lectures and literary debates on subjects of reform! It is necessary for us Peranakans not to neglect the study of…
A Chinese Educator
Circa 1897
There is a notable Confucian resurgence throughout Malaya and the revival of Chinese schools! We are surely in the midst of reforming China with Confucian values, and the future looks bright for the Chinese here.

Lim Boon Keng’s Educational Reforms

Lim Boon Keng
Lim Boon Keng

A Doctor and Civic Leader

A Peranakan doctor, public intellectual and writer. He won the Queen’s Scholarship and was a member of the Legislative Council who pushed for social and educational reforms.

Explore

A Doctor and Civic Leader

It is my belief that only three aspects of life distinguish the character of individual races: culture, religion and language. Anyone who loses these has lost his race; in this respect, we English-educated Chinese have become the first to be ‘denationalised’. I plan to counteract this trend with Mandarin classes…
Singapore Free Press
Singapore Free Press

A Local Newspaper

First published on 8 October 1835, the Singapore Free Press was the second English-language newspaper to circulate in Singapore.

A Local Newspaper
20 Apr 1899
A dedicated school for girls is long overdue. The Singapore Chinese Girls’ School stands to benefit the girls from the more educated and wealthy Chinese families. This also enables parents to do their part in shaping their daughters’ futures.

The Impact of Globalisation and its Effect on Singapore

Lim Boon Keng
Lim Boon Keng

A Doctor and Civic Leader

A Peranakan doctor, public intellectual and writer. He won the Queen’s Scholarship and was a member of the Legislative Council who pushed for social and educational reforms.

Explore

A Doctor and Civic Leader

The connection between Chinese culture and the rest of the world is undeniable. No great civilisation has ever developed entirely out of its own resources. For a long time, it was assumed that the Chinese civilisation was an isolated instance of an extensive native culture which had borrowed nothing from…
The Straits Times
The Straits Times

A Local Newspaper

An English newspaper in Singapore that was first published on 15 July 1845.

A Local Newspaper
22 Mar 1900
With regards to the disappearance of Kang Yu Wei
Kang Yu Wei was widely regarded as the leader of the Hundred Days’ Reform Movement of 1898. His belief was that revitalising Confucianism would strengthen China’s self-esteem and national solidarity. He was eventually forced to flee China due to his repeated attempts to assassinate the Empress Dowager. In 1900, Lim Boon Keng helped Kang stay hidden for a month by feeding false information to newspapers about his whereabouts. In truth, Kang did not leave Singapore and was living in a house guarded by armed Sikhs supplied by the Straits Government.
, we announced that Kang had left Singapore on a mail boat but rumours persist that Kang is still in Singapore. Are we correct in asserting that you are responsible for hiding him?

The Royal Visit

Lim Boon Keng
Lim Boon Keng

A Doctor and Civic Leader

A Peranakan doctor, public intellectual and writer. He won the Queen’s Scholarship and was a member of the Legislative Council who pushed for social and educational reforms.

Explore

A Doctor and Civic Leader

It was a great honour and pleasure to host the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York in Singapore! Have a look at the festivities that took place in the Town Hall, with delegations of Malays, Chinese, Tamils, Arabs and more presenting their loyal addresses. Many have already labelled it…
A Bombay Parsee
21 Apr 1901
Please accept my humble poem in honour of the visit by the Royal Highnesses of Cornwall and York:

Welcome! Thrice welcome, our future King,
Singapore hails you and the would-be Queen.
Accept our hospitality, sincere and true,
In point of loyalty, can excel us few.
England’s honour, uphold at any cost,
Long live Britons, their fame ne’er lost.
May this voyage be productive of good,
Mentally, bodily and politically too.
Singapore bids you most hearty farewell.
With sincere blessings, no tongue can tell.

New Commercial Ventures

Lim Boon Keng
Lim Boon Keng

A Doctor and Civic Leader

A Peranakan doctor, public intellectual and writer. He won the Queen’s Scholarship and was a member of the Legislative Council who pushed for social and educational reforms.

Explore

A Doctor and Civic Leader

Together with Tan Ean Kiam, Lim Nee Soon, Khoo Kok Wah and a few others, we have established the Chinese Commercial Bank. It’s been an exciting new endeavour as vice chairman so far! In fact, Tan Ean Kiam, Dr. Yin Suat Chuan and I recently travelled to Java, where we…
A Government Official
Circa 1915
I remember the run on the bank last year. When the war alarm came on 4 August 1914, the Chinese rushed to draw out their money, and the banks had no alternative but to close their doors. Two days before the declaration of war, communications were made to the leading European banks here, so that they could prepare for a possible panic. The same courtesy was not extended to the Chinese banks.

Lim Boon Keng’s Death and Legacy

The Straits Times
The Straits Times

A Local Newspaper

An English newspaper in Singapore that was first published on 15 July 1845.

A Local Newspaper

Dr. Lim Boon Keng was regarded with affection and admiration by those who knew him. He was a figure from another age, having retired once World War II broke out in Singapore. His last public appearance was in 1941, when he spoke of the Japanese peril to Malaya.
British Medical Journal
British Medical Journal

A Healthcare Publication

The peer-reviewed weekly publication is one of the world’s oldest medical journals. Its name was officially shortened to BMJ in 1988, then to The BMJ in 2014.

A Healthcare Publication
19 Jan 1957
Dr. Lim Boon Keng, one of the most prominent men in public life in Singapore, died there on January 1, aged 87.

He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated M.B., C.M., with first-class honours in 1892. After graduation, he became a junior house-surgeon at the Royal Infirmary and then won a research scholarship in pathology at Cambridge. In 1918, he was appointed O.B.E. in recognition of his public services. Dr. Lim was a member of the British Medical Association (BMA) for over 40 years, and at one time he served on the council of the BMA.
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