About this project
Seah Eu Chin is one of my ancestors, and although I was aware from an early age that he was an important man who lived a long time ago, I did not really know much about him, nor could there have been any direct memories of someone who died more than a century before I was born.
After finishing my national service, I found myself with some time on my hands and decided to look more deeply into his story. I soon found myself immersed in a fascinating chapter of history. It was not just Singapore history narrowly defined, but an excellent example of how one man's life intersected with the wider political and socioeconomic currents of his time.
I spent a lot of time in various libraries and archives, and had the opportunity to meet interesting people, but since then this material I've gathered has mostly been lying in a drawer. Although I have shared drafts with some people at different times, it didn't seem to be a good fit for any of the traditional avenues of publication; I am not a professional historian, and my studies and career soon consumed most of my attention.
Public interest in Singapore's heritage has continued to grow. One of the key events that provoked a sense of urgency was the Government's decision, announced in 2012, to exhume and build over a large part of Bukit Brown cemetery, where many historical personalities are buried. When I started my research, I had assumed that Seah Eu Chin's grave was long gone, and no one knew its exact location. In a dramatic development, it was rediscovered in late 2012 in a wooded area in Toa Payoh adjacent to Bukit Brown, amid the flurry of grassroots activity and media attention that followed the government announcement. This was thanks to patient detective work by two heritage enthusiasts, the brothers Raymond and Charles Goh.
Seah Eu Chin's tomb appears to be safe from development -- for now. But in order to convince decision-makers that historical sites like this are worth preserving, the public at large needs to be aware of the history behind them. They need to be convinced, as I am, that our history is more than just Raffles, the Japanese Occupation, Merger and Separation, and that the past doesn't just stay in the past but continues to influence the world we live in today. Seah Eu Chin, and countless others like him, may have died a long time ago, but if we know where to look, we can still discern their influence on our landscape, economy, society, and institutions. Thoughtlessly erasing the material traces of this past is no different from willfully refusing to be self-aware.
It was time to take this out of the drawer and do something useful with it.
I would like to thank the following people who have lent their time, energy, and goodwill to help me in this project: Ms. Yvonne Chan (National Archives of Singapore), Dr. Koh Keng We (formerly at University of Hawaii), Mr. Lee Ching Seng (National University of Singapore, Chinese Library, retired), Assoc. Prof. Lee Chee Hiang (National University of Singapore, Department of Chinese Studies), Ms. Ang Seow Leng (Lee Kong Chian Reference Library), Dr. Ivy Maria Lim (National Institute of Education), Mr. Terence Tan, Prof. Carl Trocki (Queensland University of Technology), Prof. Michael Szonyi (Harvard University), Dr. John D. Wong (formerly at Harvard), Mr. Walter Lim (Singapore).
I also wish to thank the following institutions for the use of their collections and resources and the assistance from their staff: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, National Archives of Singapore, National University of Singapore Central Library (Singapore and Malaysia Collection) and Chinese Library, the Ngee Ann Kongsi, and the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan.
All opinions expressed in this work are my own, as is the responsibility for any factual errors that may remain.
This work is dedicated to the women of the Seah family.
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