Commerce and Kinship
Seah Eu Chin died at 8 o’clock at night on 23rd September 1883, aged 78, surrounded by his family in his home. According to his obituary, “he [had] been in weak health during the last three years, and began to fail fast about 20 days [before his death], suffering much from cough.” 154 Straits Times, 24 Sep 1883. He was buried in the “Family Plantation on Thompson’s [Thomson’s] Road”, the burial ground known as Zhènchūn Yuán 振春园 in Chinese. This subsequently became the Seah family burial ground. 155 Pan Xingnong, Mailaiya Chaoqiao tongjian, 80. His widow died in 1905. 156 Song, One Hundred Years’ History, 20.
According to the oral history of Chua Meng Khin, the burial ground included not only the graves of Eu Chin and his two wives, but also those of Liang Seah and his wife, and some daughters of the family who had died at a young age. The graveyard lay within an estate which was within the bounds of today’s Toa Payoh; in the 1930s and ’40s it was called the Cardamom Garden 豆蔻園 157 Rachael Boon, “Teochew pioneer’s grave found in Toa Payoh”, Straits Times 26 Nov 2012, A3.or colloquially, Old Cardamom Garden 老蔻園 . The grave was finally rediscovered in 2012 by heritage enthusiasts exploring Chinese tombs in Bukit Brown and the vicinity.
When the time came for ancestral worship rituals on the Qingming festival and other commemorative dates, workers from the Chin Hin Co. cleared the overgrowth of vegetation at the graves ahead of time, and the three family trustees (who took charge of the financial matters relating to the income from the ancestral estates) would perform the rituals there; attendance was optional for the other descendants. Chua herself stated that she only paid respects to the immediate past generation’s spirit tablets, and beyond that level of relationship it was the ritual business of the trustees. 158 Oral history of Chua Meng Khin, reel 4. The idealized Chinese traditional ritual practice was for ritual obligations to the ancestors to be passed through the line of the eldest sons, hence it was an unbroken thread of eldest sons who inherited the responsibility for the ancestors; as other sons formed their own households those separate fang would split off and eventually form their own lineages. In the Seah family, however, it seems that the ritual responsibility was spread among the several fang, and hybridized with the legal and financial responsibilities held by the trustees, which were ratified under Western, colonial law. Like the organization of the family business, household and religious practice were also synthesized anew, incorporating elements of both Chinese and colonial precedent, illustrating the cultural innovation that was required of Chinese overseas who lived under non-Chinese legal and political regimes.