Chinese Christian Association
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The Chinese Christian Association (CCA) was established in October 1889 and existed for more than half a century. The CCA organised religious activities like Bible classes alongside secular activities such as debates, lectures and drama and reading clubs. Through its literary and cultural movements, the CCA was a forum for the debate of a wide range of societal issues pertaining to the Straits-born Chinese.
In 1889, Lim Koon Tye, a young Straits-born Chinese, presented a lecture entitled “The recreations of the Straits Chinese” at a meeting of the Presbyterian Church Young Men’s Society. The 23-year-old Lim spoke of transforming the physical, moral and mental outlook of the Straits Chinese, and appealed to the church to take a special interest in the Straits Chinese community. Following the lecture, the society formed a committee that included Arthur Knight, John Haffenden, W. Swan and Tan Boon Chin to explore how the church could affect the moral lives and welfare of the Straits Chinese.
This led to the formation of the Chinese Christian Association (CCA) in October 1889. Through its literary and cultural activities, the CCA hoped to occupy the vacuum left by the dissolution of the Celestial Reasoning Association, a society formed by local Chinese to debate ethical and social issues in the medium of English. The influence of the Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church among the Straits Chinese had also dwindled after the demise of its leader Benjamin Keasberry, and the CCA looked to rectify this state of affairs.
Leadership, goals and membership
Among the key organisers of the CCA at its inception were the minister of the Prinsep Street Church, A. S. MacPhee, another church leader John A. B. Cook, military officers J. Johnson Tuck and R. S. Watson, as well as Haffenden and Knight. After its formation by a mainly European group, Straits Chinese personalities began to assume leadership roles in the CCA. Lawyer and author Song Ong Siang was a strong influence on the association, serving as the president from 1893 until the Japanese Occupation, while church elder Tan Boon Chin was the long-serving honorary secretary.
The association gathered young Straits Chinese for Bible studies, debates and other activities. However, profession of the Christian faith was not a requisite for membership. Tan explained how the CCA hoped to influence the moral life of young Straits Chinese: “The association makes provision for a variety of wants, and desires to create a spirit utterly opposed to all the habits and characteristics of that despicable being - the fast young man…in the association, all the natural impulses of youth can find an innocent vent.” Its main goal was thus to encourage “all Straits Chinese seeking religious and moral enlightenment and intellectual improvement.”
Through its literary and cultural activities, the CCA also encouraged young Straits Chinese to learn and master the English language. Its debates and lectures aimed to open up a range of perspectives for its members, as well as produce cultured young men.
In the first year of its association, the CCA had 19 members, a number which increased to 33 the following term. This comprised members as well as honorary and associate members. In the early years, the membership was mainly of Straits Chinese origin. By 1912, the membership had risen to 72, and by the 1930s more than 500 regularly attended the CCA’s anniversary events (although not all would have been members). Membership was free of charge in its earlier years, but later became subscription based. Non-members were also welcome to attend and present lectures and debates.
The CCA held its early meetings at the Prinsep Street Church, and later at a dedicated hall along the same street. In its first decade, the CCA organised a debating society, a reading club, Bible classes and lectures. Debate topics included education for women, the freedom to choose a spouse and other societal issues, while lectures included presentations on the history of Singapore, Chinese education and patriotism. Lectures on travel and foreign cities also utilised the magic lantern, an early projection technology. The debating society and reading club remained popular pillars of the CCA’s activities until the Japanese Occupation.
A library had been set up in 1893 with a surplus of $124.75 from the association’s funds, and in 1897, Song Ong Siang’s practice of printing out articles for readings at the CCA led to the establishment of the Straits Chinese Magazine, a quarterly publication. Two years later, the reading club was formed to encourage the Straits Chinese to become proficient in the English language. Literature classes were conducted by the likes of Song, Philip Hoalim and William Murray. In the early 1900s, a dramatic society was formed and its members performed at various Straits Chinese social gatherings and literary society meetings. They also performed at the CCA’s annual anniversary celebrations, which became a noted event in the social calendar of colonial Singapore.
After its first decade, Song sought to ensure the CCA’s viability for the next generation and emphasise its Christian character of service. Courses such as those in first aid were organised and the CCA expanded its charitable activities, eventually offering grants towards educational and welfare institutions as well as scholarships for young Chinese men and women.
By the 1920s, the CCA’s debating society regularly held debates with other associations like the Eurasian Literary Association, the Moslem Institute, the Amateur Drawing Association and the Straits Chinese Literary Association, and its lectures drew distinguished members of society like Song, Hoalim and Lim Boon Keng. A sample of the CCA’s activities from 1932 included five religious meetings, seven debates, an inter-association debate, a mock municipal council where societal issues were discussed, two etiquette courses and five lectures.
Throughout the first half of the 1900s, the CCA’s success was seen not only in its continued existence, but also in that several other Chinese clubs and societies founded at the turn of the century modeled their administrations along the lines of the CCA. The CCA celebrated its 51st anniversary in February 1941 with a special collection for the War Fund. However, after falling into inactivity during World War II and the Japanese Occupation, the association was not revived in the post-war period.
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The information in this article is valid as at 2012 and correct as far as we can 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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