Former Thong Chai Medical Institution
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The former Thong Chai Medical Institution is also known simply as the old Thong Chai Building. Located at 50 Eu Tong Sen Street (formerly 3 Wayang Street), it was gazetted as a national monument on 28 June 1973, among the first eight buildings in Singapore to be gazetted for preservation. It is considered a historical landmark not only because the institution symbolised the spirit of mutual assistance among early Chinese settlers, but also because the building is a rare surviving example of Southern Chinese secular architecture. In 1976, the medical institution relocated to a new building at Chin Swee Road.
Thong Chai Medical Institution began as a free clinic called Thong Chai Yee Say in 1867. Operating out of a rented shophouse at 31 Upper Macao Street (now Upper Pickering Street), it had been set up by a group of Chinese immigrants to provide free Chinese medical treatment to the poor and needy. The name “Thong Chai” was derived from the Chinese words 同 (Tong), meaning “same” or “equal”, and 济 (Ji), which means “to help or relieve”.
In the third quarter of the 19th century, the growing prosperity of many wealthy Chinese, particularly the philanthropic merchants and businessmen, brought generous support for benevolent causes such as schools, hospitals, cemeteries and religious festivals. Thong Chai Yee Say was one of the beneficiaries, with its most noteworthy patron being Gan Eng Seng. The new building at Wayang Street was made possible by his contributions and funds raised through public subscription, though the British colonial government provided the land. In 1892, the building was completed and Thong Chai Yee Say was renamed Thong Chai Medical Institution.
The new building not only served as a hospital, but also as a centre of activities for the early Chinese community. It was the headquarters of Chinese guilds and the venue for various public meetings. The Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce also operated from an office here up till 1906.
After Thong Chai Medical Institution vacated the building in 1976, the government spent almost S$500,000 on extensive restoration and renovation works before it was re-opened as an arts and crafts centre in 1979. It has since been used for various other purposes, including as a discotheque.
The old Thong Chai Building has a long, narrow structure. The front faces what is now Eu Tong Sen Street and the back entrance faces New Market Road. There are four halls arranged linearly along a central axis. A courtyard separates the entrance hall from the second hall, which is in turn separated from the next hall by an airwell. A second courtyard separates the last two halls. Two of the halls are single-storey structures, while the other two have an upper level.
The roofscape exhibits a Chinese-style design that is one of a kind in Singapore. The pitched roofs that cover each hall are made of green-glazed Chinese tiles, and each roof is capped with a concrete ridge frieze on which brightly painted reliefs depict Chinese culture and scenery. Gabled walls or “fire walls” extend above the roof in a cloud-like pattern.
The main entrance is a solid timber double-leaf door with two timber bars that bolt the door shut. Notable features inside include the decorative screens made of carved timber, the carved timber panels and fascia boards, the granite columns with sculptured bases, and the many Chinese calligraphy panels.
Vernon Cornelius & Valerie Chew
Former Thong Chai Medical Institution. (2010). Retrieved October 25, 2010, from Preservation of Monuments Board website: http://www.pmb.sg/
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(Call no.: RSING 720.95957 LEE)
Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore (pp. 198-203). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
Singapore Thong Chai Medical Institution. (n.d.). Our history. Retrieved October 21, 2010, from http://www.stcmi.org.sg/history.asp
Tang, G. (1979, June 15). Thong Chai gets a new lease of life. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved October 24, 2010, from NewspaperSG database.
Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1991). Thong Chai Medical Institution preservation guidelines, Vol. I (pp. 1, 4-5). Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board.
(Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 THO)
Wan, M. H. , & Lau, J. (c2009). Heritage places of Singapore (pp. 27-30). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])
Beamish, J. (1985). A history of Singapore architecture: The making of a city (p. 75). Singapore: G. Brash.
(Call no.: RSING 722.4095957 BEA)
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(Call no.: RSING 959.57 PUG-[HIS])
新加坡同济医院 . [200-].新加坡同济医院135周年纪念特刊 : 1867-2002 [Singapore Thong Chai Medical Institution 135th year anniversary commemorative publication: 1867-2002]. [出版地缺 : 出版社缺 ].
(Call no.: RSING Chinese 610.951 SIN)
The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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