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Great Peranakans – Fifty Remarkable Lives

The Peranakan Museum’s latest show celebrates 50 Peranakans who have contributed to Singapore over the past two centuries. Co-curator John Teo tells us about three of them

Tan Tock Seng

Tan Tock Seng

1798-1850

‘Most Singaporeans know of Tan Tock Seng from history lessons, but probably few are aware that he was a Peranakan. Tan Tock Seng was one of the early leaders of the Hokkien community in Singapore. He arrived from Malacca in 1819, the year that Raffles founded a British colony here, and led the construction of the Thian Hock Keng Temple, which still stands today. The oldest object featured in the exhibition is the 1844 foundation stone for the Chinese Paupers' Hospital, which was later renamed after him.’

Lim Boon Keng

Lim Boon Keng

1869-1957

‘Lim Boon Keng, a Peranakan born in Penang, is included as an interesting case study in Peranakan identity, and of the multiple loyalties the community faced. He moved comfortably in British, Chinese and Peranakan societies, and was both a Christian and Confucian. He studied medicine in Edinburgh, and worked closely with the British, becoming a justice of the peace, and was awarded an OBE. He was also concerned with reform and education in China. He supported Sun Yat-sen, and served as president of Amoy University in China.’

Goh Keng Swee

Goh Keng Swee

1918-2010

‘Dr Goh Keng Swee was really one of the most important first-generation leaders of independent Singapore, perhaps second only to Lee Kuan Yew. Lee himself described Dr Goh during his eulogy in 2010 as the man who made the greatest difference to the outcome of Singapore. From his first political appointment as Minister of Finance in 1959, to his retirement from politics in 1984, he left his mark on almost every aspect of public policy. We were very fortunate to be able to borrow a plaque presented to him by his Kreta Ayer constituents.’

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