Ngee Ann Kongsi 义安公司
Ngee Ann Kongsi (义安公司) is a charitable welfare organisation set up by the local Teochew community. Established in 1830 to look after the needs of Teochew migrants, the Kongsi is one of the largest non-profit foundations in Singapore. Its income, derived from its properties and donations, is mainly disbursed to fund schools and other charities.
Originating from the Teochew prefecture in China’s province of Guangdong, the Teochew people formed a large portion of Chinese migrants to Singapore in the early 19th century. In 1830, prominent Teochew businessman Seah Eu Chin (佘有进) gathered 13 Teochew clans (grouped by surname) including his own and established a religious observance and social welfare organisation named Ngee Ann Kun (义安郡). The organisation, named after an ancient term for the Teochew prefecture, raised funds to acquire land for temples and burial grounds.
In 1845, the cooperative was renamed Ngee Ann Kongsi with Seah serving as president, a post he held until his death. Seah was succeeded by his sons and later his grandson, Seah Eng Tong (佘应忠). The Kongsi’s accounts were kept private by the Seah family, and undisclosed even to other members. In 1929, a rival Teochew faction led by Lim Nee Soon founded a new association known as the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan (潮州八邑会馆). The Huay Kuan mounted a lawsuit against the Seah family, alleging that the latter monopolised Kongsi affairs. One year later, the dispute was settled out of court and the Kongsi was reorganised as a trustee organisation for properties owned by the Teochew community, with its management controlled by the Huay Kuan.
In 1933, the Ngee Ann Kongsi (Incorporation) Ordinance was passed in the Straits Settlements Legislative Council, formally recognising the Kongsi as a charitable organisation. The Ordinance limited the Kongsi’s membership to Teochews whose ancestors originated from one of eight specified districts in Teochew prefecture. It also determined that the Kongsi’s management committee be re-elected every two years, and consist of 18 to 24 members.
The relationship between the Kongsi and the Huay Kuan has deteriorated in recent years. In 2012, the Kongsi’s members including its president and vice-president formed the Teochew Federation (Singapore) to promote Teochew business interests. The move was deemed by the Huay Kuan to be a challenge for leadership in the local community, and resulted in public dischord.
The Kongsi’s original role was to serve the religious needs of local Teochews. Since 1845, the Kongsi has managed Singapore’s oldest Teochew temple, the Yue Hai Ching Temple (粤海清庙), dedicated to the worship of the goddess Mazu (妈祖). Gazetted as a national monument in 1996, the temple has been restored several times. In 2011, the Kongsi committed S$5 million towards repair works for the temple.
The Kongsi also oversaw the burial of Teochews who died in Singapore, and purchased multiple plots of land to use as cemeteries. These plots included Tai Shan Ting (泰山亭) in the Orchard Road area, and Guang Shou Shan (广寿山) in Clementi. Over the years, many of these cemeteries have been cleared by the government for development. The unclaimed remains of some 20,000 burials from the exhumed cemeteries have been cremated and stored at the Teochew Memorial Park, set up by the Kongsi in Yishun. The Kongsi also operates the Teochew Funeral Parlour located at Ubi Avenue 4. Built in 1989 at a cost of S$2.9 million, the parlour has six funeral halls.
Ngee Ann City, an office complex and shopping mall located along Orchard Road, is the Kongsi’s flagship commercial property and was built in 1993 for S$520 million. The complex sits on part of the old Tai Shan Ting cemetery, cleared in 1957 with large portions later acquired by the government, and other parts leased out to tenants to develop buildings such as Mandarin Hotel. The site was previously occupied by a 10-storey Ngee Ann Building, which was demolished in 1985. Disagreements between the Kongsi and its joint-venture partner, Metro Holdings, delayed development of Ngee Ann City, and construction works only started in 1989. Aside from Ngee Ann City, the Kongsi also owns properties located along Balestier Road and Grange Road.
Education and other activities
One of the Kongsi’s major functions today is education. The Kongsi manages Ngee Ann Primary School and its affiliate Ngee Ann Secondary School. Established in 1940 as Ngee Ann Girls School, Ngee Ann Primary School gained its current name in 1980, and shifted to its current campus in Marine Parade two years later. Ngee Ann Secondary School was opened in Tampines in 1994 to replace the Tuan Mong High School, another school previously managed by the Kongsi that had closed in the same year due to declining enrolment.
The Kongsi is also closely associated with Ngee Ann Polytechnic, located today in Clementi, on the old Guang Shou Shan cemetery ground. Founded initially as Ngee Ann College in 1963 under the direction of Kongsi president Lien Ying Chow, the college was later converted into a public pre-university institution, managed independently by a college council. In April 1982, the college was renamed Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
The Kongsi continues to support the polytechnic financially, and prior to 2007, donated 75% of its annual income to the polytechnic. An amendment to the Kongsi’s Incorporation Ordinance reduced the sum to 25%. The rest of the funds are channeled to other educational institutions. Besides schools, the Kongsi also donates to other institutions. Notable contributions have included donations of S$1 million each to the Chinese Heritage Centre, the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) and the Singapore International Foundation (SIF).
Yong Chun Yuan
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The information in this article is valid as at 2012 and correct as far as we are able to 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.
Chinese clans and associations
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Ngee Ann Kongsi--History