China Street connects Cross Street to the junction of Pickering Street and Church Street.1 The street used to be notorious for its gambling dens and secret societies.
The street was closely associated with Hokkiens who lived and worked around China Street.2 It was famous for its gambling dens and served as a meeting place for secret societies. The Hokkiens called the street kiau keng khau, or “mouth of gambling houses”, as it was seen as an entrance to the gambling dens. A powerful Hokkien secret society, Ghee Hin, had their meeting house along this street. The street was therefore also known as “Ghee Hin street”.3
Far East Square, bounded by Telok Ayer, Cross, Pekin and China streets, consists of six blocks of 61 old shophouses, and a seventh building that houses commercial and parking spaces.4 This whole area of shophouses, with its quaint old-world charm, used to be very popular for affordable food, bargains and Chinese opera.5 The hawkers in the area, due to urban redevelopment work, were relocated to Maxwell Road Market in the 1980s.6 However, efforts were later made to bring back some of the charm to the shophouses by reintroducing performers here.7 Opposite Far East Square is China Square Central, an office-cum-residential complex comprising two tower.8 It occupies a site that was once an outdoor hawker centre.9 Other commercial buildings on this street are Capital Square and Great Eastern Centre.10
Kiau-keng khau, meaning “gambler’s corner” or “mouth of gambling houses”.11
Kiau keng cheng, meaning “front of gambling houses”.12
Gi hin kong si or “Ghee Hin clan house.13
Hok kien gi hin kong si cheng, meaning “the front of Hokkien Ghee Hin society”.14
Cantonese: po-tsz-chheung kai, meaning “gambling-hall street”.15
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
1. Mighty Minds Street Directory (Singapore: Angel Publishing Pte Ltd., 2014), map 132B. (Call no. RSING 912.5957 MMSD)
2. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 484. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
3. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 76–77. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
4. Chin Soo Fang, “Eat and Disco in An Old School,” Straits Times, 23 April 1998, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Lee Shu Hui, “Dust Cobwebs Off Memories,” Straits Times, 19 December 1998, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Chan Kwee Sung, “Ah, Sweet Scents of Nostalgia for Maxwell Market,” Straits Times, 18 September 2000, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Lee, “Dust Cobwebs Off Memories.”
8. Felisa Batacan, “China Square Central to House Home Offices,” Straits Times, 23 November 2001, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Bustling Area Part of Early Chinese Settlement,” Straits Times, 1 March 1997, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Mighty Minds Street Directory (Singapore: Angel Publishing Pte Ltd., 2015), map 132B. (Call no. RSING 912.5957 MMSD)
11. H. W. Firmstone, “Chinese Names of Streets and Places in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula,” Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 42, no. 1 (February 1905): 76–77. (Call no. RQUIK 959.5 JMBRAS)
12. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 485. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
13. Firmstone, “Chinese Names of Streets and Places,” 76–77.
14. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 485; Ching-Hwang Yen, The Chinese in Southeast Asia and Beyond: Socio-Economic and Political Dimensions (Singapore: World Scientific, 2008), 307–08. (Call no. RSING 305.8951059 YAN)
15. Firmstone, “Chinese Names of Streets and Places,” 76–77.
The information in this article is valid as at June 2020 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.