Gan Heritage Centre Nanyang Chapter

By Gan Heritage Centre

Gan Clan Singapore

The migration of the Gans to Nanyang opened a new chapter that saw the establishment of Gan Clan Singapore and other Gan clans in South-East Asia and beyond. The Clan's growth was a remarkable journey marked by milestones that have impacted the nation's history. What are some of the key milestones?

Migration:The Push And Pull Factors, Gan Clan Singapore, From the collection of: Gan Heritage Centre
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Prewar Migration to Singapore by Gan Clan SingaporeGan Heritage Centre


There were many factors that drove the massive migration of Chinese immigrants to Nanyang (Southeast Asia), including natural disasters and man-made calamities. Some of the reasons were related to the aggressive economic invasion from the westerners, who weakened the country’s agricultural foundation and forced many bankrupt self-sustaining farmers to venture out of their homeland.In addition to the push factor of China's deteriorating agricultural situation, there was the pull factor of British colonialism in Asia and the many economic opportunities created by it. The new British settlements needed vast numbers of labourers mostly to develop land, mine for tin, build settlements, pave roads and build harbours. Many Chinese worked in mines, plantations, or became coolies, shopkeepers, apprentices, carpenters or ran small businesses.Emergence Of Clan AssociationsWhen the sea-faring immigrants from South and East China arrived at the new territories in Southeast Asia, they did not receive any assistance or protection from the local authorities or the colonial government. They not only faced a hard life, but they were also unable to seek personal protection. The fellow compatriots relied on one another and were united as one. The importance of blood ties and native descent laid the foundation for clan associations and triggered the formation of these kinship groups.

Leng Kee Road, Gan Clan Singapore, From the collection of: Gan Heritage Centre
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Leng Kee Pavilion by Gan Clan SingaporeGan Heritage Centre

Leng Kee Road

Leng Kee Road

Leng Kee Road is a recognised location in Singapore. Like many roads in our country that are named after prominent figures, Leng Kee Road was named after a Gan clan pioneer who was a successful businessman.


Alexandra Brick Factory and Leng Kee Hill are also familiar names that are associated with the Gan clan. All these roads and places were a part of the life journey of Gan predecessors and are a testament to their invaluable contributions to society.


In 1866, Gan Eng Leng assumed the responsibility of organising funeral arrangements for his fellow clansmen. This included the sponsorship of burial plots, construction of roads and erection of tombs. Leng Kee Road was named after the philanthropic merchant.  Gan Eng Leng (Unknown –1907)

A native of Fujian province, Gan Eng Leng founded the Leng Kee Trading Company that was involved in the bird's nest business. He donated 55 acres of land near Alexandra to the Thian Hock Keng Temple as a burial plot for the destitute, out of which 5 acres were allocated for the burial of deceased Gan clansmen. 

Gan Eng Seng by Gan Clan SingaporeGan Heritage Centre

Gan Eng Seng (1844–1899) The founder of Gan Eng Seng School  

A native of Cheng Chian Village, Hai Teng County, Fujian province, China.He was a Peranakan born to a poor family in Malacca in 1844. His great-grandfather migrated from Cheng Chian Village, Hokkien Province in China to Malacca. Gan Eng Seng was educated in Malacca. At 16, he headed south for Singapore, where he worked as a book-keeper at the Guthrie Company in Collyer Quay. Here he gained experience in the operations of “entrepot” trade. Hardworking and eager to learn, he rose through the ranks, climbing from the storekeeper post to chief storekeeper. He was eventually promoted to Chief Comprador after 13 years.Apart from his duties at Guthrie, Gan Eng Seng also ventured into the businesses of local products and shipping. He was involved in a total of 15 businesses.In 1885, Gan Eng Seng set up the Anglo-Chinese Free School for boys and donated several of his Telok Ayer shophouses for school dormitory use. In 1893, the school dormitories closed due to inadequate space and became part of the campus expansion instead. Gan Eng Seng financed the building of a free Chinese school in Melacca; and established a free school in Zhangzhou, Fujian province, China. He wrote a will to instruct his descendants to continue the maintenance and management of this school.Gan Eng Seng donated a large piece of property at Rochor to Tan Tock Seng Hospital. He also conceptualised and financed Thong Chai Medical Institution at Wayang Street (the former location of Thong Chai Medical Institution). From 1892 to 1899, he served as the hospital's Chairman and sat on the Board of Trustees.Added to that, Gan Eng Seng was a member of the Chinese Advisory Board, who represented the Chinese community for petitions and appeals to the Straits Settlement government.In 1899, he passed away from an illness at the age of 55. Gan Eng Seng Secondary School is one of the oldest schools in Singapore. Formerly known as Anglo-Chinese Free School, it was established in 1885 by Gan Eng Seng, a strong advocate for education. VISION:

Gessians of Excellence, Standing and Significance



Our school is a community that nurtures the best in each and strives ever ONWARD!  As Gan Eng Seng lacked the opportunity to further his education in his early years, he fully grasped the significance of education. When he achieved career success, he invested great effort into creating educational opportunities for needy students. In 1885, he set up Anglo-Chinese Free School at his Telok Ayer shop-houses.  The school provided free English and Chinese education for Primary students. In 1881, the school had a total of 41 students.1893: The School moved to a new site at Telok Ayer Street provided by the government. To meet the changing demands of education, Gan Eng Seng donated S$5,000 to build a double-storey building that could accommodate 300 students. The building housed a large hall and numerous classrooms.1899: After the demise of Gan Eng Seng, the Board of Trustees took over the school administration and management. The members of the Board comprised distinguished pioneers of Singapore, including Dr Lim Boon Keng.1930s:With the economic downturn during that era, community funds dwindled and the school was in dire need of repairs. The Board approached the government to take over the running of the school to ensure its survival. In 1938, Gan Eng Seng School became a government school. Under the charge of its newly appointed headmaster Percival Frank Aroozoo, the school weathered through the worst period of its history. The school building at Telok Ayer was later declared unsafe by the Public Works Department.


1941: In September, the school was housed temporarily in Sepoy Line Malay School in Park Road and later at Pearl’s Hill School.1942 – 1945:During the Japanese Occupation, the school was suspended and reopened in 1946 at the temporary site of Outram School. The school then shifted to Waterloo Street.

Gan Eng Seng Secondary School at Anson Road by Gan Clan SingaporeGan Heritage Centre

Gan Eng Seng School at Anson Road

1951: The year marked the end of Anglo-Chinese Free School, which was renamed Gan Eng Seng School and officially launched at a two-storey building at Anson Road.

Gan Eng Seng School 2 by Gan Clan SingaporeGan Heritage Centre

Gan Eng Seng School

Gan Eng Seng School was transformed from a primary to a secondary school.  1961 – 1991: The school provided Pre-university classes.  1987: After moving to Raeburn Park, the school accepted its first cohort of girls. The 102-year-old boys’ school thus became a co-ed institution. 2001: In January, a new primary school was opened and was named after its founder. 2011: Gan Eng Seng School moved to a new location at Henderson Road. The original site at Telok Ayer was recognised by National Heritage Board as one of the oldest schools in Singapore.

The Continuity and Development of Confucian Business Culture 1, Gan Clan Singapore, From the collection of: Gan Heritage Centre
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Opening Ceremony of Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce by Gan Clan SingaporeGan Heritage Centre


Though the Chinese immigrants were in Nanyang, their homeland was in their hearts and minds. When China was invaded by Japan during World War II, the overseas Chinese embarked on an anti-Japanese movement and raised funds for their compatriots to resist the Japanese. In 1938, the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia formed the South Seas Relief Fund Union. The local Chinese merchants made great financial contributions to China's war against Japan.In 1941, when the Japanese headed south towards Nanyang, the Malayan region in Southeast Asia emerged from the background as China's fund-raising force to directly confront the Japanese threat. In the dark hours of difficulty, the Chinese merchant force gave full support to the government, encouraged the people and appealed to business leaders to continue their business operations at reduced prices, and helped to maintain order in the community.The political landscape and social structure in Singapore changed in the years after the war. Colonies across the world experienced a sense of awakening. From 1951 – 1957, the merchant associations and Chinese populace rose up against the government to fight for civil rights.

The Continuity and Development of Confucian Business Culture 2, Gan Clan Singapore, From the collection of: Gan Heritage Centre
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Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce by Gan Clan SingaporeGan Heritage Centre

As the colonial government advocated English education, the local Chinese strived to preserve the traditional spirit of learning and preserve their culture. They believed in the importance of Confucian ethics. Many driven Chinese merchants took the bold step to carve a niche in politics, economics and culture, and contributed greatly to society at that time. Various Confucian Chinese merchants such as Tan Kah Kee, Tan Lark Sye and Lee Kong Chian were the best representation of the Confucian merchant. Their extraordinary achievements earned them a place in history. The influence of these prominent figures, particularly Tan Kah Kee, continues to make a big impact on Southeast Asia today. In 1953, merchant Tan Lark Sye built Nanyang University (abbreviated Nantah), his generosity was an inspiration to the Chinese community. The philanthropic contributions of Tan Kah Kee superseded that of the other merchants. Tan Kah Kee's endeavours benefited numerous Chinese schools and organisations.

Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce by Gan Clan SingaporeGan Heritage Centre

The selflessness and ethics of these Confucian merchants reflect the spirit of Confucian beliefs. Today this same spirit continues to drive Chinese merchants to make educational contributions, promote Chinese culture and nurture the future generations for Singapore.

Credits: Story


Centre Director and Curator 馆长兼策展人
Gan Ee Bee 颜旖鋂

Researcher 研究员
Chin Vei Nyuk 陈伟玉博士

Copywriter 撰写员
Chew Mei Lin 赵美莲
Lim Huat Kiaw 林月娇
Ng Sin Yue 吴倩如

Designer 设计师
Genevieve Chia 谢美玉
Tang Kongdan 汤孔丹


Academic Advisory Board 教育顾问
Prof Yen Ching-Hwang 颜清湟教授
Prof Wong Sin Kiong 黄贤强教授

Advisor 顾问
Gan Eng Guan 颜荣源
Gan Siok Tjie 颜淑姿
Gan Seow Peng 颜少平

Donor 捐款人
Gan Cheong Or 颜章湖
Dr Gan See Khem 颜诗琴博士
The Family of Gan Kiong Pang 颜拱枫家属

Supported by 项目支持
National Heritage Board新加坡国家文物局
National Archives of Singapore 新加坡文物档案馆

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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