Chwee Kang Beo (水江庙) was a rare Chinese riverine temple in Singapore in the past, when it stood in the waters of the Kallang River. Throughout its rich history of more than seven decades, it has witnessed the vast transformation of the Kallang Basin, originally filled with mangroves, to shanty towns and attap shacks and now occupied by public flats and industrial estates.
Chwee Kang Beo was erected in the late 1940s after the Second World War, in the form of a simple wooden structure standing on stilts by the riverbank. Set up by several residents from the nearby Kampong Pulau Minyak, led by Sng Pi Soon (dialect name derived from his Chinese name 孙丕顺), Ong Sek Tong (王世通), Lee Zai Seng (李再升) and Teoh Ji Kui (张子开), the temple was to appease the spirits lingering in the river, where it was rumoured to be the dumping ground of the victims killed during the Japanese Occupation.
The temple worships San Jiang Da Pu Gong (三江大普公, or Tua Por Gong in Hokkien), Shi Shi Cheng Huang Gong (石狮城隍公), Shi Shi Qi Wang Ye (石狮七王爷) and Tua Pek Kong (大伯公). Other than Tua Pek Kong, which originated in Singapore and Malaysia, the worshipping of first three deities were influenced by the early Chinese immigrants from China’s Chinchew (Quanzhou today). It was said that in the early days at Chinchew’s Dongshi town, the fishermen believed in Tua Por Gong, praying for their safe returns before each fishing trip. The deity became well-known as the protector of the river.
The temple also possesses a unique artefact – a small vessel made of teak and in the shape of a Ming Dynasty-era junk. This well-crafted artefact was apparently built decades ago by a devotee of the Chwee Kang Beo who worked as a boatbuilder in the area.
During the fifties, it was common to find many small shacks erected along the Kallang River. It cost about $1,500 to build a wooden house with a zinc roof standing on stilts along the riverbanks. But these squatters only lasted until the mid-sixties, when they were removed and their resident evicted during the canalisation of Kallang River.
In 1953, the first proper temple building of Chwee Kang Beo was built. In 1961, it had a simple renovation. Kampong Pulau Minyak was unfortunately destroyed in a fire in 1964. The Kallang River underwent both canalisation and river cleaning from the sixties to the seventies.
The precarious wooden temple was affected by the projects but managed to survive. Instead, it had another round of renovation in 1979, adding concrete stilts to strengthen and support the building. In the same year, the temple’s first management committee was formed. The rebuilding of Chwee Kang Beo took two years to complete, and it had its official reopening in 1981.
The seventies saw tremendous changes around Chwee Kang Beo. Beside the river cleaning project carried out by the Environment Ministry, new Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats were also built in the vicinity.
By the mid-seventies, 15 blocks of flats, numbered 6 to 20 (Block 7 and Block 17 were warehouse and market respectively), were completed. Some of the flats (Block 6 to 10, 13, 14 and 20) were demolished and replaced by newer ones in the late nineties and 2010s.
In the early nineties, Chwee Kang Beo‘s trustees managed to secure the ownership of a small parcel of site along the river, which is the temple’s location today. A total of $3 million was raised via donations by its devotees, which aided the construction of the new temple building in 1993. The new Chwee Kang Beo was completed in the mid-nineties, and held its official opening on 22 December 1999.
Published: 19 July 2022