There are two Nanyang University (or Nantah) Archs in Singapore, one original and one replica. The original one stands at present-day Jurong West Street 93, while the replica arch is located inside the Yunnan Garden of Nanyang Technological University.
In the old days, the cars and buses would pass through the original arch from the Old Upper Jurong Road to Nanyang University. The arch was never shifted, but the landscape around it had changed greatly.
The four big characters “南洋大学” (Nanyang University) on the original arch was written by cursive script calligraphy expert Yu Youren (于右任) (1879-1964). The year 1955 represented the year when the pre-university classes were started for students to prepare for their entry to the new university. A year later in March 1956, the first batch of 584 students was admitted to Science, Commerce and Arts faculties.
The Chinese community yearned for a higher education centre after the Second World War. In 1953, prominent businessman and chairman of Singapore Hokkien Association Tan Lark Sye (陈六使) (1897-1975) proposed to build a university. His proposal was echoed by Lee Kong Chian (李光前) (1893-1967), top rubber magnate and one of the richest Chinese in the world during his time.
The Hokkien Association donated 523 acres of land in western Jurong, while Chinese of all trades in Singapore and even other parts of Southeast Asia rallied in the monetary donations. Ordinary folks showed cohesiveness in their supports, with 1770 trishaw riders and nightclub hostesses donating a day of their incomes to the noble cause. Tan Lark Sye himself gave a generous donation of $5 million. (He was later buried at Bukit Brown Cemetery after his death)
It was a tough period when the university was first set up. The British colonial government was not supportive of the idea, and the university was not even allowed to register its name under the educational category. In the end, it had to be registered as Nanyang University Private Limited.
The logo of Nantah consisted of three colour bands and a yellow star. The star represented the university itself, while the three circles stand for the three main races of Singapore: Chinese, Malay and Indians. They also signify the unity of the people, as well as the progress and productivity of a nation.
Nanyang University accepted its first enrolment of students of different races in 1975.
In 1977, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew proposed the restructuring of Nanyang University, citing the need for an English-language mainstream. Employers were beginning to shun Chinese-educated graduates which was an increasingly worrying trend in the society.
Three years later, Nanyang University was merged with University of Singapore to become National University of Singapore (NUS). There were also widespread suspicions that the move had political reasons as the government wanted to stamp out the communist ideas that were growing in the campus for the past decade.
With the closure of Nanyang University, a technical institute took over its campus in 1981 and was named Nanyang Technological Institute (NTI). It not was not until ten years later in 1991 before the institute was upgraded to become Singapore’s second English university in Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
In late nineties, there were calls and appeals to restore the name of NTU back to Nanyang University, including prominent late calligrapher and poet Pan Shou, but the move never materialised.
Consisting a library and a museum, the Chinese Heritage Centre in NTU was founded in 1995 to provide knowledge and studies of ethnic Chinese communities around the world.
It was previously an administrative building and library for Nantah, and was built together with the university in 1955.
Published: 10 November 2011
Updated: 25 December 2019