The Bukit Brown Cemetery Documentation Project

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Khoo Seok Wan (丘菽園, 1874-1941, LTA Peg No. 2536)



Born in a village in the Zhangzhou region of China, Khoo was the son of Khoo Cheng Tiong, a wealthy rice merchant in Singapore. He received a classical education in China and attained the title of “ju ren” (举人) after passing the provincial level examinations. 

Khoo was influenced by reformist ideas which advocated change to the Chinese political system and social reform. In Singapore, he founded the Chinese newspaper Thien Nan Shin Pao with Lim Boon Keng to advertise the reformist agenda, and served as its Chinese editor from 1898 to 1902. When the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School (SCGS) was founded in 1899 in a bold attempt to provide education to local girls, he contributed half the funds required. He was also one of the co-founders of the Chinese Philomatic Society in 1906. Recognising the dearth of elementary education material for children in the Chinese language, he wrote the “Thousand Word Text”, a vocabulary primer. His public activities included serving as chairman of Thong Chai Medical Institution in 1904.

In 1898, when Kang Youwei fled China after the failure of the “Hundred Day Reform”, Khoo invited him to Singapore where he provided him with shelter and financial support to restore the Emperor's powers through armed uprisings. However, the relationship soured after an abortive coup in 1900 which Khoo and other overseas Chinese sponsored, and suspicion was cast on Kang and his associates for being tardy with the funds. To mitigate his complicity in the affair, Khoo made a donation to the Qing government for which he received an official mandarin rank.

Having lost most of his wealth by 1907, Khoo had to move house several times and took on various jobs to support his family. He managed the Cheng Nam Jit Poh from 1912 to 1920 and he was an editor for the Sin Chew Jit Pau from 1929 to 1930. From 1930 to 1938, he was the secretary of the Zhangzhou Association. He was also sustained by the generosity of friends through this period. Despite his poverty, he was known to be generous to friends and associates who called upon him. 

Khoo was an accomplished poet and probably the most prolific literary figure in early Singapore, with at least 1400 published poems. His poems covered a wide range of themes, from his experiences in youth to Buddhism in later life. Throughout his life, affairs in China were a fount for his creativity, reflecting his patriotism.

In 1905, Khoo helped his lifelong friend, the Reverend Ruiyu, establish the City God Temple in Peck Seah Street. In later life, he found solace in Buddhism and was actively involved in Buddhist groups such as the forerunner of the Singapore Buddhist Union.

Khoo’s first wife passed away just a year after they married when they were still in China. He married again when he returned to Singapore. At the age of 64, he wrote his own epitaph when he constructed his tomb. Eschewing convention, he chose not to use any of his official titles and opted for the address “chu shi”, a title for an educated person in ancient China. Khoo eventually passed away in 1941 and was buried in Block 4 of Bukit Brown Cemetery, in the vicinity of where his late wife was also buried. 

Author: Ang Yik Han




Tan Ee Liong, “A Chinese Poet of Singapore (Khoo Siok Yuan 1872-1941)”, China Society Annual 1951, 1951