A slice of Peranakan history

10 November 2016 | Research
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An image used in the guidebook shows the ancestral hall of NUS Baba House

To commemorate its eighth anniversary, NUS Baba House has unveiled a new guidebook which explores the myriad facets of Singapore’s only restored Straits Chinese family home. The book was launched by NUS Baba House Committee Chairman and NUS History Adjunct Associate Professor Kwa Chong Guan at the heritage house at Neil Road on 9 November.

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Mr Lee (speaking) and Ms Foo (in red dress) at the launch of the guidebook

Categorised according to rooms of the house, the 144-page book boasts more than 250 images accompanied by in-depth descriptions that offer an intimate look at the artefacts, architecture, conservation and history of the traditional Peranakan 1890s terrace house. The cover itself features an elaborately carved wooden screen that partitions the reception hall and depicts stories from Chinese folklore. There are also anecdotes of life in and around the house by members of the Wee family, who were previous owners of the property and descendants of Chinese shipping magnate Mr Wee Bin. 

“The contents provide an account of the layered and complex history of 157 Neil Road, its interiors and artefacts which are part of NUS Museum’s Straits Chinese Collection. It gives readers a glimpse into the lives of those who lived in such houses. The book also contributes to research on the history of the Peranakans and the urban history of the neighbourhood,” shared project curator Ms Foo Su Ling.

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The wall below the staircase of the ancestral hall is decorated with 28 floral ceramic tiles

In 2007, the terrace house was painstakingly restored as closely as possible to the original architectural intent, in partnership with NUS Architecture and the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore. It was opened to the public in 2008 as NUS Baba House, owing to a generous gift to NUS from Ms Agnes Tan, in support of education and in memory of her late father, prominent Straits Chinese community leader Tun Tan Cheng Lock. Today, the first two storeys showcase the Peranakan domestic interior during the 20th century, while the third storey hosts temporary exhibitions. The Baba House, managed by NUS Museum, has received over 25,000 visitors to date.

The guidebook is sponsored by Ms Tan; and her nephew Mr Peter Lee, a Peranakan scholar and honorary curator of the Baba House, said that it would “provide visitors and scholars with a quick, handy and enduring reference to its myriad facets”.

‘NUS Baba House: Architecture and Artefacts of a Straits Chinese Home’ is available at all major bookstores for $29.90 as well as at NUS Museum and NUS Baba House. Free heritage tours of NUS Baba House are available by appointment only through NUS Museum.

See media coverage.

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The guidebook reveals the myriad facets of Singapore’s only restored Straits Chinese family home