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1942 - 1955

Overcoming (1942 - 1955)
Dark Times

Tao Nan remained shut throughout the war years, from 1942 to 1945.

Shortly before Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, all teachers in the school were dismissed with two months’ allowance. Many went into hiding. Some, like tens of thousands of other victims in Singapore, were executed by the Japanese.

The nightmare for Singapore ended on 15 August 1945, when the Japanese finally surrendered. The Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan wasted no time repairing and restoring school facilities and within two months, Tao Nan was operational again.


A section of the school library.



The school building on Armenian Street did not escape damage. The invading army looted it, wrecked the classrooms and destroyed all facilities, including the entire library. Not one book was spared. Gone too was a valuable wooden screen with exquisite carvings as shown in this picture.


Mr Lin Shiping (林史平), who taught at Tao Nan from 1939 to 1941, scribbled these words at the back of a 1940 school photograph: “Each of us went our separate ways and fled in the couple of months before the Japanese invaded Singapore. I heard later that our colleagues Wang Zhixue (王之雪) and Xue Fanghua (薛芳化) were executed in the ‘examination’ exercise.”
Back to School

Former parliamentary deputy speaker Hwang Soo Jin (黄树人) was among the 1,197 schoolchildren who went back to Tao Nan that year. The classroom was not in the best condition, but there were long tables and long benches, a blackboard, duster and chalk.

Discipline was one of the greatest challenges for the school then. Three and a half years of running free and doing as they pleased had turned most students into unruly brats. Many were over-aged. It was common to see gawky adolescents aged 13 to 15, and even those in their late teens.

Things were made worse by an explosion of enrolment, as a result of over-aged students returning to school along with those of proper school age. Enrolment hit a peak of 1,245 in 1946, before stabilising at about 1,100 over the next decade. The school had to run morning and afternoon sessions and the decade after the war was a period of rebuilding.

Tao Nan students did not bury themselves in books,
even in the early days. They had morning exercises
(above) and Art lessons (below).

Conditions remained basic and spartan well into the early 1950s. Mr Tan Chin Hoon (陈启奋) studied at Tao Nan between 1953 and 1956. He remembers that there were no proper lamps. Each classroom had just two 60-watt light bulbs screwed into the ceiling – one in the front and one in the back. “On rainy days, it got really dim and we could hardly see.”

The principal and teachers were strict, but also extremely caring; home visits were not unusual. Teachers often went to the homes of problem students to chat with the parents, while slower learners got extra help.

He also recalls night classes (夜学班) being held for the poorer students, who could not attend classes during the day because they had to work to help support their families. Despite these tough times, Mr Tan cherishes his fond memories of Tao Nan.

The first post-war graduates, with the teaching staff in 1947.
A New System

A significant year for the school in the post-war decade was 1949. Tan Kah Kee left Singapore to retire in China, handing over his official duties to Tan Lark Sye. It was the start of a new leadership and direction for the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan and its schools.

The new People’s Republic of China was born in October 1949, and like all other Chinese schools in Singapore, Tao Nan had to adjust. A different anthem was sung during school assembly, while Chinese communists tried to win students over to their revolutionary cause.

In 1955, Singapore won partial internal self-government. Schools had to instil loyalty towards Singapore, rather than China or India. Tao Nan and other Chinese schools no longer operated independently and there was greater government involvement.


Mr Hong Changshu (洪长树) (front row, extreme right) arrived at Tao Nan in November 1945 and taught there until he was appointed school principal in 1959. He wrote a preface for Tao Nan’s 60th anniversary yearbook and noted that the quality and conduct of students was a far cry from the pre-war days. Most were overaged and what little time they spent in school was “enough to learn how to read and write, but not for a true education”.
School Crest and Song – After the war (战后, 1945-1981)

The school adopted a new school crest when it reopened after the war. A red outer circle symbolised Chinese culture, indicating happiness and warmth. The yellow book lying open at the centre of the crest represented intellectual wealth. The compass needle pointed southwards (a play on Tao Nan’s name, meaning ‘The Way South’), implying the right moral direction. The concentric circles signified unity and constant, never-ending effort on self-improvement.

A new school song was also created to go with the new crest. Mr Lin Ju-ren, the first post-war principal, wrote the lyrics.