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1910 - 1941

Widening (1910 - 1941)
The Big Move

With nearly 300 students crammed into the rented Siam House in North Bridge Road, Tao Nan needed a bigger, permanent home.

Tan Kah Kee (陈嘉庚) proposed that Tao Nan should get its own land and construct a new building with proper facilities.

On 18 February 1910, Sugar baron Oei Tiong Ham (黄仲涵), the richest man in Semarang, gave $10,000 to the school at the persuasion of board member, Zhou Runxiang (周润享).

Tao Nan bought a plot of land at 39 Armenian Street and by March 1912, a new building stood ready for a new beginning.

The Big Move

From Xuetang (学堂) to Xuexiao (学校)

Like other Chinese schools in the Straits Settlements, Tao Nan was caught up in the rush to modernise when imperial rule in China ended in 1911. Its name became 道南学校 (dao nan xuexiao). Science and English were added to the curriculum, while pro-Emperor classics were removed. Students also learnt patriotic songs and drills.

More importantly, the influence of Mandarin grew under the leadership of Tan Kah Kee, who encouraged it among the Chinese community.

Tao Nan made history again in 1916, when it became the first modern Chinese school in the Straits Settlements to teach in Mandarin instead of Hokkien. All Mandarin teachers had to pass a language and phonetics test set by the school before they were hired. It also hired its first non-Hokkien principal, Mr Xiong Shangfu (熊尚父) from Hunan.

The music room in dao nan xue xiao
The Music room in dao nan xuexiao (道南学校). 1916
School crest and song

This is the very first known version of Tao Nan’s school crest, and its first school song. Very few details are available, except that the crest and song were adopted before the Japanese occupation.
The Golden Years

From 1935 to 1939, Pan Shou (潘受), the celebrated poet and calligrapher, took over as Principal of the school and brought the school to greater heights.

There were about 20 teachers in the school then – several were bilingual and taught both Chinese and English. The students made up of the sons and daughters of poor hawkers and labourers who walked for more than half an hour to school each day, and also the children of the wealthy, who came in cars with a personal maid. They gathered side by side in Tao Nan, ready for a good education.

However, the threat of war darkened the scene. In the late 1930s, Kuomintang members began visiting the school to recruit young men for China’s war against Japan. The first bombs fell before dawn on 8 December 1941. War had reached Singapore - and Tao Nan.
Pan Shou
Pan Shou was a cultural superstar and received awards and medals from France, ASEAN and Singapore. Students remembered their artistic principal as a caring gentleman who was respected but never feared.
Tao Nan’s First Graduates

The earliest students of Tao Nan became the most respected leading members of not just the Hokkien community here, but also Southeast Asia.

One of them was Lee Kong Chian (李光前) – entrepreneur, educationalist and philanthropist. He donated millions of dollars to schools in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and China.

Other alumni include Ho Pao Jen (何葆仁, 1895-1978), one of the first principals of the Chinese High School, and Dr Hu Tsai Kuen (胡载坤, 1894-1984), father of former Finance Minister Dr Richard Hu.
Tao Nan's First Graduates
The Educationist – Tan Kah Kee (1874-1961)

Tan Kah Kee was a man with a vision. He played an active part in shaping an ideal society and country, a goal that he believed could be achieved through modern education.

He was responsible for Tao Nan’s move to Armenian Street and was also the one who pushed for the use of Mandarin to unite the Chinese community. Under his guidance, Tao Nan leapt ahead as the first Chinese school in the Straits Settlements to use Mandarin in classes.

Elected as Tao Nan’s board president in 1911, he was closely associated with the school until 1929. His role in Tao Nan helped strengthen his position as a respected leader of the Hokkien community.
Tan Kah Kee

iconic building
The iconic building at 39 Armenian Street was designed in the ‘eclectic classical style’, with its fluted columns and overall symmetry. The balconies on the façade suggest a colonial or tropical influence. The layout inside is also common of Straits Settlements bungalows. Rooms were arranged around a central hall, with toilets and kitchens apart from the main building. Preservation work began on the building in 1991 and ended in 1996.
Firming ties with the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan

A milestone for Tao Nan came in 1927, when it combined its school board with that of Ai Tong, another Singapore Hokkien Huay
Kuan school.

By 1929, an education committee was established within the Huay Kuan for the planning and finance of all the Hokkien Huay Kuan

First Gathering
First gathering of teachers in the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan education committee (Tao Nan, Ai Tong and Chongfu) on March 1932.
1935 Graduation 1935 Graduation