Singapore's GRCs: Is it Chua Chu Kang or Choa Chu Kang?

A map from 1904 showing the settlements of Lim Chu Kang and Lau Chu Kang.
PHOTO: Royal Geographical Society, London/ National Archives of Singapore

What’s in a name? If you've noticed, there are many towns in Singapore with the words 'Chu Kang' in it — no, Singapore's favourite contractor Phua Chu Kang isn’t one of them. 

There’s Choa Chu Kang, Lim Chu Kang and Yio Chu Kang among the 'Chu Kangs' that are left. But did you know that once upon a time, there was Chan Chu Kang (situated around Yishun), Tan Chu Kang, Chu Chu Kang and Lau Chu Kang, among others?

While ‘Yio’, ‘Choa’ and ‘Lim’ are common Chinese surnames, but what does 'Chu Kang' mean? 

A map from 1904 showing the settlements of Lim Chu Kang and Lau Chu Kang. SCREENGRAB: Royal Geographical Society, London/ National Archives of Singapore

The names were derived from the Kangchu system in Singapore during the 18th century.

The term is said to refer to the 港主 in the Teochew dialect, which translates to “master of the riverbank” (insert lame Masters of the Sea joke here). It was a title given to the headmen of the settlements (厝港 or ’Chu Kang’) around the area.

A settlement known as Chan Chu Kang in this 1904 map. Screengrab: Royal Geographical Society, London/ National Archives of Singapore

During that time, there were many gambier and pepper plantations surrounding the settlements where workers stayed.

Eagle-eyed observers, however, may have noticed that there are two spellings to the modern northern neighbourhood of Choa Chu Kang. So is it Chua Chu Kang or Choa Chu Kang?

If the surname 蔡 is commonly written as Chua, how did it end up as Choa? An old newspaper clipping from the '50s showed the area being referred to as Chua Chu Kang. If this account is to be believed, the spelling change to “Choa” was erroneous.

Well technically, both names are correct, but the spelling depends on what you’re referring to.

Administratively, Chua Chu Kang is used when referring to the group representation constituency (GRC) as well as the town council, but the MRT station and road names are spelt as Choa Chu Kang. 

It’s also Choa Chu Kang library and not Chua Chu Kang library, but it is Chua Chu Kang Community Centre.

Confused yet? Not to worry, both are generally used interchangeably, and if in doubt, one can simply fall back on its abbreviated form, CCK.

candicecai@asiaone.com