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The Immigration of Chinese Villagers from Jiangdou

Top Surnames

Ong, Wáng and


With the long-standing problem of poverty, many people in olden Fujian decided to migrate south-east in search of a better life. There were many who wished to provide for their families back in China and so they toiled in new lands, risking business ventures with the support of relatives and fellow clansmen. One such group are the villagers of Jiangdou 江兜. Jiangdou, also referred to as “Kang-Tau” in the Henghua dialect, is a village located between the city of Fuqing 福清 and Putian 莆田. This is where thousands around the world call their ancestral home. Although now spread wide and far, with possibly little to no understanding of their ancestral origins, descendants of this village share one common connection. This is through progenitor Wang Cheng 王誠, also known as Wang Yanqing 王嚴清.

The full genealogy of Wang Yanqing from the one of the progenitors of the Fujian Ong Clan, 王審邽 is as follows:

5世:王 克
6世:王 皥
7世:王 續
9世:王 燁
10世: 王 秉
11世: 王敬先
12世: 王祖德
13世: 王淇遠
14世: 王嗣翁
15世: 王 序
16世: 王裒然
17世: 王存孫
18世: 王 鎮
19世: 王萬應
20世: 王祖興
21世: 王萬良
22世: 王嚴清

This information was taken from the few remaining genealogical records, mainly the 星馬王氏宗誼錄, as the Jiangdou family tree book was unfortunately burned during the cultural revolution. The village committee has since published a new version with information carried from the past.

Wang Yanqing (1499-1594) was born in Nan'an 南安 and fled to Jiangdou (formerly known as Jianggao 江皋) in 1573 due to oppression by bandits. He was married to a Madam Guo 郭氏孺人 (1501-1606) and had 5 sons: Wenqing 文慶, Wenhuan 文煥, Wende 文德, Wenguang 文光, and Wenliang 文亮, all of which resided in the village and populated it over time. Wenqing, the eldest son, settled in 善仁房 and his descendants mainly live in Fushan 福山 and Caiyuan 菜園. Wenhuan, the second son, settled in 有義房 and his Descendants mainly live in Caiyuan as well. The third son, Wende, settled in 妙智房 and his descendants mainly live in Sanzuocuo 三座厝 and Caiyuan. The fourth son, Wenguang settled in 時禮房 but moved to the nearby village north-east currently known as Jiexia 界下. Finally, the fifth son, Wenliang, settled in 興信房. He married his second wife and populated Beipan 北爿, Qizuo 企座, Xicen 溪岑, Nanshan 南山, Sanzuocuo, Caiyuan and Xincuowei 新厝尾.


An interesting point to note with descendants of this village is how they are named. Following traditional Chinese naming conventions, the middle character in their Chinese names usually correspond with an identifiable generation. These are drawn from the Ancestral Couplets 宗祠對聯 which is as follows,

名譜: 希孔孟學常志聖賢顯祖榮宗明世德
字譜: 述堯舜道惟存孝悌振聲紹武裕孫謀

Though an English translation of the couplets is not clear, one could interpret them as such,

“Given Name Score” - "Hope (for) Confucian and Mencian teachings, always remember (the) sages, honor (your) ancestors, and understand/illuminate (the) virtues of past generations”.

“Courtesy Name Score” - "Narrate (the) ways of Yao and Shun, uphold filial piety (and) brotherly respect, raise (one’s) voice (and) continue (in their) footsteps/(to be) valiant, (and) plan (for the) abundance (of) future generations”.

This is a faithful translation of the 名譜 and 字譜 aided by ChatGPT.

The corresponding characters, 希 and 述, in the couplet begin at the 6th generation from the progenitor 王嚴清. It is unclear why this is the case. The couplets are well coordinated for the 名譜 and the 字譜 to be antithetical to each other. The Ancestral Couplets were written during the early days of Emperor Kangxi reign in the Qing Dynasty when 王希順 and 王孔周 invited an Imperial Scholar Zheng 鄭進士 to do so.

In ancient times, it was common for people to have multiple names. Evident in the couplets, a character for the 字 (courtesy name) and the 名 (given name). They are usually bestowed upon offspring according to significant milestones in life (childhood, adulthood, artisthood, scholarhood, marriage, death). However, it slowly became unpopular for people to possess more than one name. Hence, people from Jiangdou began to simply choose one from the list of two as a given name for their offspring. A person whose name is 王聲__ is of the same generation as 王祖__ and so on. They would be known as 宗兄 or ancestral brothers if their lineage to each other was unknown.

The 諱 is known as the formal name or real name and is usually bestowed upon one’s offspring before adulthood where they receive the 字. In a literal sense, 諱 means taboo. Hence, this name was not to be uttered by younger generations as a sign of respect to elders who possessed them. Younger generations would instead refer to elders using the 字 which was seen as more respectful.

In some cases one may also be bestowed a posthumous name known as a 諡.

With the sheer number of names one can possess, it is easy for one to get confused, especially when trying to study genealogy. In addition to the different names, some families have chosen not to follow traditional naming conventions, choosing totally different characters to identify a certain generation which is evident in many other branches. In my great granduncles' branch, the word 建 is used as a substitute for 榮 or 紹. Below is a list of characters not from the 名譜 or 字譜 used by several branches of the Ong Clan to identify each generation.

14G: 萬福添光
15G: 如發瑞文金景冬天福添炳成教国利先幕
16G: 建立進英家烈貞文培
17G: 琮崇綜重明
18G: 茗敃

The characters 光, 先 and 烈 are a set used specially by the Caiyuan people of 江兜.

Interestingly, some characters in the list above are homophones of the characters in the ancestral couplet identifying respective generations. An example would be 成, 英 and 重. These characters are actually homophones of the characters 聲, 榮 and 宗 in the Hinghwa dialect, which are characters that follow a descending order in the ancestral couplet. When pronounced, they are essentially transliterated into English without significant difference.

Other than through Chinese names, one can also be identified through “generation numbers”. These numbers are defined as a chronological and cumulative order of descent from the earliest progenitor and through several sub-progenitors.

In Ancient Chinese mythology, the traditional ancestor of all Chinese people is said to be the Yellow Emperor 黃帝. Hence, he is regarded in most Chinese genealogical records to be the first ancestor which is also true for the people of Jiangdou

In addition, millennia of historical migration, development and conflict after the Yellow Emperor came several other sub-progenitors that the people of Jiangdou are said to have descended from. Specifically, these are Prince Jin of the Zhou Dynasty 王子橋, Wang Shengui 王審邽, Wang Yanqing 王嚴清. With this, one’s generation numbers can be sequenced chronologically as such,

Generations of descent from: 黃帝, 王子橋, 王審邽, 王嚴清

1. Yellow Emperor 黄帝 - 1G
(First ancestor)

2. Prince Jin of the Zhou Dynasty 王子橋 - 57, 1G
(Progenitor of the Wang Surname in China and 57th generation descendant of the Yellow Emperor)

3. Fujian Ong Clan Progenitor Wang Shengui 王審邽 - 105, 49, 1G
(Progenitor of the Wang (Ong) Surname in Fujian, 105th generation descendant of the Yellow Emperor and 49th generation descendant of Prince Jin)

4. Jiangdou Ong Clan Progenitor Wang Yanqing 王嚴清 - 126, 70, 22, 1G
(Progenitor of the Wang (Ong) Surname in Jiangdou, 126th generation descendant of the Yellow Emperor, 70th generation descendant of Prince Jin and 22th generation descendant of Wang Shengui)

Subsequent generations from 王嚴清 will add cumulatively to this existing order of four progenitors with the final format of these generation numbers also including the generation names of the corresponding 名 and 字. For example, 16th generation descendant of 王嚴清 will identify with the numbers and characters,

141, 85, 37, 16G (榮/紹)

and so on…

Migration South-East

Ong Ban Koh and Ong Ban Bee

One of the earliest pioneers in the land transport industry were the brothers Ong Ban Koh 王萬高 alias Ong Chin Guan 王振源 and Ong Ban Bee 王萬美 alias Ong Hieng Cheong 王顯璋. They are considered the first generation of Jiangdou migrants in the Singapore land transport trade.

Ong Ban Koh (1870-1942) arrived on Singapore soil circa 1886 and began his journey working alongside low-wage laborers. It was not until later when he established a small shop selling rice and sugar that he then entered into the rickshaw and bicycle trade. He provided rickshaw and bicycle repair services seeing that Rochor was populated with such modes of transport at that time. Fortunately, his business thrived, and he then opened a shop known as Guan Hoe Hin 源和興有限公司 at 69 Victoria Street with another businessman, Teo Siok Guan 張淑源. Later, it was mainly run by his sons Ong Kim Swee 王金瑞 and Ong Kim Lek 王金錄. It is no longer in operation today.

During this time, he encouraged his kinsmen still residing in Jiangdou to seek life here in Singapore as many were impoverished. With his sponsorship and training, Ong Ban Koh was able to initiate a population of spare-part businesses owned by members of the Jiangdou Ong Clan. Significantly, some of these businesses are still in operation today. These include Tye Soon Ltd 大順私人有限公司 established by cousin Ong Ban Guan 王萬源 and Ong Ban Hong Leong 王萬豐隆私人有限公司 established by cousin Ong Lock Cho 王祿梓.

Ong Ban Koh passed away in 1942 and was buried in Bukit Brown, Seh Ong Hill. However, due to road works and land development, it was later found that the grave was exhumed and that Ong Ban Koh's remains had been relocated. There was unfortunately no record of the tomb other than a blurry picture.

It is unclear whether Ong Ban Bee was Ong Ban Koh's older or younger brother.

Ong Ban Bee (?-1922) was another pioneer of the automotive spare parts industry in Singapore. Together with other kinsmen, they established Hock Hoe Co. 福和有限公司 at 6 Orchard Road. Hock Hoe also existed in other locations such as in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, and Seremban under the ownership of other kinsmen, Ong Cho Tek, Ong Seng Huat, and Ong Tieng Hee.

Like his brother, Ong Ban Bee thrived under the conditions of Singapore's early land transport industry and provided training to other kinsmen that arrived in Singapore. Sadly, he died prematurely in 1922 which resulted in a transfer of shares to his sons Ong Kim Leong 王景良, Ong Kin Hong 王景峯, and Ong Kin Kee 王景祺. Hence, there are also no historical records of him and people in Jiangdou seem to not know of his name either. Ong Ban Bee was also buried in Seh Ong Hill and was relocated to the Garden of Remembrance. His eldest son, Ong Kim Leong, also died prematurely in 1928 on a business trip and was likely buried in Jiangdou.

The death of Ong Kim Leong left his wife Yeo Kim Eng 揚金鶯 widowed with 3 children. His eldest son, Dr. Ong Yong Khee 王榮基, once worked the front counter of Hock Hoe. However, his sister Dr. Ong Yong Lin 王榮琳 convinced their mother to sell her shares in Hock Hoe. to fund her brother's education as she felt that leaving him to do front desk work was a waste of talent. Because of this, Dr. Ong Yong Khee worked very hard to get into medical school and became a doctor. As the business thrived, he along with his uncles, Ong Kin Hong and Ong Kin Kee made significant contributions to the development of Jiangdou. A total of 3000 Singapore dollars was donated towards the construction of the Jiangdou Overseas Building 江兜華僑大廈.

Ong Cho Tek

Another pioneer of the automotive spare parts trade was Ong Cho Tek 王祖德, a villager from Jiangdou who came to Singapore shortly after Ong Ban Koh. Ong Cho Tek is also considered to be one of the first-generation Jiangdou immigrants in the land transport trade.

Though he initially worked under the supervision of Ong Ban Koh, he did however eventually have a hand in the operations of Hock Hoe Co. This resulted in his ownership of the Hock Hoe branch in Kuala Lumpur, along with brothers Ong Tien Lian 王天樑 and Ong Tieng Hee 王天喜 after the partnership dissolved on the 31st of October 1933. On top of his recognition in the automotive spare parts industry, Ong Cho Tek also played a significant role in education back home in Jiangdou. Children in the village had to travel far in order to receive an education. In 1953, Ong Cho Tek mobilized his relatives overseas to fund the establishment of Jiangdou Overseas Chinese Middle School 江兜華僑中學. The school is still in operation today.

Ong Lock Cho

Ong Lock Cho 王祿梓 alias Ong Hian Leong 王顯隆 (1882-1970) arrived in Singapore in 1908 at the age of 26. He started his career as a rickshaw puller. Along with his brother Ong Chin Keng 王振敬, he later established Ong Ban Hong Leong Pte Ltd in Rochor. Like his other relatives, the business was carried on to his descendants and is still in operation today.

Ong Ban Guan

Following the success of his relatives dealing in the bicycle spare parts industry, the then 15-year-old Ong Ban Guan left Jiangdou and made his way south-east. In Seremban, he worked in Hock Hoe Co. which was the start of his journey to becoming a successful businessman. With enough money, he along with other friends and relatives established Tye Soon Ltd in 1933. However, he eventually bought out all other partners, becoming the owner of the company.