Singapore / Chinese cultural in Bu Ye Tian Proposal

Boat Quay’s development has been closely related to Chinese culture due to its intimate location with China Town, which is only 1km away from Boat Quay at the present. The China Town was established in 1820s in the south bank of Singapore River. The population has rapidly grown from 1,000 to 50,000 by 1860s. The Chinese called Boat Quay the “belly of the carp” because of its favorable location and wide bend shape of the river. The traditional Chinese believes that good fortune resides in the fish’s belly, hence Boat Quay means a land of good fortune to them as well.

The significance of Chinese culture could be easily found in Bu Ye Tian Proposal. William Lim proposed to transform Boat Quay into a hub of culture and traditions, where Chinese culture was the main focus. As written in his proposal concept, “by focusing on a variety of traditional cuisine, shopping, arts and crafts and cultural activities it (Boat Quay) will be an authentic, living and breathing ‘China Town’…” The Chinese atmosphere has deeply immersed in the proposal that it could be found in everywhere, from shophouses to the promenade. For the restoration of shophouses, traditional Chinese Inn, Tea House and shops selling Chinese arts and crafts were suggested. While the public space on the ground could be a performance stage for TaiChi, Kungfu and Lion Dances. For the promenade and the river, it was proposed that a fleet of “flower boats” were provided to take people for cruises on the river, as if the practices in Liu Ch’ao. As it was explicitly described in the proposal, as well as from the activities suggested, Chinese culture was the primary element in “Bu Ye Tian” proposal.

Chinese Inn in Bu Ye Tian Project, 1982 Bu Ye Tian
Chinese Inn in Bu Ye Tian Project, 1982 Bu Ye Tian Proposal

Despite the fact that the proposal was not carried out and present Boat Quay was turned into a more western district, the enthusiastic of Chinese cultural was sensible to Boat Quay’s past development. As written in the introduction, Boat Quay is located closely with Chinatown.  It was as bustling where immigrants arrive and exchange goods. Although shophouses were built in colonial style, most habitants were Chinese. Boat Quay was an area where Chinese culture truly lived and seen.

It is disappointing that the present Boat Quay has lost it trace to the past. It has become a place for tourists, where upmarket restaurants and hotels were provided. Under URA’s regeneration project, the priority of the redevelopment gave to the appearance of the heritage buildings but not the daily practices of trades and lifestyles. Moreover, the western culture has led to gentrification to the nearby Chinatown. The invasion of western culture to Chinese lifestyle can led to further loss of Chinese Culture. On the contrary, “Bu Ye Tian” proposal was more sensible to the history of Boat Quay. It took the geographical advantage of Boat Quay to promote Chinese Cultural. The Chinese activities suggested could attract both locals from Chinatown and tourists and prevent the area became too economic and touristy as it has developed at the present.


  1. Authority, Urban Redevelopment. 2016. Boat Quay.
  2. Lin, Eunice M. 2016. Adaptive Re-use of the Historic Boat Quay.
  3. Wang Jingyao; Heng Chye Kiang. 2011. Urban Entrepreneurialism in Conservation Redevelopment: the case of the Boat Quay Historic District in Singapore. Singapore: National University of Singapore.
  4. William Lim, Goh Poh Seng . 1982. “Bu Ye Tian.” Proposal, Singapore.

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