C.K.Tang 詩家董

When I read about the recent news article “Kidney-for-sale: CK Tang chairman charged with 3 counts” on 10 Jul 2008, Straits Times, I couldn’t believe my eyes. CK Tang’s chairman Tang Wee Sung, 55, was charged in court with trying to buy a kidney from a living donor, for which he was willing to pay $300,000 to a middleman to procure it.

Mr Tang Wee Sung is the second son of the late Mr Tang Choon Keng, founder of Tangs department store. He joined the Company in 1975, at the age of 22. The late Mr. C.K. Tang died at the ripe age of 99 on 3 Sep 2000.

I remember when I was still staying with my Godparents place at Beatty Road, in the 60s and 70s, C.K. Tang was commonly known as 詩家董百貨公司. You may read more about how C.K.Tang started in Singapore here.

Below are the summary of it;

- 1923, Mr. C.K.Tang came to Singapore. He started off as a door-to-door salesman and would hired a rickshaw to put his pair of tin trunk which probably still around now (but no photo of it shown so far). He was later known as the “Tin Trunk Man” or “Curio King”. His products then were just hand-made Swatow lace, emboidery and linen.

- 1932, 9 years after he came to Singapore, he saved enough to set up his first store on the first floor of a building in River Valley Road. His initial capital was only $3000!

- 1940, he built an edifice probably named after his father Mr. Tang Gan Urn “Gainurn Building”. This was located at the corner of Jalan Mohamad Sultan and River Valley Road. I know that a buidling by the same name “Gainurn Building” is still around there and it’s near to the UE Square but whether it’s the same building, I don’t know. I’ve not taken a look at the building now, but here is how it looked like in the 40s;

Credit : Delcampe.net

Credit : Photo taken by Victor Koo. Gainurn Bldg in 2008. As mentioned by Victor, note the pillars of both bldg.

Credit : Google

- 1958, he bought a 1,351sq.m. piece of land at the corner of Orchard Road and Scotts Road at a price of $10,000. Though this site faced the then Tai Shang Ting cementary, he believed it had commercial value.

Below shows the aerial view and photo of the original CK Tang store at Orchard Road in the 50s;

Credit : Editions Didier Millet, Over Singapore 50 Years Ago, by Brenda Yeoh and Theresa Wong.

Below shows the late Mr. CK Tang at his new building in Orchard (1958);

Credit : National Archives of Singapore, PICAS

It was not so smooth sailing for CK Tang after opening at this Orchard Road site. In 1960 it was closed due to problems with trade unions but reopened the following year. Below shows the labour strike at CK Tang in 1960;

Credit : National Archives of Singapore, PICAS

A few months before the above strike in 1960, Mr. Tang was kidnapped by four armed thugs, but was freed unharmed within 84 hours after the family reportedly paid S$150,000 in ransom. I really respect his “never give up” attitude.

And this is how it looked like in 1962;

The green tiled roof and facade was said to be modelled after the China’s Imperial Palace in the Forbidden City. I find resemblance to the old OCBC bank building near the Singapore River then;

Credit : Delcampe.net

- 1982, the old green tiled roof building was demolished to make way for expansion – a 33 storey Dynasty Hotel (now renamed as Singapore Marriott Hotel) and the Tangs shopping complex (now Tang Plaza).

Credit : Delcampe.net

You can see that the new complex still retained the same green-tiled roof pattern, but of course I don’t think it is the “recycled” green roof from the old building. So did the late Mr. CK Tang retain anything from the old building? Maybe yes, I thought, probably that pair of stone lion outside the building;

But how many stone lions are there? Is the above pair the same old pair, I don’t know….see for yourself the below photo in 1983 when the lions were placed at the footpath during the construction of the new complex;

Credit : National Archives Of Singapore, PICAS

Hope that all these stone lions can bring good luck to their owners.

How many still remember the fire at Tangs in 2006 December?

Credit : pigaholicling

Oh, there is one thing that was memorable about CK Tang – it was probably the only major shopping centre that did not operate on Sunday until 1996! That was to allow his family and his Christian staff to attend church on Sundays.

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26 Responses to “C.K.Tang 詩家董”


  1. 1 acroamatic Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 10:22 am

    Ah, that’s a nice aerial photo of Orchard Road in the past. So different from now.

    I happened to be across the road from Tangs just after the fire was put out (I think). The fire engines were still parked outside but there didn’t seem to be much commotion. Just a lot of curious onlookers.

  2. 2 passerby Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    Over Singapore 50 Years Ago is such a wonderful, wonderful book. I’ve got a lot to thank that book for, it was so helpful in figuring out little nagging questions and I LOVE how it included so-called ulu places like Woodlands Road. I got a thrill figuring out which roads were already there in the 50s and imagining what nearby areas would look like in the kampong days with no main roads and flyovers etc.

    Unfortunately the only thing I recognize in this article are the current photos of Tangs/Marriot – when they built the new Tangs I wasn’t even born but my mum says she clearly remembers that old Tangs from the 70s. So this was again a very helpful post. Thank you. I also noticed the large green expanse where Ngee Ann City stands now, I can only remember when it was being built but not before that… it’s a pity all the green areas in that are are pretty much gone, that nice slope was the last to go thanks to the stupid Ion project…

  3. 3 Victor Koo Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    I have been wondering what was the old building with the Imperial-palace roof by the Singapore River. In fact, I wanted to put up an “old building” quiz soon to ask readers. But I found the answer in this post. Thanks.

  4. 4 laokokok Friday, August 15, 2008 at 9:01 am

    Hi Acroamatic,
    You are pretty fast in posting your comments – just within a couple of hours of my posting hehe. Guess the fire was not a big one but wonder how it got started?

    You are right Passerby, that Over Singapore 50 years ago is really a very wonderful book. Hope to borrow it again but forgotten which library I came across this book.

    Victor,
    I’m not 100% sure of that green roof building near the Singapore River. I’m only guessing….maybe Peter or Chun See can confirm it.

  5. 5 profkingsfield2004 Saturday, August 16, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    Green roof belongs to OCBC, now OCBC Center

  6. 6 profkingsfield2004 Saturday, August 16, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    The side road in front of the Marriot Hotel facing the slip road from Scotts Road into Orchard Road was not a part of the old CK Tang store. There used to be a 2-storey row of shop-houses; a piano shop called Liew Piano or something like that, a laundry shop. Ang mos like to shop at Tangs because they sold plenty of camphor chests, cutleries, bedlinen. On top of that if you buy above a certain dollar value they do home deliveries to where you stay. So it was only the local store besides Robinson’s that offered this home delivery service.

  7. 7 py Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 8:24 am

    When I was young, below 10 years old (that was in the 1980s), CK Tang, was one of the few buildings that I could instantaneously recognise from miles away when I see it from a distance away.

  8. 8 profkingsfield2004 Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    One more shop I remember – Noritake House. Popular for its Japanese pottery stuff for the kitchen and dining table.

  9. 9 profkingsfield2004 Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    There was also Noritake House that sold Japanese dining and kitchen products

  10. 10 laokokok Tuesday, August 19, 2008 at 7:06 am

    Thanks Peter. Now I can confirm that green roof building by the river was OCBC.

  11. 11 icemoon Tuesday, August 19, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Wait a minute, how did C.K.Tang get its name?

    The last time I checked, Tang Choon Keng is not 董詩家 leh.

  12. 12 laokokok Tuesday, August 19, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    You are right Icemoon. CK Tang Chinese name is (simplified Chinese: 董俊竞; pinyin: Dǒng Jùnjìng). And why is it known as 詩家董 is probably a direct dialect translation from his English name CK Tang.

    Or anyone knows the reason??

  13. 13 Victor Koo Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 12:40 am

    Here is a photo of Gianurn Building taken last Monday.

  14. 14 Victor Koo Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 12:48 am

    The photos look different, don’t they? But if you compare the pillars on the ground floor of the building between the 2 photos (as LKK is wont to do), they match exactly in number and spacing. So the building is the same one in the two photos. Just an opinion from a new 2nd-shooter.

  15. 15 laokokok Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 7:32 am

    Thanks Victor. I’ve uploaded it and compared them – agreed, they seem to be the same. Based on the same angle that you have taken that shot, that bldg still looks “depthless” like the Gateway Bldg (triangular in shape). I wonder if it is really triangular in shape.

    Thanks once again for taking the trouble to take a photo of it.

  16. 16 Victor Koo Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    No trouble at all. I was on leave on Monday and was exploring the River Valley area on my bicycle. I remember your post and so I took a photo of the building for comparison purpose.

    (More details about why I was on leave in a later blog post, I hope.)

  17. 17 foo_c_m@hotmail.com Monday, November 3, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Interested in the old Cold Storage? The company itself wrote an official history:-

    Serving Singapore: A Hundred Years of Cold Storage, 1903-2003 by Chor Boon Goh (Paperback – Jan 2003)

    Available on http://www.amazon.com

  18. 18 Choo Tze Wei Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 12:57 am

    Incidentally both the Ck Tang Building and the OCBC building with the green roof was designed by the same architech, my great grandfather Seah Eck Jim. He was the first local architech in singapore. I am still looking up on his works, any info on his works would be appreciated.

  19. 19 Fizah Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    hi there, i’m quite amazed at how u are able to write Tangs’ timeline nicely. Where did u find the info on Tangs? I reali would like to know more abt the employment management there. :)

    Thank you!

    P.s.: I’m doin a project on Chinese firm, and i chose CK Tang. do email me if u had e time to do so yeah? thx again!

  20. 20 Nanette Chang Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    If I had a penny for each time I came here! Amazing writing!

  21. 21 Kevin Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    can anybody help me to trace the family lineage of CK Tang. His elder sister is my maternal great grandmother. I would like to find the name of my grandmother who passed away when my father was just 2 years old during the Japanese occupation in 1942.

  22. 22 Justin Shen Monday, March 26, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Can anyone tell me what was behind the old CK Tang? A bit of nostalgic trivia for you all

  23. 23 Jane Friday, July 6, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    I lived in Singapore all through the sixties. Tangs was my favourite place to go – it really was a treasure trove back then of all things oriental and quality.

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    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing a few months of hard work
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