Ah Ku and Karayuki-San: Prostitution in Singapore 1870–1940

First published in 1993, Ah Ku and Karayuki-San explores the life of prostitutes in pre-war Singapore. Together with James F. Warren’s other book, Rickshaw Coolie: A People’s History of Singapore 1880–1940, both books ventured into the social histories of Singapore’s past that has long been neglected by official discourse and by other historians of Singapore.

In Ah Ku and Karayuki-San, Warren studied the lives of two groups of prostitutes, the Ah Ku, which refers to Chinese (mostly Cantonese) prostitutes, and the Karayuki-san, the Japanese prostitutes. Using an impressive array of sources such as newspapers, oral histories, photos, newspapers, police and government documents and particularly, the coroner’s reports, Warren traced the life, or rather, the tragic deaths of these prostitutes. He divides the book into two sections: “Brothel Prostitution in Singapore” focuses on the institutions of prostitution and the city of Singapore, with chapters on migration, patriarchy, hierarchy, procurement, followed by a section “Ah Ku and Karayuki-San”, which focused on the individuals, bringing forth the life stories of the prostitutes who worked in Singapore. In the latter section, the chapters include the life-cycle of prostitutes and the concept of a brothel ‘family’.

This book represents an important attempt to write an ‘alternative’ history of Singapore, where the testimonies and narratives of the subaltern, the invisible and the powerless has a place in Singapore history despite the hegemonic dominance of a history writing that only records for posterity, those who are articulate and powerful.

More importantly, Warren reminds us of the human cost and the underside of Singapore’s economic success. Vice was part and parcel of Singapore’s histories, and as students of history, we should be sensitive to sacrifices made by people who got the short end of the straw of life.





Photo of a newly-arrived karayuki-san circa 1900s, from p. 209 of the book.




Ah Ku and Karayuki-san: Prostitution in Singapore, 1870-1940 by James F. Warren [Call no. HQ 255.12 War 2003]. See http://linc.nus.edu.sg/record=b2329195

Rickshaw Coolie: A People’s History of Singapore (1880-1940) by James F. Warren [Call no. HD8039 Ric.W 2003]. See http://linc.nus.edu.sg/record=b1425599



Han Ming Guang.

History Resource Librarian

NUS Libraries 110C team

Highlights from NUS Libraries’ collection – Singapore’s landscape transformation and urban planning

For anyone who has lived in Singapore for any number of years, it is difficult not to have an opinion of the relentless change in the physical landscape. There are 3 ‘must-read’ books if you want to understand the rationale that lies behind Singapore’s landscape transformation and urban planning. The first two books are Urban Planning in Singapore: Transformation of a City (1999) by Ole Dale, and The Politics of Urban Development in Singapore by Robert Gamer (1972). Both books will give you a historical perspective of the early days of urban planning during the ‘self-rule’ years (1958–63) and the period immediately after Independence (1963–80).

Ole Dale traces the work of urban planners in Singapore from the colonial period to post independence. A newly-elected government of an aspiring new nation faced pressing and complex issues as there were a large number of squatters in the city because jobs and employment opportunities were concentrated along the Singapore River. Living conditions in Chinatown and central areas such as Beach Road and along the Kallang River were overcrowded and unsanitary. In addition, these places were fertile for vice activities involving drugs, robbery and gambling. Not surprisingly, public housing and building infrastructure to connect the ‘New Towns’ dominated the planner’s agenda for more than 25 years.

There was also the difficult job of convincing society of the government’s intentions to improve living and working conditions in the effort to ‘modernise’ Singapore, as demonstrated in Gamer’s case study of Kallang River Basin in the second book. Resettlement of a significant number of people is never popular or easy thing to do at any time, and on more than one occasion, the government had to backtrack or slow certain plans in order to deal with the citizenry’s accusation of the government’s discrimination and hidden agenda.


p46(2008) e


The third book, Singapore: an atlas of perpetual territorial transformation by Rodolphe de Koninck, Julie Drolet and Marc Girard (2008) provides a visual view of the effect of state planning from the self-rule years until 2006. Despite the slim volume, the geographer’s perspective of land use and landscape transformation due to human activity is profound and goes beyond the physical boundary of the Singapore city state.

From the 1960s, urban planning was primarily used by governments around the world to control and regulate the land use in its cities and urban areas. In Singapore, an island-nation of 720 km2 (increasing every year due to reclamation), urban planning was employed extensively during the nation-building years to expedite the singular goal of modernising the city, promote the nation’s economic competitiveness and international image to attract investment capital. And it succeeded beyond all expectations.

Urban Planning in Singapore: Transformation of a city [call no. HT169.12 Dal], The Politics of Urban Development in Singapore [call no. HT175.12 Gam], and Singapore: an atlas of perpetual territorial transformation [call no. G8040 Kon 2008] can be found in the Singapore-Malaysia collection in Central Library.


Winnifred Wong

SDE Resource Librarian

NUS Libraries 110C team

“Guangxi Bookshelf” Project Book Donation Ceremony

On 19 January 2015, NUS Libraries was honored to welcome a big group of local and foreign guests to the Central Library to attend the “Guangxi Bookshelf” Project Book Donation Ceremony event.


Academic Talk by Professor Hu Dalei

The first programme on the menu of the day was an academic talk on “The Use of Allusions in Six Dynasties Poems” by Professor Hu Dalei from Guangxi Normal University. Professor Hu’s in-depth knowledge of ancient literature certainly captured the attention of our graduate students and even teaching staff from the Department of Chinese Studies.

book jan2015 1



At the end of the talk, we were pleased to invite Head of NUS Chinese Library, Dr. Sim Chuin Peng, to present Professor Hu with a token of appreciation for his presence and of course his engaging presentation. With that, the next programme in line was the highlight of the day – the “Guangxi Bookshelf” Project book donation ceremony.




What is the “Guangxi Bookshelf” Project all about?


book jan2015 2This project is a collaboration between the Federation of Literary and Art Circles of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and the Association of Guangxi Studies. It aims to donate 400, 000 Yuan (approximately S$85,000) worth of Chinese books to a national library and a university library of every country across 10 ASEAN nations. NUS Libraries is honored to receive this huge donation of books for a span of 5 years from 2014 to 2018. The first batch of books worth over Two Hundred Thousand Yuan has arrived in our library in mid-December 2014. These titles, mainly related to Buddhist studies, are now available for use in the Chinese Library. To quote Professor Kenneth Dean from the Department of Chinese Studies, these books are valuable materials that will help support related research in NUS as well as out of NUS.



The Ceremony

book jan2015 3The book donation ceremony saw many prominent guests, including Professor He Linxia, Chairman of Guangxi Normal University Press as well as Vice-President of Association of Guangxi Studies; Professor Kenneth Dean, Head of Department of Chinese Studies, NUS; Mr. Seng Lup Chew, President and Permanent Honorary President of Guangxi and Gaozhou Association, and of course NUS Libraries’ senior leadership, namely Mrs. Lee Cheng Ean, Ms. Ng Kim Leong and Miss Kan Sok Cheng.


The exchange of newly donated books and the certificate as well as token of appreciation between Mrs. Lee and Professor He Linxia marked an end to the ceremony. But how could this significant event be complete without a sumptuous meal?


We could not thank Guangxi and Gaozhou Association enough for the splendid lunch they sponsored. Guests, lecturers and students bonded over lunch and it was definitely a heartwarming sight to see everyone enjoy themselves tremendously!

book jan2015 4

Sonnets from the Singlish

What’s a good book to kick off a social media campaign in celebration of NUS’ 110th anniversary? Well, finding one is akin to locating a needle in a haystack for a variety of reasons. One, you’re simply spoilt for choice. Two, I feel obliged to pick a book that highlights the English Language and Literature collection (ELL) since I am the resource librarian for this area after all, and three, I am still overwhelmed by the number of possibilities.


A little book of 44 poems, Sonnets from the Singlish written by local poet Joshua Ip, is entirely about Singapore. If you were born and bred in this country, you should recognize Ip’s anecdotes within his witty sonnets. It is a good book to represent the ELL collection because you could study the language used in the poems, analyze the iambic pentameter in the sonnets, or as Ip suggests, perform a reading of the poems using a Singaporean accent.


Don’t expect to read 44 poems written in Singlish, or 44 Singlish sonnets. In fact, Ip has described the book as “riffing off Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese (also 44 sonnets).” But Ip does better. He mixes pop culture — mostly local, and some international with a local twist — while discussing local issues, and subtly expressing his opinions about local affairs; matters that are often uniquely Singaporean.


I found myself turning the pages to catch on as many of Ip’s references as possible, and sometimes try to guess what exactly he is referring to in the poetry. One of my favorite poems is how he has transformed all four books of Twilight into a four-part horror poem about a female jiangshi, the vampire or zombie in Chinese folklore. Here is an excerpt tickled me:


i write your name upon the yellow charm

and press it to your forehead with a kiss –


come, we move by night. i dare not stop

till dawn. we have a thousand miles to hop.


I was able to catch some other references in his book, namely the local ice-cream man (not the owner of the fancy ice-cream franchise at the mall, but the guy ringing his bell at his mobile cart), gambling, BGR (boy-girl relationships), traffic conditions, online gaming, government scholars, wedding banquets, and of course, a token sonnet written entirely in Singlish just to satisfy readers’ expectation.


For those who are not local, fret not! Ip has kindly provided notes on the Singlish or colloquial terms he has used in his work.



Sonnets from the Singlish (call no. is PL5150 Ip.S 2012) is available at the Central Library at the main shelf and the Singapore-Malaysia collection.


Raven Sim

ELL Resource Librarian

NUS Libraries 110C team

Hashtags, Selfies, and Emoticons

Education has always been position as a cognitive enterprise, focusing on intellectual development and knowledge-production. This is especially so in the context of Singapore, where education is positioned as being paramount to producing human resources to drive the economy. Thus, it is unsurprising that with the focus on what is in the ‘mind’ in the realm of education, the function of the body and bodily sensations are often neglected. However, much as we are ‘minding’ education, most of us are also ‘feeling’ it in many ways. If you are to reflect on your memories of your first day of school, of making friends, and of studying really hard for your exams- these are experiences that are very emotionally situated.


Thus, this project is very much about emplacing ‘feelings’ in the middle of education. But how does one ‘do’ something as fleeting and as elusive as emotions? While scrolling through the ‘popular/suggested feed’ on the social media application, Instagram one day, I realised that secondary school students are uploading photos documenting their schooling and social lives on the app. I also discovered that it is not uncommon for each of their pictures to receive more than a hundred ‘likes’. Looking at their pictures, I was inspired to use Instagram as a platform to conduct a collaborative project so as to understand their schooling lives better.


Participatory and collaborative work is not something new, especially in the realm of social sciences or developmental studies. In particular, participatory research using images, such as inviting participants to draw pictures, or maps, or even taking photos are common methodologies so as to spread out the ownership of the research to encompass both research participants and the researcher. My methodology builds on these existing work by seeking to dismantle the power-relations between myself and the students. Furthermore, Instagram is also more cost-effective than traditional methods (without having to buy and distribute cameras to the students), and allows the students a greater sense of control because they are using something they already know.


This exhibition is a provisional attempt to showcase some of the pictures submitted by the students, with cost and technical challenges. All of us had fun thinking, photographing, curating, and discussing about the photos. I hope you will too!


Hashtags, Selfies, and Emoticons-2 edit


For feedback regarding the showcase, please contact Clara at: ang.clara@nus.edu.sg

Session on Patent Searching: Learn Effective Skills

On 12 September 2014, the NUS Libraries Patent Team organized a patent tutorial jointly with the NUS Industrial Liaison Office (ILO). When the tutorial was announced on 2 September 2014, the class was fully registered within a very short time with a full waitlist! So here is a recap on what happened during the session for those that could not attend.


Mr Tan Kok Yong from ILO started the ball rolling with a brief introduction to patents and an overview on patent filing in NUS. Then the NUS Libraries Patent Team took over, where topics like how to read patent documents and introduction to patent classification were covered. We then proceeded with some hands-on training using the Patsnap database and also gave some practical tips on using the analyse patents function, finding other patents using cited references, saving search strategies and setting up alerts. In total, there were 31 participants for the tutorial, with an equal mix of NUS staff and students in attendance.




For those of you who missed the session, the presentation slides are available on our NUS Libraries Patent Libguide (http://libguides.nus.edu.sg/patents). Just click the section on “Guides, Tutorials, etc.” and look for:


You can also check out our list of patent related resources, available in either our NUS-subscribed databases or free online resources.


Also, do look out for more of such training sessions next year where you can embark on your patent-searching journey as well!


Loh Mee Lan

Medical Library’s 24 Hour Reading Area

All belongings and users have to be cleared 15 minutes before the library closes

The 24/7 Reading Area in the Medical Library is a place for students to study through the night.

Frequent late night users of the Medical Library are probably all aware that users and belongings have to cleared from the Medical Library before re-entering the 24 hour Reading Area via the card access side door.

We understand that it causes some inconvenience but it is necessary for smooth closing operations of the library and for the safety of your possessions.

The 15 minutes transition period is the time when the library staff check all areas prior to closing to make sure everyone is safely out of the library. Belongings are cleared to deter thefts as such incidents have happened in the past. We also want to prevent hogging of desks during stressful exam times when everyone is looking for a quiet place to study!!

Most of our library users are happy to comply and for that we thank you. However, some students leave their stuff unattended which our staff have to lug downstairs to deposit it with the security guards. We do this out of goodwill so please spare a thought for our staff!



The Library opening times varies during term and vacation and is displayed on our website and at the entrance to the Library. The closing announcement also clearly mentions that all our users have to take their belongings with them when they leave the library. Notices have also been put up to remind students who may leave the library earlier to grab a bite but leave their bags, books and laptops behind!

Once again, we thank you for your understanding and co-operation.

Medical Library

The oldest Japanese Bible

The oldest Japanese Bible Yohane no fukuin den (约翰福音之传, John Gospel) was translated by the British missionaries Karl Friedrich August Gützlaff (1803 -1851)between 1835-1836. He did the translation with the assistance of three Japanese sailors, namely Iwakichi, Hisakichi & Otokichi . The translation work was completed in Macau and was published in Singapore by the Mission Press in 1837.


Besides Yohane no fukuin den , Gützlaff also translated Yohane jo chu ge sho (约翰福音上中下书, Letters by John).  Both books were published in Singapore in 1837.  It is said that 1690 copies of Yohane no fukuin den were printed then, but there are only 16 copies extant to date.  On the other hand, 2 copies of Yohane jo chu ge sho remain extant, one of which is kept in the British Library collection, while the other is in Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.


The title Gyutsurafu yaku seisho (ギュツラフ訳聖書, Gützlaff translated Bible) is currently kept in the NUS Chinese Library Rare Book Collection. The title consists of 3 volumes which are Yohane no fukuin den, Yohane jo chu ge sho and commentary by Takaya Michio and Akiyama Norie.  This set was published as a limited edition (limited to 300 sets) by Tokyo Shinban Shuppansha in 1976.

CommentaryJohn GospelLetters by John

Celebrating Open Access Week — Harnessing, Transforming and Influencing Your Works through ScholarBank@NUS

20 October 2014 marks the first day of the 7th International Open Access Week, an event commemorating the freedom of sharing scholarly research and facilitating knowledge creation from most copyright and licensing restrictions.


What is Open Access?

Open Access literature comprises scholarly material that is available online, free of charge, and allows mostly unrestricted usage.


open access


Routes of Open Access

There are two common ways of achieving Open Access — Gold Open Access or Green Open Access. NUS Libraries supports Green Open Access which involves depositing your works in repositories.

  • Such repositories could be institutionally-based, or they could be for specific disciplines. Some examples are SSRN for Social Science, arXiv for Math and Science, and PubMed for Health and Medicine.
  • There are also research-based social networks, e.g., ResearchGate and Academia.edu  that function like social media channels for scholars and researchers to share and discuss their works.


Why Open Access?

  • Open Access publications are a boon because we would not need to pay to read them.
  • If you are a scholar or researcher, open access provides a viable alternative to the traditional method of placing your works with publishers, and surrendering your copyright ownership to the publisher in the process.
  • Open Access articles assigned with creative common licenses allow you to control how others can use your works.


Open Access and ScholarBank@NUS

In conjunction with Open Access Week, NUS Libraries officially launched its Scholarly Communication Website which features information about Open Access and our institutional repository, ScholarBank@NUS.

ScholarBank@NUS houses the university’s scholarly output comprising journal articles, conference papers, patented works, as well as student theses. It provides open access to scholarly publications, and preserves the institution’s works for future generations.


As an NUS researcher, why else should you deposit your works at ScholarBank@NUS?

 1. ScholarBank@NUS increases your visibility through different channels, including FindMore@NUSL and Google Scholar.

  • Articles deposited in institutional repositories would appear in Google Scholar, as the repositories’ platform providers are constantly working with the latter to optimize indexing compatibility.
  • Therefore, by depositing your works in ScholarBank@NUS, you are also increasing the probability of your works being cited.


2. ScholarBank@NUS has a global outreach; between September 2013 and August 2014, the top 10 countries, such as China, India, the US, UK and the Netherlands, contributed to 870,214 (78.1%) of the 1,113,865 total page views.


3. ScholarBank@NUS is an institutional repository; therefore, it provides a stable and secured archive to host your works, thereby ensuring they are in permanent storage and easily retrieved.


As a supporter of Open Access, NUS Libraries is committed to partner and support you as the researcher in your scholarly communication endeavors. Join us in celebration of Open Access Week by submitting your works in ScholarBank@NUS!

Need more information on submitting your works in ScholarBank@NUS? Email us at scholarbank@nus.edu.sg


By Raven Sim and Chew Shu Wen

NUSL Scholarly Communication Promotion & Publishing Advisory

Amazing day at Hon Sui Sen Memorial Library

2nd Aug 2014 turned out to be a pretty unforgettable day for us in Hon Sui Sen Memorial Library.

We wished everyone could be there to share in this unique experience. We, the librarians at Hon Sui Sen Memorial Library (HSSML), had the opportunity to participate in an AMAZING RACE with over 600 new Business School students!

Here are some amazing pictures from that special day.


1(Picture 1: students thinking of a good strategy for the game)


(Picture 2: students rushing to get their answers)


The Amazing Race was organized by HSSML and NUS Bizad Club to welcome new Business students. The rules were simple: every group of students received a few questions which they had to answer by searching in the library. The first group to have all the correct answers wins!



(Picture 3: Intense search for answers in the Periodical Section)


After the group got all the correct answers, they then performed a cheer for Kah Wei (our librarian who acted as Assistant Station Master). The group could only proceed to the next station when Kah Wei was satisfied with the cheer! She would not let them leave nor would they get any bonus points if she was not satisfied with their cheers for her.



(Picture 4: students thinking of a Hokkien song to sing to Kah Wei)


A big thank you to all the enthusiastic participants of the Amazing Race and also for bringing so much fun and joy to HSSML on that day!

We wish you all the best in your studies and hope to see you in the Library again soon!




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