Wooden beam sculpture from Chui Eng Si E (Chui Eng Free School)

This carved wooden figure used to stand on a beam at Chui Eng Si E (萃英书院), also known as Chui Eng Free School or the Chinese Free School, at Amoy Street. Chui Eng Si E was founded in 1854 by Tan Kim Seng as a free Chinese school to increase literacy among the Chinese. Such wooden figures were purely ornamental and were common in Minnan (Hokkien) architecture. The carved wooden figures usually feature men with distinctively non-Chinese facial features and were thought to commemorate the efforts of the non-native workmen in China during the Tang dynasty.Towards the end of the 19th century, Chinese education was provided mainly by traditional private schools such as Chui Eng Si E. They were known as ‘sishu’ 私塾, and the education curriculum centered on the teaching of Confucian texts and classics. The classes were conducted by scholars from China and held in venues such as clan associations, ancestral halls and temples.