Built around the 1910s, the three-storey art deco shop at the corner of South Bridge Road and Mosque Street consists of six different styles-conversed shophouses. The shophouses were re-numbered in 1930 and given their current unit numbers (202, 204, 206, 208, 210 and 212).
Amongst them is 212 South Bridge Road (formerly 172 South Bridge Road), which housed Singapore’s first Chinese bookstore, The Commercial Press. Chinese schools in Singapore and Malaya began to flourish after the establishment of the Republic of China in 1911. Although based in China, The Commercial Press was quick to notice the demand for updated textbooks in Southeast Asia. Singapore was chosen as the first stop in their overseas expansion.
In 1912, The Commercial Press engaged Cao Wan Feng National Products Company as its local distributor — to test the market’s reception of its products. Besides publications of The Commercial Press, the distributor also carried publications from other bookstores, and was one of the two distributors in Nanyang for the Chinese ideological magazine, La Jeunesse.
To meet the increasing demand for new local textbooks, The Commercial Press decided to set up its first overseas outlet in 1915. It opened on 27 March 1916, according to a notice published in the Cheng Nam Jit Poh newspaper (振南日报), and distributed many textbooks from China. It came to be known as one of the ‘big four’ Chinese booksellers, together with The Shanghai Book Company, The World Book Company, and Chung Hwa Book Company.
The Commercial Press and Chung Hwa Book Company were arch rivals, as both made their profits from the sale of textbooks. The two companies would compete to make all the necessary arrangements for teachers from China to secure teaching posts in Singapore. All these arrangements were made in the hope that these teachers would use their specific textbooks when they began teaching.
As clanship was very strong at the time, immigrants tended to visit the specific bookshop managed by their compatriots. The staff of The Commercial Press and Chung Hwa Bookshop were from the Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces, respectively.
To consolidate textbook publishing, The Commercial Press merged with Chung Hwa Book Company in 1957 and became the Singapore Educational Suppliers Company. The last physical storefront of The Commercial Press closed its doors in 2012, but it continues to operate online. Recognising this building’s deep history, it was given conservation status as part of the Chinatown Kreta Ayer Historic District, which was gazetted for conservation on 7 July 1989.
This is a conserved building(s) by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), please visit URA’s Conservation Portal for more details.
Buildings and sites featured on Roots.SG are part of our efforts to raise awareness of our heritage; a listing on Roots.SG does not imply any form of preservation or conservation status, unless it is mentioned in the article. The information in this article is valid as of May 2019 and is not intended to be an exhaustive history of the site/building.