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Singapore

Bukit Brown Cemetery

One of the largest Chinese cemeteries outside of China spent years overgrown and forgotten. 

While exact numbers are not available, an estimated 100,000 people lie buried within the 0.86 square kilometers (212 acres) that comprise Bukit Brown Cemetery. However, final resting places are not so final in this crowded city-state, and now this unique cemetery set aside for Singapore’s Chinese residents faces disruption to meet the relentless demands of development.

Originally owned by private Chinese clans for burials, the site became an official municipal cemetery in 1922. However, the new plots sat dormant for months despite the pressing need for burial grounds, as the Europeans that laid out the cemetery did not take into account the feng shui requirements of Chinese burial plots and thus had to re-plot much of the land.

As several million Chinese migrants either passed through or settled in Singapore, Bukit Brown Cemetery is a significant feature of the city’s cultural history. Many famous Singaporeans (of all classes and statuses) are buried there, drawing from very diverse origins including Hokkien, Hainanese, Cantonese, Hakka, and Teochew. The tombs range from the tiny to the impressively grand. Beautiful, unique Peranakan tiles adorn many of the graves, attracting attention and study from ceramic experts from around the world.

Laying largely dormant since 1973, Bukit Brown Cemetery has become overgrown and forgotten. Now that construction of an eight-lane highway promises to necessitate the exhumation and relocation of thousands of bodies, efforts are underway to plot and record all of the cemetery’s residents. This is, however, a difficult task, as documentation is very limited, and new tombs are still being discovered. The Friends of Bukit Brown (aka the “Brownies”) are working hard to raise awareness about this precious cultural heritage site.

Know Before You Go

Bukit Brown MRT Station is easy to get to. Wear pants if you want to explore; the bulk of the place is untended, overgrown grounds. Wear sunscreen and bug spray and bring lots of water.