Chinese Advisory Board
C/o. Chinese Secretariat
29. 5. 1954
The Chinese Section of the Singapore Council for Women wish to bring the following matters to your notice, according to the Chinese customs the treatment given to concubines and mistresses is very unjust. The practice prevalent in the Colony to-day whereby these concubines and mistresses call themselves wives leads inevitably to the breaking-up of homes and to cruelty towards the legal wives and children. Ultimately the injustice and cruelty involve the husband himself, his legal wife, his children and his mistresses.
For this reason the Chinese section of the Council are willing to co-operate with the Board to study together the present situation with a view to finding a practical solution to these problems. No marriage law has been laid down for the Chinese people either in Malaya or Hongkong since they came under British rule. Marriages have been contracted by what are said to be our customs, and legal disputes have all quoted the "Six widows case" which decided a question of inheritance but not what constituted a valid Chinese marriage. Subsequently the decision that the concubines involved in that case has misled many women into thinking themselves legal wives.
We therefore urge and request you to furnish us with a clear statement of your interpretation of Chinese Marriage Customs so that we may publish for our members a memorandum setting out what the Chinese Advisory Board will or will not acknowledge as a legal Chinese marriage. We have further to inform you that we shall be at all times ready and willing to meet you and discuss with you any points about which there may be a divergence of opinion. In order to have peace and happiness in these countries it is our duty to see that people live a good life. A Nation is built up of individuals. The Chinese saying is:
This is the only way to achieve world peace
Mrs. George Lee
Chinese Advisory Board.,
c/o Chinese Affairs Office,
Havelock Road, Singapore., 1.
6th May, 1959.
Mrs. Shirin Fozdar,
Singapore Council of Women,
We refer to the various letters that you have sent to us ending with your letter of the 20th November, 1958.
2. The term of reference of our reconstituted Chinese Advisory Board is "to advise the Chief Secretary on matters concerning Chinese tradition and custom in the Colony".The Highest Court of the Commonwealth, e.g. the Privy Council has judicially decided all along that non Christian Chinese are polygamous and the decision was based on Chinese custom and tradition going back over thousands of years.
3. Strictly speaking, according to Chinese custom and tradition there is only one principal wife to one man known as "Chai". All subsequent secondary wives are really in the position of concubines and are referred to as "Chips".
4. According to Chinese custom and tradition, there is a great difference between a "Chai" and a "Chip", but this is not recognised by the Courts. All?Chinese wives whether "Chai" or "Chip" are given equal status by the Court.
5. In the interest of the women, it would be preferable that mistresses or concubines should be protected as secondary wives and not to be left or deserted after their first bloom of youth and be thrown into the streets.
6. We have.for non Christians the Civil Marriage Ordinance which became law on the 1st January, 1941. The Civil Marriage Ordinance affords ample protection for any woman in a non Christian marriage to prevent her husband from contracting a subsequent secondary marriage or marriages. If the man commits a breach of the provisions of' the Civil Marriage Ordinance by taking second "wife", he is liable to imprisonment as a bigamist and no other union between the man and any other woman will be recognised by the law. Further, it is also provided that any woman contracting or purporting to contract a secondary marriage after her marriage under the Civil Marriage Ordinance will be liable to prosecution as a bigamist and her second marriage shall be invalid. We assume that you are well versed with this branch of the law.
7. In passing, our Chinese Advisory Board considers that the custom of child marriages is much more pernicious and vicious and that this problem deserves the more urgent attention of your Council of Women than plurality of marriage.
LEE WEE NAM
Chinese Advisory Board
Last modified: 25 April 2001