The Chinese High School was the first high school in South-east Asia to cater to different Chinese dialect groups. After Singapore's independence, it has come under the purview of the Ministry of Education and was accorded the Special Assistance Plan status in 1979. It has the unique distinction of having Independent School status in 1988, a scheme that the Ministry of Education perceived had proven successful and was extended to other top schools in Singapore. This premier school remains as one of the top schools in Singapore, both in terms of academic achievement as well as extracurricular activities.
After the founding of the school, the school offered comprehensive secondary-level Chinese education. It remained funded and supported by Tan Kah Kee until just shortly before World War II. The school was closed temporarily in February 1933 because of the resignation of all the teachers. Later in February 1934, it was reopened with a new principal and staff. In 1934, Lee Kong Chian, whose father-in-law was Tan Kah Kee, became the chairperson of school's board, a post he held until 1957. During his tenure, the school attempted to close several times due to financial difficulties, but did not do so because of the backing of both Lee Kong Chian and Tan Kah Kee.
During the Battle of Singapore, the school clock tower with its height and vantage point first served as headquarters for the Allied defenders and then as headquarters for the Imperial Japanese Army. It also served as a temporary concentration camp to hold people for examination during the Sook Ching massacre.
After the war, with education resumed, the school continued its Chinese-dominated education, and in the 1950s and 1960s during periods of civil unrest many students, teachers and alumni took part or led anti-colonial rule riots.
The arrival of Tooh Fee San, the principal from 1979 to 1999, was a major turning point for the school. He undertook the responsibility of making the school one of the best in the nation. Steps were taken to improve the school's facilities. In 1987, The Chinese High School became an independent school. As an independent school, the school introduced many groundbreaking changes that were unprecedented in Singapore, such as the abolition of mid-year examinations in favour of camping trips for the entire school, and the introduction of numerous enrichment programmes such as Projects' Day.
In the early 1990s, the school underwent an extensive renovation, which saw the building of a new hall, now called Kah Kee Hall (嘉庚堂), a gymnasium, a renovated tower block and also new classrooms.
In the late 1990s, The Chinese High School embarked on a consortium scheme (a "school within a school" concept), in its continuous effort to improve the quality of education provided to its students. It started with the Quest consortium, and Aphelion; ProEd and Radix soon followed. iSpark was set up in 2000 for GEP students and exceptional students from the other consortia. In 2002 Quest and Radix merged to form Ortus.
On 19 March 1999, the school's clock tower was gazetted as a national monument, to mark the significance of the institution as the first Chinese-medium secondary school to be built in Southeast Asia catering to the Overseas Chinese. During the school's 80th anniversary celebrations, renowned artist and old-boy Tan Swie Hian presented the school with a giant sculpture of a heavenly horse (天下之马). The opening of the school's heritage centre was officiated by alumnus and former President of Singapore, Ong Teng Cheong.
The recent years have seen the school's reputation growing from strength to strength. In 2000, the then United States Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, visited the school. The world-famous psychologist, Edward de Bono has also hailed the school as "the Eton of the far East."
The Chinese High School merged with Hwa Chong Junior College on 1 January 2005 to become Hwa Chong Institution to offer a six-year Integrated Programme from Secondary 1 to JC 2. The program will allow students to skip the GCE 'O' Levels and directly take the GCE 'A' Levels examinations at the end of their six years in the school, thus allowing them much more time to embark on various educational endeavours that will benefit them.
Another song which is sung during the weekly assembly is Lets' Be (华中行). Both the Chinese and English versions are sung.
The school also has the distinction of being the school in Singapore that first initiated the Integrated Programme. It is the current high school division in the newly formed Hwa Chong Institution that was formed under the Integrated Programme. The college section of Hwa Chong Institution is Hwa Chong Junior College, which is a sister institution with an equally impressive pedigree.
Amongst its achievements, the school is famed for its dominance in the Singapore National Interschool Librarian Championships (it has lost less than 10 times within its 86 year history), and it is also credited with many first-time achievements, such as the formation of the Integrated Programme.
Its large area of 79 acres (320,000 m²) makes it one of the largest high schools in Singapore and South East Asia. Other institutions which sit on its grounds include Hwa Chong Junior College, as well as Singapore Institute of Management, which has a 99-year leasehold of part of the school's compound since 1989.
Famous alumni include:
Famous teachers and staff include: