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In nineteenth-century Singapore, the Straits Chinese dominated Chinese economy and society. Such prominent leaders as Tan Tock Seng, Tan Kim Seng, Tan Kim Ching, Seah Liang Seah, Cheong Hong Lim, and Chinese community as a whole. All were wealthy business men who had earned the respect of the British authorities for their wealth, their command of English, and their political loyalty. They helped the British Government maintain law and order and promote social harmony. Seah Liang Seah and Tan Jiak Kim, who served as unofficial members of the Legislative Council of the Straits Settlements, were eloquent and outspoken, freely airing the grievances of the people and urging the government to amend unfavourable legislation. Other Straits Chinese leaders were appointed as Chinese municipal commissioners and members of the Chinese Advisory Board.

At the turn of the century, a group of new Straits Chinese leaders became prominent in Singapore, among them Lim Boon Keng, Song Ong Siang, and Wong Siew Qui. By this time the conditions and qualities for leadership had changed, and the new group included professional men who had received university education and were distinguished in the fields of medicine and law.

In 1900 Tan Jiak Kim, Seah Liang Seah, Lim Boon Keng, and Song Ong Siang founded the Straits Chinese British Association. The main purposes of the Association were to unite the Straits Chinese elites, to promote Straits Chinese interests in the British colony, and to show loyalty to the British Crown and Empire. The formation of the Association was welcomed by the British authorities, and from the very beginning it was successful, attracting some 800 members, mostly Chinese professionals and business men.

Generally speaking, the Straits Chinese professed political loyalty to the British Crown and not to China. They considered themselves British subjects and were resentful of the principle of jus sanguinis adopted by the Chinese Government, which determined nationality by descent rather than place of birth. The Straits Chinese were prepared to abandon their Chinese nationality; most of them had no intention of going back to China and considered themselves natives of the country. Their political loyalty can be substantiated by the following facts. In 1900, a Straits Chinese appealed for a contingent of Straits Chinese to serve the British troops in fighting against the Boxers and the Manchus. During the First World War, the Straits Chinese in Malaya donated war-planes to fight against the Germans. At the outbreak of the Second World War, a large number of the Straits Chinese in Singapore again showed loyalty to the local government by registering themselves as volunteers to protect Malaya from Japanese invasion.

However, a closer examination shows that a handful of Straits Chinese had a triple loyalty to Britain, China, and Singapore. A number of instances illustrate the involvement of Straits Chinese in China’s affairs. Wee Theam Tew, a graduate of Raffles Institution and later a solicitor, went to China in 1904 and served as the secretary of Prince Su, the military governor of Peking and Minister to the Emperor. Chan Kim Boon, a Penang-born Straits Chinese educated at the Penang Free School, served as an assistant tutor in mathematics at the Foochow Dockyard. Dr Wu Lian The, another Penang-born Straits Chinese, went to China in 1908 and became internationally known for his efforts to end the disastrous plagues in 1910-11.

Some Straits Chinese became involved in the reformist and revolutionary movements in Singapore. As pointed out before, Lim Boon Keng was a staunch supporter of the reformist movement and among the original principal officials of the KMT Singapore branch in 1913, Tan Chay Yan, Lim Boon Keng,Tan Boo Liat and Yin Hsueh Chun can be identified as Straits Chinese. However, Straits Chinese participation in China’s politics was limited. The Straits Chinese seemed apathetic with regard to China’s politics, probably owing to the political instability in China after the death in 1916 of President Yuan Shih-kai. In the 1920s and 1930s,the Straits Chinese became increasingly involved in local politics.

Beginning in the 1920s, the Straits Chinese British Association demanded greater involvement in the Straits Settlements Legislative Council. The proposal for reforming the Legislative Council was first made in 1920 by a Select Committee which recommended an increase of new ‘unofficial’ members (i.e. members who were not government officials) and the creation of an unofficial majority. The Government accepted the first proposal but rejected the second. This decision did not satisfy the leaders of the Association, and they continued to press for implementation of the committee’s recommendation in the following years. In 1924, and appeal was made by Song Ong Siang, one of the stalwarts of the Association, who spoke in the Legislative Council for the right to elect the Association’s own representatives to the council. The same request appeared in a 193 petition submitted to Sir Samuel Wilson, Permanent Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, by the three associations in Singapore, Malacca and Penang. These demands were to a certain extent accepted by the British Government.

Tan Cheng Lock, President of the Straits Chinese British Association (Malacca), played an active role in the struggle for greater involvement in the Straits Settlements Legislative Council. Tan served as a Legislative Councillor from 1923 to 1934 and as an Executive Councillor from 1933 to 1937. In 1926 he criticized the Government for failing to implement the Select Committee’s proposal for an unofficial majority, and throughout the 1930s fought for increased Chinese representation in the Legislative and Executive Councils. He was also a vocal critic of the decentralization policy initiated by Laurence Guillemard in the 1920s with the ultimate aim of creating a ‘brotherhood of Malay Nationals’. Though supporting the policy in principle, Tan expressed doubts as to the proposed means of achieving that end, and argued forcefully in the Legislative Council for adequate representation of Chinese, Malays and Indians.

The Straits Chinese British Association also fought for extensive participation in the Malayan Civil Service. According to the traditional rules, high-ranking positions within the British administration were confined to natural-born British subjects of pure European descent on both sides. In this struggle Tan Cheng Lock again played a leading role. The exclusion of non-Europeans, he argued, violated the injunction contained in Queen Victoria’s 1858 Proclamation which decreed that subjects of whatever race or creed who had the necessary educational qualifications should be freely and impartially admitted as officers in the Queen’s Service. Exclusion meant that Asians could not participate in the government and administration of their own country.

The Straits Chinese British Association’s quest eventually met with success. The Government created the Straits Civil Service in 1934 and the Straits Legal Service in 1937 which provided non-European British subjects with better chances to become senior civil servants. However, the political clamour mentioned above represented only a minority view. As Turnbull rightly points out, most Asians seemed content with the existing opportunities to participate in Singapore public life in the 1930s.

The political turning points for the Straits Chinese as a group – and for the Straits Chinese British Association came with the Occupation, and then with 1959. The Occupation temporarily ruptured British influence, and did permanent damage to British prestige. It saw Straits Chinese doubly distrusted by the Japanese, as Chinese, and often as English-speaking too. It also unleashed a new sort of politics, one in which links to the larger Indian, and then the mass Chinese-speaking population, would count for more than English-language skills, wealth and a long record of Empire or ‘Straits’ loyalty. There was no room, in the new, fully elected Legislative Assembly, for the old system where key groups – through influence with the colonial power –had members appointed to committtees on that basis. A new era brought with it new questions. How would Straits Chinese fare as individuals in a political game which had completely new rules, and parties? And how would Straits Chinese culture fare, whether as an independent, organic, and evolving entity, or as an influence on wider Singapore culture and society?


Tan Tock Seng was born in Malacca in 1798. He was the third son of an immigrant from Fujian province in China. As a young man full of entrepreneurial drive but no worldly goods, Tan Tock Seng ventured to Singapore to start a small roadside business. He would buy fruits, vegetables and fowl from the countryside and hawk the fresh food in the City. Hardworking and thrifty, he saved up enough money to open a shop in Boat Quay and proved to be a fine businessman. It was likely that he spoke English and he made his fortune when he entered into some speculation with an English friend, Mr J.H. Whitehead. When Mr Whitehead died in 1846 at age 36, he was buried at Fort Canning and a tombstone was set up bearing this inscription: "... as a token of affection on the part of a Chinese friend, Tan Tock Seng."

He owned large tracts of prime land, including 50 acres at the site of the railway station and another plot stretching from the Padang up to High Street and Tank Road. Other assets were a block of shophouses, an orchard and a nutmeg plantation which he co- owned with a brother. In time, he became an influential Chinese leader and was the first Asian to be made a Justice of the Peace by the Governor. He was skilful at settling feuds among the Chinese.He was known for his generosity and his most famous gesture was the gift of $5,000 to build the Tan Tock Seng Hospital in 1844. But he also gave widely to other charitable causes, for example, the burial of destitute Chinese, as a proper funeral was important for the Chinese, rich or poor.

He was also one of the founders of Singapore's oldest temple, the Thian Hock Keng at Telok Ayer. This became the centre of worship for the Fujian Chinese. Mr Tan died in 1850 at age 52. An obituary in the Singapore Free Press described him as one of Singapore's "earliest settlers as well as most wealthy inhabitants." The paper also praised his contribution as a J.P.: "Much of his time was engrossed in acting as arbitrator in disputes between his countrymen, and many a case which would otherwise have afforded a rich harvest to the lawyers, was through his intervention and mediation nipped in the bud." He left behind his widow Lee Seo Neo, who owned a large coconut estate in Geylang. Like him, she was unstinting in her support of the hospital and paid for a female ward. He also left behind three daughters, who were each bequeathed $36,000 in cash. His three sons, including his eldest Tan Kim Ching, inherited his land parcels.


The ancestral home of the descendants of Tan Kim Seng (1805-1864) in Malacca is now a hotel. He was a third generation Straits Chinese born in Malacca. His grandfather migrated to Malacca in the 18th century from Eng Choon Village in the district of Fujian Province, China. He became a very successful businessman in Malacca. When Singapore was founded in 1819 by Stamford Raffles, he moved to Singapore. Growing even richer in Singapore, he contributed generously to society. He built Kim Seng Bridge to facilitate people crossing the Singapore River. He was the first to donate 880 Straits Dollars towards a fund for the establishment of the first Chinese school in Singapore called Chong Wen Ge in Telok Ayer Street. The building still stands today adjoining Thian Hock Keng Temple, the oldest temple in Singapore. In 1854, he donated $13,000 to the British Government for the construction of the first reservoir and the introduction of pipe water to Singapore. The Kim Seng Fountain in Elizabeth Walk was built in commemoration of this contribution.

Tan Kim Seng never forgot his place of birth, Malacca. His contributions to Malacca were equally significant. The Malacca Kim Seng Bridge and Kim Seng Clock Tower are but just some of his legacies.The ancestral home was rebuilt by Tan Kim Seng's grandson, Tan Jiak Choo at a cost of 14,000 Straits Settlement Dollars in1876. The house sits on a piece of land which has in its possession the original Dutch title dating back to 28.4.1819. It is located in one of the oldest streets in Malacca called Heeren Street by the Dutch and known as Holland Street to the Chinese till this day. It was also nicknamed Millionaires' Row as most of the Chinese millionaires of the pioneering period lived on this street. After Malaysia's independence, the street was renamed Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock in memory of the Founder of the Malaysian Chinese Association now a component party of the ruling United Front, and also for the important role he played towards the achievement of Malaysia's independence. His son Tun Tan Siew Sin was the Finance Minister for Malaysia for 15 years. Their ancestral home remains at No 111. Several of the other millionaires' ancestral homes have been refurbished by their wealthy descendants and still remain today along this same street.


Called the 'sage of Singapore' upon his death, Lim Boon Keng bridged the British and Chinese worlds in a way no Singaporean had done before. His grandfather was a China-born Hokkien who arrived in Penang in 1839 and subsequently settled in Singapore. Both his grandmother, father and mother were Peranakan the one hailing from Penang, the other from Malacca. Both his grandfather and father earned their living managing the spirit and opium farms of Cheang Hong Lim, whom the British recognized as a leader of the Hokkien community. Lim was educated first at a Hokkien clan temple and then at a government school in Cross Street. Promoted to Raffles Institution, he excelled in his studies, becoming the first Chinese to be awarded the Queen's Scholarship in 1887. At the University of Edinburgh he won a First Class Honours degree in medicine.

At Edinburgh he was not accepted as Chinese among fellow students from China and was piqued by his inability to translate a Chinese scroll presented by a lecturer. Upon returning to Singapore in 1893, he started to learn Mandarin and Cantonese and to read Chinese literature. English, however, remained the strongest language - as was evidenced by his reliance on an interpreter when he gave a speech at Amoy University in 1926. His private medical practice at Telok Ayer Street established his reputation among Chinese and oriented him towards social reform. He maintained a private hospital for prostitutes and co-founded the Anti-Opium Society in 1906. He raised funds for the founding of the King Edward VII Medical School in 1905. A man of many parts, he was also active in business, particularly the rubber industry, shipping and banking. That he was one of the founders of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce, a body in which China took much interest, demonstrated his acceptance by the China-born community.

At the same time, he served as an adviser to the British in such institutions as the Legislative Council and the Chinese Advisory Board, professing allegiance to the colonial masters on occasions such as the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations in 1897, when he made a statement assuring them 'that to no other of Her Majesty's subjects will the Chinese of Singapore yield in loyalty and adhesion to Her Majesty.' He attended the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 and that of King George V in 1911. During World War I he raised support among Straits Chinese for the Prince of Wales Relief Fund and also contributions towards the purchase of war planes. In recognition of his 'good work on behalf of war charities,' he was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1918.

Lim co-founded the Straits Chinese British Association in 1900 and was twice elected president in the first two decades of its existence. He also founded the Chinese Philomathic Society, a Baba association devoted to the study of English literature, Western music and the Chinese language. He led the Straits Chinese Reform movement at the turn of the century and campaigned for the removal of the queue (pigtail) and against superstitious practices in Chinese folk-religious life. His promotion of education did not stop at the founding of the Singapore Chinese Girls' School; he urged the use of Chinese as a medium of instruction for Chinese children, and started Mandarin classes for Straits Chinese at his home. Between 1894 and 1911 he led the Confucian revival in Singapore and Malaya. A member of the anti-Manchu Tongmeng Hui, the predecessor of the Kuomintang, he became president of the Singapore branch of the latter party in 1913.

Tan Kah Kee praised him as one 'who was well-versed in Western materialistic sciences and Chinese cultural spirit.' At Tan's request, Lim became vice-chancellor of Amoy University in 1921-37, even though this was at the expenseof his medical practice and business interests in Singapore. The university benefited from the funds he raised on its behalf from wealthy Chinese in Singapore, Malaya and Indonesia; from the medical school he set up and his efforts to make English a second language. But his sympathy for Confucianism and the use of Classical Chinese did not go down well with the students, on whom the anti-traditionalism of the May Fourth Movement had had a decided influence. Only in retrospect, perhaps, would they see him not as an anachronism but as a modernizer in his own way.

Back in Singapore he was to suffer at the hands of the Japanese army of occupation, which, to pressure him into working for it, made his wife kneel under the scorching tropical sun for hours at a stretch in addition to bearing other hardships. Lim maintained his interest in the promotion of Chinese culture after the war, becoming the first president of the China Society in 1949 and remaining its patron until his death in 1957.Dr Lim Boon Keng was born in 1869. He went to Edinburgh to study medicine and returned in 1893. His first wife,which he married at a Presbyterian Church in 1896, gave him four sons but died early in 1905. In 1908, he remarried and he had another son and daughter.

At around this time, he also became the director of companies producing rubber and tin which the British used in the World War 1. In 1912, he was a founding member of the Kuomintang, Singapore Branch. In 1918, he was awarded the Order of British Empire for his services to the crown. When the war came in 1942, he was already an old man of 73,however, he was forced to be the chairman of the Overseas Chinese Association. He lived through these hard times and he died in 1957 at the advanced age of 89 .

He was a member of the Legislative Council between 1895 and 1902. He helped voice baba concerns. He was also the main spokesman for the Baba reform group. In 1896, he headed a Commission of Enquiry into the sources of poverty in Singapore. He was also the Justice of Peace and also a member of the Chinese Advisory Board. In 1897, he founded the Philomatic Society and also helped publish the first ` Straits Chinese Magazine ` . He was against the wearing of the pigtail. In 1899, he founded the first English medium school for Chinese girls, the Singapore Chinese Girls' School which he and his wife taught Mandarin in. He was very against the sale of opium as he knew the bad effects which came with it.


Lim Nee Soon was born in Singapore on 12 November 1879. His father, Lim Pong Nguan came from China to Singapore around 1819 in a junk and became a trader in sundry goods in Beach Road. He married a nonya and thus his children became Peranakan. When he died, Nee Soon was 8 years old, so the child was cared for by his maternal grandfather, Teo Lee, a well-known merchant who provided the orphan with an English and Chinese education. In English, he was educated at both St Joseph's Institution and Anglo Chinese School. After leaving school, he joined timber merchants, Tan Tye and Co. Then Nee Soon switched to rubber planting and was appointed acting manager of the United Singapore Rubber Estates Ltd. becoming its first general manager. He later became its consultant and stayed for five years, having now himself become a rubber factory owner, merchant, contractor and general commissioning agent. In 1911, he founded Lim Nee Soon and Company with an office at 5 Beach Road. Lim also built a number of shophouses and dwellings at Seletar Village in the area which was eventually named after him. Nee Soon also became a "pineapple king". He is remembered for having presented pineapples to the officers and men of HMS Malaya, which dropped anchor in Singapore in World War I. Lim Nee Soon died in Shanghai on 2 March 1936.


Mr Gan Eng Seng who was from a Hokkien Peranakan family. He was born, bred and educated in Malacca and was the eldest in his family. His ancestors emigrated from Fukkien Province in China to Malaya. He had a younger brother, Gan Eng Chye and three sisters, Gin Neo, Guat Neo and Guan Neo. As he was not from a very well - to - do family, he only had an elementary school education which he learnt to read and write in English and keep accounts. He came to Singapore after his father's death when he was sixteen and went into the nutmeg business.

Later on, he was taken on as an apprentice by Messrs. Guthrie and Company. He married his first wife, Koh Chwee Neo at the age of eighteen and he adopted his first son. After a year, he was promoted to the post of Assistant storekeeper and then Chief storekeeper of the company and for 25 years, he was the Chief Compradore of the company. He died on the 9th September 1899 at the young age of 55 at his house which was then known as No. 87 Amoy Street. When he died, he left behind 5 wives, 7 sons, 5 daughters and 4 grandsons. He realised his dream in 1885 with the founding of the Anglo-Chinese Free School. He was far-sighted placing emphasis on bilingualism in the school. this school later became GAN ENG SENG SCHOOL in 1893. As a philanthropist, he was also noted for his donations to local hospital funds. He also founded a school for the children of the poor at Sam-Loh in the Fukien province of China. He died at the age of 55 in 1899.


Mr Song Ong Siang was born a Peranakan Christian in 1871. He went to Raffles Institution and studied under the Principal Mr R .W. Hewitt. He got a scholarship to read law in the Inns of Court in London and was admitted to Downing College, Cambridge and was later qualified in 1893. In 1902, he sat on the Singapore Legislative Council and in 1904, he was recorded as part owner and one of the trustees of the Anglo - Chinese Boarding School. In 1936, he was created Knight Commander of the Order Of the British Empire. It was noticed that after he was confered this title, he was known as Sir Ong Siang Song which was due to the fact that the knighthood was British and it was customary to place one's surname at the end, hence the change in the position of his surname.

Song’s own life exemplifies this trend. He was born in Singapore in 1871, and studied at the premier school in the colony, Raffles Institution. In 1888 he won a recently-introduced scholarship to study in England, and studied law first at the Middle Temple in London, and then at the University of Cambridge. He was called to the Bar in 1893, and returned to Singapore, and set up a law firm.

Song was very much part of a distinctively Straits Chinese world. He spoke and wrote both Malay and English but little, if any, Chinese. He was a devout Presbyterian, and one of his first acts upon returning to Singapore was to become president of the Straits Chinese Christian Association. Song emphasised that Straits Chinese should gain a proper place in colonial society by claiming their rights as British subjects. In an early essay in the Straits Chinese Magazine, for instance, he explored the legal status of Chinese people born in the colony of the Straits Settlements, and argued that they were British subjects, owing allegiance to the British Crown and not to Qing dynasty China through the Chinese Consulate in Singapore. Song went on to be knighted, to found the Straits Chinese British Association and a local military volunteer corps.

Song should not be thought, however, as a passive recipient of colonial propaganda. Under his and Lim's editorship, the Straits Chinese Magazine asked hard question about the contradictions of colonialism. If colonialism's purpose was to educate and uplift subject races Song emphasized European, and especially British learning as a means of modernization, Lim, while acknowledging these elements of colonial society, also looked elsewhere. Like Song, Lim had been educated at Raffles Institution, and had then gone to the United Kingdom on a scholarship. Graduating from the University of Edinburgh with a degree in medicine, he carried out research in Pathology at Camridge before returning to Singapore in 1893.


Dr Goh Keng Swee is one of Singapore's most important founding fathers. In the 25 years of government service, he served in wide-ranging ministerial appointments and helped to shape the development of this island into a prosperous nation. Dr Goh was born in Malacca on 6th October, 1918. Though he hailed from an illustrious Peranakan family, his own parents were of humbler means. He studied at Singapore's Anglo-Chinese School and Raffles College before joining the civil service. He joined the Volunteer Corps at the outbreak of the Second World War but returned to his job as a social welfare researcher after Singapore fell. During the Japanese Occupation, he married and his wife bore him a son. After the war, he won a scholarship at the London School of Economics where he graduated with first class honours and subsequently obtained his doctorate. In London, he met fellow students who were seeking independence for Malaya. These included Lee Kuan Yew and Dr Toh Chin Chye. Together, they would organize the Malayan Forum with Dr Goh as the founding chairman. However, Dr Goh's political career only formally began when he, after his return from Britain, won the 1959 elections as a People's Action Party (PAP) candidate.

When Lee Kuan Yew organised the first PAP government in 1959, the economics-trained Dr Goh was appointed Minister of Finance. Dr Goh inherited from the previous administration a budget deficit, substantial unemployment and a stagnant entrepot economy. He sought to stimulate the economy through industrialisation, transforming Jurong into an industrial estate and introducing incentives to attract foreign companies to set up plants, thus providing jobs for the unemployed. But industrialised products required a larger market, which would be available in Malaya if Singapore could merge with it. Malaya was erstwhile reluctant because Singapore's large Chinese population would upset its racial balance. In 1961, though, Malaysia's Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, acceded to merger. He wanted to curb the pro-Communists in Singapore, whom he felt were getting out of control. He also brought the British Borneo states into the merger equation to stabilise the racial balance. After a referendum, Singapore merged with Malaya and the Borneo states to form Malaysia in 1963.

However, merger presented more problems than solutions for Singapore. The market Singapore was hoping for did not materialise as the Malaysian central government wanted to protect its own industries. Furthermore, the PAP's concept of meritocracy conflicted with the Malaysian policy of conferring special rights to the indigenous Malays. These ideological differences, coupled with other factors, quickly escalated and resulted in racial riots in 1964. Eventually, the Tunku decided to separate Singapore from Malaysia. Recent historiography however suggests that Dr Goh played a more significant role in Singapore's separation than previously thought. Lee Kuan Yew revealed that Dr Goh, earlier than any other Singapore leader, recognised that the Malaysian elite wanted Singapore out. Instead of working to retain Singapore within the Federation, he accepted separation as an eventuality and went about facilitating it. Hence, Dr Goh played a crucial role in the independence of Singapore.

When Singapore became independent in 1965, it was defenceless. Dr Goh assumed the critical post of Minister of Defence and built up the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). Through National Service (NS), he mobilised the manpower to develop the SAF into a credible pillar of defence. NS, by conscripting male youths of all races and status, has also forged a greater sense of common identity among Singapore's new citizens. With defence addressed, Dr Goh moved to the education portfolio in 1979. His Goh Report had a great impact on the shaping of our education system. The Report attributed the high students' dropout to the system's failure to cater to their varying abilities. It introduced streaming to allow students of different abilities to learn at different paces. The Report also introduced religious education to inculcate strong moral foundations among the young against the decadent influences of western education. Though religious education was subsequently scrapped due to sensitivities and streaming was criticised as elitism, the Goh Report continues to serve as an important benchmark of education even till today.

Dr Goh Keng Swee in his various appointments as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, Minister of Defence and Minister of Education, has contributed significantly to the development of Singapore. Together with the Dutch Economic Advisor, Albert Winsemius, he has been credited as Singapore's social and economic architect, drawing up comprehensive blueprints for Singapore's development and success. Dr Goh Keng Swee is indeed one of the most influential founding fathers of Singapore


Modern Singapore's foremost politician. Prime Minister between 1959 and 1990. Born to a Straits Chinese Peranakan Hakka family. Educated at Raffles Institution and Raffles College. Plans to study in England halted by World War II. In 1946, he entered the London School of Economics but transferred to Cambridge and gained a 'double first' honours in 1949. Kwa Geok Choo, who was to become his wife, attended Cambridge at the same time and won first class honours in two years. In the Malayan Forum in London, he and other Raffles graduates like Goh Keng Swee and Toh Chin Chye began discussions on Malaya's future, culminating in the founding and leading of the Peoples' Action Party (PAP).

Returning in 1950 to practice law, he served as Secretary to the Straits Chinese British Association, joined law firm Laycock and Ong and campaigned for the Progressive Party in the 1951 elections. He increasingly associated himself with leftist and labour causes. In 1952, he represented postal workers, gaining substantial concessions without a strike, and then supported protests against special allowances provided to Caucasian government officers but denied to non-Caucasian with similar qualifications. His contacts with the unions also led him to defend Chinese students arrested during the 1954 riots and members of the University of Malaya Socialist Club. In 1954, together with English-educated friends, he joined leftist intellectuals and Chinese-educated labour leaders in founding the PAP and became its first Secretary-General with Toh Chin Chye as President.

The next few years saw the struggle between his group and others to control the PAP. Lee realised he needed popular support which the union and communists could mobilize. The leftists however needed Lee's group as cover. Thus, in the 1950s, he was viewed as a clandestine communist, a tool of the communists or a fool. But he and the PAP exploited the communists and far left to gain political dominance, bringing the PAP to power in 1959, with Lee as Prime Minister. Once this took place, he broke with the left, leaving his group in control of the party and the government. This was the last serious challenge to his leadership. During Singapore's two years in Malaysia, his charisma and public speeches attracted all races - he had learnt Malay, Mandarin and Tamil - but failed to dent a hold of the Alliance Party in the Peninsula. Faced with probable detention as a threat to national unity or separation from Malaysia, he chose the latter. August 1965 was a turning point. His goal of independence within Malaya was shattered and he cried publicly when describing separation.

As Prime Minister of Singapore, his popularity has grown, but the populist style has given way to a more distant style of statesmanship. Before stepping down to become Senior Minister in 1990, he had led Singapore to prosperity which few in the 1950s and 1960s thought possible. Under him, Singapore went from a turbulent colony to one of the wealthiest, most stable and productive countries in the latter half of the twentieth century


Lim Kim San was born in Singapore in 1916, the eldest son of a merchant. Lim grew up in an extended Peranakan family, in a house in the middle of a rubber estate on River Valley Road. He was first educated at the Oldham Hall School, the Anglo-Chinese Continuation School, then Anglo-Chinese School. The Great Depression was at its height when he left ACS in 1933. His hopes of going to England to pursue a Law degree failed to be realised as his father's business suffered badly and he could not afford to send his son abroad. Lim did not wish to go to Raffles College, then the only tertiary institution in Singapore, to obtain a general Arts degree. He therefore joined the workforce, finding employment at the Straits Steamship Company as a clerk. When Raffles College started its department of Economics, Lim Kim San enrolled and continued his education. It was then that he first met future Cabinet colleagues such as Goh Keng Swee and Hon Sui Sen.

Upon graduating with a diploma in Arts in 1939, Lim did not wish to be a teacher, and his results did not give him the opportunity to join the colonial civil service. So, he worked as a pump attendant for a year or two in a petrol station at Finlayson Green owned by his father. He then worked in a sago-processing factory owned by his father-in-law. This early working experience honed his business acumen and contributed to his keen judgement of character. Lim escaped to Sumatra at the start of the Japanese Occupation, but returned to Singapore a week later. He was twice arrested by the Kempeitai and tortured.

After the war, Lim focussed on business, taking over the management of his father-in-law's business and two merchant banks. In 1959, Lim was approached by Goh Keng Swee, Toh Chin Chye and Lee Kuan Yew to contest the upcoming elections on a People's Action Party ticket. Lim demurred, citing his business commitments, but he drew on his overdraft to fund the PAP campaign.

When the PAP won the elections and formed the government, Lim agreed to serve in the Public Service Commission and chair the Housing Development Board. He volunteered his service to the HDB for four years - setting policies, managing planners, architects and contractors, slashing red tape to get the public housing programme off to a quick start - all the while refusing a salary till he became a Cabinet Minister in 1963. In two years, the HDB under Lim's leadership built 26,168 units, the same number built by the colonial Singapore Improvement Trust in 32 years. For his efforts, he was awarded the Order of Temasek - the highest state honour - in 1962. In September 1963, Lim Kim San was persuaded to stand for elections in Cairnhill. He won and was pressed into service as Minister for National Development when two PAP ministers lost their seats.

From 1965 till his retirement in 1981, Lim Kim San held important Cabinet posts. Besides the National Development portfolio, he has been Minister in-charge of Defence, Communications, Environment and Education. He even continued to serve as Minister without Portfolio after he suffered a heart attack in 1976. As a senior civil servant, he has headed the Monetary Authority of Singapore and chaired important statutory boards, including the Public Service Commission, Public Utilities Boards and Port of Singapore Authority.His contribution to Singapore's infrastructure is far reaching: initiating its land reclamation programme, building reservoirs and successfully negotiating a third water pipeline from Johore.

Lim continues to actively contribute to the PAP, Singapore and its business after his retirement. A keen judge of character, his services have been called on to identify and screen new blood for the PAP. Since 1988, he has been Chairman of Singapore Press Holdings which publishes all of Singapore's newspapers. He is also the Chairman of the Board of Advisors to the Elected President. Lim Kim San's business acumen, practical approach and his instinct about people set him apart from the ideologues of Singapore's old guard. His talent is clearly in business organisation, team building and people management. In that perspective, his enduring contribution to Singapore can be measured by his role as a technocrat and businessman rather than a politician.


Born in Singapore on 29 April 1859, Tan Jiak Kim had shown himself to be a respectable and dynamic leader since an early age. He represented the Peranakan community and spoke on their behalf to the colonial government on issues concerning their welfare. By clearing up some of the misunderstandings and helping the government avoid making mistakes,he gained the government's gratitude and respect. He was made a Justice of Peace, and served on several important government commissions. He was created a CMG (the Companionship of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George ) by the British King in 1912.

In 1904, he led a group of earnest Asians to petition for the establishment of a medical school in Singapore. During World War II, he contributed liberally to the war funds; two well-known donations being $18,000 to the Prince of Wales' Relief Fund and $19,200 for the cost of a fighter plane which bore his name. He was one of the founders of the Straits Steamship Company Ltd, a member of the committee of management of the Tan Tock Seng Hospital and a trustee of Raffles Institution. He served on the Legislative Council, joined the committee of the Po Leung Kuk and was one of the Hokkien representatives on the Chinese Advisory Board. On 22 October 1917, he died at the age of only 59 leaving behind a legacy of altruism and service to his fellow men.


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