Khoo Seok Wan and family (Bukit Brown)

Khoo Teck Him, better known as Khoo Seok Wan / Khoo Siok Wan  邱菽园 (1874-1941) was born in Haicheng, Fujian, China and is the son of a wealthy rice merchant Khoo Cheng Tiong and a prominent hokkien leader. Khoo Seok Wan came down with his mother at the age 8 but later returned at the age of 15 to take the county imperial exams. In 1894, he passed the provincial imperial exams with grants him with the title of Ju Ren. Further examination at Beijing failed and his dreams of becoming an imperial official came to end with also bad news that his father, Khoo Cheng Tiong was gravely ill. Khoo Cheng Tiong passed away in June 1896 at the age of 76. His son, Khoo Teck Siong and Khoo Seok Wan were trustees and executors of their father's will. Both inherited $700,000.Both brothers did not inherit however their father's business acumen. Khoo Teck Siong's investment in the Opium and Spirit Farm while Khoo Seok Wan speculation in land and house property brought them to nought. Both appeared in Bankruptcy court in 1907. Both were declared bankrupt. Khoo Seok Wan was 34 of age.

Khoo Seok Wan
Khoo Seok Wan 邱菽园

It was said that Khoo Seok Wan’s extravagant lifestyle led to a constant drain on his finances as he donated large sums of money to support politics in China and squandered the rest on other pursuits of earthly pleasure and leisure. This, coupled with his lack of interest in business management led to their down fall,

Political and Social Reformist  

Khoo Seok Wan's formative years in China and especially Beijing had a major impact on him. He was a supporter of Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao and supported generously the Reform Movement to modernised the weaken Qing Dynasty under Emperor Guangxu and to create a constitutional monarchy system  in China. The reformed movement failed when Empress Dowager Cixi routed the reformist in September 1898 and put Emperor Guangxu under house arrest.

Khoo Seok Wan was the founder of the reformist paper, Thien Nan Shin Pao (天南新报) in  May 1898. He was the publisher and editor while Lim Boon Keng was the English editor.With the failure of the Reform Movement, Khoo Seok Wan invited the exiled Kang Youwei to Singapore to stay at No. 17 Boat Quay. The friendship between Kang Youwei and Khoo Seok Wan eventually soured over financial matters and with the death of Guangxu in 1908 and formation of the Republic of China in 1911, this movement lost it impetus. Already a bankrupt by then, Khoo Seok Wan focused on his poetry, moving away from the political scene. The newspaper went bust in 1905 due to financial difficulties
Kang Youwei
A lesser known fact was Khoo Seok Wan's role as a social education reformist, working together with foward thinking pioneers and community leaders such as Dr. Lim Boon Keng, Tan Boo LiatOng Soo Tee and Chia Hood Theam towards the formation of the Singapore Chinese Girl's School in 1899. Khoo Seok Wan himself donated $3,000 during a time where most chinese leaders were apathetic to the female education.
Singapore Chinese Girls School 
A Master Poet of the South
When Khoo Seok Wan returned to Singapore in 1896, he was already a "celebrity" among the academia circles and also socially having penned several poems during his time in China. He continued penning despite ending up as a bankrupt, sometimes even doing commissioned works for influential personalities whose gravestone epitaph in Bukit Brown bears the name of Khoo Seok Wan (see article on Wee Teck Seng). He took jobs such as editing for newspapers and served as a secretary at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce. He is said to have composed more than 1,000 classical poems throughout his life.

Sin Chew  星洲

"Sin Chew" is the name coined by Khoo Seok Wan to describe Singapore, an island surrounded by the sea, and with vessels anchored around it; the glitter of artificial lights at night are like illuminated stars ("星") when viewed from afar. "洲" (zhou, island) and "舟" (zhou, boat) are homonyms: while the boat lights are like stars while the lights on the island are like the Big Dipper of the constellation. Interestingly, the character  星洲 is still in use by a Chinese newspaper company based in Malaysia, the Sin Chew Jit Poh.


At the age of 64, he wrote his own epitaph when he constructed his tomb. He chose not to use any of his official titles and opted for the address “chu shi”, a title for an educated person in China for his tomb. Khoo Seok Wan / Khoo Siok Wan passed away on November 30, 1941 at 42 Amoy Street at 69 yearsof age. The cause of death was listed as leprosy in which he suffered for 15 years.
Death certificate of Khoo Seok Wan 

Khoo Seok Wan and family at his tomb
Khoo Seok Wan with daughter and son-in-law

Khoo Seok Wan's tomb in Bukit Brown
LTA peg 2536 threaten by Highway 
Khoo Seok Wan 


Father: Khoo Cheng Tiong
Khoo Cheng Tiong (1820-1896) came to Singapore at the age of 20 and eventually became a successful rice merchant. He was the owner of Khoo Cheng Tiong & Co,  (chop Heng Chung) based in Boat Quay and the firm was the biggest dealer in rice from Saigon. He died a millionaire in June 1896. His coffin was brought back to China for burial. His sons, Khoo Teck Him alias Khoo Seok Wan and Kho Teck Siong inherited their father fortunes.

Mother: Yeo Geok Keng ( Yang Tai Jun)
Madam Yeo Geok Keng, wife of the late Khoo Cheng Tiong passed away on June 25, 1923 at the age of 71 at 57 Tras Street. She is the mother of Khoo Siok Wan alias Khoo Teck Hin, Khoo Teck Siong and Khoo It Sim. She is the mother-in-law of Lim Chan Sin (grandson of Lim Leack. He was a Cashier for the Sandilands and Buttery Corporation), See Tiong Wah, Tay Boon Tat and Ong Keng Yang.
Madam Yeo Geok Keng
(buried in Bukit Brown) 
Sister: Khoo Heng Neo
Khoo Heng Neo, 3rd daughter of the late Khoo Cheng Tiong married Seet Tiong Wah / See Tiong Wah on April 24, 1904 at Telok Ayer Street. See Tiong Wah is the eldest son of See Ew Boon who like father, became the Camprador of Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank Bank. He was a Justice of Peace, Municipal Commissioner and President of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

See Tiong Wah (brother-in-law) seated in the middle in western outfit
with Khoo Seok Wan (extreme left). Khoo Yang Tin is pictured seated, third from right.  
Wife: Wang Mei (王玫) 
Wang Mei (王玫), Khoo Seok Wan’s first wife passed away just a year after they married when they were still in China. He married again when he returned to Singapore.

Wife: Lu Jie (陆结)
Lu Jie / Leoh Kiat died at the age of 60 on April 16, 1936 and is buried in Bukit Brown Hill 4 A plot 233. In one of his poems that Khoo Seok Wan penned when his wife passed away in 1936, with nothing to give (due to his financial situation), he placed his tooth in her grave and recited his poem:
Wife: Lu Jie (陆结)
we go to the grave, but not together
so i send this tooth with you
accompanied by autumnal chants of the ghosts singing at your grave
now i have pulled the roots out from my own mouth
recalling our days discussing Nanhua
my tooth is all i have left for your comfort

Daughter: Khoo Meng Kuan ( 邱鸣权 )
Khoo Meng Kuan married Ong Seng Tee. She passed away in 1967, age 65.
Khoo Meng Kuan (seated) a teacher of Fine Arts
Public Chinese High School, Kampar, Perak (1928)
Daughter: Khoo Meng Chen ( 邱鸣真)

[November 22, 2013: research on-going]
There is an exhibition on-going in National Library, Level 7 & 8  Khoo Seok Wan: Poet and Reformist. Exhibition is from November 22, 2013 till May 18, 2014.

Untitled. (1903, June 11). The Straits Times
Death. (1923, June 29). The Straits Times
Untitled. (1928, December 8). Malayan Saturday Post
Song, O.S. (1984). One hundred years history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press
Yak, Jessie, Bryant, Shelly, Ho, Yik Kai (2013).A life in poems: selected works of Khoo Seok Wan. Singapore: National Library Board
Khoo Seok Wan. [website] Infopedia
Khoo Seok Wan. [website] The Bukit Brown Cemetery Documentation Project
Khoo Seok Wan-Poet, Scholar, Revolutionary, Romantic. [website] All things Bukit Brown.



Show more