Friday, November 15, 2013

Lee Choon Seng and family (Kopi Sua)

Mr. Lee Choon Seng (李俊承), was a prominent businessman, philanthropist and Hokkien community leader. Lee Choon Seng came to Negeri Sembilan, Malaya in the early 1900's at the age of 17 from Yong Chun County, Fujian Province, China and got involved as a wholesaler in provisions following in his father's (Mr. Lee Lip Chai) footsteps. He then went to Singapore to expand the family business, founding several companies such as Thye Hin Ltd, Eng Hin Company, Thye Hong Biscuit, Popular Aerated Water and also got involved as a rubber planter. He went on to be the Managing Director of Ho Hong Bank before the amalgamation of the major banks. In 1931 he became the Chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Vice-Chairman of the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation.
Lee Choon Seng (1940)
(source: NewspaperSG)

Positions held
  • President of Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce (1931-1932), 
  • President of Ee Hoe Hean Club (1935) 
  • President of Singapore Buddhist Federation (1949-1952)
  • Managing Director of Ho Hong Bank (1931);
  • Vice-Chairman (1938-1964) of OCBC
  • Managing Director of OCBC during the Japanese Occupation (1943-1945) 
  • Chairman of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Limited (1965-1966).  
  • Member of the Nanyang University Council but resigned in 1964 due to old age.
When Mr. See Tiong Wah passed away, Lee Chong Seng was appointed as member of the Chinese Advisory Board. He was also in the Singapore Anti-Opium Society. He was the Chairman of the Singapore China Relief  (when Mr. Tan Kah Kee left for China), working tirelessly to collect funds in the war effort for China and Britain. Throughout his life, Lee Choon Seng was a generous philantrophist, donating to many causes, Chinese Flood Victim Fund (1931), building of a Buddhist Temple in India (1939), University of Malay Endowment Fund (1949) among many others.

In 1952, Lee Choon Seng was one of the 51 Singapore residents that became British subjects, the first under the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

Overseas-Chinese Association Vice- Chairman saved by heavenly intervention 
During the Japanese Occupation period, Lee Choon Seng was the Vice-Chairman of the Overseas-Chinese Association (OCA). The Chairman was Dr. Lim Boon Keng. He worked closely with the occupation forces to ensure continuity of peace and existence of the Chinese community under duress and worked with the Japanese Government in the setting up of the Endau settlement. He was one of the 44 residents to received Certificates of Honor by the Japanese Military Administration in December 8, 1943.

During an OCA assignment to the Endau Settlement in Malaysia, the group were ambushed by the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA). Lee Choon Seng survived, as it was said that a bullet hit a Buddhist medallion on his chest. This incident had a tremendous impact later on in his life as he went on to set up the Singapore Buddhist Federation and Singapore Buddhist Lodge and played an important role in the formation of Maha Bodhi School and spread of Buddhism in Singapore.

Lee Choon Seng passed away on June 5, 1966 at the age of 82. His cortege left his home in 163 Pasir Panjang Road for Whitley Road Cemetery (Kopi Sua cemetery). He is survived by 2 wives, 6 sons, 9 daughters, 5 son-in-laws, 6 daughters-in-laws, 31 grandchildren and 11 great-grand children.
Lee Choon Seng (c 1963)
(source: NewspaperSG)
Lee Choon Seng
A broken plaque but not forgotten
Lee Choon Seng's tomb in Kopi Sua slowly engulfed by the jungle
Mother: Madam Wee Wan Neo
Madam Wee Wan Neo passed away at the age of 65 years at 15, Payah Lane on July 2, 1923. The remains were shipped back to Amoy via Tanjong Pagar Wharf.

Son: Lee Gee Chong
Chairman of the the Thye Hong Biscuit and Confectionery Ltd in Alexandra Road, Lee Gee Chong was dubbed the "Biscuit King". Kidnapped in 1960, Lee Choon Seng found out during his 75th birthday celebration from his grand-daughter, Lee Lay Hua the tragic news that Lee Gee Chong's body was found wrapped in blanket in a graveyard off Yio Chu Kang Road. Lee Choon Seng burst into tears upon hearing this. His son, Lee Gee Chong was 49 years of age when he died tragically.

Son: Lee Kim Kew
The fourth son, Mr Lee Kim Kew married Miss Lim Gim Har (sister of Mr. Lim Moh Seng, manager of Hock Aun Biscuit Works) on June 9, 1939. The bridesmaid is Miss Lim Geok Sim while bestman is Mr. Lim Keng Hor. Mr Lee Kim Kew studied in Anglo Chinese school before working in Thye Hong & Co as director before leaving in 1937 to London to study industrial methods.
Mr Lee Kim Kwee and Miss Lim Gim Har
(source: NewspaperSG)
Son: Lee Chin Gee
Lee Chin Gee qualified in law from Cambridge. He was in Malaya Film Service and later director of Hong Kong United Film Company.

Daughter: Lee Yeow Tin
The second daughter, Miss Lee Yeow Tin married Mr. Lim Kok Boon, fourth son of Mr Lim Kim Tian, President of the Chinese Twakow Owner's Guild on January 13, 1938.

Daughter: Evelyn Lee Wai Chan
The fourth daughter, Miss Evelyn Lee Wai Chan married Mr. Tan Koen Tjoan (nephew of Mr and Mrs Tan Hoan Kie , managing director of Aurora Ltd. ) at a reception in the Victoria Memorial Hall on March 29, 1954. Dato Sir Tan Cheng Lock was the guest of honour who toasted to the bride and groom.
Miss Evelyn Lee Wai Chan and Mr. Tan Koen Tjoan

Famous Houses linked to Lee Choon Seng 
There were many famous houses linked to Lee Choon Seng. Some of them are highlighted below:

Sun Yat Sen Villa / Wan Qin Yuan / Bin Chan House
In 1937, Lee Choon Seng and five other Chinese community leaders, Messrs Lee Kong Chian, Lee Chin Tian, Tan Ean Kiam, Chew Hean Swee and Yeo Kiat Tiow bought the house in No 12, Tai Jin Road, off Balestier or better known as Sun Yat Sen Villa. This was the historically important site where Dr. Sun Yat Sen visited, stayed and work with the local revolutionaries to plan and drum up support for the 1911 revolution that ended 267 years rule of the Qing dynasty. The house was originally built by businessman Boey Chuan Poh in 1880. It was sold to a timber merchant for $10,800 in 1902 and in 1905 acquired by Mr Teo Eng Hock for her mother. Teo Eng Hock was the one that opened the house for Dr Sun Yat Sen and Tung Meng Hui or Chinese Alliance members.
From left_ Chew Hean Swee, Yeo Kiat Tiow, Tan Ean Kiam,
Lee Chin Tian, Lee Choon Seng,  Lee Kong Chian
Sun Yat Sen Villa (c 1950)
(source: NewspaperSG)
Poh Ern Shih Temple
Lee Choon Seng is the founder of Poh Ern Shih Temple (Temple of Gratitude) based in Chwee Chian Road, off Pasir Panjang Road in 1953 at a cost of $70,000. The original temple facade was built following the lines of a church design. This was demolished and replaced with a newer building in 2007.
Poh Ern Shih Temple
147 Neil Road
Mr Lee Hoon Leong bought this house for $25,000. Lee Hoon Leong is the grandfather of Mr Lee Kuan Yew (the first Prime Minister of Singapore) and great grandfather of the current Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Hsien Loong. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew lived there for a short period of time. The house was sold to Lee Choon Seng in 1949. His son, Lee Kim Kew inherited the house after his father's death in 1966. It was eventually sold in 1992 for a price in the region of $850,000.
147 Neil Road
(source: NewspaperSG)

Lee Choon Seng remembered in Ee Hoe Hean Club

[research on-going]

Death. (1923, July 21). The Straits Times
Malayan Chinese gives Indian Temple. (1939, February 19). The Straits Times
Chinese Wedding. (1939, June 10). Morning Tribune.
Wedding Presents Given to Relief Fund. (1938, January 14). The Singapore Free Press
Mainly about Malayans. (1940, April 21). The Straits Times
Chinese offer to aid war charities. (1940, October 25). The Straits Times
Given Certificates of Honour. (1943, December 9). The Syonan Times.
51 more become British subjects. (1952, July 5). The Straits Times
Mr. Lee's dream temple come true. (1953, August 4). The Straits Times
Untitled. (1954, March 24).Singapore Standard
Murder of "Biscuit King": a vengence killing, says father. (1960, April 25). The Singapore Free Press
Leading S'pore banker Lee dies at 82. (1966, June 6). The Straits Times
Building was initially an abode for a mistress. (1995, February 25). The Straits Times
$7.5 million restoration of Sun Yat Sen villa starts. (1997, November 13). The Straits Times
Lee Choon Seng.[website].Wikipedia


you xia said...

hi, I enjoy reading your blog. keep it up!

Rojak Librarian said...

Hi you xia ! Thks for the kind words