Saturday, September 30, 2006

Tan Lark Sye (Chen Liu Shi)

Tan Lark Sye (陈六使)
Born: 1897
Birth Place: Jimei in Tong An, Hokkien of China
Died in: 1972
Age: 76
Achievement: Founding of Nanyang University of Singapore

Tan Lark Sye came from the same village as Tan Kah Kee, Jimei of Tong An in Fujian Province. Born into a peasant family of seven of very limited means, and orphaned young, he had little chance of an education before he made his way to Nanyang in his teens in 1916 together with his brothers.

After reaching Singapore, he worked in one of Tan Kah Kee’s factories, and within half a year he was promoted to a responsible position in the elder Tan’s Khiam Aik (Qianyi) company. Not long after, he left the company to set up with his brothers a rubber enterprise which, however, lost half its capital in a year.

After several years of struggling by oneself, he built up his own Aik Hoe (Yihe) rubber company and became one of the leading rubber industrialists of the region. He expanded his business to all parts of Malaya, Thailand and India, and diversified into insurance, paper and cement industries. His career as industrialist met the peak in the 1950’s when his company reaped huge profits from the rising rubber price.

He, himself was also an activist, and like other Chinese entrepreneurs of his time, believed in the value and importance of education. As chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in the 1950’s, he fought for citizenship for the Chinese of Singapore and for the Chinese language to be counted as one of the official languages.

As the respectful chairman of Hokkien Huay Kuan (Hokkien clan association) he developed many schools under the auspices of the association: Daonan, Aitong, Guanghua, Nanqiao and Chongfu. He also contributed to financing the Jimei schools founded by Tan Kah Kee.

In 1957 he donated considerable sums to Thailand’s Hokkien clan association to build overseas Chinese schools. His contributions to education, however, were not confined to Chinese schools. In 1949 when the University of Malaya was set up he gave it $300, 000, and between 1950 and 1960 he contributed towards the building fund of schools of different language media.

His most outstanding contribution, however, was the initiating of the founding of Nanyang University of Singapore. He personally donated a sum of $5 million to its building fund, as well as 523 acres of land for its campus on behalf of the Hokkien Huay Kuan.

In the period 1953 – 1963 he was appointed as the Chairman of Nanyang University’s Executive Committee, and gave both effort and money to look after various aspects of the university – building, teaching staff, research facilities, library, student welfare and others.

The founding of Nanyang University was a highly significant act for the Singapore Chinese community. Chinese from all walks of life donated towards its building fund. It had an effect on Chinese education in the region and beyond. One may say the setting up of a Chinese Studies department in Ngee Ann College, the University of Singapore and the University of Malaya stemmed from it. The establishment of the Chinese University in Hong Kong, the Overseas Chinese Chongsheng University in Thailand and the Southern College in Johore, Malaysia, may also have been inspired by the ideals underlying the founding of Nanyang University.

Tan Lark Sye died in 1972 at age 76 and in 1974 a Tan Lark Sye scholarship was set up, and in 1998 the Tan Lark Sye professorship in Chinese language and culture was established to honour this peasant boy from China made good.


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