Tan’s Success in Pineapple Canning and Rubber Businesses

Tan Kah Kee
Tan Kah Kee

A Hokkien Businessman

A wealthy Hokkien businessman with rubber and pineapple canning enterprises, and a philanthropist who founded many Singapore schools including Tao Nan School and Ai Tong School.

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A Hokkien Businessman

My English dealer has convinced me to plant rubber for profit. I agree—there seems to be huge potential in the rubber trade for local businessmen. For instance, Tan Chay Yan’s Melaka plantation earned him more than ten times the sum he’d initially invested! Today, I’ve allocated part of Hock Shan…
A Chinese Businessman
Circa 1906
You’re truly a rising star of the Chinese business community. Not too long ago, you were burdened with your father’s debts
During his stint as manager of Chop Soon Ann, Tan assessed that his father’s real estate properties, capital and assets were valued at over $100,000. However, in 1903, Tan realised that his father had become indebted to creditors for over $200,000. The debts arose partially due to the depreciation of real estate properties and an increase in interest rates for the money his father had previously borrowed from moneylenders. However, a big reason for the debt was due to embezzlement by Tan’s relatives.
caused by your relatives’ embezzlement
Tan’s stepmother, his father’s third wife, and her adopted son had misappropriated over $100,000 from Chop Soon Ann between 1901 and 1903 while Tan was away in China. As his father had not entrusted Tan with overall control of all his business interests, Tan was unable to prevent further misappropriation of Chop Soon Ann funds from his father’s other two firms, Kim Seng Bee Brokerage and Kheng Seng Cement Co., which were managed by other family members.
from Chop Soon Ann. But before we knew it, you were back on your feet with your own company, Sin Lee Chuan
Sin Lee Chuan was initially dedicated to canning pineapples, as there was a demand for them in the European markets. However, the possible shortage in the supply of pineapples led Tan to invest in pineapple planting in 1904. He bought 200 hectares of uncleared jungle land near Sin Lee Chuan to set up his new Hock Shan Plantation. The land took a year to clear and was planted with pineapples before Tan added rubber trees in 1906.
, and even bought over Jit Sin, one of the largest pineapple canneries in Singapore. Now you have a whole new plantation! Congratulations, and may your plantations be productive!

The Advent of the Automobile and the Booming Rubber Industry

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Tan Kah Kee’s Role in the Rubber Industry

Tan Kah Kee
Tan Kah Kee

A Hokkien Businessman

A wealthy Hokkien businessman with rubber and pineapple canning enterprises, and a philanthropist who founded many Singapore schools including Tao Nan School and Ai Tong School.

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A Hokkien Businessman

This is a good article about Singapore’s booming rubber industry, and the influence of the automobile industry on rubber prices. I have benefitted from the price increase, and I encourage businessmen in Singapore to join this industry!
An Admirer of Ridley
Circa 1930
Thank you for sharing this article, Mr. Tan. Henry Ridley is a brilliant man indeed! Some of his other innovations in the field of rubber included using a modified gouge knife instead of a pruning knife, chisel and mallet, as well as transporting rubber seeds in containers of slightly damped charcoal powder. Both of his innovations are still widely used today!

Tan Kah Kee’s Influence on the Hokkien Huay Kuan

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The Modernisation of the Hokkien Huay Kuan

Hokkien Huay Kuan
Hokkien Huay Kuan

A Hokkien Association

A Hokkien clan association founded in 1840. It was formed to provide community services for Chinese immigrants, such as employment assistance and burial services.

A Hokkien Association

Tan Kah Kee has been a key figure in the modernisation of our organisation, and we have written this article to commemorate his many accomplishments. Thank you for your excellent leadership, sir!
A Rickshaw Puller
8 Aug 1934
The Bukit Ho Swee fire has destroyed everything that I own! So many of us have been left homeless by the blaze. Mr. Tan, will the Hokkien Huay Kuan be able to help us?

The Great Depression Hits Tan Kah Kee’s Business

Tan Kah Kee
Tan Kah Kee

A Hokkien Businessman

A wealthy Hokkien businessman with rubber and pineapple canning enterprises, and a philanthropist who founded many Singapore schools including Tao Nan School and Ai Tong School.

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A Hokkien Businessman

I’m sorry to announce that today marks the liquidation of Tan Kah Kee & Co. As rubber milling is the main source of income
During the 1920s, Tan Kah Kee’s company reorganised to focus on rubber milling, through three main departments: rubber and pineapple plantations, rubber sheets for export, and manufacturing of rubber goods. The company had 6,000 employees.
for our firm, low rubber prices
1929 marked the beginning of a three-year period of global economic depression, with rubber prices dropping from $180 in 1926 to $6 a picul. A picul is a traditional Asian unit of weight defined as a ‘shoulder-load’, and is equivalent to 60.479 kilogrammes.
have made it impossible to continue. The board of directors has ordered our other businesses
Tan’s other businesses included a biscuit factory, sawmill, brickworks and pineapple factories. The board of directors ordered them to be closed.
to be closed as well.…
Dr. Lee Kong Chian
Dr. Lee Kong Chian

A Wealthy Banker

A philanthropist and multimillionaire who made his fortune through rubber, and was chairman of the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) from 1938 to 1967. He was Tan Kah Kee’s son-in-law.

A Wealthy Banker
Circa 1934
This depression has hit the rubber companies and their workers the hardest of all. Many people have been coming to my house asking for jobs. Some of them have even been forced to stop their children’s schooling as they can’t pay the school fees. The colonial government is offering to fund the passage for anyone who wants to return to China. Even then, I doubt it will do much good.

I have been offering all the help I can, but I simply can’t help everyone. I can only hope that the economic depression will end soon.

Tan Kah Kee’s Contribution to Education in Singapore

Tan Kah Kee
Tan Kah Kee

A Hokkien Businessman

A wealthy Hokkien businessman with rubber and pineapple canning enterprises, and a philanthropist who founded many Singapore schools including Tao Nan School and Ai Tong School.

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A Hokkien Businessman

I have been asked why I fund education projects, even when my entire commercial empire verges on bankruptcy. This is because education is the mission of every man. Supporting education is a social obligation I will not shirk from, and a cause I will devote myself to until the end.…
A Mandarin Teacher
Circa 1935
Thank you for your generous support, Mr. Tan. Your founding of the Chinese schools
Tan founded six Chinese schools in Singapore, including Tao Nan School in 1907, Ai Tong School in 1912, Chong Hock Girls' School (now Chongfu School), Nanyang Girls’ School in 1918, and the Nanyang Chinese High School (now Hwa Chong Institution) in 1919.

His education efforts persisted in the 1940s, as he founded Nanyang Normal School in 1941 and converted it to the Nan Chiao Girls’ High School in 1947. After World War II, he set up the Nanyang University in Singapore in 1955.
and $10,000 donation to Raffles College
Raffles College later became the University of Malaya in 1949 and the University of Singapore in 1961. Today, it is known as the National University of Singapore.
show just how much you value the future of today’s youth. Giving them a good knowledge of Mandarin and more access to higher education will surely pave their way to a brighter future.

I must also thank you for a more personal reason. Your construction of schools in Jimei
Tan set up several schools in Jimei, his home village. In 1894, he set up Ti Chai Hsueh Shu, a traditional Chinese tuition school. He set up Jimei Primary School in 1913, Jimei Normal School and Secondary School in 1918, and Jimei Kindergarten in 1919. He also set up Jimei Marine School and Commercial School in 1920. In addition, he set up a modern university in Xiamen.
—our hometown—has benefitted the children there, including my younger siblings who now enjoy a modern education thanks to you. My little brother even plans to become a teacher in future!

Contributing to China

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Raising Money for Chinese Nationalist Causes

Tan Kah Kee
Tan Kah Kee

A Hokkien Businessman

A wealthy Hokkien businessman with rubber and pineapple canning enterprises, and a philanthropist who founded many Singapore schools including Tao Nan School and Ai Tong School.

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A Hokkien Businessman

The important thing in fundraising is to raise large amounts of money and to sustain that over an extended period of time. With the Sino-Japanese War, it’s more important than ever to donate to the Chinese effort against the Japanese, so that we can help relieve the burden on the…
A Chinese Student
Circa 1939
Indeed, Mr. Tan. We must do all we can to denounce the Japanese and their collaborators. Just look at what happened on 4 May 1919 in Beijing
In what is known as the May Fourth Movement, more than 3,000 students from 13 colleges in Beijing held a mass demonstration to express outrage over negotiations in Versailles over the terms ending World War I. In that conference, it was decided that former German territories in Shandong would be ceded to Japan. Angry demonstrations occurred throughout China in the following weeks. Students held strikes that lasted more than two months and boycotted Japanese goods.
, when students marched together against the pro-Japanese Beijing leaders after the Paris Peace Conference
In 1919, various heads of government met to draft a peace treaty at the Paris Peace Conference marking the end of World War I. Inspired by Woodrow Wilson’s assurances, China sent a delegation in the hopes of removing all unequal treaties that allowed foreign powers to infringe on Chinese sovereignty. China was especially concerned with the recovery of German concessions in Shandong. However, China’s right to Shandong was rejected and transferred to Japan. China subsequently rejected the peace treaty, also known as the Treaty of Versailles, resulting in an outpouring of Chinese nationalist sentiment, culminating in the May Fourth Movement.
and boycotted Japanese goods! It was truly a momentous occasion when we did our part to boycott Japanese goods in Singapore as well!

The Chinese Mobilisation Council in Preparation for War

Tan Kah Kee
Tan Kah Kee

A Hokkien Businessman

A wealthy Hokkien businessman with rubber and pineapple canning enterprises, and a philanthropist who founded many Singapore schools including Tao Nan School and Ai Tong School.

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A Hokkien Businessman

While chairing the meeting for the Singapore Chinese Mobilisation Council
The Singapore Chinese Mobilisation Council was initially established to help the British government in Singapore with its war effort. The council was tasked to organise volunteers to patrol the streets, maintain security, watch out for Japanese paratroopers and clean up debris from bomb sites. Other duties included boosting public morale through propaganda, as well as organising a labour force and providing the government with labourers when required.
today, I was alarmed at one man’s proposal. A communist recently released from prison
Prior to World War II, the government had declared the Malayan Communist Party an unlawful society. The police force carried out regular raids on communist hideouts, imprisoning those found to be members of the Malayan Communist Party. People found distributing communist pamphlets could also be imprisoned. When the war began, the government released the communist prisoners so they could serve as allies to the British cause.
put forward a motion about arming the people to fight directly against the Japanese. I denied the motion because it was not on the meeting’s agenda.…
An Enthusiastic Student
Circa 1941
Even if we aren’t trained soldiers, why can’t we be armed to fight the Japanese? The communist political prisoners have been released and welcomed as loyal supporters of the British cause. The governor even shook their hands! Surely the British must be willing to arm the populace too! I know that many of us volunteers want a chance to fight the aggressors.

Give me a gun and I will fight against the Japanese!

The Formation of Dalforce

Tan Kah Kee
Tan Kah Kee

A Hokkien Businessman

A wealthy Hokkien businessman with rubber and pineapple canning enterprises, and a philanthropist who founded many Singapore schools including Tao Nan School and Ai Tong School.

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A Hokkien Businessman

The colonial government’s formation of the Singapore Overseas Chinese Anti-Japanese Volunteer Army or Dalforce
The Singapore Overseas Chinese Anti-Japanese Volunteer Army or Dalforce was a volunteer army hastily formed just before the fall of Singapore in February 1942. Named after its British commander Lieutenant Colonel John Dalley, Dalforce was made up of 1,000 to 3,000 Chinese volunteers from all walks of life. They were sent to defend the different fronts of Singapore after a short training period, armed with limited weapons and ammunition. They were disbanded on 13 February 1942, but some members kept up fierce resistance against the Japanese. Some surviving Dalforce members continued to carry out guerrilla activities during the Japanese Occupation.
is an extremely cunning and ruthless action. I simply cannot accept it.

The British are essentially sending these men to their deaths despite providing them with arms and training. The British will inevitably…
A Hokkien Clerk
Circa 1942
Dalforce welcomes anyone who possesses the bravery to resist the Japanese invasion, be it Communist Party members, clerks, general workers, dance hostesses or students. Your political beliefs don’t matter. As long as you are Chinese and wish to fight against the Japanese, you have a place with us.

The Death of Tan Kah Kee

The Straits Times
The Straits Times

A Local Newspaper

An English newspaper in Singapore that was first published on 15 July 1845.

A Local Newspaper

Mr. Tan Kah Kee, who rose from poverty to become the head of a vast Southeast Asian financial empire and lead more than 10 million Chinese in the area, is dead. He died of a stroke in Beijing at 12:45am today. He was 88 years old.

A…
A Chinese Clerk
Circa 1961
I am incredibly sorry to hear of Mr. Tan’s death. He was known for his personal crusade against the Chiang Kai-shek regime
After the Chinese civil war broke out in June 1946, Tan Kah Kee took the side of Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party over Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang, and played a prominent role in the anti-Chiang campaign in Singapore. Tan was fervently anti-Chiang, and even sent a telegram to the United Nations on 4 May 1948 to protest against Chiang Kai-shek’s position as the new president of China.
and his support for the People’s Republic of China. He ceaselessly defended China through his articles in the Nan Chiau Jit Pao
Prior to Tan Kah Kee’s permanent departure for China, he published numerous articles in the Singapore Chinese newspaper Nan Chiau Jit Pao about his impressions of his 10-month tour of China. The articles were written in defence of China’s territorial integrity and condemned the United States for interfering in the internal affairs of China.
, and from the very moment the People’s Republic was born on 1 October 1949, he was already one of its officials
Prior to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Tan had already been elected a member of the Central People’s Government in Beijing and a member of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission.
. I am grateful that Mr. Tan decided to settle down in China from 1950 onwards, and I wish to thank him for his contributions to my country.
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