Lee Kong Chian

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Tan Sri Dato' Dr.
Lee Kong Chian
Lee Kong Chian
Born (1893-10-18)18 October 1893
Nan'an, Fujian, China
Died 2 June 1967(1967-06-02) (aged 73)
Other names Lee Geok Kun
Occupation Businessman
Known for Philanthropic work, founder of Lee Foundation
Spouse(s) Tan Ai Leh
Children Sons:
Lee Seng Gee
Lee Seng Tee
Lee Seng Wee
Lee Seok Kheng
Lee Seok Tin
Lee Seok Chee
Parents Lee Kuo Chuan (father)
Relatives Tan Kah Kee (father-in-law)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Lee.
Lee Kong Chian
Chinese 李光前
Lee Geok Kun
Chinese 李玉昆

Tan Sri Dato' Dr. Lee Kong Chian (18 October 1893 – 2 June 1967), alias Lee Geok Kun, was a prominent Chinese businessman and philanthropist active in Malaya and Singapore from the 1930s to the 1960s. He was the founder of the Lee Foundation, and was one of the richest men in Southeast Asia in the 1950s and 1960s. He was also the son-in-law of Tan Kah Kee, another well-known Chinese businessman and philanthropist.

Early life[edit]

Lee was born in Furong Village, Nan'an, Fujian, China, towards the end of the Qing Dynasty. His father was Lee Kuo Chuan (simplified Chinese: 李国专; traditional Chinese: 李國專; pinyin: Lǐ Guózhuān). He received his early education in privately run schools in his hometown. In 1903, he came to Singapore (then a British colony) to join his father at the age of 10. Lee studied at the Anglo-Indian School and the Chongcheng School, which are now defunct.

Lee returned to China in 1909 to complete his education under a scholarship, but it had to end in 1911 as the Xinhai Revolution broke out. In China, Lee studied at Chi Nan College in Nanjing and later the Railway and Mining College in Tangshan, which was then one of the top colleges in China.

Upon returning to Singapore, Lee worked as a teacher at Tao Nan School and as a translator at a Chinese-language newspaper. In 1915, he joined the China Guohua Company, owned by Tan Kah Kee, and became Tan's protégé. He was promoted to manager of the Tan Kah Kee Rubber Company in 1917, and three years later, he married Tan's daughter, Tan Ai Leh.


Seven years later, Lee set up his own rubber smoking house in Muar, Johor, Malaya, which became the Nam Aik Rubber Company in 1928. His enterprises of rubber planting and manufacture, pineapple planting and canning soon expanded to other parts of Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Malaya, North Borneo, Indonesia and Thailand. He was known as "Southeast Asia's Rubber and Pineapple King". He became one of the richest men in the region, with the Lee Rubber Company becoming a multi-million dollar business which he started in 1931. At the height of their fortune, the company was worth S$600 million.[citation needed]

Lee also went into banking. He became the general manager and vice-chairman of Huayi Bank. In 1933, he was appointed as the vice-chairman of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC), a corporation formed from the merger of three Chinese banks.

In 1934, Lee became the chairperson of The Chinese High School, a post he held until 1957. In 1939, Lee founded Guozhuan Primary School in his hometown, Furong. Four years later, he set up Guoguang Primary School. Lee also donated his rubber factory to become a Chinese school in Kuala Lumpur which was later renamed SJK(C) Lee Rubber in Jalan Gombak. He gave lectures in Columbia University during World War II while he was stranded in the United States. Lee became the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Singapore (now the National University of Singapore) and donated S$1 million for the development of a medical college on the college's grounds. Other institutions received financial support from the Lee Foundation, including the National University of Singapore, Anglo-Chinese School, St. Margaret's Secondary School, Methodist Girls' School, Singapore Chinese Girls' School, Tao Nan School, Anglican High School and The Chinese High School. The Lee Kong Chian School of Business of the Singapore Management University was named in his honour.

Like Tan Kah Kee, Lee poured his wealth into education and other philanthropic work. He set up the Lee Foundation in Singapore in 1952 and in Malaya in 1960. In 1965, the Lee Foundation Limited was established in Hong Kong. Lee spearheaded free public library services for the nation when he donated S$375,000 through the Lee Foundation to allow the Singapore government to build the Old National Library building at Stamford Road. Between 1952 and 1993, the Foundation donated sums amounting to S$300 million to various causes with no conditions attached.[citation needed]

Later life[edit]

Statue of Lee Kong Chian in front of Kong Chian Administration Centre, Hwa Chong Institution

Lee's work and generous contributions to education and society were recognised. He was conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of Malaya in 1958. In 1964, Malaysia's Yang di-Pertuan Agong (head of state), Putra of Perlis, awarded Lee the title of Panglima Mangku Negara (PMN), hence Lee was known by the honorific Tan Sri. Prior to that, Lee had been made Dato' by the Sultans of Johor and Kelantan in 1957 and 1959 respectively. He became the chairman of OCBC Bank in 1965 and remained in that position until his death in 1967. In 1965, Lee was conferred another honorary degree, Doctor of Letters, by the University of Singapore in recognition of his services to the university and his contributions to arts and education.

Lee is survived by three sons and three daughters.

Places named after Lee Kong Chian[edit]

There are also some places named after Lee's father, Lee Kuo Chuan, including: