Tan Siew Sin

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Yang Amat Berbahagia Tun
Tan Siew Sin
3rd President of the Malaysian Chinese Association
In office
November, 1961 – April 8, 1974
Preceded by Dr. Cheah Toon Lok (Acting)
Succeeded by Tan Sri Lee San Choon
Majority Chinese
Malaysian Minister of Finance
In office
August 22, 1959 – April 8, 1974
Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman
Abdul Razak
Preceded by H.S. Lee
Succeeded by Hussein Onn
Personal details
Born (1916-05-21)May 21, 1916
Jalan Heeren, Malacca
Died March 17, 1988(1988-03-17) (aged 71)
Kuala Lumpur
Political party
Malayan Chinese Association (MCA)
Spouse(s) Toh Puan Catherine Lim Cheng Neo
Relations Son of Tun Dato Sir Tan Cheng Lock
Children 3 daughters
Residence Kuala Lumpur
MCA Chairman
Minister of Finance
Religion Buddhist

Tun Tan Siew Sin (Chinese: 陈修信; pinyin: Chén Xīuxìn; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Tân Siu-sìn; 21 May 1916– 17 March 1988) was Malaya's (later Malaysia's) first Minister of Commerce and Industry, Finance Minister for 15 years, and president of the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA, later Malaysian Chinese Association).

Early life[edit]

The only son of Malaysian statesman and MCA founder Tan Cheng Lock, Tan Siew Sin was born on 21 May 1916 in Malacca. He was of Baba heritage and did not speak Mandarin.[1] He was educated at Malacca High School in Malacca[2] and then at Raffles College in Singapore. Before then, he was also sent by his father to a Girls School, that is Suydaim Girls School which is now the Methodist High School.

In 1935, he felt ill and was diagnosed as having tuberculosis. He fully recovered after an operation in Switzerland for treatment. Three years later, he moved on to his higher education in the field of law in England and graduated with First Class Honour at the Middle Temple, one of the four inns of court in London. He returned from London to take over the family's plantation business in 1939.

Political career[edit]

Tan Siew Sin was elected a Member of Parliament for Malacca in 1955.[3] He joined the Malaysian cabinet first as minister of trade and industry, and later became the finance minister in 1959.[4] He then took over as president of the MCA in November 1961, and held on to both positions until 1974. Tan was appointed the Deputy Chairman of the Alliance in 1964. He led his party to victory in the 1964 General Election, winning 27 of the 33 parliamentary seats contested.[3]

Tan however came under criticism for not pushing for the recognition of Mandarin as an official language and the establishment of a Mandarin language university.[1] In March 1968, Tan proposed setting up the Tunku Abdul Rahman College for Chinese youths who would otherwise be denied an opportunity to tertiary education. The college was formally set up in February 24, 1969.[3] Under Tan's stewardship, the MCA also set up Koperasi Serbaguna Malaysia (KSM), an initiative of MCA Youth based on the cooperative principle.[5]

In the 1969 general election, MCA lost more than half its seats to the new, mainly Chinese, opposition parties Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Gerakan. Tan considered taking the party out of the Alliance but decided against it. In order to regain Chinese support, Tan attempted to broaden the appeal of the party previously seen as a party of the taukeh (tou jia, rich men), and invited professionals to join the party.[6] Other initiatives included the Chinese Unity Movement and the Perak Task Force to help built support in New Villages in Perak.[1] In 1973, Tan Siew Sin requested a position as Deputy Prime Minister in the cabinet reshuffle following the death of Tun Dr. Ismail, but this was refused by Tun Abdul Razak, which angered Tan.[7] Tan retired from politics on 8 April 1974 after undergoing lung surgey. After resignation he became a financial advisor to the government on economic issues.[1]

Business career[edit]

After his retirement from politics, Tan was nominated chairman of Sime Darby by Tun Hussein Onn. He was also the chairman of United Malacca Rubber Estates, and sat on the boards of a number of companies, including Unitac, Siemens, Pacific Bank, Highlands & Lowlands, and Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance.[1]


Tan Siew Sin died on 17 March 1988 in Kuala Lumpur.

His widow, Catherine Lim Cheng Neo, whom he married on February 8, 1947 was an active campaigner for family planning. They had three daughters.

In Kuala Lumpur, there is a street, Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin (formerly Jalan Silang) which was renamed after him in 2003.


  1. ^ a b c d e Heng Pek Koon (2012). Leo Suryadinata, ed. Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese Descent: A Biographical Dictionary. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. pp. 1106–1108. ISBN 978-9814345217. 
  2. ^ http://www.tourism-melaka.com/tuntansiewsin.pdf
  3. ^ a b c "Tun Tan Siew Sin". Malaysian Chinese Association. 
  4. ^ Pillai, M.G.G. (Nov 3, 2005). "National Front parties were not formed to fight for Malaysian independence". Malaysia Today. Archived from the original on March 11, 2007. 
  5. ^ "About Us". Koperasi Serbaguna Malaysia Berhad. 
  6. ^ Ting Hui Lee (2011). Chinese Schools in Peninsular Malaysia: The Struggle for Survival. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. p. 124. 
  7. ^ Cheah Boon Kheng (2002). Malaysia: The Making of a Nation. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. pp. 147–148. ISBN 978-9812301543. 
  • Pioners FFPAM (Federation of Family Planning Associations, Malaysia) website, accessed 20 August 2005.
  • World Book Encyclopedia, Australasian edition, 1966

External links[edit]