Yeap Chor Ee
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Yeap Chor Ee was a businessman and philanthropist. He was born in the village of Nan'an, Fujian, China, in 1867. Armed only with indefatigable energy and strong business acumen, he came to Penang at a mere age of 17 in the 1890s and grew to become Penang's richest man of his time and one of the State's greatest philanthropists. Yeap died in 1952 at the age of 85. By then, he was known as The Grand Old Man of Penang, well loved for his old world courtesy, humility, generosity and integrity.
He had arrived in Penang, Malaysia, from China, virtually penniless, but left a vast empire after his death. As a result of hard work he rose to become one of the richest men in Penang. He married a local girl, Lee Cheng Kin, by whom he had two sons, Datuk Yeap Hock Hoe and Yeap Hock Hin. They lived in a mansion called ‘Homestead’ at No 54 Northam Road which was their family house. He founded the Ban Hin Lee Bank and many other companies. Therefore, his life epitomises the true rags to riches story.
Over a course of thirty years, he built an empire with real banking, real estate and commodities trading activities. Yeap Chor Ee remained the only individual who single-handedly funded the establishment of a bank in that era, His record still holds-to-date.
In 1942, Yeap Hock Hoe married Julie Phang who gave birth to a daughter, Angela Yeap (Yeap Poh Suat). Julie later left Homestead and remarried. Angela, however, remained in Homestead and grew up there.
During the Japanese Occupation Datuk Yeap remarried to someone called Hooi Kum Chee, then still in her teens, who lived in Homestead. Although there is no evidence of Kum Chee’s marriage, Yeap Chor Ee recognised her as Datuk Yeap’s wife. She gave birth to three daughters and one son. During his marriage to Kum Chee and sometime in 1943, Datuk Yeap met Yam Kim Lian at the Wembley Arcade where he frequented regularly. Eventually, she became his secondary wife in 1944 and bore him two daughters and four sons. Kim Lian and her children lived at Selamat Lane whilst Datuk Yeap and Kum Chee continued to live with his parents in Homestead.
Kum Chee died in 1948 after an operation. She was still in her early twenties, leaving behind four young children, the eldest of whom was five years old and the youngest barely two years. Datuk Yeap was deeply grieved by her death. Some three years later, on 22 December 1951 Datuk Yeap married Kum Chee’s younger sister Hooi Sooi Wan, then 20 years old. The marriage was conducted in Homestead according to Chinese rites and custom in the presence of Yeap Chor Ee and Lee Cheng Kin and others. The bride was given a signed marriage certificate. It is not in dispute that Yam Kim Lian also took part in the marriage ceremony and was also given a marriage certificate. In 1957 Datuk Yeap married another wife, Gan Chiew Heang, who gave birth to three daughters.
To a traditionalist such as Yeap Chor Ee, it was not surprising that Kim Lian was recognised as a wife when by 1949 she had given birth to two sons. This recognition did not mean that she was accepted as a principal wife. She had never moved in to live in Homestead where Datuk Yeap resided. One would expect a principal wife to live in Homestead with her husband. It is hardly an accepted arrangement for a principal wife and her husband to live in separate houses, especially when he lived with his parents in the family house. The fact that another son of Yeap Chor Ee lived outside his family house with his principal wife is neither here nor there. Apparently, this was with the consent of his parents.
A Full List of Datuk Yeap Hock Hoe's wives:
- Ida Oei (Daughter of Chinese Indonesian Businessman, Oei Tiong Ham married in 1933), who divorced shortly after the birth of a son, Francis Yeap.
- Julie Phang (m. 1942), who later left Homestead and remarried.
- Hooi Kum Chee (m. ~ 1943), who died in 1948, after an operation;
- Yam Kim Lian (m. 1944), who lived at Selamat Lane with her children;
- Hooi Sooi Wan (m. 1951); who is Hooi Kum Chee's younger sister;
- Gan Chiew Heang (m. 1957).
A private family gallery/museum in Penang has been oepened - House of Yeap Chor Ee. The museum, traditionally known as the Kau Kheng Choo (Nine Houses), was originally the home of Yeap Chor Ee before Homestead. Yeap Leong Huat had opened it to celebrate the life and achievements of his grandfather. The gallery, located on Lebuh Penang, Penang, Malaysia, displays the collection from Homestead and Yeap Chor Ee's other interests.
A family tree is also displayed in the gallery, and other descendants of Yeap Chor Ee can add themselves to the tree by writing in. The current family tree, spanning three generations of the Yeap family, is included in the attached photo of this section.
- Kunio Yoshihara (1988). The rise of ersatz capitalism in South-East Asia. Oxford University Press. p. 211. ISBN 978-0-19-588885-0.
- Kean Siew Lim (1997). The eye over the golden sands: the memoirs of a Penang family. Pelanduk Publications. p. 35. ISBN 978-967-978-567-8.
- Gosling, Lee Anthony Peter; Linda Lim (1983). The Chinese in Southeast Asia, Volume 1. Maruzen Asia. p. 288. ISBN 978-9971-954-10-9.
- Su Nin Khoo (1994). Streets of George Town Penang. Janus Print & Resources. p. 151. ISBN 978-983-9886-00-9.