Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Kuan Yew Bio 6: Oei Tjiong Ham, the boss of Kuan Yew's grandfather

Oei Tjiong Ham
Over the years, PAP government under Kuan Yew has been de-emphasizing the study of history. Even if Singapore history is taught, the content must be studied superficially, littered with mis-informations, half-truth and deliberate omission.

In my previous post, I wrote about Kuan Yew's grandfather Lee Hoon Leong. He ran the shipping business, Heap Eng Moh Steamship, rising to CEO for the biggest opium cultivator in the whole south east Asia, Oei Tjiong Ham.

Semarang Alumni
Oei was the richest man in south east Asia, hailed from Semarang, Java, Indonesia. Many in Singapore are not aware of the the real extend of power of Semarang peranakans in our country. Kwa Siew Tee, the father of Kwa Geok Choo was born in Semarang and environ. Kuan Yew's paternal grandmother, Ko Liem Neo was from Semarang, who was taken as a minor wife there, by married man Lee Hoon Leong.

Lee Hoon Leong enjoyed his young minor wife 10 years his junior in Semarang, out of sight of his Singapore spouse Mark Hup Sin at first, until after the birth of their first son Lee Chin Koon. Lee Chin Koon, Kuan Yew's dad was born in Semarang and brought in as FT to Singapore.

About Oei Tjiong Ham
Among so many talented Chinese in Indonesia, Oei was able to stand out due to his business in opium. Between 1890 and 1904, Oei made a profit of 18 million guilders from the opium trade alone. During that period, Oei Tiong Ham became a major opium license holder in Central and East Java (in Semarang, Yogyakarta, Surakar-ta, and Surabaya). He also owned the largest opium farms.

With astronomical profits from opium, Oei was able to build Oei Tiong Ham Concern (OTHC), the largest conglomerate in south east Asia the early 20th century. Its flagship was Kian Gwan, which Oei inherited from his father in 1890.

Apart from opium, Oei also became famous as the "sugar king" as well. Among its subsidiary, there was this Heap Eng Moh Steamship Company Ltd, where Kuan Yew's granddaddy was running.

Opium and Kuan Yew
Today,anyone caught 1.2kg of opium, 15g of heroin, 30g of morphine will be sent to gallows. The sentence is harsh. Ironically, Kuan Yew's grandfather prospered by working for Oei who had been the biggest opium dealer in south east Asia.

Places in Singapore and building in NUS still carries name of Oei Tjiong Ham.

Oei family in Singapore
Daughter Oei Hui Lan wrote that of his father "All his life he had great interest in women and sex. He had 18 acknowledged concubines and a total of 42 children by them"

Oei relocated to Singapore in early 1920s where he died in 1924. His empire soon vanished under nationalism after Indonesia's independent.

Mavis Oei
Arguably only Kian Gwan Thailand manages to survive while Kian Gwan Singapore office long felt into oblivion. Despite of this, the Oei family in Singapore remains extremely powerful without attracting very much attention nowadays.

Son Oei Tjong Ie was the Chairman and one of the founder of Maybank, the largest bank in Malaysia. The family holds substantial stake in OCBC. Ie's son Humphey Oei Ing Tjien married Mavis Khoo daughter of Singapore No 1 richest Khoo Teck Puat.

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