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Towkay Yau Tet Shin
Yau Tet Shin was born in 1859, in Guandong, China, the son of Yan Chee Thin of Kayinchow, China. He came to the Federated Malay States at an early age as a tin mining coolie in Seremban.
Illiterate, but with a very good martial arts background he was a man of integrity who greatly valued friendship. He was also a believer in the need for social welfare. Subsequently promoted to Mining Supervisor, he learnt the skills of tin mining, but soon changed his job to become a hawker around Seremban.
As a hawker he saved his money and moved to Paloh (old Chinese name for Ipoh) to open a grocery shop. Business was very good and soon he was able to invest in mining, his main interest, much of the money coming from his earlier investment in the General (Opium) Farm of Perak. The record suggests that because of his Kung-fu background he was able to invade (get more mining licences) more mining land from the British Government at $1 per acre, where it is said he managed his coolies well. Thanks to his previous experience in the Seremban mines he amassed a fortune very quickly.
Of all his mines, Yau Tet Shin's best was Ampang in Selangor where he first used the hydraulic monitor (water gun) on a few thousand acres of land. Later he branched out to other moneymaking enterprises in both Perak and Negeri Sembilan. These included administering taxes for liquor, owning pawnshops and becoming the government contractor for opium dens, brothels and gambling houses. A very powerful man indeed! It is also said that there was not just one Concubine Lane but three of them in Old Town; 'Second Wife's Lane' (Yee Lai Hong) and 'Third Wife's Lane (Sarm Lai Hong) were so called because Yau Tet Shin's second and third wife lived there. To what we know, he had 14 known sons!
In 1908 Tet Shin, after obtaining a piece of land from the Datoh Panglima Kinta Muhammad Yusuff to build a theatre on Leech Street in 1891, disregarded the objections and concerns of his relatives and friends and invested many millions of dollars in the construction of Ipoh New Town, consisting of some 350 houses, which were laid out over the Datoh Panglima Kinta Wahab (successor to Muhammad Yusuff) padi fields.
In his new town he included a new market and a mandarin school as anchor attractions. Yau Tet Shin worked closely with the other Chinese leaders, but particularly closely with Leong Fee with whom he erected a new, brick-built, Chinese Theatre on Panglima and Leech Streets in 1906, replacing his first wooden theatre of 1891. They also jointly founded the Chinese Hotel on Belfield Street.
New Town mirrored the Old Town across the Kinta River, but was built according to better standards, and with regular streets wide enough for motorcars. The Hugh Low Bridge was strengthened and widened, and this was followed by the construction of the Birch Bridge (opened in 1907) to cope with the additional traffic. The new town was opened by the Resident E W Birch on 29th January 1909.
Yau Tet Shin, owner of the large mine at Ampang, the Menglembu Smelting Works near Ipoh and many other businesses, was at one time an opium and liquor farmer, but later joined the Perak Anti-Opium Society. Clearly the leading Pioneer of Ipoh he was the one who donated great sums of money to build the Perak Ka Yin Association, The Perak Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Perak Chinese Tin Miners Association and Min Tet Primary School.
Not forgetting his roots, he also developed and funded several schools in China. Yau Tet Shin passed away in 1913 at the age of 54.
The last building in Ipoh to bear the name of this famous miner, entrepreneur and pioneer, the Yau Tet Shin Circular Market was built in 1962. Also known as Yau Tet Shin Bazaar or Pasar Bulat (round market) for short, it was on Cowan Street but was demolished in 2002, barely 40 years after it was constructed.
To read more about Yau Tet Shin Circular Market (Bazaar), click here.
To read more about E W Birch click here.
To learn more about the Perak Anti Opium Society, click here.
To read more about Datoh Panglima Kinta Muhammad Yusuff, click here.
To read about Datoh Panglima Kinta Wahab's House, click here.
To read more about Towkay Leong Fee, click here.