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Towkay Leong Sin Nam JP OBE, A Ka Yin Hakka, His Life And Works
The picture shows Towkay Leong Sin Nam wearing some of the many decorations awarded to him for his charitable works, services to the local community and patriotism to China.
Leong Sin Nam, a Ka Yin Hakka, was born on 20th April 1880 in the District of Moi Yan, Guandong, China. He was only three years old when his father, Leong Tin Siew (Pinyin, Liong Qing Fu) brought the family to Penang, where he was educated in a Chinese school. His father died in 1895 and being the eldest of three brothers, he took over the responsibility of looking after the family. The following year, his mother decided they should return to their village in China, but fell ill during the journey and died in the Port of Swatow, China. The sixteen-year old Sin Nam then took responsibility for transporting his father’s ashes and his mother’s corpse, both for burial in his native village. He also had to look after his two younger brothers, Leong Lean Hee, aged ten and Leong Yuen Hee, six. He hired a sampan to take them to Moi Yan, and was praised by the villagers for his efforts. They predicted a bright future for him.
In 1898, after leading a degenerate life of opium smoking and ‘other luxuries’ in the village, he returned to Malaya and the booming town of Ipoh (or Paloh in the Hakka dialect). There he started as a mining coolie at Leong Fee’s famous Tambun Mine, which was then one of the largest Chinese mines in Perak. He worked hard and saved up his money, and in his early 30s, opened his own hydraulic monitor (water gun) mines at Menglembu , then Pusing and Falim, which eventually employed over a thousand workers. He also invested in a ‘tunnel mine’ (underground), employing Ingham to manage it in 1927.
Later, he ventured into real estate. He built several blocks of shophouses in Ipoh and developed the area between Brewster Road and Clare Street in New Town. He also owned several large rubber estates. A great philanthropist and leader his whole life story would fill a book, but there were some key events which we mention in this article.
In 1912, together with other members of the Perak Ka Yin Association in Ipoh, he started the Min Tet Primary School, Ipoh, integral with the Association's headquarters. The school was officially established on 25 February 1913, one of the earliest Chinese Schools in Ipoh.
During the First World War, the Perak Government authorised him to issue private paper money to overcome the shortage of coins.
In 1918, when the tin price dropped dramatically there was a major loss of jobs and, following the government’s suggestion he lead a group of tin miners to set up the Ipoh Chinese Relief Camp at Silibin Road, which sheltered unemployed workers until 1923.
In 1929, the tin and rubber prices dropped again, more severely than before and the ‘Recession’ began. Rubber dropped to less than $10 per Dan (50Kg). Many mines and plantations closed and the government developed a strategy of sending the unemployed coolies home to China with a free passage. Again, Leong Sin Nam and his fellow Towkays stepped forward and started the Kinta Unemployment Committee, distributing a monthly relief fund for the unemployed.
In 1931, he bought over the mine in Ampang from the late Yau Tet Shin’s son and founded the Federal Tin Mining Company. He also branched out into farming with the Leong Sin Nam Farm Company. At this stage there were more than 1,000 families working for the enterprise.
During the 1930s and the recession, Chinese schools in Ipoh were desperately short of funds and to avoid terminating the Yuk Choy Schools, Min Tet Primary School and the two Girls Schools, Leong Sin Nam became a Director of them all and ensured they were funded.
Before World War II he donated 5 acres of land at 17 Gopeng Road, his bungalow, to the Ka Yin Association, in which he was a long-standing Director. It was in this bungalow that Perak Girls High School first started, the building being lent by Leong Sin Nam.
His other business ventures included publishing Chinese newspapers (Kuala Lumpur’s Malayan Chinese Daily News and the Perak Chinese Daily News, Ipoh), hotels (the Eastern Hotel in Cameron Highlands) and finance (Bank of Malaya Ltd, Hakka Chung Khiaw Bank and the Perak Trust and Investment Co Ltd)
As Mr. Leong Sin Nam prospered, he took an active part in public life, donating generously towards many charitable, educational, sporting and social institutions. He was appointed a Member of the Perak State Council in 1920, the Perak Chinese Maternity Association in 1926 as well as President of the Khek (Hakka) and Ka Yin clan associations, the Perak Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Perak Mining and Planting Association and several schools in Ipoh. He was also Chairman of the Ipoh Rate-payers Association and the Overseas Chinese Mining Association as well as a Member of the Perak Chinese Advisory Board, the Po Leung Kuk and the Federated Malay States Chamber of Mines.
In 1931, he became the Managing Director of the Toh Allang Chinese Tin Ltd. And the Leong Sin Nam Lodes Ltd., making him one of the leading Chinese tin miners in Ipoh.
For his public service, he was given various honours. He was made a Justice of the Peace in 1920. In 1929, he was awarded the Malayan Certificate of Honour (MCH). In 1937, he was awarded the Most Distinguished Order of the British Empire (OBE), being only the second non-British subject, after Loke Yew, to be so honoured. The High Commissioner of the Federated Malay States, Sir Shenton Thomas, said of him, “His influence has always been exercised in the best interests of the community and his unobtrusive but generous philanthropy has supported many deserving institutions."
Leong Sin Nam was also the President of the Kuomintang, Perak branch, for although he stayed in Malaya, this did not prevent him from being loyal and patriotic towards his own mother land. He supported various causes in China, most notably the Chinese Distress Relief Fund, of which he was the Chairman. He also held several posts in other departments in China, for example, he was the Adviser of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce, Member of the Economic Committee of the Chinese Government and Committee Member of the Kwantung Branch of Reconstruction Commission. He was also one of the four Members of the People’s Assembly of the Republic of China in Malaya.
In recognition of his services rendered to China he was awarded medals from from Sun Yet Sen, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance.
Leong Sin Nam passed away on 19th January 1940 at Port Dickson at the age of sixty and his body was brought to Ipoh by a special train. He laid in State in his family home for 11 days and on the day of his funeral all Chinese shops and offices were closed for business. His funeral procession in Ipoh was two miles long.
To read more about Towkay Leong Fee, click here.
To read more about the New Tambun Mines, click here.
To read more about the Perak Ka Yin Association, click here.
To read more about the Perak Khek Association, click here.
To read more about Perak Chinese Chamber of Commerce, click here.
To read more about The Perak Maternity Hospital / Association, click here.
To read more about Perak Girls School, Ipoh, click here.
To learn more about the Perak Anti Opium Society, click here.