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Towkay Foo Choo Choon (pinyin, Hu Zi Chun)
Foo Choo Choon came to Malaya in 1873 aged 13 years. He was the descendant of an ancient Chinese family, whose ancestral home is in Choong Hang, Eng Teng, near Kwantung. His grandfather emigrated to Malaya and Penang, many years before Choo Choon and was one of Penang's famous pioneers. Foo Choo Choon’s father was born in Penang, but spent most of his life in China, where Choo Choon was born on 30 July 1860. There is apparently no record of whether his father came back with him, but it is known that he studied in Penang, before joining his uncle in Taiping, who had extensive mining rights there. Subsequently he set out on his own and traveled to Paloh (the old Chinese name for Ipoh). From there he was able to be granted a licence to mine for tin in Lahat. However ill-health forced him to return to China for treatment and when he returned to Malaya, such was the success of the Lahat mines that in 1895 he was able to lease Tronoh Mines from the initial Chinese owners of the land rights: Jin Siong Yoong (Batu Gajah), Wong Kok (Papan), Chi Kam Poh (Papan) and Kok Kee (Tronoh), who had abandoned the mines. After inspecting the land, he re-opened the mines with 1,500 coolies and eventually came to employ several thousand workers with Chang Yin Fatt as his overseer.
In 1897 he employed a British engineer, John Addis as the Mining Manager, to introduce more economical mining methods and who applied the most advanced mining methods of the time. Consequently, underground shaft mining and open-cast methods were employed at the same time. The Tronoh Mines became the most westernised Chinese mining operation; with a 420-foot inclined shaft initially which was followed by a perpendicular shaft. These strategies were so successful that Tronoh Mines became the most famous open-cast mine of its time and Foo Choo Choon became known as the “King of Tin”. Records show that from April 1899 to August 1901 the Tronoh Mines produced 21,000 “dan” (50Kg) of tin, with 36 Katis (I Kati equals 625 grams) of tin within 1 Yard of Land. Tronoh Mines Limited was formed in 1901 and the company reached an all-time record of nearly 3,860 tons of tin ore in 1911, becoming the largest producer of tinstone in the world, without any machinery, except that for pumping water. Later he became the proprietor of the Selangor, Sungei Besi and other mines as well as a Director of the Kledang Mines Ltd, the Ipoh Foundry, and the Tanglin Rubber Syndicate. He also owned a number of estates.
However, not only a tin miner and businessman, Foo Choo Choon was also a philanthropist, with particular interests in social welfare and education. In 1899 he donated the Yuk Choy Primary School land along Hugh Low Street to The Perak Mining and Planting Association, thus allowing Yuk Choy School to be built. He then took on the post as a Director of the school and continued in that role for 8 years. Eventually, in 1948 the Secondary School moved out to Kuala Kangsar Road to the Chinese assembly Hall.
In 1907 he, and Yau Tuck Seng, with a group of businessmen first formed the Perak Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Ipoh (despite the fact that it was not the State capital). Foo Choo Choon became the First President and Trustee of the organisation. He also became the patron of the Perak Anti-Opium Society and the Anti-Opium conference held in Ipoh that year. But his philanthropy did not stop there: He was President of The Kinta Planting Association; President of The Perak Advisory Board; Founder member of The Perak Mining and Planting Association; President of the Straits Settlements and FMS Chinese Board of Education; President of the Chinese Widows and Orphans Fund in Ipoh; Founder member of The Chinese Maternity Hospital; A member of the Perak State Council; Founder member of The Chinese Girl’s School in Ipoh, a member of the Committee of King Edward VII School at Taiping and finally, founder of The Mandarin School in Lahat.
But Foo Choo Choon’s philanthropy did not stop in Malaya for he remembered his upbringing in China and on one of his visits during a famine, built and supplied several granaries for the local people. He also established several schools in his home district and directed that all profits from his Chinese properties should go towards the education of the students from poor families. Consequently he received the honorary Chinese title of Magistrate, with the additional privilege of wearing Peacock feathers, then the higher award of Taotai and finally Commissioner of the Salt Revenue. He was also awarded the Chinese Order of Merit and Gold Medal by the Emperor of China in 1906, for services to his country.
In Perak he was made a Justice of the Peace and already a naturalized British subject he was made a Fellow of the Society of the Arts in England.
Foo Choo Choon passed away in 1921. He was a true Pioneer of Ipoh and the area and is remembered by a road in the Central Market area of the town being named after him, by the government, to commemorate his great efforts in developing Ipoh.
To read more about the Perak Hokkien Association, click here.
To read more about Yuk Choy Primary and Secondary Schools, Ipoh, 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 read more about King Edward VII School, Taiping, click here.