The Tan Kah Kee Memorial Museum

 The Legacy of Tan Kah Kee

To many in Singapore and around the region, the name Tan Kah Kee is synonymous with leadership, entrepreneurship, philanthropy, social reform and education. Generations of ACSians are also familiar with the name as one of the school houses bears his name for his enormous contributions to education and ACS.

Recently, 102 descendants of Tan Kah Kee (also known as Chen Jia-Keng) from all over the world were invited by the Jimei District Municipal Government, the Xiamen Municipal Government and the Central/Xiamen United Front Party to witness the grand opening of the Tan Kah Kee Memorial Museum at Jimei, China, and also to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Jimei schools and university. Among them were 19 ACSians from Singapore, USA, Canada, Hong Kong, Shanghai, UK and Australia – the eldest being Tan Guan Chay, age 92, the seventh son of Tan Kah Kee.

At all the official functions, the red carpet was laid down for us; our hosts spared no efforts and the entertainment of songs and dances was just spectacular. However, the highlight and perhaps our proudest moment was the tremendous applause we received from about 20,000 students as we marched up the stage in the Jimei school auditorium to be introduced as the Tan Kah Kee descendants. What really touched us was a “Welcome Home” banner carried by a couple of students in the dress circle. At another official function, we were overwhelmed by the colourful lion and dragon dances in the Jimei school sports stadium packed with over 70,000 spectators.

At Xiamen University, which was also started by Tan Kah Kee, we had a bird’s eye view of the campus from the 21st floor of the University building. We were filled with great pride as another banner displayed the words “A Warm Welcome to the delegation of Mr Tan Kah Kee’s descendants to Xiamen University”.
The enormous achievements and contributions by Tan Kah Kee especially towards education are awe inspiring and what prompted Tan Kah Kee to take action in his own hometown of Chi Mei (Jimei) was his personal experience during his tours of various villages in 1912. After observing many young children without clothes and school indulging in gambling, he committed himself in 1913 to provide primary, secondary, tertiary, professional and vocational education in Chi Mei and Amoy (now known as Xiamen).

Tan Kah Kee spent over fifty years in Singapore between 1890 and 1950, these being some of the best and most productive years of his life. However, it must be remembered that Tan Kah Kee’s Chinese background covered a traumatic and painful era that encompassed a vast and exciting revolutionary change in China and the rapid socio-political change in South East Asia. He made generous donations to Chinese Schools in Singapore like Tao Nan, Chung Wah Girls, Ai Tong, The Chinese High School, just to name a few. His involvement and the promotion of English education in Singapore was also impressive and substantial and on record he committed a sum of S$100,000 to the proposed Anglo Chinese School College in 1919. However, when the plan was aborted due to opposition from the British authorities, Tan Kah Kee agreed to transfer $30,000 to Anglo Chinese School as a donation to its physics and chemistry funds. The school then adopted his name for one of the sporting houses.

Besides owning rubber estates in Singapore and Malaya, Tan Kah Kee’s other enterprises include rice mills, pineapple canneries, biscuit factory, shipping, sweets and confectionery, newsprint (Nanyang Siang Pau), rubber manufactories like boot, shoes, hats, tyres, brickworks etc. He also established a Maritime School as Xiamen is near the coast.

The recent visit by the descendants of Tan Kah Kee was indeed an eye opener especially to the first time fourth and fifth-generations. For many, the meeting of so many relatives from all over the world for the first time was an emotional and exciting experience as they started to trace the source of their family tree. Tan Kah Kee had four marriages with a total of seventeen children.

The opening of the Tan Kah Kee Memorial Museum

Descendants at Tan Kah Kee's former residence.

The Descendants of Tan Kah Kee

ACSians at Xiamen University

Albert, Helen and son Ken on the steps of the Museum


The Tan Kah Kee Mausoleum & TombThe culmination of Tan Kah Kee’s unique multi-faceted life history was unfolded with the opening of the Tan Kah Kee Memorial Museum on 21 October 2008. This impressive four storey museum to the north of Ao Yuan or Turtle Garden in Jimei covers an overall area of 100,000 sq. m. with a total floor space of 11,000 sq. m. The museum is of Tan Kah Kee’s own architectural design and inside depicts the life history of an overseas Chinese legend and the making of an educationist, industrialist, entrepreneur and philanthropist.

The visit to Jimei, Xiamen, Shandong Province and Beijing to understudy and witness the majestic works and contributions of Tan Kah Kee was indeed an emotional, memorable and impressive experience for us.

Albert Lee Seng Gay & Bill Tan Peck Seng
(both from the ACS Class of 57)


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