Lim Boon Keng
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Lim Boon Keng (b. 18 October 1869, Singapore - d. 1 January 1957, Singapore) was a pioneer Straits Chinese who actively sought to improve the status of the Chinese in Malaya through education and social activism. He held top positions in the Legislative Council and liaised actively with the Manchu government.
Lim was a third generation Baba (or Peranakan) born in Singapore, the second son of Lim Thean Geow. He was orphaned as a teenager with the death of his father when he was only 16. His mother had died when he was just 10. He was brought up by his grandparents instead who placed him in the clan temple to master the Chinese Classics.
He was first educated in English at the Government Cross Street School, and later at Raffles Institution, marking his academic brilliance by becoming the first Chinese to win the Queen's Scholarship in 1887. His scholarship took him to study medicine in Edinburgh University, guided by the best in the medical arena with many of his lecturers becoming leaders in specific branches of medicine. He graduated in August 1892 with an MB C. M. (Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery) gaining first class honours.
1892 : Research student in the Pathology Department, Cambridge University.
1893 : Returned to Singapore due to financial difficulties. He established a private practice in Telok Ayer Street. He had avoided the government service observing that few locals could obtain positions higher than that of assistant medical officer.
1896 : Conducted a local health survey with Dr Janz, the results of which indicated that cholera led to a high proportion of deaths in Singapore.
Early 1900s: Opened up the Kiu Su Tong Dispensary, later renamed the Sincere Dispensary at Raffles Place with Dr Murray Robertson and Dr S. C. Yin, his brother-in-law. He relinquished his partnership in 1906 to serve the Manchu government.
1907 - 1910 : Volunteered to lecture on Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the King Edward Medical School.
1896 : Began the first Chinese rubber enterprise in partnership with Tan Chay Yan. Set up his estate off Yio Chu Kang Road.
29 Mar 1920 : Made Director of the Overseas Assurance Corporation Ltd.
He was also Director of several banks including Ho Hong Bank (incorporated January 1917), the Chinese Commercial Bank Ltd (incorporated September 1912) which he also served as first Chairman. He was also Director of the Singapore Rubber Ltd. In 1921, he relinquished these posts in favour of heading up the Amoy (Xiamen) University.
He strongly advocated the reformation of the Straits Chinese community beginning with his famed queue-cutting campaigns and rallies against opium smoking culminating in the formation of the Khai Eng Soh, "The Opium Refuge", under Dr S. C. Yin in 1906.
22 Aug 1895 : Appointed Legislative Councillor. Although he was a mere 26-year old and despite opposition from the governor, public support for him was overwhelming. Especially after he gave moving public speeches rooting for the Chinese and Baba communities. He was reappointed in 1901 and again in 1915.
1896 : Appointed a Committee member of the Raffles Library and Museum.
17 Aug 1900 : Founded the Straits Chinese British Association despite opposition that it would cause a rift between the Babas and the Chinese communities.
Lim and Song Ong Siang collaborated in producing the Straits Chinese Magazine from 1897 to 1907. Lim also held high positions in the community, serving as a legislative councillor, a Justice of Peace and a Municipal Commissioner. He was a member of the Chinese Advisory Board. On the formation of Singapore's Chinese Volunteer Company in November 1901, he was the first to enrol, enlisting as a private and holding that rank for 4 years until he obtained the rank colour of sergeant by the time he retired. He was also founder member of the Straits Chinese British Association in 1900, heading it as president for a number of years. He was also member and President of the Straits Philosophical Society, a fellow of the Royal Medical Society Edinburgh, a member of the Council of the Malaya Branch of the British Medical Association, and was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Laws (LL.D.).
He was involved in the Singapore branch of the Kuomintang. Although he initially supported the Emperor, he later changed his allegiance to support the Kuomintang.
He was a strong reformer of schools, particularly in restoring the teaching of Chinese in English schools. Lim started the first English-medium School for Chinese in 1899, and was one of the promoters of the Singapore Chinese Girls School that year. In March 1897, he also founded the Chinese Philomathic Society which promoted regular study of English Literature, Western music and the Chinese language. He even served as the first president of the Amoy University (Xiamen University) in China in June 1921.
1887 : Awarded the Queen's scholarship. Although he came in second in the Queen's Scholarship exams, with Song Ong Siang winning first place, Lim won the Scholarship by default because Ong Siang had been underage and was thus disqualified.
May 1919 : He was conferred the order of O.B.E.
He returned to Singapore from China in 1937 but was interned by the Japanese during the War. He formed the Goh Loo Club at Club Street which initially served to protect Chinese leaders some of whom had been involved in raising relief funds for China. However, the Japanese renamed the club the Overseas Chinese Association which was required to raise S$50,000 on behalf of all Malayan Chinese, a symbol of support for the Japanese army. The Japanese used the Association to transmit propaganda and rehabilitate the Chinese. In his twilight years, Lim spent his time in retirement at Paterson Hill Road where he remained until he died in 1957.
Grandfather: Lim Mah Peng. Originated from Hai Teng, Fujien Province and came to Penang in 1839 where his local Chinese wife bore him an only son. He worked as an assistant in the opium farm of Cheang Hong Lim.
Father: Lim Thean Geow.
Margaret Wong Tuan Keng, the eldest daughter of Wong Nai Siong the owner of the Chinese daily, Siang Pau. Married her in 1896. She died in 1905, leaving 4 sons.
Grace Yin Peck Ha (b. 1 July 1884, Xiamen, Fujien - d.?), the sister of Dr S. C. Yin and trained as a teacher, she was a social activist in her own right amongst the Chinese. She was the first Chinese to teach English in Xiamen and was made a Justice of Peace in 1948 for her contributions to society. Lim's 2nd marriage in 1908 bore them 1 daughter and 1 son.
Robert K. S. Lim, (Dr), eldest son. Served as Minister of Health in the Nationalist Government of China until civil war broke out in 1948. Became Professor of Physiology, University of Illinois, USA
Lim Ko Beng, who became a mechanical engineer.
Lim Ko Leng, who became manager of the Ban Hin Lee Bank.
Lim Ko Liao.
Lim Peng Han from the second marriage. A UK-trained automotive engineer who went into the auto business and became a famed racer.
Daughter: Ena Lim Guat Keng, from the second marriage. A qualified musician.
Grandson: Lim Kok Ann (Dr), son of Lim Ko Leng. Also a Queen's scholar, he lectured at the King Edward VII College of Medicine, Singapore
(1) "On the Cardiac Nerves of the dog", Philosophic Transactions of the Royal Society.
(2) "The Colemic Fluid of Lumbricus Terrestris in reference to a Protective Mechanism", Philosophic Transactions of the Royal Society.
(3) "Tuberculosis among the Chinese in Singapore", Journal of the Straits Medical Association, 1890-94.
(4) "The opium smoking habit and its treatment on Dyspnoea", Journal of the Straits Medical Association, 1890-94.
(5) "Principles of Confucianism".
(6) "Lectures on the Elements of Hygiene".
He authored "The Chinese Crisis from within" which was published in 1901 in London.
Clammer, J. R. (1980). Straits Chinese Society: Studies in the sociology of Baba communities of Malaysia and Singapore (p. 9). Singapore: Singapore University Press.
(Call no.: Sing 301.45195105957 CLA)
Christie, D. (2003, April 7). Race ace a local hero. TODAY, p. 8.
Khor, E. H. (1958). The public life of Dr. Lim Boon Keng. Singapore: University of Malaya.
(Call no.: RCLOS 361.924 LIM.K)
Sim, V. (Ed.). . Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore (pp. 1, 81). Singapore: Nan Kok Pub.
(Call no.: RRARE 920.0591 SIM)
Singapores grand old man dies. (1957, January 2). The Straits Times, p. 1.
Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore (pp. 234-238). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON)
Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819-1988 (pp. 27, 101-105). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR)
Honours to these 11 pioneers. (1983, November 13). The Straits Times, p. 21.
Pioneers of Singapore. (1986, May 25). The Straits Times, TV Plus, p. 12 .
The information in this article is valid as at 2003 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.
Lim, Boon Keng, 1869-1957
Peranakan (Asian people)--Singapore--Biography
Business, finance and industry>>Business organization>>Business enterprises
People and communities>>Social groups and communities