Seow Poh Leng (萧保龄; 1883–1942) was a prominent banker and one of the founding pioneers of Ho Hong Bank, which later merged with two other banks to form the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation. His father, Seow Chye Watt, was a Hokkien who migrated to Singapore from Malacca. After passing the Senior Cambridge examination at Anglo Chinese School (ACS), Seow became a teacher and taught at Eastern School, ACS and Raffles Institution.
Seow was also a chemist’s assistant, law clerk, stockbroker, insurance agent with Great Eastern Life Assurance Company Limited, clerk at John Little & Company and even dabbled in the rice trading business before he joined banking a. Seow first joined Chinese Commercial Bank but subsequently left to co-establish the Ho Hong Bank in 1917 with Hokkien merchant Lim Peng Siang and well-known public figure Lim Boon Keng. Ho Hong Bank became an important foreign exchange bank in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Malaya but subsequently suffered losses due to the Great Depression in the 1930s. On 31 October 1932, the bank merged with Oversea-Chinese Bank and Chinese Commercial Bank to form Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (now known as OCBC Bank).
In his pastime, Seow was an avid theatre lover and took part in many amateur theatricals. He named his seaside bungalow in Siglap “Titania”, and his house at 117 Emerald Hill Road “Oberon” named after characters in Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream. Seow was also active in clubs and sports and held several appointments in clubs and associations, such as the honorary secretary of the Straits Chinese Recreation Club in 1905, honorary secretary and treasurer of the Singapore and South Malaya Boy Scouts Association, and vice-president of the Tanjong Katong Swimming Party.
Selected Books on Seow Poh Leng
Lim, B. (c. 1994). A rose on my pillow: Recollections of a nyonya. Singapore: Armour Pub., p. 4.
Call no.: RSING 920.72 LIM
A personal account from Seow’s daughter, Betty Lim recounted her life from pre-war Singapore, through the turbulent Japanese Occupation, to the present. Her accounts included the childhood memories of her family and the household.
Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 359, 372.
Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS].
The book remains popular as the provider of information on key Chinese personalities in Singapore who were active between 1819 and 1919.
柯木林. (主编). [Ke, M. L. (Ed.).] (1995). 新华历史人物列传 [Who’s who in the Chinese community of Singapore]. 新加坡: 教育出版公司, p. 185.
Call no.: RSING 959.570092 WHO-[HIS].
The book contains the biographies of 1,175 Chinese personalities in Singapore, covering the period from 1819 to 1990. Each biography contains the birth and death dates, dialect group, occupation and affiliated organisations of the Chinese personality. Seow Poh Leng’s biography is also included.
Selected newspaper articles on Seow Poh Leng
穷苦小贩吁请人道的待遇. A better treatment for hawkers. 南洋商报, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This is a letter written by Seow Poh Leng championing for a better treatment of the hawkers. It includes a poem written by Seow.
Mr. Seow Poh Leng Entertained. (1931, February 5). Malaya Tribune, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This is an article about a staff tea party at Ho Hong Bank, in celebration of the appointment of Seow Poh Leng as the Municipal Commissioner.
A.C.S. Old Boys’ Association. (1925, January 21). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), p. 41. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This report announces that Seow Poh Leng is appointed as the Honorary Treasurer of A.C.S. Old Boys’ Association.
Selected oral history interviews on Seow Poh Leng
- Ooi, Y.L. (Interviewer). (1989, July 8). Oral history interview with Seow, Betty Guat Beng @ Lim Koon Teck (Mrs) [Accession No. 001048, reels 2 of 20]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
This is an interview with Betty Seow, Seow Poh Leng’s daughter. In the interview, she spoke about her parents and family.
Selected articles on Seow Poh Leng
- Lee, H. H. (2009). Seow Poh Leng. Retrieved from Infopedia.
This article covers the early life of Seow Poh Leng, his banking career, personal life in his marriage and passion for theatre, as well as his contribution to public welfare.