Tan Siak Kew (陈锡九 or Chen Xijiu; 31 May 1903, Teo Ann, Guangdong, China–5 February 1977, Singapore) was a prominent businessman, nominated member of the Legislative Assembly, president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce, diplomat and philanthropist.
He came to Singapore in 1910 and received an English-language education from St Anthony’s Boys School and then Raffles Institution. However, he did not graduate from the latter as he had to return to China with his ageing father. During the two years Tan spent in China, he studied Chinese classics at a private school.
After returning to Singapore in 1921, Tan worked as a clerk at an insurance firm, Overseas Assurance Corporation (华侨保险公司). An assiduous learner, he took night classes on business at Raffles Institution, and engaged a private tutor for Chinese lessons. As a result, Tan became effectively bilingual – a trait that served him well later in life and business.
In the early 1930s, Tan and two friends set up a produce business known as Buan Lee Seng. By the end of the decade, Tan had become known as a merchant in the pepper and gambier trade. In addition to his produce business, Tan diversified into banking, property and shipping.
In 1937, Tan became a committee member of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce, and served as its president for two terms in the 1950s (1952–54; 1956–58). Among the other positions he held were: nominated member of the Legislative Assembly (1958–59), chairman of Ngee Ann Kongsi (1965), president of the Chinese Exchange Produce (1948–67), president of the Nanyang University Council (1966–70), honorary chairman of the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan (1969–76). He was also at various times a member of public bodies such as the Chinese Advisory Board and the Singapore Harbour Board. Tan was a director and then the chairman of Four Seas Communications Bank (previously named Sze Hai Tong Bank) in the 1960s and ’70s.
In the 1950s, Tan advocated for citizenship rights for China-born Chinese in Singapore, and in 1953 became a founding member of the Nanyang University Council. In 1964, Tan was conferred the Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Meritorious Service Medal) by then Yang di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak, in recognition of his contributions to Singapore. Following Singapore’s independence, Tan was appointed as the state’s first ambassador to Thailand in 1966.
In 1951, the City Council named a road in Sennett Estate “Siak Kew Avenue”, as Tan was one of the directors of the company that built the housing estate.
Selected books on Tan Siak Kew
胡兴荣 [Hu, X. R.]. 《记忆南洋大学》 [Remembering Nanyang University]. 桂林 : 广西师范大学出版社 [Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press], pp. 10–11, 14–15, 17.
Call no.: RSING Chinese 378.5957 HXR
This contains some information about Tan’s involvement in the fundraising for Nanyang University.
罗永亨 (编辑). [Luo, Y. H. (Ed.)]. 《新加坡中华总商会八十周年纪念特刊》 = Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry 80th anniversary souvenir. 新加坡 : 陈启祐 [Singapore: Chen qi you], pp. 348–349, 358–365.
Call no.: RSING Chinese 380.10655957 SIN
This publication contains the description of the Chamber’s activities during Tan’s two terms as president.
新加坡潮州八邑会馆 [Singapore Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan]. 《新加坡潮州八邑会馆四十周年纪念暨庆祝新加坡开埠百五十周年特刊, 1819–1929》 [Singapore Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan’s 40th anniversary and Singapore’s 150th anniversary since its founding]. Singapore: Singapore Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan, pp. 64, 70, 73.
Call no.: RCLOS Chinese q369.25957 XJP
This includes a timeline of Tan’s involvement in the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan, as well as some portraits of him.
宋哲美 [Song, Z. M.]. 《星马人物志》 = Who’s who in Singapore and Malaysia (Vol. 1). Hong Kong: South East Asia Research Institute, pp. 58–65.
Call no.: RSING Chinese 920.0595 WHO
The pages indicated contains a biography of Tan Siak Kew
Selected newspaper articles on Tan Siak Kew
[Advertisement, column 1]. (1970, December 6). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This is an advertisement for Four Seas Communications Bank, for which Tan is named as chairman and managing director.
[Page 20]. (1971, April 24). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This is an announcement of the opening of the new premises of Fourseas Finance, a subsidiary of Four Seas Communications Bank. It includes a description of Tan as chairman of Fourseas Finance as well as that of its parent company and an advertisement for Fourseas Finance.
$2 mil. pageant not a waste of money, says Mr. Tan. (1953, April 17). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
In this article, Tan, as member of the Coronation Celebrations Committee, justifies the large expenditure on the procession celebrating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Businessmen of wide experience head the company. (1971, April 24). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This is a newspaper report of Tan and his career.
China-born Chinese seeking franchise rights in S’pore. (1951, January 5). Malaya Tribune, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This article reports on Tan advocating for citizenship rights for China-born Chinese in Singapore.
Chinese Chamber against a fully-elected Council. (1953, January 8). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
In this article, Tan speaks out against the removal of Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce representatives on the Legislative Council.
Condolence. (1977, February 10). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This is an obituary of Tan
Director known for services to state. (1964, February 1). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This article describes Tan’s commercial achievements and the various positions he has held.
Goy, P. (2014, September 30). New book, scholarship to remember pioneer. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This is a report about a new biography published about Tan, and the funding of a new scholarship under Tan’s name by his family.
Millionaires will give $500,000. (1950, July 8). Singapore Standard, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This newspaper report announces that Tan donated $100,000 to the University of Malaya fund.
Mr. Sennett starts $2 million concern. (1950, March 26). Sunday Tribune, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This newspaper details Tan’s involvement in the company set up by C. W. A. Sennett to build the Sennett housing estate.
Parties on wrong line, says Tan. (1953, May 13). The Singapore Free Press, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
In this article, Tan speaks out against the removal of trade representatives on the Legislative Council.
‘Personal’ names for new roads. (1951, September 27). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This is a report of City Council’s decision to name roads in new estate after directors of the company that built the estate, including Tan.
They strongly oppose the new tax bill. (1953, September 30). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Tan, as president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce, leads a sub-committee to oppose the implementation of higher taxes and stricter tax controls.
Selected photographs on Tan Siak Kew