Tay Koh Yat (郑古悦; 1880 – 1957) was an entrepreneur and Chinese community leader in Singapore. Originally from Kinmen, Fujian, Tay started school at 11 and came to Singapore when he was 22. Eight years later in 1910, he joined Chop Guan Seng Hin and established Guan Soon Company when he was 32, with a branch at Pangkalpinang, Indonesia. In 1921, he started the Aik Seng Hin Company with branches in Jakarta and Surabaya, Indonesia. He established Chin Joo Seng Company the following year which imported Indonesian local produce into Singapore, dealing specially in salted and dried fish products. Tay established Tay Koh Yat Bus Company in 1938 and by 1949, owned a fleet of more than 60 buses and was the biggest Chinese bus company in Singapore.
In 1941 in preparation for war, the Singapore colonial government invited him to be the organiser and commander of the the Chinese Civil Defence. In 1942, he escaped by boat to Java to avoid capture by the Japanese. After the surrender of the Japanese forces, Tay returned to Singapore and compiled a list of Chinese Civil Defence members who were killed by the Japanese and requested compensation from the government on their families’ behalf.
In 1946, he was appointed by the Hokkien Huey Kuan to raise funds to purchase lands for schools. A total of more than $100,000 was raised. In 1947, as the chairman of the Singapore Chinese Massacre Appeal Committee, Tay led the committee in legal affairs to prosecute Japanese war criminals. King George VI awarded him a Certificate of Honour in 1948. In the same year, he was elected as the chairman of the board for the newspaper Chung Shing Jit Pao. He became the president of Tong Chai Medical Institution in 1949 and wrote to the Governor to request recognition of the institution as a charitable organisation. He was also the Chairman of Kinmen Hoey Kuan and one of the board directors of Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce for many years. Tay passed away in 1957.
Selected books on Tay Koh Yat
Soh, H. S, and Tan, C. L. (1952). Singapore Chinese 1952 New Year honours celebration souvenir. Singapore: Boon Hua Print, pp. 24 – 27.
Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SOH
In 1952, New Year Honours were conferred on four Malayan Chinese by King George VI. Tay Koh Yat was conferred the Order of the British Empire. The book was published to commemorate the event and contains the biographies of the four recipients in both Chinese and English.
Leow, C. and Lim, S. H. (Ed.). (2016). World War II @ Bukit Brown. Singapore: Published by Pagesetters Services Pte Ltd and Singapore Heritage Society under the imprint Ethos Books, pp. 121 – 125.
Call no.: RSING 940.54655957 WOR
The book contains a biography of Tay Koh Yat, tracing his life as a poor young man seeking his fortune in Singapore to becoming one of the most successful businessmen in Singapore, and finally a war hero and prominent Chinese community leader.
Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and Pioneer Junior College. (2013). 1911 Revolution: Singapore pioneers in Bukit Brown. Singapore: Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall; Pioneer Junior College, pp. 50 – 53
Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 NIN
The book contains the biographies of 12 prominent Chinese personalities who had actively contributed to the 1911 Revolution and were buried in Bukit Brown cemetery. Each biography contains a write-up on the personality, photographs and sketches of the grave. Tay Koh Yat’s biography is also included.
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. 115.
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 information on the birth and death date, dialect group, occupation and affiliated organisations of the Chinese personality. Tay Koh Yat’s biography is also included.
方百成, 杜南发. (编委主任). [Fang, B. C. and Du, N. F. (Ed.).] (2012). 世界福建名人录, 新加坡编. [Prominent figures of the world Fujian communities: Singapore]. 新加坡: 新加坡福建会馆, pp. 156 – 157.
Call no.: RSING 920.05957 PRO
The book contains the biography of 155 Chinese Hokkien personalities in Singapore, covering the period from 1819 to 2012. Tay Koh Yat’s biography is also included, with details on his business ventures, war efforts, charitable acts and other appointments.
庄钦永, 徐正光. (主编). [Zhuang, Q. Y. and Xu, Z. F. (Ed).] (1998). 民族学研究所资料汇编12：马六甲、新加坡华文碑文辑录 [Field Materials Institute of Ethnology no. 12: A compilation of stele inscriptions found in Malacca and Singapore]. 台北 : 中央研究院民族学研究所, pp.164-165.
Call no.: RSING 929.509595 ZQY
This issue of the journal is a compilation of the stele inscriptions found in temples and cemeteries in Malacca and Singapore. The inscriptions for Tay Koh Yat’s tombstone listed the names of his family members and indicated that Tay was born on 26 December 1880 and died on 30 January 1957.
柯木林, 林孝胜 & 张清江. (主编). [Ke, M. L., Lin, X, S. & Zhang, Q. J. (Ed.).] (2015). 新加坡华人通史 [A general history of the Chinese in Singapore]. 新加坡: 新加坡宗乡会馆, p. 743.
Call no.: RSING 959.57004951 GEN
Appended at the end of the book are the biographies of 50 selected prominent Chinese who had contributed to the Singapore Chinese community in one way or another. Tay Koh Yat’s biography is included.
Selected newspaper articles on Tay Koh Yat
Death. (1957, February 3). Sunday Standard, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
An obituary of Tay Koh Yat in English. Tay passed away in January 1957 and was buried at Bukit Brown Cemetery.
King Birthday award citations. (1948, June 10). Morning Tribune, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Tay Koh Yat was awarded Certificate of Honour due to his contributions to charities and organisation of the Chinese Civil Defence during wartimes.
Dinner in honour of triple wedding at Thomson Road. (1948, April 8). Morning Tribune, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The article stated the names of Tay Koh Yat’s three sons. They are Tay Soo Long, Tay Soo Choon and Tay Soo Hong.