Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Lee Cheng Yan 李清渊

Lee Cheng Yan, JP
Lee Cheng Yan was born in Malacca in 1841. He was the third generation of Chinese immigrant in Malacca. His grandfather, Lee Toon Hong came to Malacca in 1775 and married a Malaccan woman, Tan Siok Kim. Lee Cheng Yan’s father Lee Chan Bee moved to Singapore in 1840s and earned a living there until he died in 1849. Lee Cheng Yan’s father died when he was only eight years old; therefore, he was put under the custody of his elder brother Lee Quee Lim of Malacca. When Lee Cheng Yan reached the age of 17, he and his younger brother Lee Cheng Gam commenced a commission agents and general merchants firm in Singapore under the name Chin Joo. The two brothers were famed for their hard works and well established their firm among the Europeans. In merely ten years, they managed to expand the company’s business into financial and property sectors, and managed to secure a large assets and properties in the Straits Settlements. Lee Cheng Yan first married Tan Leong Mow and blessed with two sons. During his lifetime, Lee Cheng Yan had other six wives. Knowing the importance of education, he sent his second son Lee Keng Tye to Herne Bay College and Haileybury College for English education, where the studies lasted for four terms began on 1 October 1916. Meanwhile, his first son Lee Choon Guan was responsible in assisting his business in Singapore. Lee Cheng Yan fully retired from active business life in 1900s and lived in Singapore. At the beginning of the 20th century, he built four villas; Magenta Cottage in Killiney Road, Hampstead Bath in Upper Bukit Timah, Mandalay Villa in Amber Road and a seaside bungalow in Changi Point. Lee Cheng Yan took a great deal of interest in all matters concerning the Chinese community. He was  in the Committee of the Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the Chinese Advisory Board and the Po Leung Kuk. Realising the necessity of doing something in the matter of education for the poor; he founded and endowed the Hong Joo Chinese Free School in Serangoon Road which was attended by over seventy scholars. He was also one of the trustees of the Gan Eng Seng Free School (now known as the Anglo-Chinese School), and in the Committee of the Toh Lam Chinese School in North Bridge Road (now in Armenian Street). Lee Cheng Yan died in May 1911, leaving his business to his eldest son, Lee Choon Guan.


Lee Cheng Yan & Co. was a successful commission agents and general merchants company in Singapore. The firm was founded in 1858 by Lee Cheng Yan under the name Chin Joo. Lee Cheng Yan the founding father of the firm first began his business in small scale at Telok Ayer Street, Singapore. His determinations and resilience had led him as a prolific figure in real estate business and banker as well as a respectable leader in the Chinese community in Singapore and Malacca. 

Lee Cheng Yan’s brother Lee Cheng Gam also joined the firm as shareholder. As the firm had prospered in a short time of ten years, the Telok Ayer Street premise was shifted to No.10, Malacca Street and expanded the business as banker and property investor. The directors were also on the boards of several important companies, the best known which were the local board of the South British Fire & Marine Insurance Co. and the Straits Steamship Company.

When Lee Cheng Yan died in May 1911, the management of the firm was handed to his eldest son Lee Choon Guan. Where, Lee Choon Guan had been the sole proprietor of the firm since then. The interest of Lee Cheng Gam in the firm ceased upon his death. This had led to destruction among the shareholders of the firm, where Lee Choon Guan finally moved his company to 127-A, Tanjong Katong and a branch office at No.81, Amoy Street. Meanwhile, the Malacca Street property was under Lee Cheng Gam’s son, Lee Keng Hee.


  1. Hi!
    is different from

  2. Hello Lim. Thanks for the input. The source of reference is taken from the One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese in Singapore by Sir Ong-Siang Song in page 110.

    It is written that Gan Eng Seng Free School was also known as Anglo Chinese Free School.