Saturday, 22 August 2009

Foo Choo Choon 胡子春


Foo Choo Choon or Woo Chu Chun was born on 31 August 1860 in China to Foo Yu Chio. He was the scion of an ancient Hakka family, whose ancestral home in Chung Hang Eng, Yongding County, Fujian, China, which is very near to Guangdong. His grandfather was the first in his lineage migrated to Penang and was one of the pioneers in the Straits Settlements. Foo Choo Choon's father was born in Penang, but spent most of his time in China. 

Foo Choo Choon's boyhood was spent in China, looked after by his paternal grandmother, due to his mother demised at a young age. At the age of thirteen, Foo Choo Choon came to Penang to receive his early English education. His versatility in speaking fluent English and Chinese had made him a favourite among the Western community, as well as for the Chinese. Soon after he completed his English education in Penang, Foo Choo Choon worked in his uncle’s tin mines in Taiping, Perak. The young Foo successfully learned the basic management of running tin mines. Few years later he commenced business on his own account. Subsequently he moved to Kinta District in Perak and settled down at Lahat, which he had employed thousands of workers. 

Ill health necessitated him to return to China for treatment. And upon returned to Malaya, he became connected with the Tronoh Mines owing to the owners abandoning their workings. He visited and examined the place thoroughly, and subsequently obtained a sublease of the land, upon which he decided to install extensive modern plant. Although this decision was not entertained favourably in many quarters, the result achieved has since testified to the wisdom of the proprietor. 

Foo Choo Choon’s acquisition of wealth has been accompanied by many philanthropic acts. On returning to China, during a famine, he built and supplied several public granaries, established schools in his native district and directed that the revenue from his property there should be utilized in assisting the poorer scholars. His generosity during the Shantung famine was the means of bringing him to the notice of the Chinese Government, and he received the honorary title of magistrate, with the additional privilege of wearing peacock feathers. Further acts of generosity raised him to the rank of Taotai and finally to the position of Commissioner of the Salt Revenue. 

In the Federated Malay States, he has been recognized always as one of the most advanced Chinese in educational reform and towards the movement, he has contributed largely by instituting and maintaining many Chinese and English schools. Foo Choo Choon was a naturalized British subject and was a fellow of the Society of Arts in England. 

In addition to the Tronoh Mines, he was proprietor of the Sungei Besi and other mines in Selangor, was the director of the Kledang Mines Ltd of the Ipoh Foundry Ltd and the Tanglin Rubber Syndicate, besides owning several estates. In which he had employed some 10000 coolies. 

Foo Choo Choon had always identified himself with public affairs in the Federated Malay States. He was the president for the Straits Settlements and Federated Malay States of the Chinese Board of Education, Perak Mining and Planting Association, Kinta; Penang Anti – Opium Society and the Chinese Widows and Orphans’ Institution, Ipoh. 

Foo Choo Choon was the member of State Council of Perak, the honorary member of Chinese Advisory Board of Perak and president of Perak Chinese Chamber of Commerce (1913). He founded the Perak Mining and Planting Association, Chinese Maternity Hospital and the Chinese Girls’ School at Ipoh and the Mandarin School at Lahat. He was a committee member of King Edward VII School (Taiping), Yuk Choy Middle School (Ipoh) and was the patron of the Perak Anti-Opium Society. 

In 1906, the Chinese Emperor, by special command, ordered the Viceroy Shum of Canton to confer on Foo Choo Choon the Order of Merit for his services to his country, and this decoration, together with a gold medal, was sent from China and presented by a special envoy. Two years later, the Imperial Chinese Court conferred him the rank of King Hing of the third class mandarin, and had him appointed to become the Chinese Minister to Siam. However, Foo Choo Choon declined the offer, as he would consider it a greater honour, if the Imperial Court would grant him some mining concessions in Hainan, instead of a title. 

Foo Choo Choon died on 27 March 1921 in Penang. He married Chung Keng Quee’s niece and had three children; Foo Meow Chin (胡茂菁), Foo Meow Ying (胡茂英) and Foo Meow Wong (胡茂煌).

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