|CHEONG FATT TZE 張弼士|
Cheong Fatt Tze as he is known today was born in 1840 in Dapu, Guangdong. He was a Hakka, with birth name Chang Chin Hsun, and when he lived in Batavia and Penang, he was then known by his Hokkien name, Thio Tiauw Siat. His Cantonese name, Cheong Fatt Tze is much popular in today’s history.
Cheong Fatt Tze was born to a very poor family in China, at the age of 17, he left his native and lived in several places under the Dutch East Indies empire. He did some odd jobs before landed at Batavia and worked at a provision shop. As time passed, he married his employer’s daughter, Choo Neo (b. 1867). It was through the marriage, he was given financial support by his father-in-law to commence business on his own account and used Thio Tiauw Siat as his signature. His name Thio Tiauw Siat was spelled in a Dutch way, and was used in the Dutch and British colonies throughout his entire business life. However, he was commonly known in China as Chang Chin Hsun.
In 1859, he secured a government contract in supplying food and daily provisions to the Dutch army and navy forces in Batavia. Through these contracts, he was then a well-known figure in the Dutch East Indies, and from Batavia he moved to Aceh when he was 35 years old, where he secured another contract in in supplying food and daily provisions to the Dutch army and navy forces in Aceh. Because of his articulate social life with the Dutch elites, he successful obtained the Opium, Liquor and Pawnbroker Farm in Aceh and by 1877, his farming interest had extended to half of the northern region of Sumatra, with vast interest in Government Farms in Edi, Temiang, Deli and Bengkalis, and in 1893 expanded to Rhio and Indragiri. In May 1893, he became the Honorary Vice-Consul of China in Penang.
Followed by his business success in the Dutch colonies, in 1875, he commenced business in Penang in partnership with Lee Ah Ghee (Captain of Batavia) and Wong Boon Sin, under the name Chop Thio Joo Hoe at 15 Pitt Street. And ten years later he managed to obtain the Penang Pawnbroker Farm and became the Chinese Consul-General in Singapore, where another three years later he secured the Opium and Liquor Farm of Penang and Singapore. The onerous duties of this responsible Chinese diplomat position he fulfilled for five years and in return for his services was created a Mandarin of the Highest Order (First Rank Officer). In 1886, he established the Ban Joo Hin in Penang, and took great interest in steamship, tin mining, coconut, sago, fruit and pepper plantations, all distributed over Province Wellesley, Perak and Selangor. During his stay in Singapore when he was the Chinese Consul, his business was left to his attorneys and agents who were Cheah Chen Eok and Lee Ah Kam, with headquarters at Penang.
It was not known why Cheong Fatt Tze drastically shifted his interest from the Dutch colonies to the British ones. He also owned a settlement called Karatan near Batavia, the place with a population of 8,000 with the length about 10 miles and width about 8 miles. This place was planted with paddy and fish was amongst the products. In partnership with a Dutch company, he owned various farms in Tjebaraosa, Tjelengsa, Klapa Moengal, Kongbong and Boyoung. The total area of all these districts was 60 miles in length and 305 miles in width and had over 100,000 populations. Where the principal produce was rice, birds’ nests and coffee. In 1879, he purchased a steamer, the Raja Kongsi Aceh, which plied between Penang and Aceh. In 1883, he acquired another steamer, the Hock Canton, which also had the same route as the former. After 14 years of experience in running the steamship business, in 1893 he established a steamship company at Penang, known as Kong Hock Kiok Limited Company and had nine steamers running to Perak, Tongkah, Klang, Asahan, and Deli.
In 1904, he led a group of prominent Chinese leaders in Penang to establish the Chung Hwa Confucian School, and was claimed as the first modern Chinese school in Southeast Asia. Cheong Fatt Tze’s name had gained high reputation and recognition in the Imperial Chinese Palace, and was made a High Commissioner for Railways and Commerce in China in 1902, and later became the Special Commissioner for Trade in Southeast Asia in 1911. At one time he was given the opportunity to monopoly steamship business in China, but he declined as he was not able to run such a big venture. In 1905, he became a member of a commission to study the commercial affairs in Southeast Asia on behalf of the Chinese Board of Commerce. Upon his return to China, he had few audiences by the Emperor and Empress Dowager of China, their Majesties were satisfied with his reports. Little was known that, Cheong Fatt Tze had also established business affairs in his homeland, engaged in manufacturing bricks, textile, glass and salt farm by using modern machineries. In 1892, he founded the Chang Yu Winery in Shangtung, China, producing mainly fine Western wines with some traditional Chinese herbal wines. And in 1896 he founded various Chinese commercial banks and was a well-known banker in China and Dutch East Indies and was on the Board of Directors of the Canton Railway and the Bank of China. He was also a shareholder in the Sze Hai Tong Banking & Insurance Company Limited in Singapore.
In 1912, together with Loke Yew, he personally endowed $50,000 to the University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Arts during its early establishment. In return for his generosity, the University conferred him Doctor of Laws Honoris Causa in 1916.
Cheong Fatt Tze had at least eight wives and was the father of eight sons and six daughters, all distributed over the Dutch and British Colonies in Southeast Asia. His mansion at 14 Leith Street, Penang was occupied by his third, sixth and seventh wives. All his sons were educated at the St Xavier’s Institution. He died in 1916 in Batavia due to pneumonia and as a mark of respect, the Dutch and British decreed to fly their flags at half-mast.
His fourth son, Chang Kiam Hoe (Thio Nghean Leong) was a well-known figure in Penang and Perak. He had vast interest in tin mining business in Ipoh, Perak as well as large plantation estates in Province Wellesley and Kedah. He was appointed as a trustee in Cheong Fatt Tze’s Will.
Cheong Fatt Tze had uncountable number of fine houses all over China, Dutch and British Colonies in Southeast Asia, among of all, he laid a legacy that remained forever by building the finest Chinese mansion in Southeast Asia, which was then known as Le’ Bleu Mansion. The double-story mansion built in between 1897 to 1904 was enough to accommodate his large extended families with 34 rooms. Where he expected the mansion shall live for nine generations after him. The most intriguing part of Cheong Fatt Tze’s Will, besides the inheritance of his estate to all his wives and children, he mentioned the future management of his favourite mansion in 14 Leith Street, Penang. In his will, he said that ordinary repairs of the mansion shall be paid for a monthly sum not exceeding $250. And the house was given to his seventh wife Tan Tay Po @ Chan Kim Po and his last son, Cheong Kam Long and must not be sold until the death of Cheong Kam Long.
Cheong Fatt Tze’s business affairs in the Straits Settlements were under the management of his cousin Thio Chee Non also known by the name Chong Yit Nam and Chong Chee Non who was the Kapitan of Deli. While his Penang estate was managed by Thio Siow Kong at 5 Beach Street. Cheong Fatt Tze Estate first appointed Henry Haley Busfield, Choo Shou San and Soo Beng Lim as Executors and Trustees of his estate in Penang, and in 1937 under the Court’s order the positions were taken by Cheong Hock Chye and Wee Sin Choe.
Throughout the time after his death, one by one Cheong Fatt Tze’s considerable property was sold out, and the most significant sale which almost ended up his entire estate was in 1939. And in 1988 the last call for the sale of old porcelain and Chinese furniture belonged to Cheong Fatt Tze at the family mansion at 14 Leith Street was auctioned by Dominion Victor & Morris of Singapore. Cheong Fatt Tze’s illustrious life ended with the death of his last son, Cheong Kam Long in 1989. Where the family sold the last property of Cheong Fatt Tze at 14 Leith Street, Penang to a corporate company by Cheong Kam Long’s wife Thong Siew Mee. One of Cheong Fatt Tze’s sons, Thio Phin Long who was also a trustee of his estate violated his capacity by defrauding the estate through illicit transaction involving the three wholesale and retail druggist businesses, and since then escaped to Hong Kong with his son Thio Chee Fook to avoid the warrant arrest on him in 1931. Today many of Cheong Fatt Tze’s descendants lived in Australia.