Monday, August 27, 2007

Lim Nee Soon

Lim Nee Soon (b. 12 November, 1879 Singapore - d. 20 March 1936, Shanghai, China), planter and general merchant. Educated in Singapore, on completion of his studies, he worked for various organizations until 1911 when he founded his own company, Lim Nee Soon & Co. A rubber and pineapple planter and rubber factory owner, his businesses soon were a booming success. He was one of the pioneers of rubber planting along with Tan Chor Nam (1884-1971), Lim Boon Keng (Dr) (1869-1957), and Tan Chay Yan (1871-1916). He was consultant to other rubber estate owners, and played an important role in the development of rubber plantations in Nee Soon. His big investments in the pineapple industry won him the nickname "Pineapple King". He was a generous charitable benefactor with a keen interest in social and community matters. A respected community leader and, one of the most influential businessmen of the day, he was made a Justice of the Peace (1925).

Early years
Lim Nee Soon, a Teochew, was born in Beach Road in Kampong Glam, Singapore, on 12 November 1879. His grandfather, and father Lim Peng Nguan arrived from Chao-chow-fu (Swatow), China, in a junk, in the 1860s, and became a sundries trader, in Beach Road. Lim Peng Nguan married Teo Lee's eldest daughter, but he died in 1887, and left his son Nee Soon, then eight years old in the care of his maternal grandfather, Teo Lee (1833) who provided the young orphan boy with a sound Chinese and English education. As a Straits-born Chinese Baba, he was popularly known as Bah Soon, and because of that, Bah Soon Pah Road is named after Lim Nee Soon.

The young lad was first educated in English at St. Joseph's Institution, and then later, at the Anglo Chinese School. We have no details of his Chinese education.

Early career
Nee Soon's first job was with timber merchants, Messers. Tan Tye & Co. He took great interest in rubber planting, and in 1904, was an assistant manager in Tan Chor Nam's rubber estate. His next job was acting manager of United Singapore Rubber Estates Ltd. In 1909, when Sembawang Rubber Estates was formed, Nee Soon became its first General Manager, and later, its Consultant. He resigned in 1911 to start his own business as a rubber and pineapple planter and rubber factory owner. He was consultant to other rubber estate owners too, and by then he had already engaged in business as a merchant, contractor, and general commission agent.

History of rubber
Henry Nicholas Ridley (b. Norfolk 1855 - d. 1956, Kew, Surrey, England), Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, developed an improved rubber-tapping technique, and he was the strongest advocate of rubber-planting as a crop. Early this century the automobile industry boomed and rubber tyres were in great demand. In 1910, the government opened more than 2,000 acres of reserved land in Nee Soon to encourage rubber-planting. Rubber was Malaya and Singapore's export wealth for more than 50 years.

Business enterprises
In the wake of declining fortunes from gambier an pepper, Lim converted large tracts of gambier and pepper plantations in Yishun into rubber and pineapple ones. In 1911, Lim founded Lim Nee Soon & Co., chop Thong Bee, with an office at No 5 Beach Road; and in 1912, he built a row of shophouses and dwellings at Sembawang Road, and established chop Thong Aik Rubber Factory in Kangkar(chop refers to the traditional seal or official stamp bearing the Chinese characters of a company name, used for legal endorsements etc.). His businesses quickly flourished. He owned large rubber estates, 6,000 acres of rubber plantations in Singapore, and more than 20,000 acres in Johore and other small estates. In 1913 he started Nee Soon Rubber Factory in Choa Chu Kang, and also cultivated pineapples which was a good inter-crop with slow-growing rubber trees. His great interest in the pineapple industry won him the nickname, "Pineapple King". His generosity is remembered during the World War I, when he presented pineapples to the officers and men of H.M.S. Malaya during the ship's stopover in Singapore. For his liberal pineapple gifts to the troops, he received special acknowledgement from Brigadier-General Ridout.

In 1918, his address was 33, Robinson Road, and in that year, he was also Director of many companies, as follows: Chinese Commercial Bank, Eastern United Assurance Co. Ltd. Ulu Pandan Rubber Estates Ltd., United Sawmills Ltd., Hanyang Plantations Ltd., and Kulim Plantations Ltd.

Chop Thong Aik Rubber Factory at Kangkar was renamed Nee Soon & Sons Ltd. Rubber Works. In 1928, "Rubber King" Lee Kong Chian took over Nee Soon & Sons Ltd., and renamed it Lee Rubber. In 1925, Lim was listed as one of the founders, and executive of the following companies: Overseas Chinese Bank (Chairman), Chinese Commercial Bank Ltd. (vice-Chairman), Overseas Assurance Corporation (Chairman), Eastern United Assurance Corporation Ltd. (Director), and Nee Soon & Sons (Chairman).

The 1930s was the decade of depression. By then, Lim had sold most of his rubber holdings, but held directorships in many banks and other financial institutions. In early 1936, he was overworked, and had been feeling unwell, and was advised to take a holiday. He took a trip to China

Lim Nee Soon owned Marsiling Estates, Yunan Estates, and Eho Yuan Estates, all in Singapore. By 1924, a large area along the Seletar River were his rubber plantations, and he also built shophouses and dwellings at Seletar Village which was eventually named Nee Soon Village after him. The list of his large holdings in Johore is unavailable.

Community service
Lim took a keen and active interest in public affairs and was very charitable benefactor. He was one of the co-founders of the Ee Hoe Hean Club, with Gan Eng Seng (1844-99) and Dr. Lim Boon Keng (1869-1957). He donated burial land for the Chinese community at Seletar. In 1915, during the Singapore Mutiny, Nee Soon succeeded single-handed in persuading six mutineers to surrender to the government without resistance. He was made a Justice of the Peace in 1925.

He was also a member of the Singapore Rural Board (1918-1925), and Member of the Reformatory Board (1918-1925), and served on the committees of Raffles College and St. Andrew's Medical Mission Hospital. Mr. Tan Kah Kee and Lim Nee Soon founded the Chinese High School, the first Chinese secondary school in Singapore, which opened on 21 Mar 1919. He had donated $10,000 to the school's building fund, and, from its beginnings, was made the school's treasurer. In 1919 too, he was made President of Thong Chi Yi Yuen Hospital. He was President of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce for two periods, from 1921-1922, and 1925-1926, and a Member of the British Malaya Opium Committee in 1924. With other Teochew leaders, they formed the Singapore Teo Chew Poit Ip Huay Kuan in 1929.

The diplomat
He travelled extensively in the Far East, and visited China several times. In 1916, he had the honour of an audience with President Li Yuen Hung at Tientsin, and during this visit, he witnessed the North China great flood. In that same year, he also had an audience with acting President Feng Kuo Chang in Peking, and ex-President Dr. Sun Yat Sen (b. 12 November 1866, Zhongshan, Guangdong, China - d. 12 March 1925, Dongcheng, Beijing) in Canton, where he also interviewed Premier Tuan Chi Jui. In 1925 he was Honorary Adviser to the President of China, and to the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce, in Peking (today's Beijing).

Wife: Wi Pek Hay.
Sons: Three sons; the two elder sons, the eldest Lim Chong Kuo (Chong Kuo Road was named after him in 1955) and Lim Chong Pang (b. 6 June, 1904 Singapore - d. 1956, Singapore; married Lee Poh Neo, and Chong Pang Village is named after him) were first educated at St. Andrew's School in Singapore, and later at Stephen's College in Hong Kong. After their studies, they returned to Singapore to help in their father's business. Chong Kuo married a daughter of Tan Kah Kee. The other son was Chong Min.
Daughters: Six daughters, three married at the time of his death; Mrs Oei Tjong Tiong, Mrs See Bong Him and Mrs Tan Tuck Hoe. The others were Mui Gek, Lek Gek and Seok Gek.

For his services and efforts in promoting Chinese industries abroad, the Peking (today Beijing) Government awarded him the 2nd Class Order of Chiaho Decoration (Excellent Crop).

He had been unwell, and was on a holiday trip. He was heading home from China, when he died in Shanghai, on 2 March 1936, at the comparatively young age of 57. His embalmed body was to have been brought back to Singapore by his eldest son, Lim Ching Kuo, but the Nanking (today Nanjing) Government expressed their desire to give Lim Nee Soon a State funeral, and have him buried in Nanking, near the mausoleum of his old friend Dr Sun Yat Sen.

Political and revolutionary activities
Lim Nee Soon has always been recognized by all Chinese as one of the best friends of great revolutionary leader, Dr Sun Yat Sen , whom he befriended and helped with funds to set the revolutionary forces on the uprising against the Manchu feudal rule in China. The Manchurians ruled China for 267 years during the Qing dynasty, until the revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat Sen overthrew the Manchus and brought about the birth of the Republic of China on 1 January, 1912.

In 1904, Lim Nee Soon contributed $50,000 to found the revolutionary newspaper, the T'oo Nan Daily (Thoe Lam Jit Poh). In early 1905, Dr Sun Yat Sen stumbled upon the Thoe Lam Jit Poh 1905 Almanac, superscribed with a motto urging Chinese nationals 'to relieve themselves of Manchuria's control in China'. It was produced by Singapore Chinese sympathizers, Tan Chor Nam (b. 1884, Singapore - d. 1971, Singapore), Teo Eng Hock (b. 1871 Singapore - d. 1958, Singapore) and his nephew Lim Nee Soon. He wanted to meet them. On 6 April 1906, at Wang Ching Yuan House (the former name of Sun Yat Sen Villa), Dr Sun started a political party, the first Singapore branch of the T'ung Meng Hui (Chinese Revolutionary League), with co-founders Tan Chor Nam as chairman, Teo Eng Hock , and his nephew Lim Nee Soon, Hsu Tzu Lin, as office bearers. Their main activities were to create awareness of the revolution and garner support from the overseas Chinese people, collect funds to help fight the cause, and assemble volunteers to join in the uprisings. In the fall of 1907, they produced the short-lived newspaper, the Chong Shing Yit Pao (Chong Shing Daily) with Nee Soon as its manager. It failed due to people's concern of showing open support for the revolution, as they feared arrest on their return home to China. On 15 December 1911, Dr Sun Yat Sen made his last visit to Singapore, and Nee Soon was among the local leaders, who entertained Dr Sun and his entourage. After Lim Nee Soon's death, his son Lim Chong Pang, related much of this story in the Sunday Times of how Nee Soon had played a part in the birth of the Republic of China. The T'ung Meng Hui was reorganized as the Kuomintang, and its Singapore branch in 1912 had Dr Lim Boon Keng and Lim Nee Soon among the first office-bearers.

Nee Soon Village, Nee Soon Road, Bah Soon Pah Road were named after him.

In line with the education and use of Mandarin as the official Chinese Language, much of Singapore's names in Chinese dialects were translated to Pinyin, so the 'Nee Soon' place names became Yishun! A statue of Lim Nee Soon stands in his honour, at Yishun Town Park.

Done by : Amanda Soh, Grace Ker & Wu Meiqi 2 Faith

1 comment:

PeteTan said...

Hello & Greetings! :-)
I'm just here to ask a question:
Does anyone know anyone from Nee Soon School, use to be located at the end of Nee Soon Road? I know this place is (Nee Soon Road currently is a purely residential area with private housing units and a few eating places along the length of the street), especially towards the Springleaf Road end. Prominent among them is the Springleaf private estate. The stretch of the road from Sembawang Road until it crosses the Sungei Seletar reservoir stream, however, is simply dominated by green landscape on its either side. This place is frequented by those who like bird watching and fishing. In 2002, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), decided to develop this area into a public park with cycling trails or running trails, which met with mixed responses from the residents of the street. Several years ago, I visited this place trying to find the lost trail of the school's site, and found (with some small steel and pieces of concrete structure) left behind, opposite some small condos along the end of a narrow road...
See directory for location: