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Saturday June 30, 2007
By DEBBIE CHANPhotos by SAMUEL ONG
At one end of the busy road, peddlers set up their stalls to sell snacks, beverages as well as pirated CDs and DVDs to passers-by, both locals and tourists.
The road, previously known as Foch Avenue, is right in the heart of the city, adjacent to the famous Petaling Street as well as Cross Street, which has now been renamed after Tun Tan Cheng Lock’s son Tun Tan Siew Sin.
Foch Avenue was the original site of the railway line that ran through Kuala Lumpur to Sultan Street before it was re-aligned to Victory Avenue, which is now known as Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin.
Tun Tan Cheng Lock was a leading member of the Straits Chinese community and, as the first elected president of the Malayan Chinese Association (now the Malaysian Chinese Association) or MCA was one of the men who were instrumental in the negotiations for independence for the then Federation of Malaya.
Born on April 5, 1883 in Malacca, Tan attended Malacca High School and won the Tan Teck Guan scholarship, which was awarded to top performers in the school. He then taught at the Raffles Institution from 1902 to 1908. After he left the institution, he joined the rubber industry as assistant manager of the Bukit Kajang Rubber Estates. Picking up the skills of the trade quickly, he was appointed visiting agent to Nyalas Rubber Estates in 1909.
Tan went on to be involved in various estates, including the Malacca Pinda Rubber Estates, Ayer Molek Rubber Company and the United Malacca Rubber Estates.
Like many Straits-born Chinese of his time, Tan was partial towards Britain but was deeply influenced by ideas of independence which were sweeping across many British colonies. He truly advocated the concept of a “united self-governing British Malaya”.
Tan and his son Siew Sin had spent some time in India during the Japanese Occupation and witnessed the struggles of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru for independence. It was this that inspired them to take up the cause for Malaya.
At the age of 40, he was appointed an unofficial member of the Straits Settlements Legislative Council, and from 1933 to 1935 was an unofficial member of the Straits Settlements Executive Council. He championed social causes like opium smoking, Chinese vernacular education and immigration issues.
Today, it is not only in the heart of Kuala Lumpur that there is a street named after this great man; Heeren Street in Malacca, where Tan’s first home stands, has also been renamed after him.
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