Digging into the life and times of Loke Yew


PETALING JAYA: Almost nine decades after the passing of Loke Yew, an effort is being launched to chronicle the life and times of one of Malaya’s greatest entrepreneurs.

The book will shed light on his enormous role in shaping the country’s society and economy from the 1870s.

Born Wong Loke Yew in Guangdong province, China, in 1845, he moved to Singapore at the age of 13.

Starting out as a sundry shop assistant, it took him years before striking it rich in 1874 by supplying goods to British soldiers in Perak.

Loke Yew, who died of malaria at the age of 72 in 1917, became one of the richest men in Malaya, being involved in tin mining, rubber estates and banking (Kwong Yik Bank, which is now part of RHB Bank Bhd).

Prof Dr Edmund Terence Gomez, who is from Universiti Malaya’s Faculty of Economics, said he would lead a team of scholars from several universities in China and Britain to dig up the history of Loke Yew and Malaya in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

He said these would include the Wuyi and Cardiff universities, adding that the team had also tracked down Loke Yew’s family to be interviewed.

“One of us met Loke Yew’s descendants, including his grandson Prof Charles Lok in Cambridge University, and felt he was a particularly important historical figure.

“He also valued education and health, being one of the founding fathers of Victoria Institution and establishing the Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore,” he said in an interview.

Prof Gomez said that despite Loke Yew’s major contributions to Malaya’s development, there was little recorded information about him.

He said the team came up with the idea for the book during a discussion with fellow scholars about the lack of documentation on Malaysian history.

“Besides being a shrewd businessman, Loke Yew had strong ties with the Selangor Royal family, Malayan Indian community and the British,” said Prof Gomez, adding that studying Loke Yew’s life would shed light on how Malaysia had developed as a multicultural nation.

He said the project would commence once funding was obtained.

Those interested can contact Prof Gomez at etgomez@um.edu.my.

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