Tan Hiok Nee (Tan Yeok Nee)



Tan Hiok Nee (陳旭年; Chen Xunian) (b. 1827, Chaozhou, China –d. 1902, Chaozhou, China),1 also known as as Tan Yeok Nee, was an influential Teochew businessman in Singapore and Johor during the 19th century.2 He amassed great wealth through opium and spirit farming, and played an important role in the development of the region, particularly Johor3

Early life
Tan was born in the Jin Sha village in Shang Pu (present day Caitang), Chaozhou, China.4 As a youth, he was a compulsive gambler who gambled away the money he had borrowed for his mother’s funeral. Ashamed and wanting to start a new life for himself, he left his hometown for Southeast Asia, arriving in Pahang in 1844.5 There, he worked in the mines to pay for his travel expenses.6

After paying off his debts, Tan moved to Singapore and became a textile peddler.7 He operated daily in Telok Blangah, and was popular among the residents due to his honesty. Among his regular customers was Temenggong Ibrahim of Johor, whose son, Abubakar, became his good friend.8

Accomplishments
In the mid-19th century, Johor was largely undeveloped and Temenggong Ibrahim was eager to attract enterprising Chinese to develop the territory. He started the kang-chu (or port owners) system, whereby certain Chinese were appointed as kang-chu and enjoyed jurisdiction and rights over certain rivers and their banks. As a result, the kang-chu had access to large tracts of land, which they used for revenue farming.9

With the help of the temenggong, Tan moved to Johor in 1853.10 In partnership with Tan Ban Tye, he obtained kang-chu rights for Bukit Beranganon, a tributary of the Johor River. There, he began cultivating pepper and gambier.11 Tan also traded in other types of merchandise and started a market on an island at the midpoint of Sungai Segget.12

In 1862, Temenggong Ibrahim passed away and Abubakar succeeded his father.13 In September 1863, Tan obtained four additional kang-chu rights within a week. By then, he had become the most prominent businessman in Johor with seven kang-chu rights. This meant he had control over the entire left bank of the Johor River, from the south of Kota Tinggi to Pulau Ubin.14

On 11 September 1863, Tan was given sole control of the revenue rights to Iskandar Putri, a town in Johor Bahru. Partnering Tan Seng Poh and Cheang Hong Lim, he was also involved in opium and spirit farms in Singapore and Johor.15 Tan Seng Poh was a Teochew tycoon, while Cheang was a Hokkien businessman whose family had monopoly of the opium and spirit farms.16

In 1866, Tan set up Kwang Hong Company in Singapore and became an established trader at Boat Quay. He soon amassed a great fortune, which he prudently invested in the lucrative real estate.17

In 1868, Abubakar gained the title of Maharaja. Two years later, he appointed Tan as Major China of Johor, the highest-ranking Chinese official in his government.18 Then in 1874, Tan was appointed as one of the two Chinese members in the state council.19

In 1875, Tan fled from Johor to Singapore and gave up all his connections in Johor. It was speculated that his political rivals had conspired to frame him in order to remove him from power during the Maharaja’s absence. Following his escape, Tan’s assets and kang-chu rights were repossessed by the Johor government.20

In Singapore, Tan built a mansion on Tank Road in 1885.21 Still standing today, the structure was gazetted as a national monument in 1974.22

Tan returned to his hometown in China and passed away on 21 May 1902 at the age of 75.23

Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, a street in Johor Bahru, was named after Tan.24

Family
Tan had five sons. His second son, Chen Ding Xing, was a government official in China’s Jiang Xi province.25 All his sons passed away before him.26

Tan’s eight grandsons – including Tan Chin Boon, Tan Chin Teat, Tan Chin Yeow and Tan Chin Hean – inherited his properties and were well known within the Teochew community.27 Tan Chin Hean was a prominent elite of society who served as vice-chairman of the Ngee Ann Kongsi, president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and headed the Teochew Huay Kuan.28



Author

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia



References
1. 
Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 335. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); 開拓柔佛的先驅 – 陳旭年 [The pioneer of Johor – Tan Yeok Nee]. (n.d.). 《新山中華公會75周年紀念史料專輯 [Persekutuan Tiong-Hua Johor Baru 75th anniversary issue]. Retrieved 2016, October 14 from 随笔南洋 website: http://www.sgwritings.com/50965/viewspace_27983.html
2. Trocki, C. A. (2007). Prince of pirates: The temenggongs and the development of Johor and Singapore, 1784–1885. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 126. (Call no.: RSING 959.5103 TRO)
3.
Johor’s Major Cina. (2004, August 29). Sunday Mail. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Trocki, C. A. (2007). Prince of pirates: The temenggongs and the development of Johor and Singapore, 1784–1885. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 126. (Call no.: RSING 959.5103 TRO)
4.
Johor’s Major Cina. (2004, August 29). Sunday Mail. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 335. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); 開拓柔佛的先驅 – 陳旭年 [The pioneer of Johor – Tan Yeok Nee]. (n.d.). 《新山中華公會75周年紀念史料專輯》[Persekutuan Tiong-Hua Johor Baru 75th anniversary issue]. Retrieved 2016, October 14 from 随笔南洋 website: http://www.sgwritings.com/50965/viewspace_27983.html
5. Johor’s Major Cina. (2004, August 29). Sunday Mail. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

6. 開拓柔佛的先驅 – 陳旭年 [The pioneer of Johor – Tan Yeok Nee]. (n.d.). 《新山中華公會75周年紀念史料專輯》[Persekutuan Tiong-Hua Johor Baru 75th anniversary issue]. Retrieved 2016, October 14 from 随笔南洋 website: http://www.sgwritings.com/50965/viewspace_27983.html

7. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 335. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); Trocki, C. A. (2007). Prince of pirates: The temenggongs and the development of Johor and Singapore, 1784–1885. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 126. (Call no.: RSING 959.5103 TRO)
8. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 335. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); Trocki, C. A. (2007). Prince of pirates: The temenggongs and the development of Johor and Singapore, 1784–1885. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 126. (Call no.: RSING 959.5103 TRO); 開拓柔佛的先驅 – 陳旭年 [The pioneer of Johor – Tan Yeok Nee]. (n.d.). 《新山中華公會75周年紀念史料專輯》[Persekutuan Tiong-Hua Johor Baru 75th anniversary issue]. Retrieved 2016, October 14 from 随笔南洋 website: http://www.sgwritings.com/50965/viewspace_27983.html
9. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 37. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
10.
Trocki, C. A. (2007). Prince of pirates: The temenggongs and the development of Johor and Singapore, 1784–1885. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 125. (Call no.: RSING 959.5103 TRO); 開拓柔佛的先驅 – 陳旭年 [The pioneer of Johor – Tan Yeok Nee]. (n.d.). 《新山中華公會75周年紀念史料專輯》[Persekutuan Tiong-Hua Johor Baru 75th anniversary issue]. Retrieved 2016, October 14 from 随笔南洋 website: http://www.sgwritings.com/50965/viewspace_27983.html
11. Trocki, C. A. (2007). Prince of pirates: The temenggongs and the development of Johor and Singapore, 1784–1885. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 125–126. (Call no.: RSING 959.5103 TRO)
12. J
ohor’s Major Cina. (2004, August 29). Sunday Mail. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
13. 開拓柔佛的先驅 – 陳旭年 [The pioneer of Johor – Tan Yeok Nee]. (n.d.). 《新山中華公會75周年紀念史料專輯》[Persekutuan Tiong-Hua Johor Baru 75th anniversary issue]. Retrieved 2016, October 14 from 随笔南洋 website: http://www.sgwritings.com/50965/viewspace_27983.html

14. Trocki, C. A. (2007). Prince of pirates: The temenggongs and the development of Johor and Singapore, 1784–1885. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 125–126. (Call no.: RSING 959.5103 TRO)
15.
Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 335. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); Trocki, C. A. (2007). Prince of pirates: The temenggongs and the development of Johor and Singapore, 1784–1885. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 107. (Call no.: RSING 959.5103 TRO); Trocki, C. A. (1990). Opium and empire: Chinese society in colonial Singapore, 1800–1910. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, p. 118. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 TRO); Trocki, C. A. (1993). The collapse of Singapore’s great syndicate. In J. G. Butcher & H. W. Dick (Eds.), The rise and fall of revenue farming: Business elites and the emergence of the modern state in Southeast Asia (pp. 166–181). New York, N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, p. 167. (Call no: RSING 336.200959 RIS)
16.
Trocki, C. A. (1993). The collapse of Singapore’s great syndicate. In J. G. Butcher & H. W. Dick (Eds.), The rise and fall of revenue farming: Business elites and the emergence of the modern state in Southeast Asia (pp. 166–181). New York, N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, p. 167. (Call no: RSING 336.200959 RIS)
17.
Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 335. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); Trocki, C. A. (2007). Prince of pirates: The temenggongs and the development of Johor and Singapore, 1784–1885. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 126. (Call no.: RSING 959.5103 TRO)
18.
Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 335. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); Trocki, C. A. (2007). Prince of pirates: The temenggongs and the development of Johor and Singapore, 1784–1885. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 125–126. (Call no.: RSING 959.5103 TRO)
19.
開拓柔佛的先驅 – 陳旭年 [The pioneer of Johor – Tan Yeok Nee]. (n.d.). 《新山中華公會75周年紀念史料專輯》[Persekutuan Tiong-Hua Johor Baru 75th anniversary issue]. Retrieved 2016, October 14 from 随笔南洋 website: http://www.sgwritings.com/50965/viewspace_27983.html; Johor’s Major Cina. (2004, August 29). Sunday Mail. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
20. 開拓柔佛的先驅 – 陳旭年 [The pioneer of Johor – Tan Yeok Nee]. (n.d.). 《新山中華公會75周年紀念史料專輯》[Persekutuan Tiong-Hua Johor Baru 75th anniversary issue]. Retrieved 2016, October 14 from 随笔南洋 website: http://www.sgwritings.com/50965/viewspace_27983.html

21. Finest house in Chinese style. (1937, September 19). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Uma Devi, G., et al. (2002). Singapore’s 100 historic places. Singapore: Archipelago Press in association with National Heritage Board, p. 31. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS]); Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 335. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
22.
National Heritage Board. (2015, December 8). Former House of Tan Yeok Nee. Retrieved 2017, May 4 from Roots website: https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/former-house-of-tan-yeok-nee
23.
Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 335. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
24.
開拓柔佛的先驅 – 陳旭年 [The pioneer of Johor – Tan Yeok Nee]. (n.d.). 《新山中華公會75周年紀念史料專輯》[Persekutuan Tiong-Hua Johor Baru 75th anniversary issue]. Retrieved 2016, October 14 from 随笔南洋 website: http://www.sgwritings.com/50965/viewspace_27983.html
25. 開拓柔佛的先驅 – 陳旭年 [The pioneer of Johor – Tan Yeok Nee]. (n.d.). 《新山中華公會75周年紀念史料專輯》[Persekutuan Tiong-Hua Johor Baru 75th anniversary issue]. Retrieved 2016, October 14 from 随笔南洋 website: http://www.sgwritings.com/50965/viewspace_27983.html

26. Uma Devi, G., et al. (2002). Singapore’s 100 historic places. Singapore: Archipelago Press in association with National Heritage Board, p. 31. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS]); Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 335. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
27.
Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 335. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
28.
Mainly about Malayans. (1939, July 30). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Tan, Hiok Nee, 1827-1902
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Agriculture, fishing and forestry
Businessmen--Singapore--Biography
Personalities
Personalities>>Biographies