Chan Kim Boon



Chan Kim Boon (b. 1851, Penang–d. 1920, Singapore?) is a Peranakan who gained fame with his Baba Malay translations of Chinese classics such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Water Margin.

Early life
Chan was the son of a Penang trader, Chan Yong Chuan, whose business interests were mainly in Padang, Indonesia. Educated in English at Free School in Penang, the younger Chan also received private tuition in Chinese. Chan’s early education provided the foundation that enabled him to master at least three languages, namely Malay, English and Chinese.1 He furthered his studies at Foochow Naval School in China, where his academic interests laid in military tactics. However, he had to forgo his ambitions of becoming an army officer due to poor health. Instead, Chan remained in the institution to tutor mathematics to military men, several of whom became great Chinese leaders. These included Admiral Sah, Admiral Yin, and Chi-chen Lo Feng-luh (who later became a Chinese diplomat in London).2 A fortune teller’s prediction that Chan would not live to see his 25th birthday sent him packing to Penang in January 1872, presumably to say his goodbyes to his widowed mother. However, he was to outlive this prediction by 44 years.3


Publications
Chan arrived in Singapore in March 1872, and built a career as an administrator at the legal company, Aitken & Rodyk (later known as Aitken & Co and thereafter Donaldson & Burkinshaw). The book-keeper and cashier, however, became more known for his translations of Chinese classics into Baba Malay, which he diligently carried out after office hours. He displayed not only a gift for figures but also for languages, as he published at least six of such Baba translations.4


It was Chan’s publication of Luo Guang Zhong’s Samkok [The Romance of the Three Kingdoms] (1892–1896), which brought him fame, primarily because it was serialised over 30 volumes.5 The popular read is well-illustrated and includes letters from readers in Chinese, English and Malay. The story also has the author’s footnotes giving details of Chinese culture, and notes on Romanised Malay terms and names, to which Chinese text was added for clarification. Jokes and even a portrait of the author are found in this serial. Some scholars have suggested that Chan had used a Hokkien text as his source document for the translation work.6 His work is possibly the earliest Malay translation of this story, as the Indonesian versions from Java only came about in 1910. Other researchers have also noted that Chan’s published language is closer to proper Malay than to authentic Baba Malay. Chan also peppers his translations with English sayings and idioms, suggesting that his readers were probably more familiar with this language.7
 
Other famed translations by Chan include his Baba Malay translations of Chinese classics such as Shi Nai An’s Shui Hu Zhuan [The Water Margin] (1899–1902), and Kou Chey Thian pergi di negri Seh Thian C’hu Keng [Journey to the West] (1911–1913). Some of his earlier works, such as Chrita dahulu-kala nama-nya Gnoh Bee Yean (Orang Lima bini) di jaman Beng Teow [Ancient story entitled Five beauties or five wives during the Ming Dynasty] (1891–1892), were written under the pen-name, Batu Gantong.8 Often, this has been mistaken as a reference to his birth place but in actual fact, it refers to a cemetery in Penang. Some people have interpreted this as a hint of Chan’s preference for his final resting place.9

Announcements in Sam Kok on 15 December 1892 indicated that Chan had planned to translate 14 other titles. Only Song Kang and Chey Thian Hoey Sion, later renamed Kou Chey Thian (1911–1912) are extant and it remains uncertain if Chan actually published the other 12 titles. These stories gained a measure of popularity toward the end of the 19th century, as seen in the many reader requests for the concluding books of Fan Tang yanyi [Story of the revolt against the Tang dynasty] (1889–1893). The first few translated books were begun by Tan Beng Teck but his departure to Japan prevented its completion. Cheah Ann Siang and Cheah Choo Yew appealed to Chan to complete the task and he obliged with translations of books Four to Eight between 1892 and 1893.10 

Chan was assisted by Tan Kheam Hock in several publications including Gnoh Bee Yean (1891), and in selected volumes of Hong Keow (1892).11 Meanwhile, Cheah Choo Yew also helped Chan to translate volumes Six and Eight of Hong Keow.12 Although Chan submitted his works to publishers such as Kim Sek Chye Press, a large number were self-published. His eldest son, Chan Yen Pai, presumably continued his father’s work and helped republish Sam Kok in 1932 (volumes one to five) with Fang Heng Printing Press, and possibly Song Kang in 1934 with D. T. Lim, and Kou Chey Thian (1933) (volume one only).13

Chan was a member of the Celestial Reasoning Society and council member of the Chinese Philomathic Society (1897). Today, his home at 75 Lebuh Muntri in George Town is a tourist destination due to the fame he had gained through his Baba Malay translations.14

Works
1889–1893:
 Chrita dulu-kala dari pasal Hong Keow sama Lee Tan turonkan dari buku “Hwan Tong” di jaman “Tong Teow” sama “Chew Teow” [The ancient story about Hong Keow and Lee Tan, from the book Hwan Tong during the time of the Tang dynasty and Zhou dynasty].15
1891–1892: Chrita dahulu-kala nama-nya Gnoh Bee Yean (Orang Lima bini) di jaman Beng Teow [Ancient story entitled Five beauties or five wives during the Ming Dynasty].16
1892–1896: Chrita dahulu-kala, namanya Sam Kok, atau, Tiga negri ber-prang: Siok, Gwi, sama Gor di jaman “Han Teow” [Ancient story entitled The three kingdoms or three kingdoms at war: Siok, Gwi and Gor during the time of the Han dynasty].17
1899–1902: Chrita dahulu-kala di triak Song kang 108 P’rompak atau Swui Hnoh di zaman “Song Teow” [Ancient story called Song Kang or 108 outlaws during the time of the Song dynasty] (Shui hu zhuan) [Water Margin].18

1911–1913: Chrita da-hulu-kala pasal Kou Chey Thian man-gawal-kan Tong Thye Chu pergi di negri Seh Thian C’hu Keng [The story of the Journey to the West about Monkey Chye Thian of the immemorial past and Tong Thye Chu going to the West to acquire the Scriptures, during the time of the Tang dynasty] (Xi-You Ji).19



Author
Bonny Tan



References
1. Mei, J. (1983, October). Ba ba fan yi wen xue yu Zeng Jinwen [Chan Kim Boon and the translations of Chinese classics in Baba Malay]. Asian culture = Ya Zhou Wen Hua2, 3–14.(Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 950.05 AC); Lee, G. B. (1989). Pages from yesteryear: A look at the printed works of Singapore, 1819–1959. Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society, p. 41. (Call no.: RSING 070.5095957 PAG); Khoo, J. E. (1996). The Straits Chinese: A cultural history. Amsterdam: Pepin Press, pp. 260–261. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105951 KHO) 

2. Song, O. S. (2016). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore: The annotated edition. Singapore: National Library Board, p. 231. Retrieved from BookSG; Mei, J. (1983, October). Ba ba fan yi wen xue yu Zeng Jinwen [Chan Kim Boon and the translations of Chinese classics in Baba Malay]. Asian culture = Ya Zhou Wen Hua2, 3–14.(Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 950.05 AC); Wen, Z. (1970, March). Zeng jinwen qi ren [Chan Kim Boon]. Nanyang wen zhai, 11(3), 184. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 959 NYWC); Khoo, J. E. (1996). The Straits Chinese: A cultural history. Amsterdam: Pepin Press, pp. 260–261. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105951 KHO)
3. Mei, J. (1983, October). Ba ba fan yi wen xue yu Zeng Jinwen [Chan Kim Boon and the translations of Chinese classics in Baba Malay]. Asian culture = Ya Zhou Wen Hua2, 3–14.(Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 950.05 AC); Wen, Z. (1970, March). Zeng jinwen qi ren [Chan Kim Boon]. Nanyang wen zhai, 11(3), 184. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 959 NYWC)
4. Mei, J. (1983, October). Ba ba fan yi wen xue yu Zeng Jinwen [Chan Kim Boon and the translations of Chinese classics in Baba Malay]. Asian culture = Ya Zhou Wen Hua2, 3–14.(Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 950.05 AC); Khoo, J. E. (1996). The Straits Chinese: A cultural history. Amsterdam: Pepin Press, pp. 260–261. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105951 KHO); Song, O. S. (2016). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore: The annotated edition. Singapore: National Library Board, p. 231. Retrieved from BookSG.
5. Yoong, S. K., & A. N. Zainab. (2004, December). The Straits Chinese contribution to Malaysian literary heritage: Focus on Chinese stories translated into Baba Malay, Journal of educational media and library sciences, 42(2), 179–198. Retrieved 2016, December 30 from Journal of Educational Media and Library Sciences website: http://joemls.dils.tku.edu.tw/fulltext/42/42-2/179-198.pdf
6. Mei, J. (1983, October). Ba ba fan yi wen xue yu Zeng Jinwen [Chan Kim Boon and the translations of Chinese classics in Baba Malay]. Asian culture = Ya Zhou Wen Hua2, 3–14.(Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 950.05 AC); Writings in Romanized Malay by the Chinese of Malaya: A preliminary inquiry. (1977, December). 学术论文集 = Papers on Chinese studies,1, 69–95. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 089.951 POCS-[LKH])
7. Mei, J. (1983, October). Ba ba fan yi wen xue yu Zeng Jinwen [Chan Kim Boon and the translations of Chinese classics in Baba Malay]. Asian culture = Ya Zhou Wen Hua2, 3–14.(Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 950.05 AC); Writings in Romanized Malay by the Chinese of Malaya: A preliminary inquiry. (1977, December). 学术论文集 = Papers on Chinese studies, 1, 69–95. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 089.951 POCS-[LKH])
8. Mei, J. (1983, October). Ba ba fan yi wen xue yu Zeng Jinwen [Chan Kim Boon and the translations of Chinese classics in Baba Malay]. Asian culture = Ya Zhou Wen Hua2, 3–14.(Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 950.05 AC)
9. Mei, J. (1983, October). Ba ba fan yi wen xue yu Zeng Jinwen [Chan Kim Boon and the translations of Chinese classics in Baba Malay]. Asian culture = Ya Zhou Wen Hua2, 3–14.(Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 950.05 AC)
10. Mei, J. (1983, October). Ba ba fan yi wen xue yu Zeng Jinwen [Chan Kim Boon and the translations of Chinese classics in Baba Malay]. Asian culture = Ya Zhou Wen Hua2, 3–14.(Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 950.05 AC)
11.  Yoong, S. K., & A. N. Zainab. (2004, December). The Straits Chinese contribution to Malaysian literary heritage: Focus on Chinese stories translated into Baba Malay. Journal of Educational Media & Library Sciences, 42(2), 195. Retrieved 2016, December 30 from Journal of Educational Media and Library Sciences website: http://joemls.dils.tku.edu.tw/fulltext/42/42-2/179-198.pdf
12. Yoong, S. K., & Zainab, A. N. (2004, December). The Straits Chinese contribution to Malaysian literary heritage: Focus on Chinese stories translated into Baba Malay. Journal of Educational Media & Library Sciences, 42(2), 195. Retrieved 2016, December 30 from Journal of Educational Media and Library Sciences website: http://joemls.dils.tku.edu.tw/fulltext/42/42-2/179-198.pdf
13. Yoong, S. K., & Zainab, A. N. (2002, December). Chinese literary works translated into Baba Malay: A bibliometric study. Malaysian Journal of Library & Information Science, 7(2), 21. Retrieved from University of Malaya website: http://ejum.fsktm.um.edu.my/ArticleInformation.aspx?ArticleID=186; Salmon, C. (Ed.). (2013). Literary migrations: Traditional Chinese fiction in Asia (17th–20th centuries). Singapore: ISEAS Publishing. (Call no.: R 895.134809 LIT)
14. Writings in Romanized Malay by the Chinese of Malaya: A preliminary inquiry. (1977, December). 学术论文集 = Papers on Chinese studies, 1, 69–95. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 089.951 POCS-[LKH]); Heritage trails: Muntri Street (Lebuh Muntri) (n. d.). Retrieved 2018, April 10 from Penang-traveltips website: http://www.penang-traveltips.com/muntri-street.htm
15. Hong Keow sama Lee Tan: turon-kan dari buku "Hwan tong"; Di jaman Tong Teow sama Chew Teow [Microfilm no.: NL 10313]. (1892). Singapura: Lat Pau Press.
16. Chrita dahulu-kala nama-nya Gnoh Bee Yean (Orang Lima bini) di jaman Beng Teow [Microform]. (1892). Singapura: Kim Seck Chye Press.
17. Chrita dahulu-kala, namanya Sam Kok, atau, Tiga negri ber-prang: Siok, Gwi, sama Gor di jaman "Han Teow" [Microfilm no.: NL 10313]. (1892–1896). Singapura: Kim Sek Chye Press.
18. Song kang, 108 p'rompak atau Swui Hnoh di zaman Song Teow [Microfilm no.: NL 8734] ((Vols.1–19). (1899–1902). Singapura: Batu Gantong.
19. Chrita da-hulu-kala pasal Kou Chey Thian man-gawal-kan Tong Thye Chu pergi di negri Seh Thian C'hu Keng [Microfilm no.: NL 8736]. (Vols.1–19). (1911–1913). Singapura: Batu Gantong.



Further resources
Ma, Z. (1961, December). Cu jin hua wu wen hua jiao liu de xian feng – Zeng Jinwen [Chan Kim Boon – the pioneer who promotes cultural exchange between the Chinese and the Malays]. Nanyang wen zhai, 2(12), 59–60.

(Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 959 NYWC)

Mei, J. (1961, November). Ma lai wen de zhong guo xiao shuo [Chinese classical novels in Malay]. Nanyang wen zhai, 2(11), 62.
(Call no: Chinese RCLOS 959 NYWC)

Mei, J. (1983, October). Ba ba fan yi wen xue yu Zeng Jinwen [Chan Kim Boon and the translations of Chinese classics in Baba Malay]. Asian culture = Ya Zhou Wen Hua2, 3–14.
(Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 950.05 AC)

Wen, Z. (1970, March). Zeng jinwen qi ren [Chan Kim Boon]. Nanyang wen zhai, 11(3), 184.
(Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 959 NYWC)



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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
Chan, Kim Boon, 1851-1920
Translators--Singapore--Biography
Language and literature>>Linguistics>>Translating and interpreting
Personalities
Personalities>>Biographies