Lee Choon Guan

Lee Choon Guan (b. 1868, Singapore - d. 1924, Singapore) was a Straits-born Chinese businessman and philanthropist. Together with Lim Peng Siang, Lim Boon Keng, and other Chinese merchants, Lee founded the Chinese Commercial Bank in 1912. Lee was also actively involved in public service. He donated generously to public funds, and served as a member in a number of public organisations, including the Straits Chinese British Association, the Chinese Advisory Board, and the management committee of Tan Tock Seng Hospital. For his contributions, Lee was made a Justice of the Peace.

Early Life
Little is known of Lee's early life except that he received private education from personal tutors.

Business Enterprise
The young Lee served as an assistant in his father's firm, Lee Cheng Yan & Co., and learnt the ropes from his seniors. Upon his father's death in 1911, Lee became the sole proprietor of the family business. As Lee worked to develop and expand the family enterprise, he grew in prominence in the Straits Chinese business community in Singapore.

Together with other prominent Chinese businessmen like Lim Peng Siang and Lim Boon Keng, Lee co-founded the Chinese Commercial Bank in 1912 where he was appointed chairman. In 1932, the Chinese Commercial Bank and the Ho Hong Bank (founded by Lim Peng Siang) merged with the Overseas-Chinese Bank to form the Overseas-Chinese Banking Corporation (now known as OCBC Bank).

Community Service and Public Leadership
Like his father, Lee was active in public service and took a special interest in the social and educational advancement of the Straits Chinese community. As such, Lee gave freely to charity and educational institutions, two notable instances being a generous gift of S$60,000 to the endowment fund of Raffles College, and another S$50,000 to the Methodist College.

Lee was a member of the Straits Chinese British Association (SCBA), an organisation which served to unite the Straits Chinese elites in Singapore and which pledged allegiance to the British colonial government. The SCBA also promoted Straits Chinese interests by stimulating discussions on  social and political issues and their impact on Straits Chinese both at local and regional levels. This in turn generated ideas to tackle problems that were identified by the SCBA leadership.

In addition, Lee was also a member of the Chinese Advisory Board and the Committee of Management, Tan Tock Seng Hospital. He also served as a director of the Straits Steamship Co. Ltd. (Malaya Branch) and the South British Insurance Co. Ltd. for several years.

On 21 August 1915, Lee, together with Lim Peng Siang, donated a battle plane (Malaya No. 6, also known as the "Choon Guan Peng Siang") in support of the British army in the First World War. For all his contributions, Lee was made a Justice of the Peace.

Personal Life
Lee was an avid tennis player and an enthusiastic member of the Straits Chinese Recreation Club. He held the position of Club President for a number of years.

Lee married the daughter of Wee Boon Teck, with whom he had two sons and two daughters. Both his sons grew to become intelligent young men who received their university education in England.

After his first wife passed away, Lee married Tan Teck Neo, a daughter of a prominent Chinese businessman, Tan Keong Saik. From this marriage he had a son and a daughter, and the family lived at Mandalay Villa in Amber Road, one of the four holiday villas that Lee's father had built. The other three villas were Magenta Cottage in Killiney Road, Hampstead Bath in Upper Bukit Timah, and a seaside bungalow in Changi Point.

Mrs. Lee Choon Guan
Although the second Mrs. Lee Choon Guan came from a privileged background, she was, like her husband and father-in-law, relentless in her charity work, which often put her in the limelight. In 1915, Mrs. Lee founded the Chinese Women's Association. Three years later, she was honoured as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her charitable achievements and for her contributions to the British Red Cross during the First World War.

Mrs. Lee was also well known for throwing lavish parties for the rich and famous, and these social events brought the Chinese and the British communities together at a time when interactions between them were rare.

At Lee's death in 1924 at the age of 56 years, Mrs. Lee became the sole proprietor of the Lee estate.

Father: Lee Cheng Yan, who was born in Malacca in 1841 and began a small trading business in Telok Ayer Street, Singapore. His business prospered and expanded into the real estate and finance industries. Lee was a prolific figure in community service, and sat on the Committee of the Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the Chinese Advisory Board, and the Po Leung Kuk. He was also a Justice of the Peace. He died in May 1911, leaving his business to his son.

First marriage
Wife: daughter of Wee Boon Teck 
Sons: Pang Seng and Pang Chuan
Daughters: Mrs. Choa Eng Wan and Mrs. Tan Soon Keng

Second marriage
Wife: Tan Teck Neo
Son: Pang Soo (also educated in England)
Daughter: Poh Neo.

Wong Hongyi

Chew, C. T. E. and Lee, E. (Eds.). (1996). A history of Singapore (p. 76-8). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 HIS)

Song, O. S. (1985).  One hundred years history of the Chinese in Singapore (p. 110-13, 518). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON)

Thulaja, N. R. (2003) Mandalay Villa. Singapore Infopedia. Retrieved December 17, 2008, from http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_371_2005-01-24.html.

Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore: 1819-1988 (p.140-2). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR)

Yong, C. F. (1992) Chinese leadership and power in colonial Singapore (p. 58-61, 70-2). Singapore: Times Academic Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5702 YON)

Further Readings
Pan, L. (Ed.) (1998). The encyclopedia of the Chinese overseas. Singapore: Landmark Books & Archipelago Press: Chinese Heritage Center.
(Call no.: RSING 304.80951 ENC)

The information in this article is valid as at 2009 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.

Community leaders
Lee, Choon Guan, 1868-1924
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
People and communities>>Social groups and communities

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