Lee Choon Guan



Lee Choon Guan (b. 1868, Singapore–d. 1924, Singapore) was a Straits Chinese businessman and philanthropist. Together with Lim Peng Siang, Lim Boon Keng and other Chinese merchants, Lee founded the Chinese Commercial Bank in 1912.1 Also actively involved in public service, Lee donated generously to public causes and served in public organisations such as 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
Lee’s father, Lee Cheng Yan, was born in Malacca in 1841. In Singapore, the elder Lee started a small trading business at Telok Ayer Street, which prospered and expanded into real estate and finance. A prolific figure in community service, he sat on the committee of Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the Chinese Advisory Board and the Po Leung Kuk. He was also a justice of the peace.2


The young Lee was tutored privately. He worked as an assistant in his father’s firm, Lee Cheng Yan & Co., and learnt the ropes from his seniors.3

Business enterprises
Upon his father’s death in May 1911, Lee became the family business’s sole proprietor. As he worked to develop and expand the family enterprise, he grew in prominence in the Straits Chinese business community in Singapore.4


In 1912, Lee co-founded the Chinese Commercial Bank with other prominent Straits Chinese businessmen, including Lim Peng Siang and Lim Boon Keng, and was appointed its chairman. In 1932, the Chinese Commercial Bank and Ho Hong Bank (founded by Lim Peng Siang) merged with Oversea-Chinese Bank to form the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (now known as OCBC Bank).5

Community service and public leadership
Like his father, Lee was active in public service. He took a special interest in the social and educational advancement of the Peranakan (Straits Chinese) community, and contributed generously to charity and educational institutions – two notable instances being a gift of $60,000 to the endowment fund of Raffles College and $50,000 to the Methodist College.6


Lee was a member of the Straits Chinese British Association, an organisation that sought to unite the Straits Chinese elites in Singapore and pledge allegiance to the British colonial government. The association advanced the interests of Straits Chinese by stimulating discussions on social and political issues and their impact on the Straits Chinese community, both at local and regional levels. Such discussions helped generate ideas to address problems identified by the association’s leadership.7

In addition, Lee was a member of the Chinese Advisory Board and the management committee of 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.8

On 21 August 1915, Lee and Lim Peng Siang donated a battle plane (Malaya No. 6, also known as the “Choon Guan Peng Siang”) in support of the British army during World War I.9

For his contributions and service to the public, Lee was made a justice of the peace.10

Personal life
Lee was an avid tennis player and an enthusiastic member of the Straits Chinese Recreation Club. He was the club’s president for a number of years.11


Lee married the daughter of Wee Boon Teck, with whom he had two sons and two daughters. Both sons received their university education in England.12

After his first wife passed away, Lee married Tan Teck Neo in 1900, daughter of prominent Chinese businessman Tan Keong Saik. From this marriage, he had a son and a daughter. This son was also educated in England.13 The family lived at Mandalay Villa on Amber Road, one of the four holiday villas built by Lee’s father. The other three villas were Magenta Cottage on Killiney Road, Hampstead Bath at Upper Bukit Timah and a seaside bungalow at Changi Point.14

Like her husband and father-in-law, Tan was involved in charity work that often put her in the limelight. In 1915, she founded the Chinese Women’s Association.15 Three years later, she was honoured as a Member of the Order of the British Empire for her charitable achievements and contributions to the British Red Cross during World War I.16

Tan was also well known for throwing lavish parties for the rich and famous. These social events brought the Chinese and British communities together at a time when interactions between them were rare.17

Death
Upon Lee’s death in 1924 at age 56, Tan became the sole proprietor of the Lee estate.18


Family
First marriage19
Wife:
Daughter of Wee Boon Teck
Sons:
Lee Pang Seng and Lee Pang Chuan
Daughters:
Mrs Choa Eng Wan and Mrs Tan Soon Keng


Second marriage20
Wife:
Tan Teck Neo

Son: Lee Pang Soo
Daughter: Lee Poh Neo



Author
Wong Hongyi




References
1. Death of Mr. Lee Choon Guan. (1924, August 28). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); Yong, C. F. (c1992). Chinese leadership and power in colonial Singapore. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 71. (Call no.: RSING 959.5702 YON-[HIS])
2. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 110–111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
3. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 110–111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
4. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 110–111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
5. Yong, C. F. (c1992). Chinese leadership and power in colonial Singapore. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 71. (Call no.: RSING 959.5702 YON-[HIS])
6. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 111–112. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
7. Yong, C. F. (c1992). Chinese leadership and power in colonial Singapore. Singapore: Times Academic Press, pp. 52—53. (Call no.: RSING 959.5702 YON-[HIS])
8. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
9. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 518. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
10. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p.111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
11. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
12. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 111—112. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
13. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 112, 541. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
14. Lee, P., & Chen, J. (1998). Rumah baba: Life in a Peranakan house. Singapore: National Heritage Board, p. 25. (Call no.: RSING 305.89510595 LEE);
15. Lee, P., & Chen, J. (1998). Rumah baba: Life in a Peranakan house. Singapore: National Heritage Board, p. 25. (Call no.: RSING 305.89510595 LEE)
16. Lee, P., & Chen, J. (1998). Rumah baba: Life in a Peranakan house. Singapore: National Heritage Board, p. 25. (Call no.: RSING 305.89510595 LEE)
17. Mainly About Malayans. (1931, December 27). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Lee, P., & Chen, J. (1998). Rumah baba: Life in a Peranakan house. Singapore: National Heritage Board, p. 27. (Call no.: RSING 305.89510595 LEE)
19. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 110. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
20. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])



Further resources
Chew, E. C. T., & Lee, E. (Eds.). (1991). A history of Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 76–78.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 HIS-[HIS])

Pan, L. (Ed.). (c1998). The encyclopedia of the Chinese overseas. Singapore: Archipelago Press.
(Call no.: RSING 304.80951 ENC)

Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 140–142.

(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])



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.

Subject
Community leaders
Lee, Choon Guan, 1868-1924
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Philanthropists--Singapore--Biography
Businessmen--Singapore--Biography