Rose Chan (b. 1925, Soo Chow (present-day Suzhou), China d. 1987, Penang, Malaysia) was born Chan Wai Chang into a family of acrobats. She became famous throughout Malaysia as the "Queen of Striptease" in the 1950s for her sensational acts, which included a circus stunt known as the "Python Act" where she wrestled with a python. For her generosity, she soon gained another moniker - the "Charity Queen". She was diagnosed with breast cancer around 1980, and after a long battle with the disease, died at the age of 62 on 26 May 1987.
At the age of 6, Chan moved to Kuala Lumpur to be with her adoptive mother. While she knew who her birth mother was, she would only say to a newspaper, the New Sunday Times, "I know who my mother is, but I don't want to say." She had no formal schooling, except for a brief 8 months at the age of 12, and took on various jobs in the then-Malaya, such as working at a shop making buttons out of coconut shells. At 16, she was married off to a Singaporean harbour contractor as his fourth wife. However, the marriage ended after her mother made frequent monetary demands on Chan's husband, asking for $1,000 to $2,000 each time she visited the couple.
Chan's failed marriage led her to become a cabaret dancer at the Happy World, later known as Gay World, Amusement Park in Geylang to earn some much-needed income. She was an accomplished dancer, as shown by her runner-up placement in the All-Women's Ballroom Dancing Championships in 1949. Her beauty was also evident as she finished runner-up in the Miss Singapore Beauty Contest the following year.
As she was already a highly popular cabaret girl, she had started her own show in 1951 and toured the whole of Malaysia. It was in 1952 that her career really took off. That year, her bra snapped while she performed at the Majestic Theatre in Ipoh, and the audience responded with thunderous applause. The audiences favourable response led her to change her routine from then on, as she made her name for herself as the "Queen of Striptease". As she famously said, "Everybody clapped very hard, and I thought, 'Here I dance all night and sweat so much and nobody claps. My bra breaks and they clap'". Her new stage act was revolutionary, including daring deeds such as bending iron rods stuck to the base of her throat, having motorcycles ride over planks placed across her body, and the "Python Act", where she wrestled with a large python, even coiling it provocatively around herself.
However, while her suggestive acts brought her much success, they also caused her to have several run-ins with the law. In 1967, she was banned from performing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, after a police raid on her revue at BB Park found that she had gone against her no-stripping promise made when she applied for her performing license. She was then arrested for performing indecently in public in Perth, Australia, in September 1970, and as a result, she was acquitted in court. A month later, but again in Perth, she was found guilty of accepting money for sex at a massage parlour. Her fine was A$60. By 1973, her performing licence in Malaysia had been taken away by the authorities. Undaunted, Chan continued performing until 1976, when she performed her last striptease in Kuala Lumpur.
Controversies aside, Chan was also known for her generosity. She would donate some of the proceeds of her shows to charities, including those benefiting children, old folk's homes, Tuberculosis patients, and the blind. She was dubbed the "Charity Queen" afterwards.
Chan's life continues to be a fascination for many. In August 2008, a Singaporean theatre group The Theatre Practice staged the play I am Queen, which tells the story of stripper Betty Yong, a character modelled on Chan. MediaCorp Raintree Pictures has also announced that they will be making a biopic of Chan's life. The movie, entitled Chinese Rose, is to be helmed by director Eric Khoo.
First husband: A Singaporean harbour contractor, name unknown.
Second husband: Mohamed Nazier Kahar, an Indonesian.
Third husband: Chong Yew Meng
Fourth husband: Name unknown
Fifth husband: Low Kim Seng
She had two sons and four daughters. Two sons: She had a son from her first marriage whose name is not known and a son from her third marriage by the name of Chong Weng Thye.
Four daughters: Jennifer and Irene Chan. The names of her two other daughters, one of them adopted, are not known. At a young age, Jennifer and Irene were introduced to the press in 1974 as her protégés. By then, she had taught them to sing and dance.
References Brazil, D. (2007). Insiders Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BRA - [TRA])
Koh, T., Auger, T., Yap, J., & Ng, W. C. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didiet Millet (in association with the National Heritage Board).
Lim, D. (2005, September). Flower of Malaya. Off the edge, 9.
(Call no.: RBUS 338.709595 OE)
Tan, T. (2008, August 7). Erotica of 1950s gets strip search. The Straits Times. Retrieved on December 28, 2008, from Factiva database.
Tseng, D. (2008, April 29). A new Rose in the making. The Straits Times. Retrieved on December 28, 2008, from Factiva database.
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.