Tan Chay Yan



Tan Chay Yan (b. December 1871, Malaccad. 6 March 1916, Malacca), also known as Tan Chay An or Chen Qixian,1 was the first rubber planter in Malaya. He pioneered an industry that transformed the region’s fortunes,2 and used his wealth to support causes such as education.

Early years
Tan’s grandfather was philanthropist Tan Tock Seng, and his father was Tan Teck Guan.3 Educated at Malacca High School, Tan became a was also a municipal commissioner and became a justice of the peace at age 24 in Malacca.4


Pioneer of the rubber industry
Around the 1890s, Tan visited Henry Ridley, director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, whose advocacy of commercial rubber cultivation had been widely scorned.5 Ridley gave Tan seedlings of the Ficus elastica and the Hevea Brasiliensis.6 Encouraged by his friend Lim Boon Keng, Tan agreed that there was potential in rubber cultivation and planted the rubber seedlings on 43 ac of land at Bukit Lintang. Thus, in 1896 Tan created the first rubber plantation in Malaya and Asia’s first rubber plantation.7


The burgeoning motorcar industry drove the growth in the demand for rubber.8 As the rubber plantation flourished, Tan and his friends established a 3,000-acre estate at Bukit Asahan two years later in 1898.9

Together with a number of prominent Singapore Chinese including Lim, Tan also co-founded Sembawang Rubber Plantations in Singapore in 1898 to manage 3,800 ac of rubber estates.10 He was a director of Serangoon Rubber Plantations Limited during the early 20th century.11 In around 1907, Tan helped to revive Tan Kah Kee’s fortunes by selling 180,000 rubber seeds to him.12

In 1900, Tan received a trophy for being the first man in the world to produce commercial sheet rubber, which had been displayed at the Agri-Horticultural Show in Malacca in 1896.13 In 1903, Tan’s rubber won a gold medal at the Hanoi Exposition.14 The following year, he exported his first 1,000 lbs of rubber from Malacca. Exported rubber had increased to 18,500 lbs by 1906, and Bukit Asahan became the world’s largest Hevea rubber plantation.15

In 1906, Tan reached an agreement with newly established London-based Malacca Rubber Plantations Limited (MRPL) to sell the Bukit Asahan estate for $2 million. Tan had set up the estate with $200,000.16 As part of the agreement, Tan would have an interest in MRPL.17 The deal convinced local growers that their future was in rubber,18 and attracted European companies to Malaya. By 1910, there were 35 European and Chinese companies growing rubber on tens of thousands of acres of land across Malaya. The Malayan rubber industry was producing about half of the world’s rubber supply by 1919.19

Other business interests and developments
In 1912, Tan became a director of the Chinese Commercial Bank, which later merged with Ho Hong Bank and the Oversea-Chinese Bank to form the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation.20 He was also the first chairman of the Eastern United Assurance Corporation.21


Most of the land under Sembawang Rubber Plantations was later acquired for the Sembawang Naval Base, Seletar Air Base, Sembawang Air Base, as well as the Jurong and Ang Mo Kio towns.22

Philanthropy and community activities
Tan contributed $15,000 towards the building of the Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School’s Tan Teck Guan Annexe, which housed offices, a library, museum and lecture room.23 Named after Tan’s father, who had supported education as a long-time trustee and benefactor of Malacca High School,  the annexe opened in 1911 and is today part of the Singapore General Hospital.24

Tan was president of the Malacca Chinese Club and the Malacca Chinese Lawn Tennis Club, and chairman of the Malacca Chinese Chamber of Commerce.25 A founding committee member of the Straits Chinese British Association in 1900, Tan established the association’s Malacca branch that same year and became its vice president.26

In 1901, Tan was part of the delegation of British subjects that presented loyal addresses to the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, who were visiting Singapore.27 During World War I, he collected contributions from Malacca businessmen for the British war loan and for a fund to purchase a warplane. He contributed some $800 of the $12,820 raised for the latter purpose.28

A supporter of Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat Sen,29 Tan was a founding member of Sun’s Tongmenghui in Malacca in 1906, and was elected honorary president of the Kuomintang in Singapore in 1913.30

Death and memorial
Tan died in early 1916 after a seizure.31 Chay Yan Street in Tiong Bahru and a road in Malacca were named after him.32 His son bred the Vanda Tan Chay Yan orchid variety, which won the First Class Certificate at London’s Chelsea Flower Show in 1954.33

Family
Tan’s wife was Chua Wan Neo (also known as Cai Huan Niang).34 Chua, a supporter of girls’ education, came from an eminent Malacca family.35 Tan and Chua had several children; their youngest daughter was the first Straits Chinese female born in Britain.36




Author

Duncan Sutherland




References
1. Lim, K. T. (1978, July 25). Follow the leader. The Business Times, p. 7; Mr. Tan Chay Yan dead. (1916, March 7). The Straits Times, p. 7; The Onlooker. (1936, December 20). Mainly about Malayans. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chen, J. (1994). The memoirs of Tan Kah Kee (A. H. C. Ward, R. W. Chu & J. Salaff, Trans.). Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 304. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 TAN)
2. Lim, K. T. (1978, July 25). Fortunes as bouncy as rubber itself. The Business Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Mr. Tan Chay Yan dead. (1916, March 7). The Straits Times, p. 7; Lim, K. T. (1978, July 25). Follow the leader. The Business Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Lim, K. T. (1978, July 25). Follow the leader. The Business Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Lim, K. T. (1978, July 25). Follow the leader. The Business Times, p. 7; Ramachandra, S. (1955, December 10). Malaya’s rubber pioneers. Singapore Standard, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Lim, K. T. (1978, July 25). Fortunes as bouncy as rubber itself. The Business Times, p. 6; Lim, K. T. (1978, July 25). Follow the leader. The Business Times, p. 7; Mr. Tan Chay Yan dead. (1916, March 7). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Cheong, S-W. (2004, February 29). The ‘prince’ who took care of paupers. The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Yong, C. F. (2014). Tan Kah-Kee: The making of an overseas Chinese legend. Singapore; New Jersey: World Scientific, p. 45. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 YON); Coates, A. (1987). The commerce in rubber: The first 250 years. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 101. (Call no.: RSING 338.1738952 COA)
8. Turnbull, C. M. (1983). Melaka under British colonial rule. In K. S. Sandhu & P. Wheatley (Eds.), Melaka: The transformation of a Malay capital, c. 1400–1980 (pp. 243–296). Kuala Lumpur; New York: Oxford University Press, p. 267. (Call no.: RSEA 959.5141 MEL)
9. Lim, K. T. (1978, July 25). Fortunes as bouncy as rubber itself. The Business Times, p. 6; Mr. Tan Chay Yan dead. (1916, March 7). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Coates, A. (1987). The commerce in rubber: The first 250 years. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 119–120. (Call no.: RSING 338.1738952 COA)
11. Serangoon rubber. (1909, August 2). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Yong, C. F. (2014). Tan Kah-Kee: The making of an overseas Chinese legend. Singapore; New Jersey: World Scientific, p. 45. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 YON)
13. Lim, K. T. (1978, July 25). Follow the leader. The Business Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Untitled. (1903, August 29). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Jarman, R. L. (Ed.). (1998). Annual reports of the Straits Settlements 1855–1941. Slough, UK: Archive Editions, pp. 314, 548. (Call no.: RSING 959.51 STR-[AR]); Gigantic rubber deal. (1905, May 8). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Yong, C. F. (2014). Tan Kah-Kee: The making of an overseas Chinese legend. Singapore; New Jersey: World Scientific, p. 45. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 YON); Chen, J. (1994). The memoirs of Tan Kah Kee (A. H. C. Ward, R. W. Chu & J. Salaff, Trans.). Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 304. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 TAN)
17. Gigantic rubber deal. (1905, May 8). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. ‘Rubber can fight synthetic’. (1956, May 31). Singapore Standard, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Turnbull, C. M. (1983). Melaka under British colonial rule. In K. S. Sandhu & P. Wheatley (Eds.), Melaka: The transformation of a Malay capital, c. 1400–1980 (pp. 243–296). Kuala Lumpur; New York: Oxford University Press, p. 268. (Call no.: RSEA 959.5141 MEL)
20. Page 9 advertisements column 2. (1912, December 18). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 9; Chinese Commercial Bank. (1932, September 15). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Death of Mr Tan Chay Yan. (1916, March 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Lim, K. T. (1978, July 25). Fortunes as bouncy as rubber itself. The Business Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Lim, K. T. (1978, July 25). Follow the leader. The Business Times, p. 7; Koh. G. (2002, December 6). Tan Teck Guan Building (left) 16A College Road, Singapore 169854. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Chua, B. C. (2006). Our story: Malacca High School, 1826–2006. Kuala Lumpur: MHS Anniversary, p. 183. (Call no.: RSEA 371.9795105951 CHU); Koh. G. (2002, December 6). Tan Teck Guan Building (left) 16A College Road, Singapore 169854. The Straits Times, p. 13; Tay, S. C. (2009, November 12). Preserving the past in print as well. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Mr. Tan Chay Yan dead. (1916, March 7). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Straits Chinese British Association. (1900, August 18). The Straits Times, p. 2; Straits Chinese British Association. (1900, October 22). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. The illumination of the addresses. (1901, April 25). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), p. 261. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Untitled. (1915, October 15). The Straits Times, p. 6; Malacca Chinese aircraft fund. (1916, February 17). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Lim, K. T. (1978, July 25). Follow the leader. The Business Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Lee, K. H., & Chow, M. S. (c1997). Biographical dictionary of the Chinese in Malaysia. Petaling Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, p. 149. (Call no.: RSEA q920.00929510595 LEE); Yong, C. F. (2014). Tan Kah-Kee: The making of an overseas Chinese legend. Singapore; New Jersey: World Scientific, p. 156. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 YON)
31. Mr. Tan Chay Yan dead. (1916, March 7). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Chan, S. L. (1955, July 18). Their names live on in Tiong Bahru. The Singapore Free Press, p. 12; Lee, K. H., & Chow, M. S. (c1997). Biographical dictionary of the Chinese in Malaysia. Petaling Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, p. 149. (Call no.: RSEA q920.00929510595 LEE)
33. Ramachandra, S. (1960, March 31). It all started in a tent. The Singapore Free Press, p. 9; S’pore orchids a sensation. (1954, May 26). The Singapore Free Press, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Lim, K. T. (1978, July 25). Follow the leader. The Business Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lee, K. H., & Chow, M. S. (c1997). Biographical dictionary of the Chinese in Malaysia. Petaling Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, p. 149. (Call no.: RSEA q920.00929510595 LEE)
35. Lim, K. T. (1978, July 25). Follow the leader. The Business Times, p. 7; Death of well-known Chinese lady. (1941, September 23). The Malaya Tribune, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Lim, K. T. (1978, July 25). Follow the leader. The Business Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



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
Rubber plantations--Singapore--History
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Agriculture, fishing and forestry
Businessman--Singapore--Biography
Personalities
Philanthropists--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies
Tan, Chay An, 1871-1916