Thio Chan Bee



Thio Chan Bee (b. 5 April 1904, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia–d. 13 December 1978, location unknown) was an educationist and politician. He was the first Asian principal of the Anglo-Chinese School (ACS), serving in the position from 1952 to 1960. His political career spanned various appointments in the Legislative Council and later the Legislative Assembly.1

Early years
Thio was born on 5 April 1904 in Medan, Sumatra (now part of Indonesia), the second of six children of grocer Thio Gim Ho and his wife Neo Si Kap. He attended the Methodist Boys’ School in Medan and led a comfortable life until 1914, when his father’s business failed due to his gambling and drinking habits. Thio’s father left for Singapore with his mistress to escape his creditors, and Thio and his elder brother were put under the care of an uncle. The splitting of his family engendered in Thio an intense dislike of his father’s decadent lifestyle.2

In 1915, Thio and his elder brother were sent to Singapore to study at ACS. They stayed with their father and stepmother, who ran a billiard hall. Their impoverished lifestyle spurred Thio to apply himself to his studies to improve his situation so that he could eventually support his mother and reunite his family. He excelled academically, and was the top student in Singapore at the Standard VII, Junior Cambridge and Senior Cambridge examinations between 1918 and 1920. However, Thio did not attend the prize-giving ceremony in 1920 because he could not afford to buy a new suit having outgrown the previous set. He also had to forgo a scholarship to the University of Hong Kong, as he was below the qualifying age then.3

Teaching career
Thio joined ACS as a trainee teacher in 1921 and passed the government teachers’ examination the following year and became a qualified full-time teacher there. He was the main breadwinner in his family, supporting his father and three sisters who had joined him from Sumatra. He also started teaching Sunday school in 1923 at the Straits Chinese Methodist Church (later renamed Kampong Kapor Methodist Church) and was actively involved in the church activities. In 1934, Thio earned an honours degree in history from the University of London. That same year, he resolved to be a fully committed Christian whose life decisions were guided by God, holding himself to high moral standards.4

Thio’s teaching philosophy encompassed the values of hard work, cooperation, encouragement and Christian principles, and some of his former students testified to the positive impact he had on their lives. He taught with two aims in mind: first, that the bright but financially challenged students would not be disadvantaged; second, that his students would excel in everything they did. He continued teaching during the Japanese Occupation (1942–1945); after the war, he was appointed acting senior inspector of schools in the Education Department following the return of the British to Singapore. Between September 1945 and July 1946, Thio was responsible for the reorganisation and rehabilitation of schools in the wake of the impact left by the war. He was also involved in resolving the contentious issue of the back payment of Asian teachers’ salaries following the end of the occupation.5

By 1947, Thio had returned to teach in ACS and was appointed vice-principal.6 He then became the first Asian principal of the school in 1952.7 As principal, he established the School Welfare Council as an alternative to the prefect system so as to encourage student leaders to jointly contribute to the school. Instead of employing corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure, he advocated counselling and guidance for errant students.8  Following his retirement as principal of ACS in 1960, Thio was described as “one of the great builders of Methodist schools” by Hobart B. Amstutz, who was then the bishop of the Methodist church in Southeast Asia.9

Other contributions that Thio made in the local education landscape included his involvement in the select committee in 1948 that studied recommendations on the founding of a “University of Malaya”. The university came to pass the following year and thus marked the beginnings of the present-day National University of Singapore.10 In 1951, he led a group of businessmen and professionals in calling for the establishment of Singapore’s first polytechnic so as to fill the gap of skilled workers in Singapore. When the Singapore Polytechnic was formed in 1954, Thio was appointed to the polytechnic’s board of governors.11

Between 1964 and 1970, Thio served as education secretary for all Methodist schools in Malaysia and Singapore and spent most of his time during this period in Malaysia. In 1968, he founded the Association for the Promotion of Higher Education in Malaysia (APHEM). The association had planned to establish more higher-education institutes in Malaysia and promote Thio’s vision of using education as a medium to foster interracial and interreligious understanding, goodwill and cooperation among young Malaysians. It was announced in 1972 that the Genting Highlands College would be built under the auspices of Thio and the association, but the institution failed to materialise in the end.12

Political career
In 1946, Thio attended a conference held by the Moral Re-Armament movement in Caux, Switzerland. Inspired by the movement’s social ideals and having witnessed the cooperation across different nationalities at the conference, Thio resolved to act as a bridge between communities in Malaya. Upon his return, Thio played a backstage but nevertheless catalytic role in the political events leading up to the formation of the Federation of Malaya in 1948. His efforts led to a historic meeting between Dato Onn Bin Ja’afar and Tan Cheng Lock, then the political leaders of the Malay and Chinese communities who had been at loggerheads in the press amid communal tensions. The 1948 meeting between Malay and Chinese political leaders eventually led to the political alliance between the United Malays National Organisation and the Malayan Chinese Association.13

Thio’s official entry into politics began in May 1946, when he became a non-official member of Singapore’s Advisory Council following approval by then Governor of Singapore Franklin Gimson. It is believed that Tan Chin Tuan, who was at the time managing director of the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation and a non-official member on the council, had nominated Thio to be a non-official member on the Advisory Council, following Lee Kong Chian’s departure from the council. Thio thus became the only member of the council who was from the salaried class. In 1948, he joined the Singapore Progressive Party (SPP) and served as its vice-president for various periods up to 1955.14 He was made a justice of the peace in 1948, and in the same year represented the Advisory Council at the inauguration ceremony of the Federation of Malaya.15

Thio was nominated to the Legislative Council as a non-official member in March 1948.16 He subsequently stood as an SPP candidate in the general election of April 1951 and was elected to the council as the representative for Balestier.17 He was also on the Executive Council between 1951 and 1955.18 Thio contested the Whampoa seat during the 1955 Legislative Assembly general election, but lost to Labour Front candidate Chew Swee Kee in a close fight.19

Despite his defeat in the 1955 general election, Thio was invited in July 1955 to sit on a committee appointed by the government to study and make recommendations for the Malayanisation of Singapore’s civil service. The following year, Thio joined the Liberal Socialist Party, which had been formed by the merger of the SPP and the Democratic Party. He subsequently left to join the Singapore People’s Alliance (SPA) headed by Lim Yew Hock in 1958. He stood as an SPA candidate in the general election of 1959 and won the Tanglin seat. He was one of only four SPA candidates to be elected despite the party contesting 39 seats.20

Thio then contested in the 1963 general election after Singapore became part of the Federation of Malaysia as a candidate of the Singapore Alliance Party, but lost the Tanglin seat to the People’s Action Party’s E. W. Barker.21 Thio became chairman of the Singapore Alliance Party in May 1967, but became less involved in Singapore politics after 1968.22

During his time in the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly, Thio advocated education reforms – such as the establishment of the Singapore Polytechnic – subsidised public housing by the Singapore Improvement Trust (present-day Housing and Development Board) for the lower-income groups, and social welfare. He was a champion for workers’ rights and was the first member of the council to suggest provident funds for workers (later known as the Central Provident Fund) to help them save for retirement. He was also an early advocate for merger, proposing in 1948 a “Confederation of Malaysia” comprising Malaya, Singapore and the Borneo Territories. However, he believed that merger had to be carried out gradually in stages for it to be successful.23

Death
After spending most of his later years in Malaysia, Thio passed away on 13 December 1978 from colon cancer. In recognition of Thio’s contributions to the field of education, scholarships have been endowed in his name by APHEM and ACS.24

Family life
On 11 December 1926, Thio married Ong Hay Way, the daughter of a wealthy Hokkien merchant, whom he had met at a youth fellowship group of the Straits Chinese Methodist Church. Their daughter Eunice, born on 14 October 1927, became the first woman to be promoted to a full professorship at the University of Singapore (now the National University of Singapore).25

Selected awards
Jun 1955: Commander of the Order of the British Empire.26
1961:
Honorary Doctor of Laws, by the University of Malaya in recognition of his services in the field of education.27

5 Aug 1965: Johan Mangku Negara (Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of the Defender of the Realm), by the Malaysian government for his contributions to public service in Singapore and Malaysia.28



Author
Alvin Chua



References
1. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (71, 81–82, 85, 88–92, 99). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS); Thio Chan Bee to quit his ACS job. (1960, November 16). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2.
 Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (71). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS)
3. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (71, 73). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS); People in Singapore make news. (1947, July 11). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (73, 75, 78). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS)
5. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (77–81). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS)
6. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (80–81). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS)
7. Anglo-Chinese School (Independent). (2010). History of ACS. Retrieved fromAnglo-ChineseSchool (Independent) website: http://www.acsindep.moe.edu.sg/acs_indep/pages/ACS_History
8. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (81). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS)
9. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (82). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS); Subhas, G. (1961, January 12). School parades in honour of 40 years of service. The Singapore Free Press, p. 1; Methodist bishop Amstutz will retire in August. (1964, May 23). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Action on university report. (1948, May 19). The Straits Times, p. 9; Singapore passes varsity bill. (1949, March 30). The Straits Times, p. 1; Varsity will open with 201 students. (1949, August 18). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (88–89). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS)
12. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (96–97). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS); ‘Super’ college on 15,000 acre site. (1972, January 30). The Straits Times, p. 4; Proposed Genting college sold to govt. (1979, March 9). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (83–86). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS)
14. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (85, 87). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS); Tan Chin Tuan. (2005, November 20). The Straits Times, p. 28; Tan Chin Tuan to return to council. (1948, January 15). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. People in Singapore make news. (1948, January 9). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4; S’pore sends message of goodwill. (1948, February 2). The Singapore Free Press, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Four unofficials nominated. (1948, March 25). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (90). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS); Election results. (1951, April 11). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Thio Chan Bee to quit his ACS job. (1960, November 16). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (91). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS); The results. (1955, April 3). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (91–92). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS); Goh, P. (1956, February 6). C. C. Tan leads the Liberal Socialists. The Straits Times, p. 1; Want to know. (1959, May 31). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (95). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS); This is the way the voting went. (1963, September 22). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (96). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS)
23. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (88–90, 93). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS)
24. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (96, 98–99); ACS Old Boys’ Association. (2011). Scholarship and bursaries. Retrieved from ACS Old Boys’ Association website: http://www.acsoba.net/scholarship.aspx
25. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (74). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS)
26. 5 Malayan knights: Queen’s birthday honours. (1955, June 9). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. University to confer honorary degrees in recognition of their services to education. (1961, May 18). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Ong, N. (1997). A bridge-builder: Dr Thio Chan Bee (1904–1978). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 70(1), 71–100 (96). (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS); Suryadinata, L. (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: A biographical dictionary (Vol. 2). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 13. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)




Further resources
Thio, C. B. (1977). Extraordinary adventures of an ordinary man. London: Grosvenor Books.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 THI-[HIS])

Thio Chan Bee, 1904–78. Kuala Lumpur: Academe Art & Printing Services.
(Call no.: RUB 370.924 THI)



The information in this article is valid as at 17 December 2014 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
Politics and Government>>Education
Personalities
Education
Politics and Government