Ho Rih Hwa

Ho Rih Hwa (b. 1917, Singapore - d. 28 August 1999, Singapore) was a prominent businessman and former ambassador. He headed the Wah Chang International/Thai Wah business empire, which is engaged in agribusiness, hotel and resort management, and property development in Burma, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and China. He was awarded the Public Star award in 1969 and the Meritorious Service Medal in 1973 in recognition of his public service.

Early life
Ho was born in Singapore in 1917. His father was a Chinese immigrant who started out as a carpenter in Singapore and became a small-time shipbuilder, building tongkangs at the Tanjong Rhu boatyard near the Kallang basin. Ho grew up in his parents' derelict shack next to the family business in the Tanjong Rhu boatyard.

At the age of 11, Ho was sent to China to continue his education, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Nanking University. In 1944, he went to the United States to study agricultural economics at Cornell and Harvard Universities. It was there that he met and married his wife, Li Lienfung, a fellow Cornell graduate student from Hunan, China.

After completing his studies, Ho began working in the New York trading company of his father-in-law, Li Kuo Ching, who owned a tungsten mining business. It was his father-in-law who sent him to Thailand and Burma to work for Thai Wah. Ho's career developed gradually from being a manager to an entrepreneur in Wah Chang, the parent company of Thai Wah. He expanded the company's business in Asia, venturing into construction, engineering, manufacturing and agribusiness in Burma, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and China.

Ho had spent a large part of his life outside of Singapore. Not only was he a businessman and entrepreneur, he had also been Singapore's ambassador to Thailand, Belgium, Germany and the European Economic Community (EEC), and was Singapore's Permanent Representative in Switzerland. In addition, he was actively involved in numerous public service roles, which included being a director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore and a representative of the Economic Development Board.

After suffering from a stroke in 1981, Ho took a less active role in the family business and began recording his family history. Ho had kept a diary of incidents and interesting happenings for over 60 years of his life. In 1991, he published his autobiography. The book, Eating Salt, won a National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) Commended Award for non-fiction in 1992.

Ho died in 1999 after suffering five years from a second incident of stroke. His children remembered him as being "a self-contained man, a good father and provider", who taught them values of honour and integrity by setting a personal example. His friends remembered him as humble, kind, quiet and dignified, and a man of strong convictions who had the belief that "you are free to decide what you want to do if you believe in it strongly".

1923 - 1927 : Educated at Yang Zheng School from Primary One to Primary Five.
1928 : Lingnam High School, China.
1939 : Studied agricultural economics at Nanking University in Chengdu.
1942 : Graduated with Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from Nanking University.
1944 : Studied at Cornell University and Harvard University for postgraduate studies; education funded by money borrowed from relatives and earned from part-time jobs.
1945 : Masters in Science (Agriculture), Cornell University.
1946 : Married Li Lienfung, a fellow Cornell graduate student, at a Presbyterian church in New York.
1948 : Joined Wah Chang group of companies founded by his father-in-law, Li Kuo Ching.
1967 - 1971 : Appointed Singapore's ambassador to Thailand.
1972 - 1974 : Ambassador to Belgium.
1972 : Appointed Singapore's ambassador to the European Economic Community.
1974 : Retired from public service.
1981 : Suffered first stroke.
1989 : Diagnosed with a form of throat cancer.
1991 : Autobiography, Eating Salt, published.
1994 : Suffered serious stroke which left him wheelchair-bound.
28 Aug 1999 : Passed away at family home in King Albert Park. He was 82 years old.

1969 : Public Star Award
1973 : Meritorious Service Medal
1992 : National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) Commended Award

Sisters: Three younger sisters, one of whom has deceased.
Wife: Li Lienfung, writer and former columnist for the long-running bilingual Bamboo Green column in The Straits Times.
Sons: Ho Kwon Ping, businessman, Ho Kwon Cjan, architect.
Daughter: Ho Minfong, writer.

Nureza Ahmad

Ho, R. H. (1991). Eating salt: An autobiography. Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: SING 338.092 HO)

Koh, B. S. (1991, June 15). Sifting salt. The Straits Times, Life, p. 1.

Yeoh, E.L. (1999, August 30). Businessman and ex-envoy Ho Rih Hwa, 82, dies. The Straits Times, p. 4.

Siow, L.S. (1999, August 30). Industrialist Ho Rih Hwa dies at 82. The Business Times, p. 3.

Varied pursuits. (2002, February 6). The Straits Times

Talks to honour businessman. (2001, May 9). The Straits Times, Home, p. H6.

SMs tribute to ex-envoy. (1999, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 18.

National Book Development Council of Singapore. (n.d.). Singapore book prizes. Retrieved June 7, 2004, from www.nbdcs.org.sg/Sing_NBDCS.htm

Yayasan Mendaki. (2002). Adddress By Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew at The Ho Rih Hwa Leadership In Asia Public Lecture. Retrieved June 7, 2004, from www.mendaki.org.sg/content.jsp?cont_cat_id=17&cont_id=8 

The information in this article is valid as at 2004 and correct as far as we can 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.

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Ho, Rih Hwa, 1917-1999

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