Claire Chiang (b. 4 October 1951, Singapore - ), social activist, entrepreneur and author, was Singapore's Woman of the Year (1999) and former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP). Married to Ho Kwon Ping, president of the Wah Chang/Thai Wah Group of companies, she is executive director of the Banyan Tree Gallery, a company that she conceptualised. Her business acumen led her to break the long-standing tradition of an all-male Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCI) in 1995 by becoming one of the first two women to be admitted to it. Despite her achievements, she has remained down-to-earth and is an active advocate for women's rights, family life and the disadvantaged in society.
Chiang lived in a shophouse along Race Course Road in Little India, a home which she shared with 11 other Hainanese family members. She was the youngest and only daughter of five boys. Her father worked as an accountant while her mother did various odd jobs. She never had a bed to herself until she reached adulthood, having to share her room with two other brothers and her paternal grandmother. Through this, however, she grew closer to her paternal grandmother who, along with her mother, influenced her early ideas on feminism and womanhood.
Chiang's early life was a mixture of adversity and diversity. Living in poverty, consuming mainly vegetarian dishes, meat such as chicken was a luxury item eaten only on special occasions. Yet, her parents had friends from all backgrounds, ranging from towkays to the washerwoman. Despite their poverty, she saw her parents to giving food to the less well-off and her father offering free professional accounting services when needed. She had a multi-racial upbringing, living in the neighbourhood where she had Indian 'uncles' and 'aunties'. Even the race riots of 1964 did not mar her family's relations with their multiracial neighbours.
Chiang's mother was also important in shaping her values and attitudes to life. Although she left school to work odd jobs to support her family, the senior Chiang ensured that her daughter learned everything from ballet to piano to Chinese dance. Chiang was enrolled in two primary schools -- Nanhua Chinese and Raffles Girls School-- so that she could have a strong bilingual education. Despite hating all the pressure, she is grateful to her mother's painstaking efforts to making her what she is today. Although her mother suffered various illnesses from breast cancer to stroke for more than 20 years, she showed strength and determination in raising her children. She finally died of kidney failure.
Several interesting careers in academia and business marked Chiang's life. She was a research sociologist and a sociology tutor at tertiary level, with her research skills culminating in the publication of the award-winning book Stepping out: The making of Chinese entrepreneurs (1993), which was subsequently made into a Chinese drama serial in 1999.
In 1994, she became the human resource director of her husband's Wah Chang/Thai Wah Group of companies. However, it is as the founder and executive director of the Banyan Tree Gallery which has made her notable in the business world. The Gallery sources for the Banyan Tree resorts' furnishings by working with indigenous local artisans, and Banyan Tree Gallery and currently runs the Museum shops in Singapore.
In addition, Chiang maintains an active involvement in social work and women's issues. She developed and implemented workshops to help police officers handle victims of domestic violence more sensitively. She became the president of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) (1994) and the Society Against Family Violence (1995). She was a board member in a number of welfare agencies. She took up volunteering in 1990 following a miscarriage and found that it helped her feel useful, happy and productive to society.
In October 1997, she became one of the first women to be a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP). She is also one of only two women on the council of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Claire Chiang is a woman with a strong passion for life. Her intelligence, inner strength, passion for people and causes which matter have endeared her to those who come into contact with her.
"Women should capture their inner strength. It is a wonderful resource".
"All my different activities are united by this core of values - justice, feminism, community development, self-awareness".
1951 : Born in Singapore
1974 : Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Sociology from the University of Singapore
1975 : Diploma in French, Sorbonne University, France. She also began to serve as a personal assistant to the Cultural Counsellor at the French Embassy.
1977 : 2nd Class Honours in Sociology, with a thesis on the Hainanese
1978 - 1987 : Sociology tutor, first in the University of Hong Kong and later at the National University of Singapore
1985 : Master in Philosophy, focusing on Sociology from the University of HK. Her thesis was on factory women and their work.
1988 : Joined Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware)
1989 - 1991 : Research sociologist, Centre for Advanced Studies, NUS
1990: Helped set up Aware's Helpline
1992 : Joined Wah Chang Group
1993 - 1994 : President of Aware
1993 : Stepping Out: The Making of Chinese Entrepreneurs published, a book that she co-authored.
1994 : National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) Highly Commended Award for Stepping Out: The Making of Chinese Entrepreneurs
1994 : Human Resource director of Wah Chang Group
1994 : Conceived idea for Banyan Tree Gallery and became its executive director.
1995 : President of Society Against Family Violence (SAFV)
14 Jan 1995 : One of two women to be admitted to the council of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCI), breaking the tradition of an all-male chamber. The other woman was Dr Gan See Khem, CEO of Hong Bee Land Sdn Bhd.
1997- 2001 : Nominated MP
1999 : Woman of the Year, Her World magazine
Husband: Ho Kwon Ping, president of the Wah Chang/ Thai Wah Group of companies.
Children: Ren Hua, eldest son, Ren Yung, younger daughter, and Ren Chun, youngest son.
Claire is Woman of the Year. (1999, March 13). The Straits Times.
Claire Chiang- How I became a volunteer. (1998, December 6). The Straits Times.
Chin, S.F. (1998, March 20). NMP behind idea for serial on pioneers. The Straits Times.
Koh, B. P. (1999, March 13). Claire Chiang- Superwoman. (1999, March 13). The Straits Times.
Rohaniah Saini. (1995, August 29). Solace for battered wives and abused children. The Straits Times, Life, p. 4.
Tan, T. (1995, Jan 15). Two women elected to Chinese chamber of commerce council. The Straits Times, p.1
Zuraidah I. (1993, September 5). Activist of silk and substance. The Straits Times, Sunday Review, p.3.
My NMP stint taxing but rewarding. (2001, September 25). The Straits Times.
Nine NMPs named. (1997, September 26). The Straits Times.
Generation 2000. (1994, October 5). Asiaweek, 26.
Lee, J. (2003, February 11). Circle of culture. Today, Singapore, p. 32.
National Development Book Council (NBDCS). (2004). Singapore book prizes. Retrieved June 8, 2004, from www.nbdcs.org.sg/Sing_NBDCS.htm
www.banyantreegallery.com. (2004). Banyan Tree Gallery. Retrieved June 8, 2004, from www.banyantreegallery.com/newsroom_2.php
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.
Chiang, Claire, 1951-
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