Runme Shaw



Runme Shaw (Tan Sri) (Dr) (b. 1901, China–d. 2 March 1985, Singapore) was a pioneer in the film and entertainment industry in Singapore and Malaysia.1 He founded Shaw Brothers with his brother, Run Run Shaw.2 Besides being a film magnate, Runme was also a well-known philanthropist. In addition, Shaw served in many organisations including the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (presently known as Singapore Tourism Board) and the Singapore Turf Club.3

Early life
Runme Shaw was the third son of a well-to-do family with seven children. As a child, Runme went to school in Shanghai where he studied Confucian classics and classical Chinese literature.4 Their father, Shaw Yuh Hsuen, was a textile merchant with his own import-export company, and owned an opera hall.5


When films began to be screened in China, Runje, one of Runme’s brothers, established the movie company, Tian Yi Film Company (or Unique Film Productions), and started producing silent films. Runme, who was then working in his father’s trading company, joined Runje’s company as the sales manager. Seeing Southeast Asia as a potential market to distribute the films made by his brother’s company, Runme decided to venture there. Initially he wanted to ply his trade in Indo-China,6 but he ended up in Singapore after his entry to Indo-China was denied.7

Prewar
Runme arrived in Singapore in 1925. He found it difficult to distribute Tian Yi’s films as he was being locked out of the business by the dominant local dialect groups – the Cantonese, Hokkiens and Teochews – who monopolised the market and preferred to do business with their own community rather than with Runme. Nonetheless, he pressed on and together with his brother, Run Run, who joined him in 1926, the Shaw brothers were able to secure the use of an old theatre in Tanjong Pagar, the Empire, in 1927. They paid $2,000 per month to screen Tian Yi’s films at the Empire8 – a wooden building with hard benches and a screen made of a piece of white cloth.9 It screened two evening shows daily and tickets were sold at either 50 cents or 75 cents depending on the location of the seats. The movies screened at the Empire were silent films, but musicians were hired to accompany the action for dramatic effect.10

After establishing a footing in Singapore, Runme and Run Run began consolidating their film distribution business when they incorporated Hai Hsin Film Company, which first appeared in the Directory of Malaya in 1933 but later liquidated in 1941, and Shaw Brothers Limited in 1928.11 To distribute the films produced or acquired by Shaw Brothers, Runme ventured into Malaya, travelling to small towns and major cities including Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Ipoh. He also rented theatres and set up travelling shows there to screen his films.12

Although the Great Depression in the early 1930s made a dent in the Shaws’ income,13 they recovered sufficiently to take over more movie theatres including the Alhambra and Marlborough on Beach Road. By the end of the 1930s, a chain of 139 cinemas in Southeast Asia were under the Shaws.14 Their business also diversified into other areas such as amusement parks. When reflecting on his success in the local film business, Runme attributed his success to luck and the ability to identify the genres of movies that appealed to the public.15

Japanese Occupation (1942–45)
Runme continued to screen movies in his theatres even when the Japanese began bombing Singapore in December 1941. He stopped and went into hiding after finding out the Japanese were searching for him after the fall of Singapore in February 1942. Runme recalled that he hid in a shop on Selegie Road but was eventually captured. It turned out that the Japanese wanted him to produce and distribute propaganda films for them. Runme accepted the request and was paid $350 in Japanese military yen each month.16


Postwar years and beyond
The postwar period was boom time for the film industry.17 Using the gold, jewellery and cash they had stashed away, the Shaws upgraded their cinemas.18 In 1946, they purchased Capitol Theatre for $3 million, which thereafter became Shaw’s flagship cinema.19 Three years later, Shaw opened Rex, a new cinema located at the junction of Bukit Timah and Selegie roads, followed by Lido on Orchard Road in 1959.20

As the profits of the Shaw Brothers multiplied, the company expanded its business. It set up film studios in Hong Kong and cemented its position in the entertainment scene by adding to their portfolio another 150 cinemas and six amusement parks in Malaya and Singapore.21 It also diversified into new areas such as commercial and residential property developments.22

In addition, Runme served as chairman of the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB) from March 1969 to October 1976.23 During this period, he revamped its operations by increasing its capital input and staff headcount. He also opened tourist offices abroad in countries such as Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom and United States to promote Singapore as a destination. Besides STPB, Runme took on leadership roles in organisations including the Turf Club as chairman and St John’s Ambulance as president.24

Philanthropy and awards
Besides his success in the film industry, Runme was also a well-known philanthropist.25 In 1957, he set up the Shaw Foundation as a charity organisation.26 Since then, the foundation has channelled millions of dollars into hospitals, schools and charities in Singapore and Malaysia.27 Runme also headed or served as the patron of charitable organisations such as the Medical Progress Fund, St John’s Council, National Kidney Foundation, Singapore Association for Mental Health, Singapore National Heart Association, Society for Aid to the Paralysed, and Metropolitan YMCA. In 1948, Runme started the annual tradition of giving red packets (hongbao) to elderly people in old folks’ homes during the Chinese New Year.28

Death
In September 1982, Runme was admitted to hospital after a fall at his home in Queen Astrid Park.29 After undergoing two brain surgeries, he remained in a state of coma before passing away due to a stroke on 2 March 1985.30

Selected awards and honours
1965:
Panglima Mangku Negara, Malaysia31

1966: Dato Kurnia Perkasa, Pahang, Malaysia32
1968: Darjah Indera Mahkota Pahang, Pahang, Malaysia33
1972: Grand Officer of the Order of Merit, Italy34
1975: Honorary member, Academy of Medicine35
1976: Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, France36
1977: Meritorious Service Medal, Singapore37
1978: Honorary Doctor of Letters, National University of Singapore38
1982: International Dag Hammarskjöld Award (Humanity and Arts)39
1982: Officer de la Legion d'Honneur, France40

Family
Wife: Peggy Soo Wei Ping
Sons: Vee King and Vee Fong
Daughters: Doris, Vivien, Nora and Sylvia41



Authors

Nureza Ahmad & Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman



References
1. Shaw Organisation. (2007). Biography – Tan Sri Dr Runme Shaw. Retrieved 2016, April 16 from Shaw Organisation website: http://www.shaw.sg/sw_abouthistory.aspx?id=33_1; Shaw Organisation. (2007). The beginning 1924–1933. Retrieved 2016, April 16 from Shaw Organisation website: http://goo.gl/JVRnHC
2. Shaw Organisation. (2007). The beginning 1924–1933. Retrieved 2016, April 16 from Shaw Organisation website: http://goo.gl/JVRnHC
3. Shaw Organisation. (2007). Biography – Tan Sri Dr Runme Shaw. Retrieved 2016, April 16 from Shaw Organisation website: http://www.shaw.sg/sw_abouthistory.aspx?id=33_1
4. Shaw Organisation. (2007). Biography – Tan Sri Dr Runme Shaw. Retrieved 2016, April 16 from Shaw Organisation website: http://www.shaw.sg/sw_abouthistory.aspx?id=33_1
5. Shaw Organisation. (2007). The beginning 1924–1933. Retrieved 2016, April 16 from Shaw Organisation website: http://goo.gl/JVRnHC; Shaw Organisation. (2007). Shaw Yuh Hsuen. Retrieved 2016, April 16 from Shaw Organisation website: http://www.shaw.sg/sw_abouthistory.aspx?id=1_1; Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 50. (Call no.: RSING 920.059597 CHE)
6. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 50. (Call no.: RSING 920.059597 CHE)
7. Shaw Organisation. (2007). The beginning 1924–1933. Retrieved 2016, April 16 from Shaw Organisation website: http://goo.gl/JVRnHC
8. Chua, A. L. (2015). Cultural consumption and cosmopolitan connections: Chinese cinema entrepreneurs in 1920s and 1930s Singapore. In C. G. Rea & N. Volland (Eds.), The business of culture: Cultural entrepreneurs in China and Southeast Asia, 1900–65. Toronto: UBC Press, pp. 212–213. (Call no.: RSING 330.951 BUS)
9. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 50. (Call no.: RSING 920.059597 CHE)
10. Shaw Organisation. (2007). The beginning 1924–1933. Retrieved 2016, April 16 from Shaw Organisation website: http://goo.gl/JVRnHC
11. Shaw Organisation. (2007). The beginning 1924–1933. Retrieved 2016, April 16 from Shaw Organisation website: http://goo.gl/JVRnHC; Page 11 advertisements column 4. (1958, April 29). The Straits Times, p. 11; Page 11 advertisements column 2. (1958, April 29). The Singapore Free Press, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 920.059597 CHE)
13. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 920.059597 CHE)
14. Shaw Organisation. (2007). Shaw Cinemas in Asia, pre war. Retrieved 2016, April 20 from Shaw Organisation website: http://goo.gl/slHDh1
15. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, pp. 51 and 52. (Call no.: RSING 920.059597 CHE)
16. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 52. (Call no.: RSING 920.059597 CHE)
17. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 52. (Call no.: RSING 920.059597 CHE)
18. There is no business like Shaw businesss. (1987, October 2). The Business Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Real estate deals reach $25 millions. (1947, July 27). The Straits Times, p. 7; Runme wins damage award. (1956, June 7). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Singapore’s new cinema. (1946, October 16). The Straits Times, p. 5; Shaw’s new cinema. (1959, February 3). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 52. (Call no.: RSING 920.059597 CHE); Shaw Organisation. (2007). Biography – Tan Sri Dr Runme Shaw. Retrieved 2016, April 16 from Shaw Organisation website: http://www.shaw.sg/sw_abouthistory.aspx?id=33_1
22. Shaw Organisation. (2007). Biography – Tan Sri Dr Runme Shaw. Retrieved 2016, April 16 from Shaw Organisation website: http://www.shaw.sg/sw_abouthistory.aspx?id=33_1
23. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, pp. 52-53. (Call no.: RSING 920.059597 CHE); Runme Shaw now head of tourist board. (1969, March 3). The Straits Times, p. 5; Financier takes over as STPB chief. (1976, December 18). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 53. (Call no.: RSING 920.059597 CHE)
25. Magnate with a heart. (1985, March 4). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 52. (Call no.: RSING 920.059597 CHE); Shaw Organisation. (2007). The Shaw Foundation, Singapore. Retrieved 2016, April 16 from Shaw Organisation website: http://goo.gl/aJuB2g
27. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 52. (Call no.: RSING 920.059597 CHE); Shaw Organisation. (2007). The Shaw Foundation, Singapore. Retrieved 2016, April 16 from Shaw Organisation website: http://goo.gl/aJuB2g; Magnate with a heart. (1985, March 4). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press, p. 53. (Call no.: RSING 920.059597 CHE)
29. Runme Shaw in coma after a fall. (1982, September 5). The Straits Times, p. 1; Yong, P. A. (1985, March 4). Runme Shaw dies after being in a coma for 28 months. Singapore Monitor, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
[30. Mudali, D. (1985, March 4). Runme Shaw dies. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Page 3 Aavertisements column 1. (1965, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 3; King names 7 new datos. (1965, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Ra’ayat riang: Titah Sultan Pahang. (1966, May 30). Berita Harian, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Lima Dato baharu di-Pahang kurnian Sultan hari ini. (1968, May 29). Berita Harian, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Applause as Shaw gets award. (1972, March 22). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Film magnate honoured. (1975, October 29). New Nation, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. France honours Runme Shaw. (1976, March 27). The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Envoy and Shaw in honours’ list. (1977, August 9). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
38. Honorary doctorate for Runme Shaw. (1978, October 21). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Runme Shaw wins world award. (1983, February 26). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Runme Shaw honoured. (1982, July 24). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Magnate with a heart. (1985, March 4). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Shaw Organisation. (2007). Biography – Tan Sri Dr Runme Shaw. Retrieved 2016, April 16 from Shaw Organisation website: http://www.shaw.sg/sw_abouthistory.aspx?id=33_1



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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
Businessmen--Singapore--Biography
Motion picture industry--Singapore
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Leisure and entertainment
Philanthropists--Singapore--Biography
Community leaders
Arts>>Film
Shaw, Runme, 1901-1985