Lim Boon Keng



Lim Boon Keng (Dr) (林文庆; Lin Wenqing) (b. 18 October 1869, Singapore–d. 1 January 1957, Singapore) was an eminent figure of the Straits Chinese community.1 Trained as a medical doctor, Lim was also a public intellectual and writer who championed Confucianism and supported Sun Yat-sens revolution in China.2 He served as a member of the Straits Settlements Legislative Council for 14 years, and pushed for social reforms such as female education and regulations on opium consumption with the aim of improving the lives of the Chinese community.3

Early life and education
Lim Boon Keng, alias Meng Qin (梦琴), was born in Singapore. His grandfather, Lim Mah Peng, had emigrated in 1839 from Fujian province, China, to Penang, Malaya, to earn a living where he married a Straits-born Chinese woman. Lim Mah Peng then moved to Singapore when his only son, Lim Thean Geow, was born.4

The earliest education Lim received was a brief period spent at a school set up by the Hokkien Huay Kuan (clan association), where he learnt Chinese classics. He then began his English education at the Government Cross Street School and thereafter enrolled in Raffles Institution in 1879.5 His studies at Raffles Institution were nearly terminated when his father passed away and the family faced financial difficulties. The then school principal, R. W. Hullett, intervened and Lim was able to continue with his education.6

Lim graduated from Raffles Institution and was awarded the Queen’s Scholarship in 1887.7 He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and graduated in 1892, earning a bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery degree with first-class honours.8

Medical career and health reforms
Lim returned to Singapore in 1893, setting up his private practice on Telok Ayer Street.
In 1896, he entered into a partnership with T. Murray Robertson and co-owned The Dispensary at Raffles Place.10 Lim later established Sincere Dispensary (九思堂西药房; Jiusitang xiyaofang).11 Also known as Kewsutong, the dispensary was located on Hill Street, with a branch on Chulia Street.12

Between 1907 and 1910, Lim taught at the Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School (later renamed King Edward VII Medical School) on a gratis basis.13 Lim was outspoken about the ills of opium smoking14 and was a key figure in Malaya’s anti-opium movement that first began in the 1900s.15

Political involvement
In 1895, at the age of 26, Lim was appointed as a Chinese member of the Straits Settlements Legislative Council.16 He served in this position until his resignation in 1903. Lim was reappointed to the council in 1915 when Tan Jiak Kim resigned from his seat,17 and served until his departure from Singapore in 1921.18 He also held various other positions such as municipal commissioner (1905–1906)
19 and was a member of the Chinese Advisory Board from 1896.20

A staunch supporter of the British, Lim participated in major events related to the British colonial government, such as the coronation ceremonies of King Edward VII (1902) and King George V (1911).21 During World War I (1914–18), Lim helped to implement war taxation and rallied support from the Straits Chinese community for the Allies’ war efforts.22

Lim was hugely influenced by the reform movement in China during the late 19th century, and developed close ties with the movement’s key figures, Sun Yat-sen and Kang You-wei, both of whom visited Singapore in the 1900s.23 In 1911, following Sun’s successful revolution that overthrew the Qing dynasty, Lim was variously appointed as a medical adviser in the Peking (now Beijing) government, inspector-general of the hospitals in Peking and president of the Peking government’s Board of Health. He also became the personal physician and private secretary to Sun, the first president of the Republic of China.24

Back in Singapore, Lim was a founding member of the Tongmenghui (同盟会) set up by Sun in 190625 and subsequently served as its president after the group became the Singapore branch of the Kuomintang in 1912.26

In 1921, Lim resigned from the Legislative Council and left for China’s Fujian province to join Amoy University (now known as Xiamen University) as its president at Tan Kah Kee’s invitation. After heading the university for 16 years, Lim returned to Singapore in 1937.27

Social reforms
Education

Lim believed that education was the key to improving the general character of individuals and thus advocated for various educational reforms. Concerned about the lack of female education in Singapore, Lim, together with Song Ong Siang and other prominent members of the Straits Chinese community, founded the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School in 1899.28 He also started organising Mandarin classes at his home that year,29 as he thought that English-educated Chinese also ought to be proficient in Mandarin.30

Culture
Influenced by the reform movement and revolution taking place in China in the late 19th century, Lim campaigned for the cutting of queues (or towchang, the traditional pigtail worn by Chinese men of the Qing dynasty) as a symbol of reform.31 Lim also saw the practice of Confucianism and reformist ideals as means to improve the lives of the Straits Chinese and larger Chinese community. Lim and Song founded The Straits Chinese Magazine in 1897.32 He used the magazine as a platform to express these ideologies,33 and wrote about the social ills of opium34 as well as the importance of female education.35


Lim also had a hand in the formation of various societies and other publications. These include the Chinese Philomathic Society (1896), an intellectual group centred on reformist ideals;36 the newspapers Thien Nan Shin Pao (天南新报; 1898; with Khoo Seok Wan) as well as Jit Shin Pau (《日新报》; 1899–1901; proprietor);37 and the Straits Chinese British Association (1900).38

World War II
During the Japanese Occupation (1942–45) in Singapore, Lim was pressured to become the leader of the Oversea Chinese Association. He was tasked with raising 50 million Malayan dollars for Japan on behalf of the Chinese community.39 While Lim and his committee managed to raise a portion of it, the full amount was eventually reached with a loan of 22 million Malayan dollars from the Yokohama Specie Bank.40

Commercial ventures
Lim partnered Tan Chay Yan, then already an established rubber planter in Malacca, to open rubber plantations in Singapore; in 1909, they formed the company, Serangoon Rubber Plantations.41 When the Malayan rubber industry boomed in the early 20th century, Lim reaped the profits.42

Together with other prominent Straits Chinese, Lim was also involved in other industries such as timber43 and banking – the latter being the Chinese Commercial Bank,44 Ho Hong Bank45 and Oversea Chinese Bank.46 He wasa founding member of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce, which was established in 1906.47

Selected bibliography
In addition to his other endeavours, Lim also wrote books and published numerous essays. Some of his articles published in The Straits Chinese Magazine were written under pseudonyms such as Lin Meng Cheng, W. C. Lin, M. C. Lin and Historicus.48


Chinese publications
1911: 《普通卫生讲义》 (Putong weisheng jiangyi; “Elements of Popular Hygiene”)
1914: 《孔教大纲》 (Kong jiao dagang; “Principles of Confucianism”)

English publications
1901: The Chinese Crisis from Within (published under the pseudonym “Wen Ching”)
1917: The Great War from the Confucian Point of View, and Kindred Topics, being Lectures Delivered During 1914–1917
1927: Tragedies of Eastern Life: An Introduction to the Problems of Social Psychology
1929: The Li Sao: An Elegy on Encountering Sorrows

Legacy
After the war, Lim retired from public life and passed away on 1 January 1957, leaving behind his wife, six children, 30 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.49 One of his great-granddaughters is the playwright Stella Kon.50 Lim was buried at Bidadari Cemetery,51 which was cleared in the 2000s to make way for redevelopment. His remains were exhumed and the tombstone placed at the Bidadari Memorial Garden at Mount Vernon.52 Boon Keng Road and Boon Keng MRT station are named in his honour.53

During a 2004 international conference, then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew hailed Lim as a role model of biculturalism that Singapore Chinese should emulate as the influence of China grows.54

Selected honours
1918: Officer of Order of the British Empire55
1919: Honorary doctorate, University of Hong Kong56
1926: Honorary licentiate in medicine and surgery, King Edward VII College of Medicine57
1930: Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (F.R.C.S.) (London)58

Family
Wife: Margaret Wong Tuan Keng (m. 1896–1905, her death);59 Grace Yin Pek Ha (m. 1908–his death)60

Sons: Robert Lim Kho Seng, Francis Lim Kho Beng, Walter Lim Kho Leng, John Lim Kho Liau, Lim Peng Han, Lim Peng Thiam
Daughter: Ena Lim Guat Kheng61



Authors
Ang Seow Leng & Fiona Lim



References
1. Lee, G. K. (2012). Lim Boon Keng. In L. Suryadinata (Ed.), Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: A biographical dictionary. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 594, 597. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
2. Wang, G. (2003). China and the Chinese overseas. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, pp. 167–168. (Call no.: RSING 909.04951 WAN); Awakening of Chinese in Singapore. (1906, November 27). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG;Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 121. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
3. Babas who did much for education. (1983, November 13). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Lee, G. K. (2012). Lim Boon Keng. In L. Suryadinata (Ed.), Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: a biographical dictionary. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 594–595. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
5. Singapore days of old: A special commemorative history of Singapore published on the 10th anniversary of Singapore Tatler. (1992). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine Publishing, p. 64. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN); Tan, G. H. (2008). 100 inspiring Rafflesians, 1823–2003. Singapore: World Scientific, p. 109. (Call no.: RSING 373.5957 TAN)
6. Cheong, S.-W. (2004, June 24). Lim Boon Keng: Bicultural broker. The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Wu, L. (1904. March). The Straits Settlements Queen’s Scholarships [Microfilm: NL 267]. The Straits Chinese magazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 8(1), 20.
8. Local and general. (1892, April 26). Daily Advertiser, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Lee, G. K. (2012). Lim Boon Keng. In L. Suryadinata (Ed.), Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: A biographical dictionary. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 595. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
10. Page 2 advertisements column 2. (1896, June 13). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. 第14页 广告 专栏 2. (1940, February 24). 《南洋商报》 [Nanyang Siang Pau], p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lim, K. A. (2006, October 27). 1.1 Lim Boon Keng’s Family. Retrieved from Lim Kok Ann blog: http://limkokann.blogspot.sg/2006/10/1.html
12. Page 42, Advertisements column 1. 1926, November 1). Malayan Saturday Post, p. 42. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Singapore’s grand old man dies. (1957, January 2). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Khor, E. H. (1958). The public life of Dr Lim Boon Keng. Singapore: University of Malaya, p. 7. (Call no.: RCLOS 361.924 LIM.K)
14. Lim, B. K. (1898, June). The attitude of the state towards the opium habit [Microfilm: NL 267]. The Straits Chinesemagazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 2(6), 47–54.
15. Anti-Opium Society’s fine work. (1937, March 18). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Khor, E. H. (1958). The public life of Dr Lim Boon Keng. Singapore: University of Malaya, p. 12. (Call no.: RCLOS 361.924 LIM.K)
17. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 237. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
18. Untitled. (1903, August 18). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Dr. Lim Boon Keng. (1921, October 5). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Untitled. (1905, May 16). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Dr. Lim Boon Keng retires from Commission. (1906, November 24). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 236. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON); Local and general. (1896, February 3). Mid-day Herald, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore (p. 236). Singapore: Oxford University Press. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON)
22. Thursday, Sept. 30, 1915. (1915, September 30). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Dr. Lim Boon Keng. (1921, October 5). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 121. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
24. Sim, V. (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok Pub., p. 1. (Call no.: RCLOS q920.05957 SIM)
25. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 141. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
26. Chin, F. Y. (2011). An historical turning point: The 1911 revolution and its impact on Singapore’s Chinese society. In L. T. Lee & H. G. Lee (Eds.), Sun Yat-sen, Nanyang and the 1911 revolution (pp. 148–169). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 149, 154. (Call no.: RSING 951.036 SUN)
27. Cheong, S.-W. (2007, January 23). The sage of Singapore gets a proper tribute, at last. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ferroa, R. (1948, October22). The sage of Singapore. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. 李元瑾[Lee, G. K.]. (1990). 林文庆的思想: 中西文化的汇流与矛盾》 [The thought of Lim Boon Keng: Convergency and contradiction between Chinese and Western culture]. Singapore: 新加坡亚洲研究学会 [Society of Asian Studies], pp. 61–66. (Call no.: RSING Chinese 920.71 LGK)
29. 李元瑾[Lee, G. K.]. (1990). 林文庆的思想: 中西文化的汇流与矛盾》 [The thought of Lim Boon Keng: Convergency and contradiction between Chinese and Western culture]. Singapore: 新加坡亚洲研究学会 [Society of Asian Studies], p. 65. (Call no.: RSING Chinese 920.71 LGK); National Archives of Singapore. (c. 1890). Group photograph of students in Dr Lim Boon Keng’s mandarin class [Photograph; accession no.: 131646]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
30. Lim, B. K. (1897). Our enemies [Microfilm: NL 267]. The Straits Chinesemagazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 1(1), 52–58.
31. Dr. Lim recalls his towchange crusade. (1950, August 15). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lim, B. K. (1899, March). Straits Chinese reform: I. The queue question [Microfilm: NL 267]. The Straits Chinesemagazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 3(9), 22–25.
32. Chen, M. H. (1967). The early Chinese newspapers of Singapore, 1881–1912. Singapore: University of Malaya Press, p. 77. (Call no.: RSING 079.5702 CHE)
33. Lim, B. K. (1898). The renovation of China [Microfilm: NL 267]. The Straits Chinesemagazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 2(5), 88–99; Lim, B. K. (1899, March). Straits Chinese reform: I. The queue question [Microfilm: NL 267]. The Straits Chinesemagazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 3(9), 22–25.
34. Lim, B. K. (1898, June). The attitude of the state towards the opium habit [Microfilm: NL 267]. The Straits Chinesemagazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 2(6), 47–54.
35. Lim, B. K. (1899, March). Straits Chinese reform: III. The education of children [Microfilm: NL 267]. The Straits Chinesemagazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 3(9), 102.
36. Frost, M. R. (2003, August). Transcultural diaspora: The Straits Chinese in Singapore, 1819–1918. ARI Working Paper Series, (10), 22. Retrieved from Asia Research Institute website: http://www.ari.nus.edu.sg/wps/wps03_010.pdf
37. The Chinese Philomathic Society, Singapore (1897, March). The Straits Chinese Magazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture [Microfilm: NL 267], 1(1), 32; Frost, M. R. (2003, August). Transcultural diaspora: The Straits Chinese in Singapore, 1819–1918. ARI Working Paper Series, (10), 22, 39. Retrieved from Asia Research Institute website: http://www.ari.nus.edu.sg/wps/wps03_010.pdf
38. Straits Chinese British Association meeting. (1900, August 18). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Proposed ‘Straits Chinese British Association’. (1900, June 19). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Tan, Y. S. (1947, June 12). The first terrible days in Singapore. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, Y. S. (1947, June 13). How they kept their heads on their shoulders. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Tan, Y. S. (1947). History of the formation of the Oversea Chinese Association and the extortion by J.M.A. of $50,000,000 military contribution from the Chinese in Malaya. Singapore: Nanyang Book Co., pp. 1, 6, 8, 10 (Call no.: RDTYS 940.53109595 TAN)
41. Serangoon rubber. (1909, August 2). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Singapore days of old: A special commemorative history of Singapore published on the 10th anniversary of Singapore Tatler. (1992). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine Publishing, p. 65. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN); Soh, A. (2015, July 20). Tapping growth. The Business Times. Retrieved from website: http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/infographics/tapping-growth
43. Page 5 advertisements column 1. (1917, February 17). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. Chinese Commercial Bank. (1914, March 13). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertise (1884–1942), p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Ho Hong Bank. (1919, March 15). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
46. Oversea Chinese Bank. (1920, September 21). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
47. Zhou, Z., & Seet, K. K. (2007). 年基千秋: 业新加坡中华总商会一百周年纪念特刊》; Elements of enterprise: 100 years of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry. Singapore: Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, pp. 36, 45. (Call no.: RSING 381.0605957 ZHO)
48. Lee, G. K. (2006). Introduction – A Chinese journey: Lim Boon Keng & his thoughts. In B. K. Lim, The Chinese crisis from within. Singapore: Select Publishing, p. ii. (Call no.: RSING 951.04 LIM)
49. (1957, January 2). Singapore’s grand old man dies. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
50. Cheong, S.-W. (2007, January 23). The sage of Singapore gets a proper tribute, at last. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
51. Tribute by governor as Dr. Lim is buried. (1957, January 4). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
52. Final resting place. (2008, May 20). The Straits Times, p. 107. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
53. Cheong, S.-W. (2007, January 23). The sage of Singapore gets a proper tribute, at last. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
54. Chuang, P. M. (2004, June 24). SM cites Lim Boon Keng as role model for Chinese elite. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
55. Straits new year honours. (1918, March 21). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
56. Wang, G. (2006). Foreword. In B. K. Lim, The Chinese crisis from within. Singapore: Select Publishing, p. ii. (Call no.: RSING 951.04 LIM)
57. University of Malaya (Singapore. (1983). Fifty years of medical education in Malaya, 1905-1955. Singapore: National University of Singapore Library, p. 77. (Call no.: RCLOS 610.7115957 UNI)
58. Singapore’s grand old man dies. (1957, January 2). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
59. The hon’ble Dr. Lim Boon Keng’s wedding. (1896, December 30). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Death of Mrs. Lim Boon Keng. (1905, December 21). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
60. Marriage of Dr. Lim Boon Keng. (1908, April 18). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
61. Lim, S. M. (2012, April 19). Rediscovering the lost world in Bukit Brown – Oberon, Emerald Hill and the family roots of the sage of Singapore [Blogpost]. Retrieved 2017, May 16 from Bukit Brown Cemetery: Our Roots, Our Future website: http://blog.bukitbrown.org/post/44373411406/rediscovering-the-lost-world-in-bukit-brown-o



Further resources
1896. (1896, December 31). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


Dinner in honour of the Hon. Dr. Lim Boon Keng. (1915, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Former glories of Amoy. (1932, September 21). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Galstaun, A. C. (1902). View of the old Raffles Square [Image no.: 19980007377-0033]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

Kao, C. (1998, December 19). Encounters of China with the West. The Straits Times, p. 74. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


The political outrage. (1928, February 23). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Thursday, November 5, 1896. (1896, November 5). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Untitled. (1939, July 28). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 31 December 2015 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
Trade and industry
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
Economy
Community leaders
Business, finance and industry>>Business organization>>Business enterprises
Peranakan (Asian people)--Singapore--Biography
Commerce and Industry
Personalities
Community and Social Services
Pioneers--Singapore--Biography
Lim, Boon Keng, 1869-1957
Personalities>>Biographies>>Pioneers
Pioneers
People and communities>>Social groups and communities

All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2015.