Ho Rih Hwa

Ho Rih Hwa (b. 1917, Singapore–d. 28 August 1999, Singapore) was a prominent businessman and ambassador. He headed the Wah Chang group of companies, a business conglomerate engaged in agribusiness, hotel and resort management, as well as property development in Burma (presently Myanmar), Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and China. In recognition of his contributions to public service, Ho was awarded the Public Star Award in 1969 and Meritorious Service Medal in 1973.1

Early life
Ho was born in Singapore in 1917 to a Chinese immigrant father who started out as a carpenter in Singapore. His father later became a small-time shipbuilder, building tongkang at the Tanjong Rhu boatyard near Kallang Basin.2 Ho grew up in his parents’ derelict shack next to the family business in the boatyard.3

When Ho was 11 years old, he was sent to China to continue his education. In 1942, he graduated from Nanking University with a Bachelor of Arts degree.4

In 1944, Ho went to the United States to study agricultural economics at Cornell and Harvard universities.5 There, he met and married his wife, Li Lienfung, a fellow Cornell graduate student from Hunan, China.6

Upon completing his education, Ho worked in a trading company in New York. The company belonged to his father-in-law, Li Kuo Ching, who owned a tungsten mining business. His father-in-law subsequently sent him to Thailand and Burma to work in Thai Wah, a company under Wah Chang.7

Over time, Ho progressed from a manager to a leader and entrepreneur in Wah Chang.8 Under his leadership, the company expanded its businesses in Asia, venturing into construction, engineering, manufacturing and agribusiness in Burma, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and China.9

Ho spent a large part of his life outside of Singapore.10 In addition to being a businessman and entrepreneur, he was Singapore’s permanent representative in Switzerland, and ambassador to Thailand, Belgium, Germany and the European Economic Community.11 He was also involved in numerous public service roles, including director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore and representative of the Economic Development Board.12

Ho adopted a less active role in the family business after suffering a stroke in 1981. It was during this time when he began to chronicle his family history. He had also kept a diary of incidents and interesting happenings for over 60 years of his life. In 1991, he published his autobiography, Eating Salt, which won the National Book Development Council of Singapore’s Highly Commended Award for non-fiction in the following year.13


Ho died in 1999, five years after he suffered a second incident of stroke. His son, Kwon Cjan, remembered him as being “a self-contained man, a good father and provider” who taught his children values of honour and integrity by setting personal examples. His friend, Charles Toh (Dr), remembered him as “humble, soft-spoken and very kind”.14

1923–1927: Studied at Yang Zheng Chinese School in Singapore from primary one to five15
1928: Studied at Lingnam High School in China16
1939: Studied agricultural economics at Nanking University in Chengdu17
1942: Graduated with Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from Nanking University18
1944: Pursued postgraduate studies in agricultural economics at Cornell and Harvard universities with money borrowed from relatives and earned from part-time jobs19
1946: Married Li Lienfung, a fellow Cornell graduate student, at a Presbyterian church in New York20
1948: Joined Wah Chang group of companies founded by father-in-law, Li Kuo Ching21
1967–1971: Singapore’s ambassador to Thailand22
1972–1974: Ambassador to Belgium23
1972: Appointed ambassador to the European Economic Community24
1974: Retired from public service25
1981: Suffered first stroke
1989: Diagnosed with throat cancer26
1991: Autobiography, Eating Salt, is published
1994: Suffered serious stroke which leaves Ho wheelchair-bound27
28 Aug 1999: Passed away in family home at King Albert Park at the age of 8228

1969: Public Star Award
1973: Meritorious Service Medal
1992: National Book Development Council of Singapore’s Highly Commended Award

Wife: Li Lienfung (Passed away on 3 August 2011)29
Sons: Ho Kwon Ping; Kwon Cjan30
Daughter: Ho Minfong31


Nureza Ahmad

1. Siow Li Sen, “Industrialist Ho Rih Hwa Dies at 82,” Business Times, 30 August 1999, 3; Yeoh En Lai, “Businessman and Ex-Envoy Ho Rih Hwa, 82, Dies,” Straits Times, 30 August 1999, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Yeoh, “Ho Rih Hwa, 82, Dies”; “Born or Bred?” Straits Times, 6 February 2002, 28 (From NewspaperSG); Ho Rih Hwa, Eating Salt: An Autobiography (Singapore: Times Books International, 1991), 20. (Call no. RSING 338.092 HO)
3. Koh Buck Song, “Sifting Salt,” Straits Times, 15 June 1991, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Koh, “Sifting Salt”; “Born or Bred?”  
5. Koh, Sifting Salt.”
6. Yeoh, “Ho Rih Hwa, 82, Dies.”
7. Siow, “Ho Rih Hwa Dies at 82”; “Born or Bred?”  
8. Siow, “Ho Rih Hwa Dies at 82”; “Born or Bred?”  
9. Siow, “Ho Rih Hwa Dies at 82.”
10. Chuang Peck Ming, “The Making of a Good Life,” Business Times, 25 May 1991, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Koh, “Sifting Salt”; Lee Kuan Yew, “The Ho Rih Hwa Leadership in Asia Public Lecture,” speech, 5 February 2002, transcript, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. 2002020501)
12. Siow, “Ho Rih Hwa Dies at 82.”
13. Siow, “Ho Rih Hwa Dies at 82”; Koh, “Sifting Salt”; Koh Buck Song, “Quality Wins the Day,” Straits Times, 5 September 1992, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Yeoh, “Ho Rih Hwa, 82, Dies”; Chua Wei Yng, “Where Do I Begin to Tell This Man’s Story?” New Paper, 30 August 1999, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Ho, Eating Salt, 14, 18.
16. Koh, “Sifting Salt.”
17. Koh, “Sifting Salt”; Yeoh, “Ho Rih Hwa, 82, Dies.”
18. “Born or Bred?”  
19. “Born or Bred?”; Koh, “Sifting Salt.”
20. Yeoh, “Ho Rih Hwa, 82, Dies”; Ho, Eating Salt, 116.
21. Koh, “Sifting Salt”; Yeoh, “Ho Rih Hwa, 82, Dies.”
22. Koh, “Sifting Salt.”
23. Yeoh, “Ho Rih Hwa, 82, Dies”; Koh, “Sifting Salt.”
24. Koh, “Sifting Salt”; Ho, Eating Salt, 273.
25. Koh, “Sifting Salt.”
26. Yeoh, “Ho Rih Hwa, 82, Dies.”
27. Yeoh, “Ho Rih Hwa, 82, Dies.”
28. Yeoh, “Ho Rih Hwa, 82, Dies.”
29. Melissa Sim and Hoe Pei Shan, “Writer Li Lien Fung Dies at Age 88,” Straits Times, 5 August 2011, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Yeoh, “Ho Rih Hwa, 82, Dies.”
31. Koh, “Sifting Salt”; Yeoh, “Ho Rih Hwa, 82, Dies.”

The information in this article is valid as at August 2020 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.


Ho, Rih Hwa, 1917-1999