LKY’s Relations to Opium Trade

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Thanks to some netizens for fact-checking, etc.

Verification, excerpts, and additional info below.

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1) VERIFICATION (STARTING from KWA GEOK CHOO / MRS. LKY)

1. Kwa Geok Choo’s uncle-in-law is Tan Chin Tuan, whose nephew is Tony Tan.

Kwa Geok Choo’s mother was Wee Yew Neo. Wee Yew Neo’s father was Wee Theam Seng, the oldest Straits Chinese Christian and Manager of Chinese Commercial Bank.

2. Wee Theam Seng had a brother called Wee Theam Tew (a graduate of Raffles Institution and later a solicitor, who went to China in 1904 and served as the secretary of Prince Su, the military governor of Peking and Minister to the Emperor).

3. From Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources:

Wee Theam Tew, one of the leading Chinese legal practitioners of Singapore, comes of a family who have resided in the Straits Settlements for three generations. His grandfather, Mr. Wee Theam Soo, came from China as a literary graduate, and, together with Dr. Lim Boon Keng’s father and Mr. Cheng Hong Lim’s father, to whom reference is made on another page, acquired the first opium farm in the colony.

4. Lee Kuan Yew’s father, Lee Chin Koon,  was a storekeeper and depot manager for the Shell Oil Company. Lee Chin Koon’s father was Lee Hoon Leong. Hoon Leong worked with the Heap Eng Moh shipping line for tycoon Oei Tiong Ham. He rose in Oei’s estimation, until he was afforded power of attorney over the tycoon’s assets in Singapore.

5. Oei Tiong Ham was the wealthiest man of his era in the Dutch East Indies, and he made a fortune as an opium revenue farmer (opium farms were only part of his commercial empire).

Oei’s vast fortune amounted to 200 million guilders at his death and he lived in a large house in Semarang resembling a fairytale palace. There were no less than 40 servants and huge banquets specializing in different cuisines were given.

  • NOTE: The surnames Wee and Oei are part of the Huang Surname Clan (which puts “Wee Theam Soo” and “Oei Tiong Ham” in the same clan).

6. Oei Tiong Ham had 8 official wives who bore him 13 daughters and 13 sons (plus 18 concubines with a total of 42 children). His son, Oei Tjong Tiong, married Lim Chit Geck, the daughter of Lim Nee Soon.

7. Lim Nee Soon was one of the pioneers of rubber planting. His big investments in the pineapple industry won him the nickname “Pineapple King.” He was a generous charitable benefactor with a keen interest in social and community matters, and one of the most influential businessmen of the day.

Lim Nee Soon was a leading member of the Teochew clan association Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan.

On the formation of Huay Kuan association:

. . .The Kongsi’s accounts were kept private by the Seah family, and undisclosed even to other members. In 1929, a rival Teochew faction led by Lim Nee Soon founded a new association known as the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan (潮州八邑会馆). The Huay Kuan mounted a lawsuit against the Seah family, alleging that the latter monopolised Kongsi affairs.

Lim Nee Soon was also a close friend of Dr Sun Yat Sen.

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Special guests MP Mr Teo Ser Luck and Deputy Prime Minister Mr Teo Chee Hean at the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan Anniversary Dinner.

8. When Lim Nee Soon was eight years old, he was left in the care of his maternal grandfather, Teo Lee.

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“Teo Lee is the great-great-grandfather of Teo Chee Hean, DPM of Singapore.” Source: Teo Lee Family

Teo Lee’s descendant is Teo Chee Hean, who is the cousin of Ivy Lim Seok Cheng. Ivy Lim’s spouse is Kwa Soon Chuan, the brother of Kwa Geok Choo (Mrs. LKY / “The Dragon Lady“).

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2) EXCERPTS ON OPIUM TRADE

Some excerpts on the history of opium trade in the region.

a) Over time, Tan [Seng Poh] rose through the ranks of Singaporean Chinese society to become a Justice of the Peace, an Honorary Magistrate, a Municipal Councillor as well as a wealthy opium farmer.

After 1870, syndicates of Straits Chinese controlling the lucrative opium farms extended their involvement in the trade beyond Singapore to Bangkok, Saigon, and Shanghai.

Source: Asia Research Institute — Transcultural Diaspora: The Straits Chinese in Singapore, 1819-1918 (PDF Download)

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b) One Chinese witness (Mr. Koh Seang Tat) says that he has never known of heard of an opium consumer breaking himself of the habit, and this view is supported by one medical man.
(Appendix 151)

Opium is commonly smoked by the Chinese in this colony, especially by the lower classes, artisans, and coolies.
(Appendix 165)

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Singapore, view inside opium den, 1941. Photographer: Harrison Forman.

Opium consumption is considered as a great vice by our Chinese. The habit of opium consumption in many cases reduces the habitués to extreme poverty and eventually to a stealthy and dishonest life.
— Chan-U-Pai, Director of the Po Leung Kuk, Hong Kong (Apendix 204)

Source: First Report of the Royal Commission on Opium, 1894

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c) Coolies were given to opium inhaling to relieve their tired bodies of its soreness and to gambling in an attempt to escape from their misery. The whites and wealthy Chinese employed the coolies mainly because of their willingness to work hard for little money.

Source: Blog to Express

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d) “. . .that most debasing and pernicious drug, opium, in combination with the Chinese secret societies of which spring many of those daring outrages and robberies that disgrace our settlements.”  (Pg-449)

In 1910 in Singapore, the development from opium farming to Opiumregie, like elsewhere, was completed by the opening of a modern opium factory. Once the mechanization of opium production and distribution was a fact, mass addiction could be realized. (Pg-453)

It is well described by Trocki:

“Most important was the expansion of the global market communicated to Singapore through the major trades: opium, capital, and manufactures from India and the West. In addition to redirecting the commodity flows to the West, the shift created a vast demographic eruption. It was as if the current of wealth flowing out of China began to pull with it the Chinese peoples themselves. Singapore came into being as a result of these global forces.”

Opium played in this global shift the most crucial role. Singapore’s opium scene in the 19th-century is, therefore, much more important than only in a local or regional context.

Officially, nearly half of all revenues of the British was earned by opium. It cannot demonstrate how much private or individual British officials, military men or bankers earned. Indirectly, it also suggests how much a very few super-wealthy people (Chinese) pocketed as their share of the opium rents in this century.

Source: History of the Opium Problem: The Assault on the East, ca. 1600 – 1950 (BRILL)

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e) Chan Wing was a man of principle and did not invest in sinful businesses like opium dens, tax-farming and slave trading.

Source: Insider’s Kuala Lumpur (3rd Edn)

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f) In 1879, Banhap, together with Cheang Hong Lim (one of the trio of Singapore opium farmers who made up the “Great Syndicate”) launged a daring attempt to seize control of the entire Asian opium trade.

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Cheang Hong Lim 章芳琳 (1841-1893). Source: RL

When Banhap and Cheang Hong Lim acquired the Hong Kong opium farm, it was not simply an attempt to extend their control over yet another colonial port. The Wo Hang and Yan Wo, the two major opium syndicates in Hong Kong, also controlled the coolie trade of Hong Kong. . .the two firms also sold prepared opium to Chinese immigrants. . .The goal of Banhap and Cheang was to take control of this trade in prepared opium which would have been worth about $3.5 to $4 million per year.

They were among the wealthiest men in Asia at the time and were linked to a vast network of kin, business associates, clansmen, and dependents.

Source: Connecting Seas and Connected Ocean Rims (BRILL)

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g) The Singapore opium farmer simply purchased his supplies on the open market in Singapore. He processed the opium into chandu and distributed it to local opium shops for retail consumption by the population of Chinese coolies.

As a group, it is clear that the farmers were among the most influential and “respectable” of Singapore’s Chinese. They were also economic leaders and were deeply involved in the papper and gambier economy of Singapore and the surrounding territories. These plantations were the major employers of the Chinese coolies who were the major consumers of opium. It is also probable [that] the farmers were intimately connected to the Chinese secret societies of Singapore.

Source: The Rise of Singapore’s Great Opium Syndicate, 1840-86 (Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Department of History, NUS)

3) ADDITIONAL INFO

1. This photo album has some Singapore opium photos (uploaded by Julia Di Lorenzo).

opium_album

2. This chart shows the intermarriages between Straits Chinese Banking Families in Singapore. Done by Roy Ngerng (originally posted on his blog, TheHeartTruths).

Wee Theam Seng (Mrs. LKY’s grandfather + senior OCBC banker on the right side of the opium image) is circled in this image.

banking_opium

3. This post takes a look at the close historical ties between the Singapore government and Burmese military junta.

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