“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give” – Winston Churchill
ONG SEOK KIM JP, KMN
1884 – 1964
A MALAYSIAN CHINESE EDUCATIONIST, SOCIAL WORKER AND PHILANTHROPIST
May 31, 1964 saw the passing of an extraordinary man, at the age approaching 80. In recognition of his deeds and achievements during his illustrious lifetime of self-giving and sacrifice, many Chinese community leaders from the districts and states in Malaya (now Malaysia) and South-East Asian countries laid their wreaths and sent their condolences to the 王叔金 Ong Seok Kim family. Hordes of mourners, including students from the many schools he founded, lined the roads to pay their last respects. For this was the big-hearted man who dedicated 50 years of his life selflessly for the improvement and betterment of the welfare of the Chinese community in Sitiawan town in particular and the Dindings District (now known as Manjung District) in general. Among his major contributions was the pioneering of four Chinese schools in the district and he was also a patron to many other schools, and prime mover in social and charity organisations in the locality.
Born in Gehou, Jindou, Yongchun County, Quanzhou Prefecture, Fujian Province in China in 1884, written records show that 王叔金 Ong Seok Kim (Wang Shujin), also known as 王荣簪 Wang Rongzan and 王丽生 Wang Lisheng, was the 29th generation Wang/Ong which originated from 三王 three Wangs/Ongs who migrated to Fujian Province in AD 825, more than 1,150 years ago. One of the three Wangs/Ongs was 王审知 Wang Shengzhi. He was the first king of Fujian Province and a direct ancestor of Seok Kim and his descendants. He was, therefore, the great (x 27 times) grandfather of Seok Kim. The ancestry of the three Wangs/Ongs of Fujian Province can be traced back to the 44th generation of the Wang/Ong surname which originated from 周灵王Emperor Zhou (or Chou) Ling (his name was 姬泄心 Xie Sing, which means that the original Wang/Ong surname was 姬) over 2,500 years ago.(1)
Seok Kim’s father was 王春耻 Wang Chunchi and his mother was 章珠 Zhang Zhu. Chuchi was the eldest of seven sons. He passed away in 1925 while Zhang Zhu passed away five years earlier in 1920. They had six daughters and two sons – one being Seok Kim and the other, 荣朝 Rongchao, who passed away in 1928 at the age of 29.
As a young man in China in the late 19th century, Seok Kim had to face the socio-political and economic disasters that were taking place in China at that time.(2) Seok Kim started working at the age of 15 in Wulijae, Yongchun County, as a shop assistant and kitchen hand, and life for his family was full of hardship. With the economy in South-East Asian colonial countries in the early 20th century flourishing, he decided to leave China for Malaya (part of what was known as Nanyang at that time) in 1903, at the age of 19. He first landed in Teluk Anson (now Teluk Intan), in the state of Perak. He worked as a shop assistant, fetching local fruits such as durian and langsat in baskets, hanging on both ends of a pole balanced over his shoulder, from the surrounding villages and carrying them all the way to Teluk Anson town. For every picul (60kg) of fruit, he was paid 10 cents.
In 1905, he moved to Ipoh, also in Perak. Taking advantage of the tin-mining boom in the state, he started his own business of peddling clothes, shoes, and other knick-knacks which the tin-mining community would need both in Ipoh and its surrounding areas of Lahat, Menglembu and Tronoh. In 1908, he moved to Sitiawan, a town in the Manjung District. Due to his hard work and business acumen, he made it big and was able to invest in retail shops and rubber estates in Segari, Kampung Koh, Ayer Tawar and Changkat Jering in the Manjung District and even estates as far as Betong, Thailand. He was a wealthy man before he was 30.
Aik Tee Soo Poh Seah (Aik Tee Recreation Association), Sitiawan
Seok Kim, together with the help of Quah Cheau Hui, established Aik Tee Recreation Association (Aik Tee Soo Poh Seah) in Sitiawan in 1912, when he was 28. The establishment of the Association was for the purpose of creating a meeting place for the community to socialise, exchange news, read books and newspapers, to take care of the welfare of the local Chinese community and for the youth to take part in sporting activities such as table tennis and basketball. When the Japanese occupied Malaya during World War II, Aik Tee’s (short for Aik Tee Recreation Association) building was destroyed. In the mid-1940s, as soon as the Occupation was over, he made haste and was the main driver in getting it rebuilt and restored, so that the community could enjoy its previous facilities again. The building was completed in 1951. Aik Tee operated in this building for almost 60 years, till 2010.
Seok Kim was Chairman of the Association for 40 years, until 1955. In 1966, two years after his passing, the Association recognised his huge and long-term contributions to the community with a lifetime achievement award. The Association, presently led by Soo Swee Lim, Mah Sun Fatt and other local community leaders, celebrated its 100th anniversary in April, 2012.
Chung Cheng Primary School, Sitiawan
In 1920, at the age of 36, Seok Kim and a few local community leaders founded Chung Cheng Primary School (commonly known as the Hokkien School)(3) in Sitiawan. He donated $1,000(4) towards the construction and development of the school. A highly persuasive man, he persuaded wealthy landowner Lim Nya alias Hup Choon Ma(5) to donate a piece of land for the school. Seok Kim himself was a member of the School Board for 30 years. During this period, he was the Chairman for 20 years – 1927 to 1934; 1936 to 1939 and 1945 to 1955. Thus, he was instrumental in the development of Chung Cheng in the first 35 years of its founding.
In an account written by Kong Kar Hin, Principal of Chung Cheng Primary School from 1949 to 1977, he paid tribute to Seok Kim for tirelessly dedicating almost half a century of his life to the service of education and welfare of the community. Kar Hin noted that Seok Kim worked hard without complaining. The establishment and development of Chung Cheng Primary School was one of his contributions to the community. Seok Kim had realised the need for education for the community’s children as early as 1919 and he was the prime mover for the development of Chung Cheng – the hostels, the school hall, and then the high school section. On his own initiative, he raised funds, from the public in over 70 towns in Malaysia and Singapore, for the various stages of development of the school.
Sitiawan Rubber Traders Association
In 1922, Seok Kim established the Sitiawan Rubber Traders Association. With the support of the business community, particularly rubber estates owners and traders, the Association levied 50 cents on every ton of rubber sold in the Sitiawan area, to fund the building of classrooms and school facilities of Chinese primary schools in the Sitiawan and Ayer Tawar areas. He was the Association’s key driver who collected, managed and disbursed the levies. He distributed the money collected to more than 10 Chinese primary schools.
Sitiawan Chinese Cemetery
Sensing the lack of proper burial plots for the local Chinese community, in 1927 Seok Kim made donations and initiated the acquisition of a piece of land for a Chinese cemetery located along Lumut Road, Pundut. Affordable burial plots were offered to the local community to bury their loved ones. The project was carried out under the auspice of Aik Tee Recreation Association. He and his 2nd and 3rd wives are buried there.
Sitiawan Chinese Maternity Hospital
With empathy towards the high mortality rates of mothers and their newborn, Seok Kim envisioned a professional pre-natal and neo-natal care for women in the district. In 1930, he established the Sitiawan Chinese Maternity Hospital. In 1936, he purchased and donated six acres (2.4 hectares) of land, where the European’s Club once stood at Cross Street, for the construction of the Sitiawan Chinese Maternity Hospital. Construction of the hospital building was completed in 1938 and it began operations the same year with six beds. He was a trustee and committee member for over 20 years.
The hospital changed its name to Sitiawan Maternity Hospital in 1960 to reflect the ethnic mix in the community it was servicing. The hospital has been now converted to a home for senior citizens.
Nan Hwa High School, Sitiawan
In 1931, Seok Kim initiated the establishment of a high school section of Chung Cheng Primary School. In 1935, this section of the school was amalgamated with the high school sections of three other Chinese dialect primary schools(6) in the Sitiawan area to form Nan Hwa High School.(7) Seok Kim was elected the first Chairman of the School Board in 1936, and again in 1946 and 1947, a period immediately after the Japanese occupation. He was also the Chairman of the School Fundraising and Building Committee.
He personally donated $3,000(8) in 1935 to purchase six acres (2.4 hectares) of land for the school. He also contributed to the construction of three classrooms, one each in the name of his father, Chunchi; his wife, 邱素枝 Khoo Saw Kee; and his mother-in-law, 杜菜燕 Toh Chai Yean.
As Chairman of the School Fundraising and Building Committee, he led committee members to seek and collect donations from businesses throughout Malaya and Singapore, to build classrooms and school facilities; and to reconstruct the school destroyed during the Japanese occupation. Seok Kim personally approached Aw Boon Haw(9) of Singapore (aka Mr Tiger Balm) to donate to the school building fund. The school assembly hall was named the Haw Par Assembly Hall, after the major donor of the fund. The Hall was completed in 1940. The opening ceremony was attended by Boon Haw who made headlines when he flew to Sitiawan in an aeroplane.
Other Schools in Dindings District and Betong, Thailand
In 1940, Seok Kim was elected the Vice-Chairman of the School Board of Pei Ching Primary School in Beruas, Manjung District. In 1946, he established Betong Primary School in Thailand where he had some rubber land. He was also Chairman of the School Board of Pooi Ming Primary School in Segari and Eng Ling Primary School in Lumut and an Honorary Member of the School Board of Ching Sean (now SRJK (C) Khuen Hean) Primary School in Changkat Kruing, all located in the Manjung District. He was also a member of the School Board of the former Simpang Empat English School (aka Gandhi School) in Sitiawan.
Seok Kim’s drive for education for the community was not limited to the schools he founded but also spread to other schools in the Manjung District such as Kuok Min Primary School in Kampung Koh, Sitiawan and Khuen Hean Primary School, where he help to raise funds to finance the development of school buildings and their facilities.
Ping Min Free School, Lumut
In 1951, together with Saw Seng Chor, Seok Kim established Ping Min Free School(10) in Pundut, Lumut, a coastal town in Manjung District. He wanted to provide Chinese education for children in the Pundut/Lumut area. Seok Kim raised funds, planned the school layout, managed its construction and appointed its headmaster and teachers. He was the first Chairman of the School Board, serving between 1951 and 1956, and a member of the School Board till 1962, two years before his passing.
Dindings High School, Lumut
In 1954, Seok Kim, with Ng Kuok Thai and Saw Seng Chor, founded Dindings High School,(11) located adjoining Ping Min. Similar to his efforts on Ping Min, he raised funds, planned the school layout, managed its construction and appointed its headmaster and teachers. He was the first Chairman of the School Board, serving between 1954 and 1958. He relinquished the Chairmanship position at end of 1958 but sat as a member of the School Board and remained Chairman of the School Fundraising Committee until 1962 when he officially retired from public life.
Within seven years of its establishment, Dindings High School produced a total of five batches comprising 300 students who graduated from junior middle school. The graduating students were unable to continue their studies to senior middle level and thus had to leave the school and the area, to go to others schools such as Nan Hwa High School in Sitiawan. In 1958-59, parents in the local area petitioned the school for the establishment of senior middle classes.
As Chairman of the School Board and in particular as Chairman of the School Fundraising Committee for nine years since the start of the school, Seok Kim then led a large campaign to raise funds to upgrade and expand the school to accommodate senior middle classes. In his diary, Seok Kim recounted the fundraising activity as “full of painfully hard work”. Seok Kim recorded that the Committee went through three fundraising trips to Ipoh, Telok Intan, Sabak Bernam, Kuala Lumpur, Seremban and the Klang Valley, and five trips to the northern part of the country covering towns such as Taiping, Bukit Mertajam, Prai/Butterworth, Penang, Alor Setar, Kangar, Lenggong, Grik, Sungai Petani and Kuala Kangsar. They even went south, to Malacca, Port Dickson, Muar, Yong Peng, Mersing and even as far as Singapore. More than $200,000 was collected in donation from the local community and donors from 70 towns located outside of Manjung District. Over that period, from September 8, 1959 to October 18, 1960, Seok Kim recounted that a total of 213 days were spent in fundraising activities.
With the donation, senior Middle classes were established. In total, the school had 15 classrooms, 13 hostel rooms, a library, science laboratories, an administration office, two toilet blocks, a playing field, a new canteen, two school buses, and a school hall named after Lee Kong Chean, its main donor. The school also has its own generator to ensure uninterrupted power supply.
Other Charity Organisations
Despite running his own business, establishing and overseeing the running of schools and other social responsibilities, Seok Kim was also involved in a large number of other charity organisations, most of them in leadership positions.
Listed below are the organisations:
– Committee Member, local public hospital, 1928-50
– Chairman, Sitiawan Retail Shop Traders Association, 1937
– Chairman, Perak Chinese Disadvantaged Persons Association, Sitiawan Branch, 1937-41
– First Chairman, Malayan Chinese Association, Sitiawan Branch, 1950
– Chairman, Chinese Chin Woo Sports Club, Sitiawan Branch
– Chairman, Ayer Tawar Hokkien Association for two years
– Member, Perak Hokkien Association from 1946-1964, and
– Chairman, Founding Committee, Nanyang University Association of Dindings District
A Loyal Nationalist
Like other Chinese immigrants of his time, Seok Kim continued to look to China for inspiration. He was a staunch nationalist, fetishly loyal to the motherland and had provided her with unflagging support. In 1911, he joined Dr Sun Yat-sen-led Kuomintang Nationalist Party (KMT), Penang Branch.
Seok Kim initiated fundraising activities in Malaya when his homeland was in need of help. On one such occasion when the North China provinces of Henan, Shandong, Shaanxi and Hebei experienced severe drought, followed by famine in 1920 and 1921 in which half a million Chinese died, Seok Kim served as director of the Sitiawan Disaster Relief Committee, actively carrying out disaster relief fundraising activities to aid the victims.
In 1922, Sun Yat-sen appointed Seok Kim as Director of the Kuomintang Sitiawan sub-division in recognition of his contributions. In 1923, he was appointed the local Publicity Officer to promote the revolutionary movement under Sun Yat-sen. He developed membership, and organised overseas Chinese support, in finance and other kinds of materials and resources, for revolutionary activities in China. He was subsequently elected Chairman of the “Sitiawan Purchasing Committee”.
In 1931, after years of drought followed by severe flooding in Central China leading to widespread destruction of crops, five million Chinese lost their lives. Seok Kim was at the forefront of aid relief, as Chairman of Fundraising and Disaster Relief Committee in the Sitiawan area, raising money and materials in aid of victims of the natural disaster. Again, in 1936 natural disaster struck China. During this period, widespread flooding hit Central China affecting Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Wuhan and Chongqing caused by the Yangtze and Huai rivers bursting their banks. Up to four million people died. Again Seok Kim was at the forefront, as Chairman of Fundraising and Disaster Relief Committee, raising money and materials in support of the victims.
In 1937, the Sino-Japanese War, also known as the Eight-Year War of Resistance, broke out between China and Japan. As a leader in the Sitiawan area, Seok Kim organised a boycott of Japanese goods and activities to raise funds to defend China against the Japanese. He personally purchased a $1,000 “Save China Bond”.
On March 12 1940, Seok Kim joined other South-East Asian Chinese leaders, as part of the “Malayan Comfort Mission” led by Tan Kah Kee,(12) to visit Chungking (now known as Chongqing) and other parts of China to hold talks with Chinese leaders, disburse funds to war refugees and wounded Chinese soldiers, and to comfort those at the frontline in the Sino-Japanese War. The tour lasted four months. A photo of Seok Kim, standing next to Kah Kee, and other South-East Asian Chinese leaders, adorns the Tan Kah Kee museum and mausoleum in Xiamen, Fujian Province, China.
In 1940, Seok Kim was appointed a member of the Hokkien Economic Planning and Development Council. The aim of the Council was to promote the economic development of Fujian Province.
Of his projects and involvement with China, he likens the relationship to one between parents and children. He is said to have said, transliterated, “Parents belong to children; who would not be loyal to their parents?” He had always felt proud of his cultural heritage and was loyal to the country and the parents he left behind.
Awards and Passing
In recognition of his huge contributions to the community, Seok Kim was bestowed a Justice of Peace (JP) award in the early 1960s by the Sultan of Perak and the Kesatria Mangku Negara (KMN) in 1964, a few months before his passing, by King of Malaysia. In 1962, at the age of 78, citing poor health, Seok Kim announced his withdrawal from public life after 50 years of services to the community. He passed away two years later, on May 31, 1964. He was approaching 80 years.
Legacy – Ong Seok Kim Memorial Education Fund; Manjung Haemodialysis Centre
After the passing of Seok Kim, local community leaders led by Ng Kuok Thai, Saw Cheng Chor and Ong Boon Tee, among others, established the Ong Seok Kim Memorial Education Fund in 1965 in his honour to provide bursaries and scholarships to the less fortunate local students, irrespective of race, for further their studies. From a humble beginning of providing a paltry sum of $2,840 as financial aid to a few students in 1966, the Fund, over the last decade, provided, on average, $64,000 per annum of financial aid to students of schools in Manjung District, which included student adoption programme, meritocracy awards in public examinations and incentive awards to university students. For many decades, the Fund was managed tirelessly by local leaders and Chinese educationists, such as Quah Gim Choo, Mah Sun Fatt and Lim Ming Teng, who shared the same vision as Seok Kim.
Descendants of Seok Kim fully supported the Ong Seok Kim Memorial Education Fund. In the 1990s It Shaw (David), the 28th and 2nd youngest son, was instrumental in raising one million Ringgit for the Fund. Siew Mei (Siew Bee), a granddaughter, had for a number of years made substantial annual monetary contribution. It Shaw (David) had also raised funds, managed the construction and established the Manjung Haemodialysis Centre, a non-profit organisation, for kidney dialysis. The Centre, dedicated to servicing the less fortunate in the local community, is in accord with the vision of his father.
Personal Data and Descendants
Seok Kim visited China nine times between 1907 and 1923. He did not visit his family in China again following the passing of his father in 1925. However, he visited China for the 10th time in March 1940, with other Chinese leaders of South-East Asia, under the “Malayan Comfort Mission”.
Like many other Chinese immigrants of his time, Seok Kim, who had a family in China, started another in Malaysia. His wife in China was 林月 Lin Yue (1885-1923) and his two Malaysian wives were 邱素枝 Khoo Saw Kee (1901-1974) and 彭亚荫 Phie Ah Im (1915-1993). Together they had 44 children, comprising 29 sons and 15 daughters including five adopted ones. Altogether, there are more than 780 descendants, the majority of whom reside in Malaysia, Singapore and China, although descendants are living in Australia, Indonesia, Canada, the United States and Hong Kong.
50 Years of Service to Sitiawan and Manjung District Community
Seok Kim was a successful and wealthy businessman by the early 1920s. He built up his fortune through rubber plantation and trading. He made an early decision to commit a significant part of his life and wealth in service of the community. Whether it was education, health, a place for the community to gather to read and socialise or the establishment of a burial ground, Seok Kim was always at the forefront in offering his services to the Sitiawan community in particular, and the Manjung District community in general. For five decades, he provided leadership, made generous donations, and personally solicited for funds on behalf of the community to finance the building of schools and the provision of social services, and oversaw their implementation. He was passionate in his service to the community. His selfless and relentless drive has made him a true pioneer in the early development of Sitiawan and Manjung District, in particular the development of Chinese education.
Seok Kim readily upheld the words of prominent community leader, Tan Kah Kee, that “…one must establish enterprises before being capable of serving the society…” to the extent that he neglected his business. This led to a significant diminution of his wealth. In his last years, lands and properties were sold to sustain his large family. In paying tribute to Seok Kim, the late Ng Kuok Thai, a prominent local businessman, said:
“Ong Seok Kim was a unique person, making voluntary and devoted contributions to society and education that he neglected his own welfare; it will be difficult to find another person like him.”
“Your story is the greatest legacy that you will leave to your friends.
It’s the longest-lasting legacy you will leave to your heirs.” – Steve Saint
(1) Emperor Zhou (or Chou) Ling’s reign was between BC 571 and BC 545. His Dynasty was the 3rd Dynasty of China, whose reign spanned 800 years, including the “Warring” period of 300 years.
(2) China was ruled by an ineffective and corrupt government and was slowly being partitioned by foreign powers. A series of political unrest and rebellions (among others The Taiping and Boxer rebellions) occurred across China, together with a population boom and a series of natural catastrophes left China incapacitated in providing for its huge population.
(3) The School has been converted to Government-aided SJK(C) Chung Cheng.
(4) Based on the Rule of 72 in Finance, investing $1000 in 1920, with compounding interest rate or rate of return of 5% per annum, the value in 2012 will be $83,200.
(5) She was the grandmother of Ong Seok Kim’s daughter-in-law – Chew Kim Liew who was married to Ong Kean Keok, his 11th son.
(6) The other three Chinese schools were Kuok Min (Kutian School), Uk Dih (Hockchiew School) and Min Te (Hockchiang School).
(7) The School has been converted to Government-aided SMJK Nan Hwa. The private section of the school, known as Nan Hwa High School (Private), was relocated to a site along Ayer Tawar Road.
(8) Based on the Rule of 72 in Finance, investing $3000 in 1935, with compounding interest rate or rate of return of 5% per annum, the value in 2012 will be $134,400.
(9) Aw Boon Haw and his brother Aw Boon Par were developers of Haw Par Villa, a Chinese mythological theme park in Singapore, and manufacturer of Tiger Balm products.
(10) The School has been converted to Government-aided SJK(C) Ping Min.
(11) The School has been converted to Government-aided SMJK Dindings.
(12) Tan Kah Kee was an influential overseas Chinese community leader with important historical legacies in the history of modern China and South-East Asia. He was Chairman of the China Relief Fund established in 1937 to collect funds for war refugees and wounded Chinese soldiers in the 1937 Sino-Japanese War. A Tan Kah Kee Park, incorporating a museum in his name and his mausoleum, has been established in his honour in Xiamen, Fujian Province, China.
Writer: Ong Eng-Joo
Editors: Lena Khaw and Freddie Cheah