China’s early philantropists in Malaya

February 6, 2011 | By More

Cheong Yoke Choy (張郁才), the Elderly Philantropist of Kuala Lumpur


Philanthropy is often used to mean performing acts of private initiatives for the Common Good, for the community, focusing on quality of life of the needy.  Etymologically philanthropy means “the love of humanity” in general.

We have all, no doubt, heard about well known philantropists in America – and admired them and their charitable work. But we often do not know or remember our very own local Asian ones who were instrumental in helping to build the very foundations and institutions that we have today.

The values that they exhibited are the very ones that we need to instill in our own entrepreneurs today. We do not have to look across the oceans to get know these role models. They come from different walks of life, often from humble beginnings, became successful and found the compassion to help others for the Common Good. In this, and others to follow, we will trace the lives of some of them from around Asia.

An early photo of the Confucian Private Secondary School in KL

At a time when most of us are not yet even thinking of getting a driver’s licence, Cheong Yoke Choy (張郁才) had to leave home to support his family. He was born in Xinhui, China on the twenty second day of the sixth lunar month in1879 and had to get a job in Guangzhou at 14. Two years later he, like many others before him, took the slow boat to Malaya where he heard there were better opportunities.

An early photo of the Kwong Siew Free School

His first job there was as an office boy at the local council office at a small town of Rawang, a town full of rubber estates. He quit this job six months later to work in Kuala Lumpur. He found a menial job at a provision store owned by Wong Loke Yew (黃如佑), a fellow countryman from Guangdong. By working hard, the young Cheong earned not only some savings to bring his parents to live with him in Malaya, he also earned the trust of the older Loke Yew. Cheong considered Loke Yew not only as his boss but also as mentor, someone he can learn from and in time was left to manage the store when the owner travelled north to explore the tin mining business.

Eventually when Loke Yew became successful at tin mining Cheong followed his footsteps and started out on his own with a friend, Chan Zhen Wing, to open the Hoong Fatt Tin Mining company. Later, in 1915 with the support of Loke Yew, he and others co-founded the Kwong Yik Bank.

A 2010 photo of the upgraded Kuen Cheng Girl's High School

He never forgot his humble past and understood the value of a formal education even though he lacked one. In 1918 he single-handedly founded ‘Pak Peng Free School’, an all-boys school aimed at providing free education to students from very poor families. He followed this up later for girls by setting up the ‘Pak Weng All Girls School’ with another partner, Liao Rong Zhi.

He and three others – Xin Bai Hui, Liao Rong Zhi and Au Yang Xue Feng – also helped establish Confucian Private Secondary School; Kuen Cheng Girls School; Kwong Siew Free School; and also act as trustees for Wah Kiew Primary School.

Having experienced the hardship of leaving China and trying to earn his way in a new land, he also focused his attention in helping the needy and saw the plight of women who, like himself, had immigrated from China. The least fortunate of them had no homes and were sleeping in the streets and roadside.

Exterior of King George V Silver Jubilee Home today

In 1937, he and another fellow entrepreneur, Liew Weng Chee, established the Selangor King George V Silver Jubilee Home, which later became a shelter for poor homeless Chinese women who have no dependants, or were abandoned by family members.

Despite his success at business, he was very busy and active in the Chinese community, assisting where he could, participating and lending a hand to needy social causes.

He was known as “The Elderly Philantropist”, continuing to do charitable work even at an advanced age and passed away in 1958. For more information about Cheong Yoke Choy and his biography, look up Wikipedia here.

Inside King George V Silver Jubilee Home for aged and homeless women

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About the Author ()

EngTong, pioneer and innovator. Graduated from Imperial College London with an MBA from Cranfield School of Management. Lived in Scotland, England, California, Beijing and led teams in Italy, France, Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia to do the impossible. Now based in Singapore and believes the future is to blend the sophistication of western management practices with the strength of Asian Values. Trained as a Chartered Engineer. Member of IET, Associate of City and Guilds and a certified SixSigma Champion.

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  1. Lee Kim Sin says:

    Loke Yew or ( 陆如祐 in Chinese ) has Loke as surname., not Wong as mentioned in the article.