Thursday, March 08, 2007

Lim Book Keng - Retrospective at Singapore National Library

I was fortunate enough to visit the small yet very nicely-developed exhibit on Lim Boon Keng (1869 - 1957) currently on display at the Singapore National Library (until Sunday 18 March).

This fascinating man, the first Chinese to win a Queen's Scholarship (1887), was not only a prominent medical doctor, but also a legislator in the Straits Settlements Legco from the age of 26, entrepreneur (rubber tycoon, co-founder of OCBC Bank), a philanthropist (founded Singapore Chinese Girls School and many other societies), a vocal social reformer (anti gambling, anti-opium and pro-confucianism), educator (president of Amoy university in 1921), media baron (he and his father-in-law bought over a Chinese newspaper, renaming it 日新报) and an outspoken political activist (leader of a local anti-Manchu society and president of Singapore's branch of the Kuomintang).

In spite of being a third generation baba Chinese, Dr. Lim identified strongly with his Chinese roots and throughout his life strove to improve his Chinese language skills and reacquaint himself with the Chinese Confucian values that he believed were so lacking in the straits Chinese community. As president of Amoy University between 1921 and 1937 he was perhaps not prepared for the intensively negative reaction his support of Confucianism would have in the post 1919 May Fourth era (the writer Lu Xun publicly clashed with Dr. Lim for his encouragement of Confucianism).

I left the exhibit wondering if a man such as Dr. Lim could exist in modern day Singapore. For example, would a wealthy tycoon of his caliber be willing to speak his mind on a social issue such as gambling if it contradicted the party line? If he had been born even thirty years later would his pro-China outlook have put him on a collision course with other members of the Peranakan community that distrusted the China patriots? What do you think?

Try to visit the exhibit if you can. You can also read more about Lim Boon Keng from the following links:

Monday, January 15, 2007

Indians of Hong Kong Emigrating to Canada

Well, it has been awhile hasn't it! I've been away in the US, and was actually on a farm that had no Internet connections. Hard to believe, but in a way, incredibly restful over the holiday. I also became incredibly restive, but that's another story!

I thought I'd kick off the New Year by looking at an astonishing notice in the Hong Kong (or should I say Hongkong) Government Gazette 100 years ago. It concerns what was then a new trend of Indians from both India but also from Hong Kong, embarking on new lives in the New World, specifically in the British provinces of Canada. This surely is a remarkable chapter in the history of Indian immigration to Canada:
Natives of India are hereby warned against emigrating to Canada. The winter climate of the interior of Canada is such that Indians, with their style of living, cannot work there during the season and are therefore restricted for winter employment to the coast where there is not a sufficient field for those already there. In any case the work for which they are required is, if obtainable, rough and hard and not of a character with which they are familiar or for which they are physically fitted.

Large number [sic] of Indian immigrants have already become destitute, and it is useless for any more Indians to seek employment in Canada.

F.H. May,
Colonial Secretary [later the Governor of Hong Kong after Gov. Lugard]

12 February, 1907
The many Indian natives of Canada, particularly in Toronto, would find this a laughable suggestion that Indian industry could only be confined to manual labour for which they are not 'physically fitted.'