We thank IpohBornKid for this story of Chong Soon Fan, who was the Penghulu of Menglembu during the Japanese Occupation in Malaya.
Mr Chong Soon Fan, JP, The Penghulu of Menglembu
The “Kapitan Chinas” in the Kinta Valley or Tin Mining Towkays, in Ipoh, have been well described by Dr Ho Tak Ming, the author of “Ipoh, when Tin was King”. For example, Foo Nyit See, Foo Choo Chong, Foo Choong Yit, Yau Tet Shin, Chung Keng Kwee etc. were well known philanthropist in the late nineteen century.
Some Ipoh streets were named after them.
The next generation of successful tin miners and philanthropists in Ipoh include Lee Loy Sang, Lau Pak Kuan, Fung Seong, Foo Yet Kai, Chong Soon Fan etc. This article only focuses on the late Chong Soon Fan, JP, for the simple reason that Mr Chong was personally known to the author. The author also recognized other Towkays in Ipoh who have contributed significantly and substantially to the community.
There are many stories about education in Ipoh and most of them which appeared in the English language media involving English language schools rather than Chinese Language Schools. In this article, I wish to present a visionary person who is also a philanthropists, educationist and social worker in his times. He was the late Mr Chong Soon Fan, JP, and in his heydays, was Chairman of the Board on several Chinese language schools in the Ipoh municipality viz Man Wah Primary, Yuk Choy High School, Perak Girls Primary and High School, Sam Chai High School etc. Before Menglembu became part of the Municipality of Ipoh in the 1960s, he was also the “penghulu” or village headman of Menglembu. He was also a Director in the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Hong Kong Association.
Prior to Merdeka, the township of Ipoh was run by an Englishman Mr Lee, who was the colonial administrator of Ipoh. After independence, the Seenivasagam brothers DR and SP later controlled the Ipoh Municipality. It is interesting to note that DR (a well-known Ipoh lawyer) was also famous for owing an American convertible with a golden ignition key.
According to published record, Mr Chong Soon Fan, born in China in the 1890s, migrated to Nanyang (Malaya) from Xihe (West River) region in Guangdong Province, China. The current location would be north east of MeiXian City, 8 hours drive from Shenzhen via the highway. He was a “Tai Poo” Hakka and was determined to seek his fortune in “Nanyang”. At the age of 17, Mr Chong came to Perak state with minimal clothes and cash. He had a humble beginning and he started to work in Soon Foh Wu Lang, a Menglembu tin ore extraction establishment which collected tin ore from the dulang washers as well as extracting tin ore from the sandy resides which settled in the tail end of the palongs. (Note: in an open cut mine, the alluvial sand containing the ore is washed down by strong jet of water and the slurry is pumped to the top of the long wooden“slip-dip” structure. As it flows down, the tin stayed at the top of the palong and the smaller tin granules flow to the bottom. This bottom residue is rewashed for more tin). Dulang washes can earn up to $3 a day selling their tin to the collector.
At the Soon Foh, he was intelligent, literate and a hard worker. As the story goes, the late Mr Foo Choon Yit, OBE, the owner of the establishment, was so impressed by this young man’s talent that he allowed his eldest daughter to marry him. From then onwards, the young Mr Chong learned about the tin mining business in Ipoh and prospered. He later became the Manager of the establishment.
The two storey bungalow family home of the late Mr Foo Choon Yit, a Fujian Hakka, is in Kuala Kangsar Road and is now a museum for tin mining. There is an air raid shelter built in the compound. One of Mr Foo’s nephew is the late Mr Foo Yet Kai, another famous tin miner in Ipoh.
As a Hakka, Mr Chong was very traditional in his thinking about education and has a high degree of empathy for his fellow clansman. He was the President of the Perak Hakka Association in Jalan Datoh (Sam Chai school is located in the land owned by the Hakka Association) and a Director of a prominent Chamber of Commerce in Ipoh. His contemporaries were famous tin miners in Ipoh. Mr Chong’s passion for education was the driving force behind the fund raising and building of Chinese schools in Ipoh. Together with his peers, they managed to raise funds totaling $2M to build schools in Ipoh. He was recorded to have donated at least $200,000 himself.
Several important schools that come to mind were and they were the Yuk Choy High School, Perak Girls Primary and High Schools, Man Wah Primary (Menglembu). Mr Chong and his contemporaries have left a great legacy behind for the future descendants of the people of Ipoh. Many parents who have migrated from China were determined to send their children to schools in Ipoh. Some parents insist that their children learn their mother language first before English. Hence, the Chinese schools satisfied the cultural needs of the Chinese immigrant. They endured the hardship and sacrifice in order that their children will be better off than them. Together with the other generous philanthropists who built the schools, a great opportunity was created by these visionaries. Today, many Ipoh people have benefited from a good education. Hence, we should remember our pioneers who brought us the great gift of education.
In erecting the Chinese schools in Ipoh, the generosity of the Hakka clan played an important role since Hakka tradition is strong in education. Hakka people originate in Henan Province in China over 2,000 years ago. In a particular Hakka clan, their history dates back to the Zhou dynasty, having 92 generations in Henan, 17 generations in Guangzhou (as Hakka =guest people) and 7 generation overseas. Most Hakka occupations in Henan Province (China) were either military or government officials. They excel in literature and military tactics. They were Sung Dynasty’s refugees (Mongol invasion) and most groups migrated south to Guangzhou.
It is interesting to note that recently, a second Chinese Primary School (Man Wah No 2) was built at the foot of Kledang Hill in Menglembu. I was informed that one of the grandsons of Mr Chong was involved. It is good to see a continuation of commitment in education by a third generation Chong.
As Headman of Menglembu during the Japanese occupation, Mr Chong walked a tight rope in saving a lot of people from the Japanese. He had to deal with the Japanese authorities and at the same time, not to offend the communist hiding the jungle. In those days immediately after the Japanese left, there were a lot of revenge taken against “Han jian” or Han traitors. Mr Chong stood tall and his trustworthiness, courage and fairness earned him respect from all sides.
There was another aspect of Mr Chong’s work in Menglembu which is not well documented. In the 1950s, his family home in Menglembu (the bungalow opposite the Man Wah Primary School) was open to his constituents on Saturday mornings. Many villagers would bring their family problems to him. He was a peace maker & conciliator; and many benefited from his wisdom to get the family back together. In the gangster era, he was instrumental in bailing out many young mis-guided youth and kept them out of jail. The Police would release these youths under the guardianship of Mr Chong.
If one sat on the front door of Mr Chong’s house, you will see the 3 famous mountain peaks which were framed under the archway of the Man Wah Primary School. Those mountains peaks represent good fungsui. Mr Chong had good reason to build his bungalow opposite the school. Reliable sources said that Mr Chong told her eldest grand daughter that he wanted to keep an eye on the school and watch it grow. He wanted his grand children to go to that school.
Most of the villagers have no proficiency in English and filling a form is a difficult task. Mr Chong provided Menglembu villagers with form filling assistance for citizenship & IC card applications as well as other government correspondence. . These clerical services were an enormous task and required a good typist with a good command of English. His eldest son filled this position well with dedication and efficiency. According to reliable sources, his teenage grandson, an accomplished ACS trained typist also assisted his uncle in preparing the forms and typing letters.
Mr Chong was treated with utmost respect in Menglembu. When he walked the streets in Menglembu, the villagers often greeted him with respect. Mr Chong received wedding invitation from the villagers at least once every fortnight. Sometimes, he would send his eldest grandson to represent him in these events when he was unable to attend.
In writing this article, I want to create awareness among later generations of Ipoh people about a pioneer, a visionary person who has given so much to the community. He should be remembered for his role in saving people during the Japanese occupation, building schools in Ipoh municipality for future generations, and providing much needed community services to his constituents.
For his exemplary community work above and beyond the call of duty, the Sultan of Perak made him a Justice of the Peace and a member of the Privy Council.
Mr Chong passed away in 1969 and today, more than 40 years passed, I wish commemorate his passing and acknowledge his exemplary dedication and commitment to public education. He was indeed a pioneer and a humble servant of the people. Lest we forget.