By Yeun Yin Fong
Jalan Dato’ Lau Pak Kuan in Ipoh Garden (the main road which Hospital Fatimah faces).
Who was Lau Pak Kuan?
Lau Pak Kuan came to Malaya, in 1912, at the age of 18, with his wife Kok. He first started working as a tin-mine pushcart boy and then after working hard for few years was promoted to supervisor. He started his first mining business as a mine operator of the Toong Foh Loong Kongsi in Menglembu, and soon followed up with another company at Jelapang, just outside Ipoh, establishing the Xi Men Mining Company. In the next decade he opened no less than 10 more mining companies, including: the Tong Yat Mine in Papan, Perak; the Tong Heng Loong Mines in Chemor, Perak; the Tong Ho Loong Mines at Malim Nawar, Perak. Larger Mining interests included the Thong Foong Tin Mine Company and the Lau Pak Kuan Mining Company. Like many other miners at the time, these mines brought him great riches. Eventually his mining empire expanded to a chain of 20 mines.
At the age of 26, Lau Pak Kuan joined the Perak Chinese Chamber of Commerce as an ordinary member and quickly became involved in charitable and social work, taking the lead from Leong Sin Nam, the then second President of the Chamber. For his service to the community, he was awarded the position of JP by the Sultan of Perak in 1936. It was no surprise then that when Leong Sin Nam passed on in January 1940 it was Lau Pak Kuan who took over many of his posts and continued the spirit of philanthropy towards his fellow men.
Lau Pak Kuan was elected Vice-Chairman of the ‘Nanyang Overseas Chinese, Save China Fund-Raising Committee’, which sent funds raised to China to equip them for the defence of their homeland during the Japanese invasion. In 1940 he was appointed as the member of the Perak Chinese Advisory Board.
A dedicated Hakka he joined a group of ‘Pioneers’ in 1941, and started a fund-raising committee with the aim of setting up a permanent Perak Khek (Hakka) Association in its own building in Ipoh. However the World War II invasion by the Japanese promptly put an end to their efforts and the idea lay dormant until the war ended.
During the Japanese occupation of Malaya, Lau Pak Kuan flew to Burma, then India and finally to Chungking, China, knowing that he was a marked man by the Japanese for his anti-Japanese work in Malaya, where he would have faced certain torture and execution.
Immediately after he arrived in Chungking, he was appointed to the Chinese Central Supervisory Committee in charge of fund raising and the setting up of the United Overseas Chinese Bank with branches all over South East Asia, India, Burma (Myanmar) and Annam (Vietnam). He also met Chiang Kai Shek and was appointed by Generals Lee Chun Ren and Pak Chung He, as adviser to the 5th Regiment.
After the Japanese surrender, he returned to Malaya and was appointed by the British Military Authority (BMA) to serve as an officer empowered to grant permits to those returning to Malaya from overseas. He also became the Chairman of the Kuomintang in Perak.
During the Malayan Emergency, Lau Pak Kuan in his role as President of the Perak Chinese Tin Mining Association, applied to General Templar, the British High Commissioner, to set up the Kinta Valley Home Guard. Although an extremely controversial decision as many people did not trust the Chinese and saw them as Communist supporters, the General agreed to implement the proposal and on formal approval, in 1952, some 4,000 members were recruited, trained and armed by the government. They were a wholly Chinese force, with some British officers, partially paid for by the tin mining companies for the protection, from the Communist terrorists, of their local tin mines and dredges and the safety of the tin miners. In 1954 it is recorded that 323 different mines were defended by this “Chinese Home Guard”. They were operational until the end of the Emergency.
He became a founder member of the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) in 1949 together with Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Tun Leong Yew Koh and Tun Lee Hau Shik. As the first Chairman of the Perak MCA and the trustee of the national party, he helped to establish the Social Welfare Lottery Board to assist the poorer members of the association. However, he left MCA following the failed delegation to London that attempted to present the views of various Chinese associations in Malaya to the British Government.
He was unanimously voted to the posts of President of the Perak Chinese Chamber of Commerce (in 1947) a post he held for 33 years, and at various dates, Chairman of the Chinese Assembly Hall (for 33 years); Chairman of the Perak Kwangtung Association for 30 years and the Perak Chinese Mining Association for 25 years; Chairman of the Chin Woo Association; and Chairman of the Perak Chinese Maternity Hospital from 1946 to 1970. After the war he also became Director of the Paloh Old Temple, where he founded the Paloh Temple School (a free school for the poor and students who were already beyond school age). He also founded the Perak Zheng Loon Association and the Tiong Hua hospital for the poor. Like Leong Sin Nam, he was also the Chairman of several boards of governors of local schools.
For his unceasing efforts to serve the people and the country, Lau Pak Kuan was appointed as Justice of Peace by the British and subsequently awarded the honour of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in 1956 and the honours of Dato’ and Dato’ Seri by the Sultan of Perak in 1963 and 1966 respectively.
As well as mining, during his life he also diversified into several other areas, the major ones being: founder and Vice-Chairman of Chung Kiaw Bank (with Haw Par brothers); Founder of the Overseas Union Bank (with Liew Yin Chow); Director of Hua Lian Bank; Chairman of the Public Insurance Company Ltd; and Chairman of the Oriental Smelting Company Ltd.
As a dedicated philanthropist, he helped to raise funds for the Singapore Nanyang University and it was under his Presidency that the Chinese Chamber of Commerce double-storey building in Hale Street was rebuilt. His Royal Highness, Sultan Idris Shah II, Sultan of Perak officiated at the Inauguration Ceremony on June 6, 1970. President Lau Pak Kuan was invited to perform the Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony.
Clearly one of the great Pioneers of Ipoh Town and the State of Perak, Lau Pak Kuan was highly respected and admired by all who came across him including many well-known figures like Dr. Sun Yat Sen, President Chiang Kai Shek, Sir Henry Gurney and General Sir Gerald Templer.
He passed away on April 16, 1971, age 77, and was survived by his 3 wives, 6 sons and 3 daughters. In recognition of his dedication to the people and town of Ipoh, the Municipal Council named a 1-km stretch of road in Ipoh Garden after him.
Did You Know?
Lau Pak Kuan was the first Chinese to be awarded the Dato’ Seri title by the Perak Sultan in 1966.