Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chung Thye Phin

Kapitan Chung, Thye Phin, MSC, JP was a wealthy Malayan tin miner of Hakka ancestry who was raised on the island of Penang in the state of the same name in Malaysia, known at that time as British Malaya. He was a member of the Perak Advisory Board and the last ''Kapitan China'' of Perak and .

A Famous Pedigree

Kapitan Chung Keng Quee, Mandarin 2nd Class of the Imperial Chinese Court and leader of the secret society in British Malaya had nine male issue, the 4th and best known of whom was Chung, Thye-phin. Chung Thye Phin's Ch'i Yeh or godfather was Chin Seng Yam , the leader of the Ghee Hin, once the enemy of his father who was leader of the opposing Hai San, both factions fighting for domination of the tin fields of Larut.

A Child of Taiping and Georgetown

Kapitan Chung, Thye Phin was born 28 Sep 1879 in Kota, Taiping, Perak, Malaya. He received his education at the St. Xavier's, Penang. Upon leaving school, he was initiated into his father's business.

The Miner

An enterprising youth with a flair for progress, he later started a number of tin mines of his own, including a deep-shaft mine at Tronoh or Teronoh, adjoining the famous mine of the same name, and the hydraulic mine at Batu Tugoh. Tronoh was the centre of the mining field containing the mine of Chung Thye Phin's Tronoh Mines Company Ltd. He was also a member of the Board of Directors of the Eastern Smelting Company, Ltd along with Eu Tong Sen, Ng Boo Bee, Ong Hung Chong, Khaw Joo Tok and his nephew Khaw Bian Kee.

Revenue Farmer

He also had vast interests in some of the Government revenue farm monopolies. On 2, July 1903, the public tenders were declared open for the running of the Kedah and Penang Opium Farms. There were eight tenders. The highest tender was made by Chung Thye Phin for the Penang farm at $260,000 a month.

An understanding was reached that: the government cut the Penang opium farm from the $260,000 a month tendered by Chung Thye Phin to $220,000 , and agreed that the syndicate could have both the Penang and Kedah farms at an overall price of $260,000 per month; Gan Ngoh Bee could have half the farm, but the other half should go to Chung Thye Phin, whose tender was the highest; and the government would undertake to secure the Kedah farm on behalf of the Penang syndicate at $40,000 a month with one-to-three months' deposits.

Despite his many business concerns, Chung Thye Phin envinced a lively interest in various philanthropic works, foreign famine funds and local charities.

He donated a fountain to the Penang Turf Club and the Taiping Lake Gardens to the Perak State Government. Both of these still exist today.

This worthy scion of Kapitan Chung, Keng Quee was the recipient of a tasseled "gold medal" from the Government of Indo China for his liberal gifts to the Relief Fund.

He appears in the . He was just 25 years of age at that time.

He was appointed in March 1918, by to be a member of the Federal Council of the Federated Malay States during the temporary absence of the Honourable Mr. Eu Tong Sen.

He also served as a member of the Commission to enquire into and report on the Mining Industry, for which all the members were thanked by Mr. E. L. Brockman, Chief Secretary, F. M. S., for "the thoroughness with which you have gone into the various and important points raised and the clearness with which the conclusion arrived at regarding them have been recorded".

At about this time he was made a Justice of the Peace.

On 24th March 1921, His Highness Iskandar Shah K. C. M. G., the Sultan of Perak, with the advice of Colonel W. J. P. Hume, British Resident, Perak, conferred on him the title of "Kapitan China", in all probability, the last of the Chinese Kapitans in Malaya.

He was installed by the Sultan of Perak in Kuala Kangsar amidst much traditional pomp and pagentry. His appointment was so popular with the community that he was escorted to Kuala Kangsar by the delegates of more than 70 Chinese organisations from Perak.

According to, Foo Yet Kai, another Perak philanthropist, bought Chung Thye Phin's villa in Ipoh from the family of the late Kapitan and later gave permission for it to be converted into a private hospital, then known as Our Lady's Hospital and run by the Franciscan Sisters from Salzkotten, Germany.

The Sportsman

It is known that he owned expensive cars, prize-winning horses, and even issued his own currency for use in his mines.

Motoring was one of his passions.

Chung Thye Phin was an enthusiastic sportsman and on more than one occasion won the Blue Ribbon of the Straits Turf apart from many lesser events. Among his racing trophies are one for the 1095 Singapore Derby won by one of his horses, Devilment. He was also a good billiards player.

Architectural Memorials

Chung Thye Phin Building, 14 Station Road in Ipoh, Perak is a three-storey corner building from 1907. It originally housed the Medical Hall established by Dr. R.M. Connolly, the Oilfileds Dispensaries Ltd. and more recently the George Town Dispensary. Mr W. Cecil Payne, managing director of the Times of Malaya and a member of the Institute of Incorporated Accountants, had offices in Chung Thye Phin's buildings.

His villa in the heart of Ipoh, was bought by Foo Yet Kai who later allowed its conversion, free of rent, to a private hospital, then known as Our Lady’s Hospital. It was administered by the Sisters of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood from April 1964 to Jan 1983 but has now been taken over by The Kinta Medical Centre.

The fabled Chung Thye Phin Mansion at Gurney Drive on Penang island with its subterranean passageways and chambers was, after his passing, sold and turned into a hotel but was later demolished and on its footprint now stands an imposing condominium . Author Queeny Chang gives an extensive description of the place and her experience of it in her autobiography.

He designed Relau Villa , his holiday resort with a swimming pool ringed by private and other types of rooms. Its derelict structure can still be seen and explored at Taman Metropolitan, Relau in Penang, today. According to family history Kapitan Chung Thye Phin was inspired by the artistic canals of Venice and the enchanting ponds and lakes of China when he designed the swimming-pool, which was constructed by Mr. B. H. Ung, the first Chinese architect who introduced reinforced concrete buildings to the community, notably the Ban Hin Lee Bank.

A commentary by his grand daughter, Oola goes, "Chung Thye Phin had many residences, some of them mansions, in Penang, Ipoh and Taiping. His residence in what is now Persiaran Gurney was the most famous, with its grand entertaining rooms and undersea wing. It was built before there was a Persiaran Gurney or a Gurney Drive, and was therefore right on the shore. His largest residence in Ipoh was in a street that carried his name . This mansion now serves as a hospital. He built a summer house on a large estate near Relau and surrounded it with gardens, orchards and fish ponds. However its most striking feature was the fact that it was built around a swimming pool in the Roman tradition. This house still exists in its ruined state, now surrounded by high rise 21st century flats. There are indeed many stories to be told about Chung Thye Phin."

He also had property on Penang Hill, as was the way with the rich in those days. His was a bungalow named, simply, "Highlands".

Several articles have been published, mentioning these properties and erroneously attributing them to Thye Phin's father, Chung Keng Quee who died in 1901, well before any of these were built.

The Traveller

A widely-travelled Malayan, Kapitan Chung Thye Phin had gone round the world on many a business-cum-pleasure trip. On one occasion, he undertook a perilous trip up the scenic gorges of the Yangtze River at Chungking, China, thus earning for himself the distinction of being the first non-China-born Chinese to have made the venture. It was here that he was enraptured by Nature's inimitable splendour.

A Road In His Honour

In Perak he was honoured with roads named after him. Jalan Chung Thye Phin in Ipoh borders the Kinta Medical Centre. This location is appropriate - the Centre, a private hospital under the administration of the Foo Yet Kai foundation, was formerly the family mansion of Chung Thye Phin. There is another road named in his honour in his birthplace of Taiping.

Well Connected

Chung Thye Phin rubbed shoulders with the rich and powerful including Sultan Iskandar Shah of Perak, a polo lover. A photograph in the National Archives shows him sitting next to the Sultan.

When the Duke and the Duchess of Connaught and Princess Patricia paid an official visit to Penang in Feb. 1907, they were driven by Kapitan Chung Thye Phin in his own private car.

Chung, Thye Phin and Eu, Tong Sen

Eu Tong Sen and Chung Thye Phin were "blood" brothers. They went through Chinese ceremony to become "Keet Bye Heng Tai". When Chung Thye Phin travelled to Hong Kong, he stayed in Eu Tong Sen's villa there and they kept an account of his expenses in the company's account books. Eu Tong Sen's villa in HK was called "Eucliff". It has been torn down. It was built at Repulse Bay, HK, overlooking the sea. The property was huge. It was built with stone like a castle. It included within its walled area a tennis court and also a swimming pool.

Eu Tong Sen and Chung Thye Phin had common interests – motorcars, racehorses, country houses, etc. 1903 when the Ipoh Gymkhana Club was founded, both of them decided to enter their thoroughbreds regularly in the Ipoh races. They jointly built a weekend retreat, “Forest Lodge”, at Gopeng Road with a large stable. In April 1912 Eu Tong Sen was appointed the permanent Chinese Member of the Federal Council, the seat having fallen vacant on the demise of Leong Fee. Chung Thye Phin sold his half-share to Eu Tong Sen who desired grander accommodations following the latter's elevation in status. Chung Thye Phin in turn bought Drummond’s Hill in Taiping, a 50-acre estate and the former Residency of Sir Hugh Low. In 1908, together with Chung Thye Phin he built a large Chinese theatre in the important mining town of Kampar near Ipoh. He also played an important role in the administration of the country, as he was not only a State Councillor but also a Federal Councillor. He was a member of the Perak State Advisory Board and the last Kapitan China of Perak and . In 1900 he replaced his father as member of the Perak State Council, a position held by Chung Keng Quee since the council was first formed in 1877. On March 24, 1921, His Highness K. C. M. G., the Sultan of Perak, conferred on him the title of "Kapitan China".

Personal life

He was the son of Kapitan Chung Keng Quee an immigrant from China. He had 7 wives but was survived by 6 of them who gave him 10 sons and 7 daughters. Chung Thye Phin was born in 1879 in Taiping, lived most of his life in Penang and passed on in 1935.


Chung, Kok Soon

Chung, Kok Ching

Chung, Kok Heng

Chung, Kok Tong

Chung, Kok Choy

Chung, Kok Choon

Chung, Kok Khen

Chung, Kok En

Chung, Kok Leong

Chung, Kok Chuan


Chung, Yuet See

Chung, Yuet Kuen

Chung, Guat Hooi

Chung, Guat Hong

Chung, Guat Kheng

Chung, Yuet Wah

Chung, Yuet Fong

Notes / Sources

#The Singapore and Straits Directory and the F.M.S. Directory under Eu Tong Sen.
#Mr Koh, Keng We co author of Chinese Enterprise in Colonial Malaya: the Case of Eu Tong Sen
#THE KAPITAN SYSTEM - XI Sunday Gazette, June 19, 1960, By Wu Liu
#A gallery of Chinese kapitans. by Mr. C. S. Wong/Wong, Choon Sang; Published in Singapore: Ministry of Culture, 1963. 114p.
#Twentieth Century impressions of British Malaya: its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources, by Arnold Wright, Published 1908 - Page 130, 203, 252, 262, 508, 509, 568
#Record of Meritous Deeds of the Chung Family, op. cit., pp. 9-12
# K. L. F. M. S. Correspondence Ref: No 3663-1917 dated 20th March 1918
# K. L., F. M. S. Correspondence Ref: No. 508-1919 dated 29th Jan., 1920
#"Miscellaneous Chronicles of Penang", Kuang, Kuo-hsiang op. cit., pp. 112-113
#The Case of the Chinese in Penang, 1890s-1910s | SHINOZAKI Kaori, Ph.D. student
#200 years of the Hakkas in Penang By the Federation of Hakka Associations of Malaysia
#Reveal the True Face of Secret Societies Written by Guo Rende Published by the Malaysian Chinese Cultural Center
#"The Luxuriant Tree" and "Chung Keng Kwee, the Hakka Kapitan" by CHUNG Yoon-Ngan
#The installation of Chung Thye Phin as Capitan in 1921. G.1784 National Archives of Malaysia.
#List of Qualified Jurors, Penang, 1904 transcribed from the Straits Settlements Government Gazette, December 23, 1904.
#Heritage Road named in honour of Chung Thye Phin by Sita Ram, Stories Of Yesteryear, The Ipoh Echo 16 March - 31 March 2006
#Timothy Tye who has been researching Chung Keng Quee for AsiaExplorers and historian Khoo Salma Nasution
#The Tin Resources of the British Empire by Norman Mosley Penzer, published by W. Rider in 1921, page 90 of 716 pages.
#Chinese Architecture in the Straits Settlements and Western Malaya: Temples, Kongsis, and Houses By David Kohl - Originally published as the author's thesis - Published by Heinemann Asia, 1984. ISBN 9679250660, ISBN 9789679250664


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