Redoubtable Reformer: The life and times of Cheah Cheang Lim

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Francis Cooray & Khoo Salma Nasution
2015. Areca Books.
Hardcover, 23.6 cm x 15.8 cm, 248 pages
50+ photographs in colour & black/white
ISBN 9789675719202



By Francis Cooray & Khoo Salma Nasution.
Foreword by Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim.

Growing up during the era of British colonial expansion in Malaya, Cheah Cheang Lim believed that economic progress should yield the fruit and flower of social progress. He was born to a Penang Hokkien family in Taiping and started out as a postal assistant on the Perak frontier. He was then recruited by his cousin Foo Choo Choon, the ‘Tin King’ of Tronoh Mines fame, who bankrolled Wu Lien-Teh’s anti-opium movement. Cheah himself became an owner of tin mines and rubber plantations. He endowed the Perak Maternity Hospital and provided leadership to the Hokkien community in Cantonese-speaking Ipoh. A federal councillor for two terms (1927–33), he lobbied for the restoration of the Queen’s Scholarship, calling upon the British Empire to live up to its promises.

The gift of an unpublished c. 1935 manuscript about this man’s life, authored by Francis Cooray, a Ceylonese journalist with the Malay Mail, prompted Khoo Salma Nasution to write about Cheah in the context of his times. She has compiled a wealth of material, including speeches, letters and family photographs, to present a vivid impression of this ‘gentleman capitalist’ on the edge of empire – a Malayan patriot who contributed eagerly to social improvement in Perak, looked to England and China for inspiration, but considered Penang his ‘true home’. This biography explores the historical identity and complex cultural affiliations of the Straits Chinese in a nascent nation, illuminating the questions of ethnicity, citizenship and nationality, which continue to be debated in Malaysia today.

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Editorial reviews

Redoubtable Reformer: The Life and Times of Cheah Cheang Lim is a biography with a difference. It does not fall into any of the categories of biography just mentioned. It is neither a scholarly nor a popular biography. Rather it is the story of, as the title suggests, an awesome reformer living in Federated Malaya. It places special emphasis on social,economic and to a lesser extent political aspects of the Chinese community in Perak and Penang in Malaysia. Full of photographs, it provides a fascinating glimpse into a by-gone era in Perak and Penang. As a result, the book remains persuasive, cogent and enjoyable.
– Ishtiaq Hossain, Asiatic, Vol. 9, No. 2, December 2015 259

The life of Cheah Cheang Lim as a spokesman for change is an inseparable part of Anglo-Chinese Malayan history. In Francis Cooray’s story and Khoo Salma Nasution’s account of socioeconomic transitions in Perak and Penang, we are reminded of some of the transnational factors that laid the foundations of modern Malaysia. Both the outline of one man’s life and the well-researched study of what made him a tireless reformer deserve to be read by all who wonder about the country’s multifarious history. It is time for other such stories to be written in order that Malaysia’s rich past is not lost.
– Wang Gungwu, National University of Singapore

About the Author

Khoo Salma Nasution is a writer, publisher and heritage advocate of Penang. Her recent publication The Chulia in Penang (2014) has been shortlisted for the ICAS Book Prize 2015.

Francis Frederic Cooray (1890-1963) was born in Ambalangoda, Sri Langka, and later moved to Malaya in 1918 with his wife and first son, Dodwell. The author was also a professional Sri Langkan journalist in Malaya for 29 years. A survivor of the Japanese Occupation and former protem secretary of the Ceylon Association of Malaya (1920), Francis Cooray was also highly interested in Malaya and Sri Lanka’s political progress.


Table of Contents

Message by Tan Sri Dr Cheah Cheng Kooi

Foreword by Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim

Preface by Khoo Salma Nasution

The Life of Cheah Cheang Lim by Francis Cooray

Chapter 1: Cheah Teah Migrates to Penang

Chapter 2: Cheah Boon Hean on the Taiping Frontier

Chapter 3: Cheah Cheang Lim’s Early Years

Chapter 4: Schooling in Taiping

Chapter 5: Working for the Perak Post and the Tin King

Chapter 6: The Anti-Opium Movement

Chapter 7: Good Works

Chapter 8: The Volunteers

Chapter 9: Federal Councillor

Chapter 10: A Life Well Lived

The Times of Cheah Cheang Lim by Khoo Salma Nasution

The Straits Chinese of Penang—Cheah Cheang Lim’s Family —Cheah’s Early Life—Working for the Tin King—Cutting the Queue—Confucian Revival and Social Reform—Literary and Debating Societies—Anti-Gambling, Anti-Opium—Moving Forward—The Nanyang Club, Beijing—A Home in Penang—The Cheah Kongsi—Volunteerism in Perak—Founder, British Chinese Association of Malaya—Representing the Chinese in the Federal Council—Clerical Union—A British Malayan Chinese Patriot

A Family Album


Appendix 1: The Cheah Kongsi

Appendix 2: Cheah Cheang Lim’s Biographer

Appendix 3: Cheah Cheang Lim and Foo Choo Choon

Appendix 4: The Speeches of Cheah Cheang Lim

Appendix 5: Cheah Cheang Lim’s Letters to the Editor

Glossary of Chinese Names



Weight 600 g
Dimensions 23.6 × 15.8 × 1.8 cm


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