Loaded Loke Yew

Loaded Loke Yew (1846-1917) 陸佑

I wonder how many of you are hoping to study at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) one day. If you do, you’ll probably notice that the hall of the university’s main building is called “Loke Yew Hall”. Interestingly, businessman Loke Yew, whom the hall is named after, had no education himself. In fact he was born into a peasant family in Guangdong and orphaned at a very early age. From 1858, when he arrived in Singapore as a “free immigrant”, he worked in a shop for four years.

8How did this young man become “the most enterprising Chinese I know”, according to the first Resident-General of modern-day Malaysia? Through hard work and an eye for business. First, he saved up enough money to open his own shop. Then, when the British (who occupied Malaysia at the time) auctioned off mining rights to Chinese migrants, he bought many. Soon he was operating twelve tin mines. He expanded them quickly by bringing in workers via Hong Kong.

By the 1890’s, Loke Yew was loaded, having a vast business empire in the areas of gambling, pawn-broking, opium, rubber and rice. He also had interests in cars, steamships and engineering. With his profits, he bought real estate in Kuala Lumpur as well as Singapore, where a whole street is still named after him.

Loke Yew’s incredible wealth brought him respect in Chinese communities all around Southeast Asia. He garnered even more admiration by his philanthropy, especially in the area of education. How did he get HKU’s main hall named after him? By giving a large donation towards the construction of its building in 1911. Four years later he offered the university an additional $500,000 interest-free loan. In recognition of his extraordinary generosity, he was awarded an honorary doctorate.

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