Lee Kong Chian was among the most influential Chinese entrepreneurs in the Asian diasporic landscape from the 1920s to 1960s. In 1903, as a young boy, he migrated from China to then-British Singapore. He went on to build a formidable plantation-based business empire. Known in his heyday as Southeast Asia’s “Rubber King” and “Pineapple King,” he left profound imprints on business, education, and philanthropy that can still be felt in the region today.
Lee Kong Chian lived through tumultuous times: the rise of Chinese nationalism, World War II, British decolonization, independent state formation, and the Cold War. Different impressions of him have been produced and projected at different times in different places: as “a leading capitalist and philanthropist in Nanyang,” “a representative patriot of the Chinese Diaspora,” and “a virtuous pioneer in the revised national history template.” After reviewing these images, Prof. Huang will move “beyond representation” to explore less well-known aspects of Lee’s life including the nature of his economic empire and the political sensitivity of his position at a time when the sun was setting over the British empire.
Huang Jianli is an associate professor in the Department History at the National University of Singapore and a research associate in the university’s East Asian Institute. His many publications include The Scripting of a National History: Singapore and Its Pasts (2008), Power and Identity in the Chinese World Order (co-edited, 2003) and Macro Perspectives and New Directions in the Studies of Chinese Overseas (co-edited, 2002). Recent journal articles include “Umbilical Ties: The Framing of Overseas Chinese as the Mother of Revolution” (2011), “Portable Histories in Mobile City Singapore: The (Lack)lustre of Admiral Zheng He” (2009), “Chinese Diasporic Culture and National Identity: The Taming of the Tiger Balm Gardens in Singapore” (2007), and “Entanglement of Business and Politics in the Chinese Diaspora: Interrogating the Wartime Patriotism of Aw Boon Haw” (2006). Further details including contact information are accessible at http://profile.nus.edu.sg/fass/hishjl.