Tan Kah Kee Foundation

Singapore Infopedia


The Tan Kah Kee Foundation was originally known as the Tan Kah Kee Scholarship Fund. It was established by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce in 1961 in honour of Tan Kah Kee (陈嘉庚), a prominent Chinese businessman, pioneer and philanthropist, who contributed extensively to the field of education in Singapore by setting up several educational institutions. The Tan Kah Kee Scholarship Fund became the Tan Kah Kee Scholarship Trust Fund in 1968; it was converted into the Tan Kah Kee Foundation in 1982.1

Tan Kah Kee (b. 21 October 1874, Jimei, Tong'an, Quanzhou, Fujian, China–d. 12 August 1961, Beijing, China) arrived in Singapore in 1890 as a 17-year-old seeking and making his fortune within the next 50 years.2 Besides building up a huge business empire comprising pineapple canning, brickwork, shipping, and rubber manufacturing and processing, Tan was also a philanthropist devoted to the cause of education. He helped set up many schools here, including the Tao Nan School, Ai Tong School, Nan Chiau High School and Chongfu Primary School.3

In 1918, Tan founded the first Chinese secondary school in Singapore, Nanyang Chinese High School, at Bukit Timah Road.4 He also donated a large amount of money to establish Anglo-Chinese School and Raffles College. In 1956, along with Tan Lark Sye, Tan co-founded Nanyang University, the precursor of the present-day Nanyang Technological University, and the National University of Singapore.5

When Tan passed away in August 1961, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce held a memorial service in his honour on 10 September. The memorial service drew a crowd of more than 5,000 representatives from over 280 associations and clans who came to pay their respects.6 With a donation of S$100,000 by the participants, the Tan Kah Kee scholarship fund was established during this event to keep Tan's spirit of education alive.7 The first two undergraduate scholarships limited to science students at the University of Singapore and Nanyang University were announced in April 1968.8 Subsequently, scholarships were extended to Ngee Ann Technical College and Singapore Polytechnic in 1973.9 In 1982, the fund was converted into the Tan Kah Kee Foundation, with plans to raise $5 million in five years and to grant awards to people who have made outstanding contributions to society.10 By September 1983, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry announced that over $4.4 million had already been raised.11

The Foundation also began offering postgraduate scholarships starting with the Tan Kah Kee Postgraduate Fellowship in 1983.12 This was followed by the Tan Ean Kiam Postgraduate Scholarship in the Humanities in 2011; and the Li Siong Tay Postgraduate Scholarship launched in 2018.13

Other activities
In 1986, Nobel Laureate Professor Yang Chen Ning, an advisor and mentor of the foundation, raised the idea of a Young Inventors' Award to encourage young people to be innovative and creative.14 The Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors' Award was thus established that year with two categories: "Open" and "Student".15 A third Defence Science category was introduced in 2002.16

Since 1984, the foundation has been inviting prominent scholars and professionals from various countries to hold lectures on topics related to science, education and arts for the Singaporean public. Known as the Tan Kah Kee Forum, the public lectures have been delivered by eminent personalities such as Nobel Laureates Yang Chen Ning in 1987 and Lee Yuan Tseh in 1988.17

The foundation also made a donation of $1.5 million to the NTU Endowment Fund; this was matched by the government for a total of $3 million to establish an NTU Professorship. The Tan Kah Kee Professorship was launched on Tan Kah Kee's birthday, 21 October 1996,18 with Daniel W.Y. Kwok, Emeritus Professor at the University of Hawaii, being its first awardee. Kwok was appointed the Tan Kah Kee Professor in History at the National Institute of Education.19

Pioneers’ Memorial Hall in Ee Hoe Hean Club
When the Ee Hoe Hean Club was reconstructed in 2002–2007 due to damage caused by MRT works, the Tan Kah Kee Foundation contributed $1 million and started a Pioneers’ Memorial Hall on the Club’s ground floor that opened in 2008.20 The Hall featured Tan Kah Kee and other Chinese pioneers such as Lee Kong Chian, Lim Nee Soon and Lim Chwee Chian.21 Tan Kah Kee was one of the Club’s past Chairmen, and had used the Club to raise money to fight the Japanese from the 1920s to the 1940s.22

Similar foundations
In 1998, Tan Kah Kee’s relatives founded a Tan Kah Kee prize and entrusted it to the Chinese Academy of Sciences.23 In 2003, this became the Tan Kah Kee Science Award Foundation which awards prizes to scientists from China on a biennial basis.24 In 2011, the Malaysian Tan Kah Kee Foundation was started to promote the Tan Kah Kee spirit and establish a Tan Kah Kee Memorial Hall.25


Naidu Ratnala Thulaja & Timothy Pwee

1. “Tan Kah Kee Forum to Focus on Information Technology,” Straits Times, 28 November 1989, 23 (From NewspaperSG); “About,” Tan Kah Kee Foundation, accessed 2 June 2017; C. F. Yong, Tan Kah-Kee: The Making of an Overseas Chinese Legend (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1987), 354. (Call no. RSING 338.040924 YON)
2. Yong, Tan Kah-Kee, 1; Hew Kuan Yau, Tan Kah-Kee: Pictorial Stories of a Legendary Overseas Chinese in English and Chinese (Singapore: Confonian, 1995), v. (Call no. RSING 338.04092 HEW) 
3. Yang Jinfa 者杨进发, Chen jiageng xian sheng zhuan lue 陈嘉庚先生传略 [A short biography of Tan Kah Kee] ([Singapore]: Council of Tan Kah Kee Foundation, 1987), 11–23. (Call no. Chinese RCLOS 959.57020924 YCF)
4. Yong, Making of an Overseas Chinese Legend, 88, 106, 110.
5. Yong, Making of an Overseas Chinese Legend, 18, 110, 140, 304; Tan Kah Kee Foundation, “About”; Yang Jin Fa, Chen jiageng xian sheng zhuan lue, 11–23.
6. “Nobel Laureate to Deliver Tan Kah Kee Lecture,” Business Times, 5 October 1988, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Tan Kah Kee Foundation, “About”; Yong, Making of an Overseas Chinese Legend, 1.
7. “Millionaires at Meeting,” Straits Times, 11 September 1961, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “2 Study Grants By TKK Trust,” Straits Times, 18 April 1968, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Tan Kah Kee Annual Grants,” Straits Times, 8 July 1972, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “New Foundation to Present ‘Honour Awards’,” Straits Times, 1 September 1982, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “$200,000 Boost for Scholarship Fund,” Straits Times, 22 September 1983, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Chenjiageng jijin jinnian qi ban gaojí xuewei jiangxuejin” 陈嘉庚基金今年起颁高级学位奖学金 [Tan Kah Kee Foundation to award advanced degree scholarships this year], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 3 June 1983, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Lin Huihui 林慧慧, “Chénjiāgēng jījīn huì zhù yánjiūshēng yuánmèng: Zēngshè chényánqiān gāojí xuéwèi jiǎngxuéjīn (rénwén)” 陈嘉庚基金会助研究生圆梦: 增设陈延谦高级学位奖学金(人文) [The Tan Kah Kee Foundation helps postgraduate students realize their dreams: the addition of the Tan Yanqian Advanced Degree Scholarship (Humanities)], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 6 August 2011, 14 (From NewspaperSG); “Facing Challenges With Resilience and Innovation While Giving Back,” Singapore Government News, 19 July 2018 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); “Postgraduate Scholarships,” Tan Kah Kee Foundation, accessed 3 April 2020. 
14. “Nobel Prize Physicist May Chair Forum Next Year,” Straits Times, 28 October 1986, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Grace Chng, “Search Is On for Young Inventors,” Straits Times, 23 May 1986, 36. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “That Award-Winning Idea May Be a Money-Spinner,” Straits Times, 24 March 2002, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Nobel Scientist to Give Talk Today,” Straits Times, 14 October 1987, 17 (From NewspaperSG); “Nobel Laureate to Deliver Tan Kah Kee Lecture.”
18. “A Professorship to Mark Chinese Legend Tan Kah Kee’s Birthday,” NTU News 23 (January 1997), 1 (Call no. RCLOS 378.5957 NTUN); “University Endowment Fund,” Tan Kah Kee Foundation, accessed 3 April 2020. 
19. “Professorship to Mark Chinese Legend,” 1; Asad Latiff, “China Will Survive, and Benefit from Democracy,” Straits Times, 4 September 1998, 59. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Leong Weng Kam, “Historic Gentlemen’s Club Opens Its Doors,” Straits Times, 19 October 2008, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Leong Weng Kam, “Hall to Honour Chinese Pioneers,” Straits Times, 17 July 2008, 30; Serene Luo, "‘Hall of Fame’ for Pioneers of Finance," Straits Times, 10 November 2008, 27. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Luo, “‘Hall of fame’.” 
23. “Chenjiageng kexue jiang jijin huì quanxin liangxiang: Sanqian wan ben jin shíxíng ziben yunzuo” 陈嘉庚科学奖基金会全新亮相: 三千万本金实行资本运作 [ The Tan Kah Kee Science Award Foundation makes a new appearance: Capital operation of 30 million principal], China Economic Information Network中国经济信息网, 19 June 2003. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
24. “Chenjiageng kexue jiang jijin huì quanxin liangxiang."
25. “Huo qiye jia rentong zhichí chenjiageng jijin huíxiang relie” 获企业家认同支持 陈嘉庚基金回响热烈 [Recognized and supported by entrepreneurs, Tan Kah Kee Foundation responded enthusiastically], Nanyang Siang Pau 南洋商, 30 October 2011. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)

The information in this article is valid as at April 2020 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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