Tan Siak Kew
L to R: Tan Puay Hiang, former president SR Nathan, NUS President Prof Tan Chorh Chuan

The man who founded then-Nanyang University was in the spotlight recently, when his biography was launched at National University of Singapore (NUS). Titled Tan Siak Kew: Going Against the Grain, the book tells the story of a businessman who sacrificed profit for the greater good. Rather than capitalise on the fragility of post-colonial Singapore for his own gain, for example, the China-born rice merchant (1903 – 1977) pioneered the movement towards a free-market that would encourage competitive pricing.

Written by Fiona Tan (no association to the man himself), the book sketches Tan’s public life through historical records and discussions with his contemporaries. It delves into his role, for example, as the first ambassador to Thailand, where he helped bridge the gap between English- and Chinese-speaking communities.

The event saw former president Mr SR Nathan delivering a speech, as well as president of NUS Tan Chorh Chuan, and Tan’s youngest son, Tan Puay Hiang. To commemorate the occasion, the Tan family will make a new donation, taking the Tan Siak Kew Scholarship Fund to over $1 million. This goes towards the new Tan Siak Kew-NUS Undergraduate (Merit) Scholarship that supports law and economics students.