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Talk: Towkay Blood Ties a talk by Andrew Tan
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venue: Possibility Room. Level 5, National Library. 100 Victoria Street
date | time: Saturday, 4 Dec 2010 | 3.00 pm –5.00 pm
admission: Free and open to the public
enquiries: Wendy Chua (


Towkay families in Singapore intermarried with their allies in business and politics. From 1819 until disrupted by WW2, arranged marriages were the basis of trust underlying joint business ventures, partnerships, and mergers. This was when private agreements were not inked out. And long before labour unions, good relations with heads of clans, who controlled the coolies, were linked matrimonially.


Their relatives in government committees lobbied monopolistic interests by “laissez-faire” policies and public contracts. Family cliques aided foreign warlords for lucrative markets, utilizing their banks (investment funds), newspapers (propaganda editorials) and quasi-political institutions (leadership usurped to spearhead PR and donations).


Unlike Asian genealogies, women are included: highborn matriarchs, dowered with landed estates, bequeathed their properties to descendants. Such estates remain. This lineage chart spans 140 years (1819-1959) of strategic unions, reflecting the economic and political ambitions of towkay families.


Image attached shows the arranged marriage between the Pang (co-founder of today’s UOB) & Tan families (bride’s lineage: Tan Kheam Hock, Choa Kim Keat, Tan Kim Ching & Tan Tock Seng); bridegroom Charles tops the occasion by presenting $2000 to the colonial government’s War Fund on 24 June 1940, at the family villa, No. 1 Balmoral Road. Officiated by Dr Lim Boon Keng (top right); also present, the Pangs’ ward & future brotherin-law, Lim Kim San.


Andrew Tan is a freelance researcher for the National Library. He is currently recreating his childhood through his dwelling, a 3-dimensional Singapore Memory project. Different branches of his family dumped their inter-War stuff on him (having kept the earlier, more valued “Peranakan” items; whilst overlooking Art Deco, the style in Singapore from 1930s-1950s). But it was those decades when the family evolved from merchant-bankers to politicians. So the artefacts of this period were personal effects of some pre-PAP political figures. Included in his family collection are his family’s Singapore books from before the war, notably the 1922 edition of Song Ong Siang’s (indirect kin through my great-granduncle who got the OBE).


Read Towkay Blood Ties poster

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