Chan Kun Shing 陈观圣

1873 - 1937
Doctor, public official and social worker

Chan Kun Shing was born in Gao Nan village, Shantou (Swatow), in Pu Ning County in Guangdong province, China, on October 10, 1873, and was the son of a well-known physician. 

As a child, Chan was raised in the Christian faith. When he came of age, he was sent to the Alice Memorial Medical College in Hong Kong to be educated from 1893 to 1898. There, he was a classmate of Sun Yat Sen, the future revolutionary and president of the Republic of China. One of his teachers at the college was a certain Dr Thompson, a devoted member of the London Missionary Society. At the same time, Chan was also employed as an apothecary’s assistant at the Hong Kong Government Civil Hospital. 

After graduating with distinction, Chan was employed as a house surgeon (1898-1899) at the Nethersole Hospital, established by the London Missionary Society in 1887. He got the position due in no small part to Dr Thompson’s recommendations, which was a testament to Chan’s brilliance. At the time, the Nethersole Hospital had the honour of being the first hospital in Hong Kong established to train the local Cantonese in Western medical science. Chan was also a public vaccinator in Hong Kong from 1897 to 1899. 

Chan left Nethersole Hospital in 1899 after he got his Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery (LMSH). He took the Christian teachings of his mentor Dr Thompson to heart, and these would continue to shape his view on societal improvement. Making his way to Singapore, Chan then sought work as an assistant to the famous physician and social and educational reformer Dr Lim Boon Keng at Sincere Dispensary (九思堂西药房), also known as Kewsutong. The dispensary was located on Hill Street, with a branch on Chulia Street, in British-administered Singapore.[1] The first Synod of the Presbyterian Church was held in Singapore in 1901, and Chan later served as the scribe of the fourth Synod of the Singapore Presbyterian Church.[2]

In February 1902, Chan left Singapore for Penang and founded the Lee Chye Dispensary[3] at 29, King Street.[4] A few months later, the dispensary was moved to 258, Carnarvon Street, in front of Seh Teoh Kongsi.[5] His dispensary was where Chan shared the gospel with patients and propagated the Word of God. In his autobiography Plague Fighter: The Autobiography of a Modern Chinese Physician, Dr Wu Lien Teh mentioned that when he started his practice in Penang in the latter half of 1904, there were only three other Chinese doctors of Western medicine in Penang, Chan being one of them. This made Chan one of the premier physicians on the island, a position he used to further the Kingdom of God.[6] He also served at the Lam Wah Ee Hospital, a community hospital founded in 1883 that was sponsored by the Chinese community in Penang. Working at the hospital was another avenue for Chan to spread Christ’s teachings.[7]

Chan also proved himself a capable businessman by investing in the rubber industry. He subsequently took over the sole proprietorship of Junjong Rubber Estate near Simpang Ampat, Penang, and also owned several rubber estates in Kedah and Province Wellesley. With these resources in hand, Chan invested in Sungei Kinta Prospecting Syndicate, another successful venture following the discovery of tin and silver in the area.[8] The growth of his businesses did not prevent him from being active in social work. He was invited by the Chinese YMCA Reading Room (中华基督教青年会阅览室, which later changed its name to Sin Chew Reading Room 星洲书报社) to give a talk on August 21, 1905.[9] The reading room was founded by the Rev Tay Sek Tin (郑聘廷), the first Chinese pastor of the Presbyterian Hokkien church together with John A.B. Cook, on December 11, 1902 [10]to provide reading materials for the Chinese community in Penang and Singapore for evangelism purposes.

His active social work, evangelism and business activities made Chan a prominent member of the Penang Chinese community. He worked with Wu Lien Teh to establish the Penang Anti-Opium Association in 1906, demonstrating a clear alignment of his Christian principles with the wider social cause of eradicating drug use in Malaya. Chan was also the vice-president of the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce (1914-1916). At the same time, he was a member of the Penang Chinese Town Hall (平章会馆) Sanitary Board [11], Chinese Advisory Board [12], and Chinese Recreation Club.[13] As an important figure in the Teochew community, he donated money to support the establishment of the Penang Han Chiang Primary School in 1919. The school was founded by the Teochew Association of Penang and its towkay (headman) Lim Lean Teng, and was officially opened in 1920.[14]

Chan was married to Foo Hock Teck’s sister and the couple had two sons, Kai Way and Khai Tian, and two daughters – Sok Hian and Sok Choo.[15]Chan Kun Shing passed away in Penang in 1937 and was buried at Western Road Cemetery.[16]


  1. ^ 
  2. ^  
  3. ^ The Straits Echo (Mail Edition), February 12, 1910. 
  4. ^ Pinang Gazette and Straits Chronicle, March 22, 1902, 1. 
  5. ^ Pinang Gazette and Straits Chronicle, June 16, 1902, 1. 
  6. ^ Plague Fighter, 232.
  7. ^ The Straits Echo (Mail Edition), September 18, 1908.  
  8. ^  Pinang Gazette and Straits Chronicle, March 28, 1925, 4. 
  9. ^ 
  10. ^ 
  11. ^ Goh Leng Hoon, Penang Chinese Town Hall, Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce And Early 20th Century Penang Chinese Societies: Bang, Leadership And Interaction, 2007, PhD Thesis, ScholarBank@NUS Repository. 
  12. ^  Straits Echo, December 24, 1917,  8. 
  13. ^  The Straits Echo (Mail Edition), February 14, 1913. 
  14. ^ 
  15. ^ Died at the age of 9. The Straits Echo (Mail Edition), July 8, 1910. 
  16. ^ Pinang Gazette and Straits Chronicle, August 23, 1937, 8. 


Tan Miau Ing

The writer is a senior lecturer at the Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya.