Wong Ah Fook: an Immigrant, Builder and Entrepreneur

Wong Ah Fook, full name Wong Fook Kee [黄福基] (12 March 1837 – 12 September 1918) was a well-known builder, businessman and philanthropist in Singapore and Johor Bahru, Malaya, in the late 19th and early 20th century.

About Wong Ah Fook

Wong Ah Fook was born on 12 March 1837 in Taishan, Guangdong province, China. At the age of 17, he arrived in Singapore and apprenticed himself to a carpenter before moving on to building construction.

As a builder, his most important job in Singapore was the construction of the Victoria Memorial Hall, but it was in Johor that the legacy he left behind as a builder is most visible. He won the patronage of Sultan Abu Bakar and as the chief government contractor, he built many heritage buildings in Johor, most notably the Istana Besar or Grand Palace.

As an entrepreneur, he was involved in agriculture (pepper, gambier, and rubber), revenue farming (privatisation of government monopolies), gambling (leisure industries), and properties with investments in both Singapore and Johor. His most visionary undertaking was the establishment of the first local bank, the Kwong Yik Bank. Although the bank failed, it led the Chinese in Malaya to venture into the world of modern finance.

VIII/10 Letter from Dato’ Abdullah Mohamed, to Datin Patricia Lim Pui Huen, dated 25 Nov 1993, on Wong Ah Fook’s role in early Johor Bahru.

As a community leader, he donated generously to charity. In Singapore, he founded the Kwong Wai Shui Hospital that still provides services to the community today. The founding of Yeung Ching School in Singapore, Foon Yew School in Johor Bahru, and Zhiben School in Yanjingcun, Taishan are his lasting legacy to future generations.

Wong Ah Fook passed away on 12 September 1918 in Singapore, and he was buried at the Kwong Wai Siu Pek San Theng in Bishan, Singapore.

The Wong Ah Fook Collection

In 2017, ISEAS Library was privileged to be the recipient of the Wong Ah Fook Collection from the family of Wong Ah Fook and Datin Patricia Lim Pui Huen, who is the great-grand daughter of Wong Ah Fook as well as the founding librarian of ISEAS. The collection contains family documents and research materials relating to the late Wong Ah Fook. Materials from the collection are available for consultation in the ISEAS Library.

This article is an edited excerpt from “A Short Biography of Wong Ah Fook: An Extract from The Family Book of Wong Ah Fook” in Wong Ah Fook Collection: A Descriptive Catalogue of A Collection of Research Materials on An Immigrant, Builder and Entrepreneur.

Further Readings

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