Tan Siew Sin

Tan Siew Sin (simplified Chinese: 陈修信; traditional Chinese: 陳修信; pinyin: Chén Xīuxìn; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Tân Siu-sìn; 21 May 1916 — 17 March 1988) was a Malayan (later Malaysian) politician who was the first Minister of Commerce and Industry, Finance Minister for 15 years, and third president of the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA, later Malaysian Chinese Association), a major component party of Alliance and later National Front (BN) coalition.

Tan Siew Sin

3rd President of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA)
In office
November, 1961  April 8, 1974
Preceded byCheah Toon Lok (Acting)
Lim Chong Eu
Succeeded byLee San Choon
Malaysian Minister of Finance
In office
August 22, 1959  April 8, 1974
Prime MinisterTunku Abdul Rahman
Abdul Razak
Preceded byH.S. Lee
Succeeded byHussein Onn
Personal details
Born(1916-05-21)May 21, 1916
Jalan Heeren, Malacca
DiedMarch 17, 1988(1988-03-17) (aged 71)
Kuala Lumpur
Political party
Malayan Chinese Association (MCA)
Spouse(s)Toh Puan Catherine Lim Cheng Neo (林清娘)
RelationsSon of Tun Dato' Sri Tan Cheng Lock
Children3 daughters
ResidenceKuala Lumpur

Early life

The only son of Malaysian statesman and MCA founder Tan Cheng Lock, Tan Siew Sin was born on 21 May 1916 in Malacca. He was of Baba heritage and did not speak Mandarin.[1] He was educated at Malacca High School in Malacca[2] and then at Raffles College in Singapore. Before then, he was also sent by his father to a Girls School, that is Suydaim Girls School which is now the Methodist High School.

In 1935, he felt ill and was diagnosed as having tuberculosis. He fully recovered after an operation in Switzerland for treatment. Three years later, he moved on to his higher education in the field of law in England. He never completed his legal studies. Fearing an outbreak of war in Europe, in July 1939 Tun Tan Cheng Lock ordered him and his two sisters to leave London and return to Malacca. On Sept 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, an event that marked the start of World War II. For this reason, He studied only one year of law. He returned from London to take over the family's plantation business in 1939.[3]

Political career

Tan Siew Sin was elected a Member of Parliament for Malacca in 1955.[4] He joined the Malaysian cabinet first as minister of trade and industry, and later became the finance minister in 1959.[5] He then took over as president of the MCA in November 1961, and held on to both positions until 1974. Tan was appointed the Deputy Chairman of the Alliance in 1964. He led his party to victory in the 1964 General Election, winning 27 of the 33 parliamentary seats contested.[4]

Tan however came under criticism for not pushing for the recognition of Mandarin as an official language and the establishment of a Mandarin language university.[1] In March 1968, Tan proposed setting up the Tunku Abdul Rahman College for Chinese youths who would otherwise be denied an opportunity to tertiary education. The college was formally set up in February 24, 1969.[4] Under Tan's stewardship, the MCA also set up Koperasi Serbaguna Malaysia (KSM), an initiative of MCA Youth based on the cooperative principle.[6]

In the 1969 general election, MCA lost more than half its seats to the new, mainly Chinese Malaysian, opposition parties Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (Gerakan). Tan considered taking the party out of the Alliance but decided against it. In order to regain Chinese support, Tan attempted to broaden the appeal of the party previously seen as a party of the taukeh (tou jia, rich men), and invited professionals to join the party.[7] Other initiatives included the Chinese Unity Movement and the Perak Task Force to help built support in New Villages in Perak.[1] In 1973, Tan Siew Sin requested a position as Deputy Prime Minister in the cabinet reshuffle following the death of Tun Dr. Ismail, but this was refused by Tun Abdul Razak, which angered Tan.[8] Tan retired from politics on 8 April 1974 after undergoing lung surgey. After his resignation he became a financial advisor to the government on economic issues.[1]

Business career

After his retirement from politics, Tan was nominated chairman of Sime Darby by Tun Hussein Onn. He was also the chairman of United Malacca Rubber Estates, and sat on the boards of a number of companies, including Unitac, Siemens, Pacific Bank, Highlands & Lowlands, and Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance.[1]


Tan Siew Sin died on 17 March 1988 in Kuala Lumpur, and was buried in the family burial ground in Malacca.[9]

His widow, Catherine Lim Cheng Neo, whom he married on February 8, 1947 was an active campaigner for family planning. They had three daughters.

In Kuala Lumpur, there is a street, Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin (formerly Jalan Silang) which was renamed after him in 2003. At Tunku Abdul Rahman University College 's Main Campus in Kuala Lumpur there is a new building named after him, known as "Bangunan Tun Tan Siew Sin".


Honours of Malaysia


  • Pioners FFPAM (Federation of Family Planning Associations, Malaysia) website, accessed 20 August 2005.
  • World Book Encyclopedia, Australasian edition, 1966
Political offices
Preceded by
Cheah Toon Lok (Acting)
Lim Chong Eu
Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) President
November, 1961 – April 8, 1974
Succeeded by
Lee San Choon
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