We are mourning the passing of the late Tan Kai Hee, a prominent figure in our national historical formation. Through his political activism, since he was young, he is committed to the idea of building a just and egalitarian society. Our deepest condolences to the family of the late Tan Kai Hee. The remarks shared below are from the circle of the late Tan Kai Hee’s companions.
By Syed Hussin Ali (Director, Lembaga Penasihat Yayasan Usman Awang & Chairperson, Pusat Sejarah Rakyat)
On behalf of Yayasan Usman Awang (YUA) and Pusat Sejarah Rakyat (PSR), I would like to convey our deepest condolence on the passing of Tan Kai Hee. His passing is a huge loss to our multiracial community in Malaysia, as well as for me personally. I have known Kai Hee since 1960 and was being introduced by his comrade, Dr. M. K. Rajakumar. I am aware of his stature as a figure who is involved in progressive politics in his struggle for national unity and defending those who are marginalized and oppressed. He is a well-known philanthropist and has been contributing a lot to people’s welfare and education. He is also one of Usman Awang’s close friends. He founded Yayasan Usman Awang (YUA) and was financially active in contributing to the foundation activities. Among others, in organizing Anugerah Integrasi Nasional. Tan Kai Hee’s contribution to the nation is immense. He is well respected and will be long remembered.
By Abdul Rahman Embong (Board member of Pusat Sejarah Rakyat)
The passing of Mr Tan Kai Hee, aged 85, is a sad day for multiethnic Malaysia. We have just lost a dedicated patriot, a genuine champion of unity whose mission was to build bridges and cross divides between different ethnic communities, and an entrepreneur-cum-philanthropist with a generous heart. He was in the leadership roles of the Labour Party and Socialist Front in the 1960s, and was detained under the Internal Security Act for eight years. He remained steadfast to his principles as a socialist, and forever committed to give back to the community. He was humble and kind with a sense of loyalty to his comrades. His life and deeds will always be remembered.
By Poh Soo Kai (Board member of Pusat Sejarah Rakyat)
Comrade Tan Kai Hee departed on 22 February 2022. Pusat Sejarah Rakyat Berhad (PSR) would like to thank him and his late wife and comrade Tan Siow Eng, for kick-starting the organization with a generous donation about a decade back. Board members and members of PSR are writing their individual eulogy to this great friend on the PSR website.
Comrade Tan Kai Hee was a founder member of the Tan Kah Kee Foundation in Kuala Lumpur, which commemorates the Tan Kah Kee Spirit with an award to deserving recipients. What is the Tan Kah Kee Spirit? Surely, none other than Tan Kai Hee himself is a most befitting recipient of this award. Tan Kai Hee belongs to the Merdeka Generation that fought for the independence of Malaya from British colonialism. He began as a student activist in Singapore on May 13, 1954, Chinese High School Student’s protest against compulsory military service under British rule. That historical movement revived the open and peaceful struggle for Merdeka after the brutal suppression of the so-called Emergency of 1948-60.
Returning to Malaya, which later became Malaysia, Kai Hee continued his constitutional non-violent struggle for Merdeka and a new nation under the Labour Party. It was there that he forged his lasting friendship with the late Dr. Rajakumar, who was also my dear comrade from our youthful days in the University Socialist Club in Singapore. I believe it was through Dr. Rajakumar that I became acquainted with Kai Hee much later. Imprisonment under the ISA (Internal Security Act) in the 1960s was the unavoidable baptism of fire awaiting all left-wing political activists, who desired a nation and society that would treat its poor and working-class, justly and with dignity. No less than such a fate befell Kai Hee. Emerging from Batu Gajah Detention Camp in the early 1970s, Kai Hee and his wife Tan Siow Eng, went on to found the successful enterprise Hai-O. Thus was born the well-known philanthropist, Tan Kai Hee.
However, Tan Kai Hee the philanthropist remained rooted in his vision of the multi-racial, multicultural Malaysia that he had fought for. Answering Zhou Enlai’s Bandung Conference call for ethnic Chinese outside of China to adopt their new homeland, he was, above all, a proud Malaysian Chinese and not an overseas Chinese. His abiding friendship with Dr. Rajakumar and Usman Awang, the beloved Poet Laureate and People’s Poet, testifies volumes to this principled stand. As a philanthropist, he generously gave his wealth back to society to charities that uplift the human condition but the initiatives that hold a special place in his heart are those that advanced his dearly held vision of a united multi-racial and multicultural nation that is advanced, just and appreciative of its poor and working people. Who could be more deserving of the Tan Kah Kee Spirit Award than Tan Kai Hee himself?
With enduring respect.
By Diana Wong (Board member of Pusat Sejarah Rakyat)
Tan Kai Hee was a proud Malaysian Chinese. He told me that hearing Chou Enlai speak at the Bandung conference in 1955 calling upon Chinese in Southeast Asia to identify with their country of birth, he immediately applied for Malayan citizenship. He never failed in his lifelong commitment to making Malaysia a better home for all, as a socialist, an entrepreneur, and a philanthropist. We have lost one of our best. There are few left.
By Toh Kin Woon (Board member of Pusat Sejarah Rakyat)
Kai Hee impressed me as a very humble and caring person. He was highly principled, sticking firmly to his belief in a just and equal society throughout his adult life. In line with this, he partook in and supported many social activities aimed at equalizing life chances. I had the honor and pleasure of knowing and working with him.
By Khong Kim Hoong (Board member of Pusat Sejarah Rakyat)
Kai Hee was a stalwart in the Labour Party. Like many of his comrades, he continued the struggle, despite all the punishment and obstacles imposed on him. May he rest in peace.
By Por Heong Hong (Board member of Pusat Sejarah Rakyat)
I’m too junior to write anything more than some very personal and trivial recollections. I can only remember when I was a kid, my mom brought me to visit Uncle Kai Hee’s family in Klang. We kids were playing, while the adults had their conversation on topics we did not understand. Not until the last ten years that I am increasingly drawn to making sense of the postwar history of our country, in which Uncle Kai Hee played a significant role in trying to shape the path of a newborn country.
May Uncle Kai Hee rest in peace.
By Koh Kay Yew (Board member of Pusat Sejarah Rakyat)
I first met Kai Hee in the early 90s when Syed Hamid returned from the border and worked for him. He generously hosted a superb Chinese dinner which included in the guest list a Thai General involved in the Peace Talks. Hai-O, the company is best known for creating an extensive direct sales network for Chinese medicine and other products which provided ex-political detainees and returned comrades with earning opportunities for their sustenance. Kai Hee was well known for his generosity and support, especially for ex-labor Party members and those who are related.
I salute him for his steadfast struggle and commitments.
The statements commemorating the late Tan Kai Hee are also available in Malay HERE.