Last month, my niece came to visit me during a break from her studies at Oxford. Whip-smart and bookish, she had received a scholarship from a Hong Kong trading house. This company's origins were linked to the opium trade and its fortunes intertwined with the history of Hong Kong itself. In our family, we chuckle at what is deemed as 'coming full circle", given that our forefathers traded in opium as well.
Back in March, I made the poignant and curious excursion to Bukit Brown cemetery. I did not want to go alone and therefore invited my friend, May, to join me on the private tour. She was keen to do so herself because her ancestor, Tan Kheam Hock, had been instrumental in persuading the colonial government to provide the land for this particular cemetery. She mentioned that she was also descended from Tan Kim Ching. The name rang a bell and sure enough, I recalled reading an article about a lawsuit between Tan Kim Ching and Cheang Hong Lim (my great-great-grandfather) over "pump and dump" tactics in the sale of opium. My ancestor had apparently manipulated the opium market and destabilized the fortunes of his competitors who included Tan Kim Ching. As Carl Trocki had written in his book, "Singapore: Wealth, Power and the Culture of Control":
"During the tenure of Chiu Sin Yong's Revenue Farming syndicate in Singapore, backed by Khoo Thean Poh, Tan Kim Ching testified against Cheang Hong Lim and his group who had mobilized all of their allies and affiliates and organized a conspiracy to scuttle Chiu's farming syndicate. Tan Kim Cheng's testimony was a godsend for Chiu and Khoo. Tan Kim Ching and his father Tan Tock Seng, representing most of the Malacca-born Hockien, led the Haizhang group while their arch rivals Cheang Sam Teo and his son, Cheang Hong Lim led the Zhang Hai group, the division between Hockien migrants from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou."
May and I had a good laugh.....and an even bigger surprise to learn that the two rivals were buried near each other. Tan Kim Ching's grave is located behind Cheang Hong Lim's.