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Chong Eu a great Penangite, a great Malaysian, and a great patriot

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Wednesday 24 November 2010 was a sad day for Malaysians, especially Penangites. It was on that day that the beloved Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu passed away.

Chong Eu was born in Penang on Wednesday 28 May 1919 to a young medical doctor Dr Lim Chwee Leong and his wife Cheah Swee Hoon. He was given the name Chong Eu, which roughly translated from Chinese means "heaven's blessing".

Dr Lim Chwee Leong was just 22 years old when he graduated as medical doctor and left his hometown of Singapore to work and settle in Penang. The young doctor's decision to make Penang his permanent abode was certainly a heavenly blessing for the island state as his first child Chong Eu was destined to be the person who would bring abundant blessings to the people of Penang.

Chong Eu was born and grew up during a very exciting epoch-making period of world history, involving two great World Wars, several national revolutions, especially those of Russia and China, many regional wars, including the Korean War and Vietnam War, and the emergence of the anti-colonialism liberation movement in the Third World countries.

Several months before Chong Eu was born, World War I that began in the middle of 1914 had just ended in late 1918. The world was then in the midst of recovering from the Great War, which involved more than 70 million military personnel, with nearly 10 million killed.

And during the month of Chong Eu's birth, an anti-imperialist, cultural, and political movement called the May Fourth Movement was launched in China following student demonstrations in Beijing on 4 May 1919 to protest against the Treaty of Versailles, especially Article 156, which made Shando a territory under the Japanese administration. The May Fourth Movement was in the vogue during 1915 to1921, and was later called the New Culture Movement.

Hence, Chong Eu grew up in a world undergoing a process of transition and transformation, with nary a year passing without any new conflict or crisis somewhere in the world. Obviously, the cultural, socio-political, and intellectual and emotive impact and influence helped mound the growing intelligent young boy destined for greatness.

Chong Eu had his primary and secondary education in Penang. He was originally enrolled in a girls' school, but was transferred to the Hutchings School where he completed his primary education, and went on to study at the famous Penang Free School, which produced, among other national leaders, the first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Chong Eu completed his secondary school in 1937 with excellent scholastic distinction and achievement, and went to England for his tertiary studies in 1938.

Few people know that Chong Eu studied law at Gray's Inn before he took up medical studies at the University of Edinburgh as a King's Scholar, graduating in 1944. His stint at Gray's Inn proved to be a valuable experience and beneficial preparation for his life career as a politician and chief minister.

His time in England, which coincided with the period of World War II, lasting from 1939 to 1945, was not only an adventurous learning experience for him, but an enlightening exposure to the real suffering of people, especially after he observed the cruel atrocity and inhumanity of Nazism in Europe.

Chong Eu said that his decision to enter politics was largely due to the impact and influence of the ferocity of the socio-political storm sweeping the world during his student days in England.

Hence, Chong Eu felt strongly that people of principles should to come forward to stand up and be counted to help make the world a better place to live in.

Chong Eu told me this when I met him in Adelaide during the Penang Festival held there in 1974. I was then the publicity secretary and editor of the Malaysian Students Union in South Australia, and was helping the Penang state government in orginising the first Penang Festival in Adelaide after the twinning of the two cities. Penang was founded by Captain Francis Light in 1786, while Adelaide was established by his grandson Colonel William Light in 1836.

As a politician, Chong Eu represents a rare breed of honest, bold, brave and courageous characters, who are undaunted and fearless in the defence of truth, honesty, freedom, and human rights.

For example, Chong Eu, who joined the MCA in 1952 and was its president from March 1958 to July 1959, quit as the president when he could not accept what he considered as unfair treatment of the party by the then Umno president Tunku Abdul Rahman, and was not fully supported by his party colleagues in his reform plan.

Chong Eu was perhaps the only MCA leader so far who dared to stand up fearlessly to the Umno leadership. He could have "behaved" himself and just do what the Umno leaders wanted him to do, like most of the MCA presidents after him, and he would have been given big position and great honour in the Alliance coalition federal government. But Chong Eu stood firm on his conviction and principles.

Even after his party Gerakan joined the Barisan Nasional in 1972, Chong Eu did not compromise his political beliefs and principles, and was much respected by the various prime ministers and Umno during the term of his office as Gerakan president and chief minister of Penang.

Chong Eu is surely a great Penangite, a great Malaysian, and a great patriot. The nation owns much to this great man. Much more could be written about him, but what is the most significant is that he is one person who has made Penang a great place to live and work in, and Penangites are forever in his debt.

He may be gone, but two great structures in Penang stand as testimonies to this great architect of Penang -- Komtar and the Penang Bridge. Komtar is named after our second Prime Minister Tun Adbul Razak. I think we should name the Penang Bridge after Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu.

MySinchew 2010.11.25

 

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