China Relief Fund
When the Sino-Japanese War erupted on 7 July 1937, the news spread very quickly around the world. Overseas Chinese followed the developments very closely and soon began exploring ways to support China.
In Singapore, leaders in the Chinese community called for a conference to discuss ways to support China. The conference, 侨民大会, was held on the 15 August 1937 under the close supervision of the British colonial government who wished to remain neutral.
The conference delegates founded the Singapore Overseas Chinese Relief Fund Committee, 马来亚新加坡华侨筹赈祖国伤兵难民大会委员会, and chose Mr. Tan Kah Kee, 陈嘉庚, to be the chairman.
As this organization evolved, Chinese leaders in Nanyang, today’s South East Asia, began discussing the possibility of a regional body to co ordinate fund raising efforts. These leaders include Mr. Lee Cheng Chuan, 李清泉 from the Philippines and Mr. Zhuang Xi Yan (Tjung Sie Gan， 庄西言) from Dutch East Indies, today’s Indonesia.
This initiative was supported by the Chiang Kai Shek’s , 蒋介石, Nationalist Government in China and as a result, Chinese leaders in Singapore called for an Overseas Chinese Conference on 10 October 1938. Due to the lack of large conference venues, they hosted the event at the Nanyang secondary school (南洋华侨中学) in Singapore.
Overseas Chinese Conference
The Overseas Chinese Conference was attended by 180 representatives from the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaya, Burma and Singapore. The Thai government had forbid Chinese in their territory to participate or organize any activities to support China. As a result, the Chinese leaders from Thailand participated in the conference secretly.
These leaders founded the first Chinese regional organization in the history of Nanyang. This organization was the Nanyang Federation of China Relief Fund, 南洋华侨筹赈祖国难民总会 or 南侨总会. Mr. Tan Kah Kee was elected as the Chairman and the headquaters of China Relief Fund was located at the Ee Hoe Hean Club 怡和轩俱乐部, on Bukit Pasoh in Singapore Chinatown.
When the delegates returned hoome, they formed their local China Relief Fund offices to implement fund raising programs. While most of the activities were locally driven, there were also some regional programs.
For example, the Wuhan Choir, 武汉歌唱团 from China launched a Malaya Fund Raising Tour in Singapore and Malaya. Money raised by China Relief Fund was used to pay for medical supplies, war materials and also weapons.
With a region wide network, China Relief Fund was also asked by the Nationalist Government to recruit drivers and mechanics to serve on China’s land routes, the most famous being the Burma Road, 滇缅公路.
China Relief Fund offices in each area advertised, recruited and trained local volunteers before sending them to Singapore. Between February to September 1939, 3200 volunteers, left Nanyang for China. Most of them served on the Burma Road. These volunteers were known as the Nanyang Volunteers, 南侨机工.
China Relief Fund ceased to exist when Nanyang was occupied by the Japanese. Many China Relief Fund supporters perished during the Sook Ching, 肃清, in Singapore.
The founding of China Relief Fund was a major milestone in the overseas Chinese history of Nanyang. It was the first regional organization and transformed Chinese communities living under different authorities into a political force to send resources to China and to educate the public about the Sino-Japanese War.
At the same time, within each area, different dialect groups and clan associations worked together towards the same objective and transcended regional and dialect differences.
Ee Hoe Hean Club 怡和轩俱乐部
The former Nanyang Secondary School
Sculpture of Mr. Tan Kah Kee
Burma Road, 滇缅公路
Nanyang Volunteers in service