Family Stories #5: Lee Swee Guan


This is the fourth biography within the works Family Stories.

Lee Swee Guan was born the eldest son of Lee Yew Beng and Chan Saw Kooi. Well, definitely the eldest son of Lee Yew Beng at least. Over the years, there has been an ongoing debate which periodically gets reopened that his mother could in fact be the China wife of Lee Yew Beng, which would make Swee Guan a full brother to Swee Hock as the next oldest son to Lee Yew Beng. Thanks to a family visit to his tombstone in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, Swee Hock’s birth has been confirmed as 1901, so Swee Guan is definitely born prior to 1901.

According to the understanding that Swee Guan was first born to Chan Saw Kooi, news of his birth was sent to his grandparents/grandmother in China which caused his paternal grandmother to come to Penang with a betrothed girl for his father. His childhood saw him become the eldest of four brothers, including one (the second) from Yew Beng’s second wife from China. Swee Guan would have been at least a teenager when the youngest sibling and only sister – Teik Huat was born into the family. She was also known within the family by the name Suan Gaik.

Swee Guan grew up and married a local Thai woman in Alor Star, Kedah where it is believed, he too like his father, worked in the tin mining industry. According to this newspaper article dated 9 January 1932, Swee Guan was part of the football association and the Chinese Recreation Club, Kedah. Swee Guan held the position of Secretary for the Regent’s Cup football competition.

Swee Guan had one son – Seng Keat (born in 1931) who died tragically at the young age of six (1937) when he fell out of a rambutan tree. Every Sunday, Suan Gaik, would attend church. While she was out, her nephews, including Seng Keat, would go to her home and steal rambutan off her tree. On this particular day, Seng Keat fell out of the tree, hit his head and died from concussion.

After spending a few short years mourning his loss, Swee Guan adopted his nephew (Steven Seng Chai) from brother Swee Hin. In early 1939, Swee Guan went was visiting his brother when his nephew, the oldest son of Swee Hin, Kheng Tiong was playing on the staircase banister. Kheng Tiong innocently was sliding down the banister but fell off at the bottom and hurt himself. As a passing joke, the parents Swee Hin and Cheah Joo Seok said, in the presence of Swee Guan, that if they had another son, they would give the child away. Unfortunately, Swee Guan took this idle comment seriously and a heated argument broke out. Mediation between the brothers was achieved by the family Siamese midwife, who suggested that the two brothers consult a priest to determine the unborn child’s future. On reading the future horoscope of the then baby-in-the-womb (Steven Seng Chai) the priest determined that the baby had to be given away as the second son/older brother, being born in the Year of the Tiger, would “eat” the younger boy who would be born in the Year of the Rabbit. The priest’s advice was accepted and on the birth of Seng Chai, Swee Guan came to take the child back to Kedah.

The demise of Lee Swee Guan has been told as a story of revenge and murder. He made a living as a General Manager for the Shaw Organisation and would inspect the company-owned amusement parks on a regular basis. On one visit, Swee Guan had to dismiss one of the Indian security workers who had been stealing company money/property to service personal debts. The altercation left the Indian worker resentful and he bore a grudge against Swee Guan. On the next visit to the same amusement park, while sitting down in the office to read the newspaper, the Indian security guard confronted Swee Guan with a sharpened knife and disembowelled him. The story of Swee Guan’s untimely death is verified in this Straits Times news clipping from 24 January 1941.