8 Facts About Chua Jim Neo That Show She’s More Than Just Lee Kuan Yew’s Mother

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Chua Jim Neo Published A Definitive Nyonya Cookbook At 67, 50 Years After Lee Kuan Yew’s Birth

As we prepare for the National Day festivities, let’s take a moment to remember a lady who in many ways is responsible for the Singapore we know today.

She is the late Madam Chua Jim Neo, founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s mother.

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Mdm Chua passed away on 8 August, 1980, at the age of 73. Here are 8 interesting facts about the woman that give us a glimpse into not only Mr Lee’s life, but as well as the Singapore of yesterday.

1. Married at 15

Mdm Chua was married at 15 in an arranged marriage to storekeeper Mr Lee Chin Koon.

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She gave birth to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding father, at the tender age of 16.

Did you know: LKY won first prize in a baby show
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Said Mr Lee Kuan Yew about his mother,

She had been married off too early. Had she been born one generation later and continued her education beyond secondary school, she could easily have become an effective business executive.

2. Stood her ground against her husband

The elder Mr Lee enjoyed blackjack and other card games at the Chinese Swimming Club on Amber Road. Occasionally, when he lost at the gambling tables, he would demand some of his wife’s jewellery to raise funds for future games.

But those pieces were Mdm Chua’s wedding presents from her parents and she resisted his demands.

3. Saved her jewellery for LKY’s education

Safe to say that without Mdm Chua, LKY might not have gotten his Cambridge education.

Using her savings and the jewellery she had kept from her husband, Mdm Chua helped pay for her son’s law studies in Britain.

LKY first went to the London School of Economics, before graduating from Cambridge University.

LKY and his wife at the Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge
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4. Inducted into Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame

In 2015, Mdm Chua was given the recognition she deserved: she was inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame, which celebrates outstanding women and their contributions to the nation.

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Other prominent women honoured include Madam Puan Noor Aisah, wife of Singapore’s first President, Yusof Ishak.

5. Published a cookbook

Mrs. Lee’s Cookbook: Nonya Recipes and Other Favourite Recipe has helped many a younger Singaporean experiment with Peranakan cuisine in the kitchen.

The gem is revered as an important cookbook, since so many Peranakan recipes are closely-guarded family secrets.

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It was published in 1974, when she was 67.

Mdm Chua judging a Nyonya Food Competition
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The talented cook was described by one of her daughters-in-law as an adventurous and passionate cook, as she befriended other chefs to acquire new cooking recipes and techniques.

6. Her dad had 3 wives

Born in 1907, Mdm Chua Jim Neo was the eldest child of Leong Ah Soon and wealthy Hokkien businessman Chua Kim Teng from Pontianak in Dutch Borneo.

That seems perfectly ordinary to our modern eyes, but hold up: Leong Ah Soon was actually Chua Kim Teng’s third wife.

LKY’s grandfather Chua Kim Teng (centre row, 4th from left), grandmother Leong Ah Soon (centre row, 4th from right) and mother Chua Jim Neo (centre row, 2nd from left)
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Chua Kim Teng had two other wives, Seow Chue Luan and Seow Geok Luan, who were also sisters.

7. Complex fam web

The quirky family history does not end there: Mdm Chua’s oldest brother later married her husband’s sister.

8. Driver’s licence cancelled by LKY

Much to her dismay, she had her driver’s licence cancelled by her son, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who deemed her too old to drive.

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But really, he did it because he cared for her.

Thank you, Madam Chua

Indeed, we have a lot to thank this strict Peranakan matriarch for: her food, firmness and most importantly, our founding father.

Featured image from National Archives of Singapore and National Archives of Singapore.

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