FOR many years, Albert Lau Pek Kii has dreamt of having a book written about Lau King Howe, the Foochow who donated all his hard-earned wealth to build a hospital for the people of Sibu and the Rajang Valley.
Lau King Howe’s generosity and the shining example he set as an exceptional role model have been a guiding light to Pek Kii all his life. And his dream to produce a book on the much venerated pioneer came true in this year.
He told thesundaypost recently: “When I was young, I remembered my father often mentioned two good Foochow pioneers – Lau Kah Tii and Lau King Howe.
“Their examples and stories left a deep impression in my mind. It’s my dream to sponsor a book on Lau King Howe who had done so much for the people of Sibu.”
This, in a nutshell, is the catalyst behind the publication of the book titled ‘The Biography of Lau King Howe’.
Early this year, the Lau Clan Association of Sibu, headed by Pek Kii, set up a publication committee early to fulfil the latter’s vision.
The other members are Lau Tiong Kii, Lau Kim Foo and Kapitan Lau Hieng Wong, author and historian Wong Meng Lei, and translators Chang Yi and Ting Kong Sing.
The committee made two trips to Fuzhou, Fujian, China, and Manila, the Philippines, to do in-depth research on King Howe’s life and his descendants.
The book will be launched on Nov 9 in Sibu to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Pan-Cheng Laus’ Clan Association of Sibu and the 20th anniversary of the Lau Clan Association of Sarawak.
Lau King Howe
Lau King Howe was born in Fuzhou, lived and worked in Sibu for 14 years but chose to return to Fuzhou when his health was declining.
In his 63 years, he lived on the banks of three rivers — the Min in Fujian, the Pasig in Luzon, and the Rajang in Sarawak, and saw different governments at these places in his life time.
He grew up as a staunch and disciplined Christian and was also a Qing scholar during the foreign and feudal Qing Dynasty.
As an adult, he experienced the exciting times of change in the early years of the Republic of China. He witnessed the rule of the Spanish and American governments in the Philippines and in the last 14 years of his life before he passed away, he lived in Sarawak under the Brooke Raj. He had, thus, lived through the rule of several ‘foreign governments’.
Educated in both English and Chinese, King Howe was very much at ease in the Philippines and Sarawak.
As a child growing up in Fujian, his childhood was centred around the Congregational Church and school.
His father, Liu Mengshi, was a pastor in Fuzhou. As a result, he received a good education and developed a humanitarian personality.
His school curriculum included aesthetic and physical education and above all, Bible studies.
His father’s life commitment to the Church and social welfare activities instilled in him the core values and virtues of his adult life.
Earning a meagre pastor salary, his father might not have bequeathed a lot to him but the elder Lau set for his son the example of a person with a wholesome character that’s worth emulating.
Fuzhou City and other towns in Fujian at that time saw the development of many Churches and schools.
When his father passed away, King Howe could have gone abroad to study but instead, chose to become a teacher, got married and raised his own children and his siblings at the same time.
It was admirable for a young King Howe to wait until all his siblings were educated before setting out to seek adventure and fortune in the Philippines.
Second life chapter
His wife had passed away, so he left his children in the care of his brother in Fujian, and joined his other brother in the Philippines, to start the second chapter of his life overseas.
While in the Philippines, the Land of Thousand Islands, he furthered his studies in Manila in 1906, eager to learn and create something new there under a new American colonial administration.
After graduating from the Teachers’ College, Manila, King Howe applied for a special post with the Philippine Navy’s Bureau of Shipping.
(Today, the US military base in the Philippines also includes the Magsay Saibao base in Paraty, the central part of Luzon, and the Kubitu naval base. It is still the US military base for replenishment in the Asia-Pacific region.)
King Howe married a Filipina and had his older children in Fujian come over to Manila.
Well-versed in Chinese and English, he was engaged by the Daqing Chinese and Western School in Manila, which is the former Smaller Luzon Overseas Chinese and Western School, now known as Tong Se Academy and officially recognised by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines as a model for education institutions for Chinese and Filipino-Chinese people.
On Sept 5, 2014, it was proclaimed as the first Chinese school in the history of the Philippines.
However, after about eight years, King Howe found that there were too many differences between Fuzhou and Manila, particularly the gaping socio-cultural disparity between the local Chinese and the Filipinos.
The school’s teaching staff, faculty and students were all using the Minnang dialect which was not his native dialect even though it was thought that he could, over time, overcome the language problem.
Furthermore, school funding was not very stable. His Filipina wife also left him at this time.
Finally, he returned to Fuzhou in 1914 to the comfort of his own family, children and relatives and to the land where he grew up.
He, thus, became one of the earliest ‘Overseas Returnees’ to Fujian after seeking their fortunes overseas. He probably had saved some money during those eight years.
Back to China
As King Howe found his work in Sichuan (salt business) and Shanghai (ranching) in the two years of his return unrewarding, he chose to go abroad again.
The author, Wong Meng Lei, commented: “King Howe neither made a lot of money from his Philippines’ stint nor from the Sichuan salt and Shanghai ranch jobs.
“However, he could have some savings from his years of hard work. But it could also be possible that he would want to give Nanyang a try to see if it could be a lucrative venture.
“I have a little reservation about the statement that ‘Lau King Howe brought huge sums of money to Sibu, Sarawak, in 1916.’ If he could make a lot of money in salt and ranch work, why would he choose to go to Nanyang which was an unpredictable wilderness to be explored?”
King Howe must have been so inspired by Wong Nai Siong’s stories about the thousands of Foochow agricultural workers in Sarawak that he decided to make his way to Sibu.
However, he was different from the earlier Foochow immigrants who were from remote and inland mountainous areas such as Minqing, Gutian and Pingnan. He was a town person and had the support of his wealthy younger brother, Qianan.
King Howe arrived in Sibu in 1916 with his son from his first wife and Fu Baoyu (Hu Boh Ngiik), a bondmaid given to him by Qianan whose wife was a Qing Princess.
Fu Baoyu came from Sichuan and was only 14 when she set foot in Sibu. When they (King Howe and Fu) left Sibu, she was only 28. She must have been very capable and hardworking, just the right kind of spouse for a Foochow pioneer.
King Howe’s son taught in Kwong Hua school for a few years.
Arrival in Sarawak
Lau Tze Cheng, the famous Sibu historian wrote: “In 1916, Mr Lau King Howe planted more than 130 acres of rubber trees in Engkilo, opposite Sibu.
“In the 1920’s, he was one of the richest men in Sibu because rubber had a good price and he had a large estate …. he had great influence in the society.”
King Howe made friends with Ling Kai Cheng and James Hoover and invested in two motor launches which provided transport for the rubber tappers.
He was also made a board member of the Kwong Hua Primary School where his son Yisheng taught for a few years. He and his wife adopted a baby girl in Engkilo the year they left Sibu.
Final year in Fuzhou
King Howe died a quiet but contented man, survived by Fu Boayu, his adopted son, Liu Cheng and adopted daughter from Engkilo.
Ling Kai Cheng wrote: “Mr Lau King Howe came to Sibu, Sarawak, in 1916, planted rubber, and prospered. He was an enthusiastic and charitable Christian. In 1930, seeing Sibu was lacking a good hospital with many sick people around, he decided, on Oct 11, to call on Ling Kai Cheng and Rev Hoover, and proposed donating his assets to the local government to build a large hospital to serve the people.
“After the meeting, the Sibu Resident CD Adams was informed who, in turn, informed the Rajah. On Nov 22, the State Secretary of the Rajah TC Swayne replied, accepting Mr Lau’s offer to build a hospital, and promised to name the hospital ‘Lau King Howe Hospital’.”
Both Ling Kai Cheng and Lau Tze Cheng described King Howe as a man who wanted to give back to society in good faith.
His character of eagerness and righteousness, and his generosity, a traditional virtue of the Chinese, and the expression of the love of the Christian faith, say a lot about him. His good deed is not something ordinary people can do. He is a man worthy of emulation.
King Howe donated most of his Sibu property to build the hospital. It was a major event in Sarawak that year.
In the Third Division, especially, from 1936 to 1997, whenever Lau King Howe Hospital was mentioned, everyone, both young and old, knew about it, indicating the name of the hospital has long been etched in the minds of the people.
Lau King Howe left behind a legacy of living to give back to society as a Christian.