Fighting the Good Fight
Mr Chen celebrating his mother's 88th birthday with family and friends.
This story was written as Mr Chen Chin Shen's loving tribute to his late mother, Mdm Yong Chew Hee, who possessed sterling qualities. Always resourceful and full of optimism, she was loved by family and friends.
Doing good for others is something that Mr Chen Chin Shen, founder of the Yoonhee Annhow Foundation, holds close to his heart. Mr Chen strongly believes in creating ripples of positive impact and healing the community through giving back.
His flourishing spirit of giving has anchored his passion and commitment to continue contributing to society, eventually motivating him to establish the Sri Solidarity Jaya Scholarship for financially-disadvantaged Malaysian students pursuing their undergraduate studies at NUS. The Scholarship’s name reflects the Foundation’s desire to encourage greater unity and solidarity among Malaysians.
When asked what shaped his thoughts on giving, Mr Chen shared that his late mother, Mdm Yong Chew Hee, was a great influence in his life. "She was always resourceful and ready to reach out to help others in any way she can," he said. Like her, Mr Chen feels a sense of responsibility towards others in the community.
As a member of the Muar Hakka Association in Malaysia, Mr Chen and the clan members would rally support to help those in need. He recalled an incident from 1958 that fortified his capacity and conviction to give and do good for others. Mr Chen was involved in getting legal counsel for a group of five Chinese men and one Indian man.
The six men were detained as suspects for the murder of an Indian youth and a Chinese girl in the Temiang Ranchong Estate in the Muar District. The case was extremely complex and there were poor odds on getting an acquittal for the defendants, and as such, many lawyers were unwilling to undertake the case.
Taking this case as his civic responsibility, Mr Chen decided to seek help from Mr Lee Kuan Yew from Singapore law firm, Lee & Lee, to act as legal counsel for the case. Mr Lee was then the legal advisor for the Hakka Association. With the address in hand and steadfast determination, Mr Chen and three others from the Muar Hakka Association travelled to Singapore to persuade Mr Lee to take on the case.
Mr Chen was determined to engage Mr Lee, who had built a name for himself as a successful lawyer who represented everyday people. Through his persistence, Mr Chen managed to convince Mr Lee to represent the six defendants. What followed was a massive fundraising effort by Mr Chen. He appealed relentlessly to other Hakka Clan members to help the six defendants. They managed to raise the funds for Lee & Lee to take on the case.
Unfortunately, luck was not on Mr Chen’s side. The case dragged on for a year, during which Mr Lee became the Prime Minister of Singapore and could no longer act as counsel for the case. Another lawyer took over the case but the Muar High Court eventually found the defendants guilty and sentenced them to death.
At this point, it seemed as if the world had turned against Mr Chen and the six men, sealing their fates for the worse. However, despite the despondency of the guilty sentence, Mr Chen remained steadfast in his commitment to helping the defendants reach an acquittal. Together with his peers, they approached Mr David Marshall, another reputable lawyer at that time. Undeterred by the high legal fees that Mr Marshall was charging, Mr Chen restarted his fundraising efforts – this time appealing to the Muar Hakka and Teochew Association for the much needed funds. Moved by Mr Chen’s selflessness, Mr Marshall finally agreed to take the case on while reducing the legal fees at the same time. Eventually, Mr Marshall won the appeal and the six defendants were acquitted of all charges – an outcome that took nearly two years from the start of case to the acquittal.
As a young man in his early thirties who had limited resources and who had to work and look after his family, many sacrifices had to be made to undertake the work to help the six men. “Each defendant is someone’s child and deserves proper representation,” shared Mr Chen when asked why he was tenacious in his efforts to help the six men, who had no relations with him. “I believe that if someone may be saved through my efforts, I should step up and do it.”
This long drawn case left an indelible mark on Mr Chen that has lasted to this day – an affirmation of over 60 years, that despite the obstacles, some seemingly insurmountable which may be faced along the way, stepping up and doing good is a worthwhile endeavour. He knew that it was possible to make a lasting difference, either through individual efforts or by rallying together for a cause.
Ultimately, Mr Chen believes in the transformative power of giving, be it to change lives for the better or to shape a brighter future. From being a contributing member of the Muar Hakka Association to saving the lives of six men, Mr Chen at the age of 90, is still supporting the community and giving back as an individual through his personal foundation.
Through the Sri Solidarity Jaya Scholarship, Mr Chen hopes to pass on the spirit of selflessness and compassion by opening doors for young Malaysians to gain a well-rounded education at NUS. He remarked, “It is my humble wish that these students will be future leaders who respect cultural differences, aspire for social harmony, and bring greater unity among our countrymen.”
In 1988, Mr Chen fulfilled his mother's dream to visit China.
At that time, she was 87 years old. It was her first return to China since she left the country almost 70 years ago.