PEOPLE

Chinese clan leader on a mission to attract youth

Mr Hooy (centre) with son Eric (standing on his left), daughter Serene (on his right) and the association's youth members at the ancestral hall in Xiheng village in Zhongshan.
Mr Hooy (centre) with son Eric (standing on his left), daughter Serene (on his right) and the association's youth members at the ancestral hall in Xiheng village in Zhongshan. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HOOY SAY KAI

Businessman, 86, recruits and supports young members to secure group's future

Most Chinese clan associations' leaders would have been long retired after the age of 80.

But not businessman Hooy Say Kai who, at 86, is still adviser to the 179-year-old Chung Shan Association, supporting the vibrant youth wing of the clan, which is for natives of Zhongshan in China's southern Guangdong province.

Just a month ago, he led a group of 17 youth members, aged between 18 and 36, on a four-day visit to the city - the birthplace of Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat Sen.

Mr Hooy, who moved here from Zhongshan when he was 17, has been sponsoring the all-expenses-paid tour for the association's youth members every other year since 2007. It is his attempt to attract more young members to the Cantonese clan in Keong Saik Road, which has about 230 members, most of them elderly.

LINK TO THE PAST

I find that the best way to bring them into our fold is to show where their roots are and create a sense of relevance for them to become members.

MR HOOY SAY KAI, adviser to the Chung Shan Association, on why he sponsors the trip for youth members to visit Zhongshan

"I find that the best way to bring them into our fold is to show where their roots are and create a sense of relevance for them to become members," said Mr Hooy, who has a double-storey house in Xiheng, his ancestral village home in Zhongshan.

Last month's tour was the fourth he has supported so far. The latest trip cost him more than $30,000.

The tour saw the group meet other young clan members in Zhongshan, visit Mr Hooy's ancestral village home, theme parks in nearby cities , a safari park in Panyu and an ocean park in Zhuhai .

"The time and money are well spent because without the young people coming to join us, the clan will have no future," said Mr Hooy, the eldest of four children of a wealthy landlord.

The youth wing's vice-president, teacher Liu Qifen, 36, said: "We enjoyed the visit to Zhongshan, and I must thank Mr Hooy for his foresight in encouraging us to join the clan."

With 57 members, the clan has the largest and fastest-growing youth group among the smaller clan associations here.

Its youth group president, Republic Polytechnic student Jolie Yin, made history in 2014 when she became the youngest person to lead a Chinese clan's youth group at the age of 18.

That achievement helped the Chung Shan Association win the Clan of the Year Award last year. It is presented annually by the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, an umbrella body for more than 220 local Chinese clan, cultural and social groups in Singapore.

"I am happy to see that most of our youth group members are really young, unlike Zhongshan associations in other countries, whose youth members are in their 40s and 50s," noted Mr Hooy, chairman of the Yen Lee group of companies, which started as a machinery workshop in Kallang Pudding Road in the early 1950s.

His business group has since expanded to include industrial material supplies, fire safety and even real estate investment.

Mr Hooy realised the importance of self-renewal more than 30 years ago.

"When I joined the clan at age 22, I was the youngest. But I learnt a lot about life, how to treat my fellow clansmen well and how to be a good person, free of the vices from the elders; lessons which are useful to me throughout my life," he recalled.

But as the older leaders passed on, he saw the urgent need for the young to come in and take over.

"That's why I refused to be president when my time came. I preferred the younger generation to come forward to take the lead instead," added Mr Hooy, who is married with four grown-up children.

Two of them, eldest son, Eric, 57, and daughter Serene, 56, are both active in the clan.

Mr Eric Hooy, who joined the clan soon after leaving university here in his 20s, said he supported his father's efforts to attract the young.

"Personally, I have benefited too because my frequent visits to Zhongshan and the support I got from fellow clansmen there helped me to establish my business there," said Mr Eric Hooy, who runs a marketing firm and health-related production plant based in Zhongshan.

Ms Serene Hooy, who is currently the clan's vice-president and a partner of a garment factory in Zhongshan, said her youth wing members have started taking their children to the clan's activities. The youth wing was set up in 2007 and its members range in age from the teens to the late 30s.

"We are starting them even younger now," added Ms Hooy, who has a daughter, 12.

Mr Hooy said: "I am very happy to see that because I and my children have benefited from our involvement, so I want the young to be able to do so too."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2016, with the headline 'Chinese clan leader on a mission to attract youth'. Print Edition | Subscribe