Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Soy Sauce Towkay by Alfred Yeo

My mom passed me this book quite some time ago, but I didn't get around to reading it till now. It's a biography of Yeo Thian In, and by extension Yeo Hiap Seng, the company that he founded.

The Soy Sauce Towkay focuses on Yeo Thian In (the "towkay" in question) and his Christian faith. And the fact that my Church is mentioned probably explains why my mom knew about this book. And if you're not Singaporean or Malaysian, "towkay" means "boss" in English.

The book is divided into four parts: the background, as in what happened before the company was founded, the founding of the company and how it grew (I didn't know that Yeos started out with Soy Sauce! I only know it for the drink), the Yeo family, and more background, this time on Christianity in China, Chinese business practices, etc. The appendix is a discussion on what makes a business Christian.

And I think in the second part, on the business, they have a chapter about how soy sauce is made, so there's more background there.

I don't know if it's because the book is fairly short, but Yeo Thian In remained a distant historical figure throughout. Unlike some biographies which can resemble novels in style, this read more like a history book.

In addition, I wish that the book went into more detail. For example, it was mentioned that the Yeo family didn't join the Hokkien Association because of religious beliefs, but I would have liked a lot more detail on how that might make doing business more difficult (or not, but it seems like a disadvantage).

That being said, I'm still glad that I read the book, because it's a part of Singapore history that I didn't know, and that I think it's worth knowing. We tend to focus on the same few individuals (like Tan Tock Seng) in our history classes and museums, so it's nice to read about someone else.


  1. This isn't my usual sort of read but it sounds very interesting indeed, I wonder if my library has it.


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