For many people, the name ‘Shaw’ is synonymous with cinemas. And those who travel along Orchard Road will see two buildings: Shaw Centre and Shaw House. However, the name “Shaw” goes beyond bringing movies to people, it also brought hope and joy to the less fortunate. The man behind this great name is none other than Runme Shaw. The name ‘Runme’ meant ‘kindness’. Through his charitable acts and philanthropic spirit, he lived up to his name.
Born in 1901, Zhenhai, China, Runme was the third child among seven siblings.
Runme started out working as a sales manager in his father’s trading company. His brother Runje Shaw, who was a playwright and director, started his own movie company in China after seeing the potential in the China market. Runme always had a passion for film. Together with Run Run Shaw, he took part in Runje Shaw’s movie venture.
Runme and Run Run saw potential in distributing films in the Southeast Asia due to the large Chinese immigrant population. Setting his sights on Singapore, Runme arrived in Singapore in 1924. His hard work and indomitable spirit helped him build a film empire that stretches across Southeast Asia.
Runme felt that if he were to make money from the public, there would be a need to give back to society. With this notion incorporated into his everyday life, he sought to improve the lives of the underprivileged in Singapore. One of the employees who worked with Runme, Chua Boon Hean, said he admired Runme because, unlike other prominent businessmen of that era, Runme had always felt that as long he was earning some money, he ought to share his wealth with others.
“Runme felt that if he were to make money from the public, there would be a need to give back to society. With this notion incorporated into his everyday life, he sought to improve the lives of the underprivileged in Singapore”
One of Runme’s greatest gifts to Singapore is Shaw Foundation, which was founded in 1958. In an interview in 1981, Runme said the best way to give money to the public would be to establish a foundation. The foundation benefits all members of Singapore society, regardless of race, language or religion. Through the Shaw Foundation, many charities and educational institutions receive funding to help the unfortunate and provide education for the masses.
From 1960, when it first donated money, donations rose from a quarter of a million dollars to around $10 million dollars in 1981. In 1998, Shaw Foundation donated a record $16.7 million. Such acts of charity were remarkable, particularly when Singapore had just gained independence and struggled as a new nation.
Regardless of position held, Runme believed he should spread his wealth and help the less fortunate. When he assumed leadership of Singapore Turf Club, the club established the need for the profits earned to be used for charitable purposes. When a horse flu epidemic affected horse racing, the giving continued. Despite a $300,000 cut in the charity box, Singapore Turf club still gave $2.2 million dollars to over 100 charities.
“Regardless of position held, Runme believed he should spread his wealth and help the less fortunate. When he assumed leadership of Singapore Turf Club, the club established the need for the profits earned to be used for charitable purposes.”
Runme would be at the forefront of donation drives, setting an example to inspire other prominent people in Singapore to contribute. These donations came from his own pocket and were not part of the donations from Shaw Foundation.
When fire broke out in Kampong Koo Chye and Bukit Ho Swee, Runme was one of the major donors to help those people who were devastated by the fire. To help needy students continue studying, Runme was there to give much needed funds and support. In 1948, Runme, together with Run Run started a Chinese New Year tradition of giving gifts and red packets personally to the aged. Gifts usually consisted of rice, milk, sugar and a towel, and red packets increased from $2 in 1960 to $100 in 2005. This tradition is kept faithfully, and benefits over 10,000 aged people annually.
“When fire broke out in Kampong Koo Chye and Bukit Ho Swee, Runme was one of the major donors to help those people who were devastated by the fire. To help needy students continue studying, Runme was there to give much needed funds and support.”
Runme passed away in 1985, at the age of 84. Lee Kuan Yew, then Prime Minister, wrote in his condolence message to Runme’s wife, “Since the 1960’s he devoted a considerable part of his time to public service and charitable work … Singapore has lost a valued citizen.”
For decades, Runme worked hard to build up a movie and film empire that is still part of the Singapore landscape. His legacy of charitable acts continues through his family and the Shaw Foundation. His generous contributions have touched many people’s lives when he was alive and continue to do so today.
Ng Jian Cheng’s story first appeared here on the Singapore Memory Project portal.
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