Tjong A Fie (張阿輝; 张阿辉) was born in 1860 as Tjong Fung Nam (張鴻南; 张鸿南) in Meixian district, Guangdong, China. He was also known as Tjong Yiauw Hian (張耀軒; 张耀轩).
He came from a humble and poor origins in China. He didn't even finish his schooling so he and his brother, Tjong Yong Hian, could help out in their family's shop.
At 18 years old, Tjong A Fie followed his brother's footsteps and came to Labuan Deli in Sumatra of the Dutch East Indies. Tjong Yong Hian was already fairly established in Medan at the time. The two brothers grew very successful in their businesses. They also grew very influential as they developed close relationships with the Dutch rulers at the time and the Sultanate of Deli, as well as Chinese businessmen in Sumatra and beyond. By the end of his life, Tjong A Fie businesses covered real estate, mining, banks, railroads, coconut, tobacco, tea, rubber, palm oil and sugar plantations.
In 1906, Tjong A Fie and his brother, Tjong Yong Hian, partnered with Cheong Fatt Tze (of Penang) to build the ChaoChow and Sukow Railway, the first railroad in China that was financed and built by overseas Chinese. Due to the many donations to philanthropic activities in Guangdong, the Tjong brothers received many distinctions from the Chinese Imperial Government. The Tjong brothers were raised to the rank of Mandarin by Empress Dowager CiXi. In 1907, Tjong A Fie received an honorary doctorate from Hong Kong University.
in 1911, Tjong A Fie was appointed as Majoor der Chineezen, replacing his brother who passed away, to lead the growing Chinese community in Medan. Due to his keen ability to work with and bring much peace to the community, Tjong A Fie received several royal distinctions from the Dutch Royal government, including the Orde van de Oranje-Nassau honor. He also was a founder of Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen.
In his role as Majoor der Chineezen, Tjong A Fie was not only a wise leader, he was a generous one. He was committed to give back a percentage of his wealth to the community of Medan as a whole, without prejudice against race or religions. He built schools, hospitals, temples, churches, mosques and other public facilities in Sumatera, Malaysia and China. He was very well thought-of and respected by the people of Medan for his generous nature in leadership.
Tjong A Fie was married three times. His first wife, Madame Lie, was in China. HIs second marriage was with Madame Chew, from Penang and they had three children: Tjong Kong Liong, Tjong Song-Yin dan Tjong Kwei-Yin. However he was widowed by his second wife. His last wife, Madame Liem Koei Yap, was from Binjai, North Sumatra. She was 16 years old when she married the much older Tjong A Fie. Together they had seven children: Tjong Foek-Yin (Queeny), Tjong Fa-Liong, Tjong Khian-Liong, Tjong Kwet Liong (Munchung), Tjong Lie Liong (Kocik), Tjong See Yin (Noni) and Tjong Tsoeng-Liong (Adek). Together with his third wide, and their seven children, Tjong A Fie lived at the mansion until his death in 1921.
Tjong A Fie died on February 4th, 1921 from apoplexy. On his funeral day, thousands of people lined the street or walk behind his casket to pay their last respect to this great philanthropist and leader.
Today, Tjong A Fie's descendants live all over the world. Befitting his inclusive philosophy, the descendants married inter-racial, inter-culture and inter-religion. Striking a parallel with the mansion itself, the family is also an amalgam of three cultures: Chinese, Malay and Western.