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After years of hardwork as a labourer, Chinese immigrant Peh Boon Poh finally saved up enough in 1935 for a small comics bookshop along downtown Chin Swee Road. More than three decades later, his first-born son Chin Hua joined the family business and helped it grow into Shing Lee Book Publishers, with publishing houses in Singapore. Before globalisation became the international buzz word, Peh junior was already travelling through time zones, hawking his books in cities as diverse as Frankfurt, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and Karachi, translating his company's publications into four languages. On the retail front, he grew the small bookshop into 19 outlets in Singapore, with two in the country's suburban housing estates and the rest in schools across the island.

In 1992, after Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's southern sojourn, Peh saw the opening up of China and decided to give the world's biggest market a shot. He left his family business with his sister and brother and invested in real estate development in China. Dragon Land was set up with him as chairman and CEO. The company very quickly acquired a total land bank of 1.7 million square metres in Anxi (Fujian Province), Changzhou (Jiangsu Province) and Qingdao (Shandong Province).

Appropriately, the company's first project was in Anxi, the hometown of Peh Boon Poh. In 1916, Peh Boon Poh, just 11, had left Anxi in search of a better life in Singapore after both his parents passed away. Peh Chin Hua, whose Chinese name means ¡°Rejuvenate China¡±, realised his father's dream of developing his hometown with an 85,000 sq m residential and commercial development named Singapore Gardens. The project, located an hour from Xiamen, was a runaway success, with 500 units sold out in just two weeks.

Dragon Land then moved north to Qingdao, a former German-colony famous for its Tsingtao beer. The group had a residential and industrial project in Qingdao and completed Shandong province's first 18-hole golf course, designed by world-renowned golf architects Nelson and Haworth, in 1993. The Qingdao Huashan International Golf and Country Club built another 18-hole course later.

In 1993, Dragon Land also entered China's local housing project, developing a 1.2 million sq km township in Changzhou (Dragon Land moves into local housing in China). Six years later, the group went into Shenyang in north-eastern Liaoning Province and built the Lion City Gardens. The 2,000-unit project was completely sold out.

Peh also developed a second country club at Jiangyin in Jiangsu Province in 2003. The Jiangyin Yangtze International Country Club hosts an 18-hole international championship golf course designed by Nelson and Haworth and is set against the famous Yangtze River. Golfers play with full view of the iconic Jiangyin Bridge, China¡¯s first suspension bridge. In that same year, he also bought more than 1.3 million sq m of land in Tianjin for an 18-hole golf course and bungalows.

Dragon Land's sales from completed projects grew from US$4 million in 1995 to US$20 million for the year ended June 30, 1997. In 1998, Dragon Land was listed on Singapore Stock Exchange's main-board.

In 2005, after leading Dragon Land for more than a decade, Peh sold his shares to Government-linked Keppel Land and left the company. He joined a US-based venture capitalist fund and also set up White Group, a holding company with properties and business interests in China and Singapore.

White Group has stakes in various ventures in China, with subsidiary Marketing Network China (MNC) Pte Ltd specialising in franchising and promoting international brands in the People's Republic. Leveraging on Peh's experience and guanxi of the past two decades in China, ERA Real Estate Consulting Ltd is partnering MNC to set up ERA China. Peh is the chairman of ERA China, which kicked off in Feb 2006 with 120 outlets and aims to hit 500 in three years. White Group also has projects in Anhui and Sichuan Provinces.

To view photos of projects, please click here.