Teo Han Wue

Teo Han Wue


Teo Han Wue was previously a journalist and arts writer at The Straits Times where he later became the editor of its Bilingual (Chinese/English, Malay/English and Tamil/English) Section as well as the head of translation. He has also been a director at the National Arts Council of Singapore overseeing arts development, education, research and publication, and the executive director of Art Retreat incorporating the Wu Guanzhong Gallery, which was Singapore's first private museum of Asian and Southeast Asian Art.  He has written extensively about visual artists such as Wu Guanzhong, Siew Hock Meng, Lee Man Fong, Yeh Chi Wei, Chua Ek Kay, Lim Tze Peng and Tang Da Wu as well as theatre artist Kuo Pao Kun in English and Chinese for publications at home and abroad.  He was the editor and translator of both English and Chinese editions of Legends: Soo Bin’s Portraits of Chinese Ink Masters (2006), which have, over the years, accompanied photographer Chua Soo Bin exhibition of the same name featuring portraits of fourteen senior distinguished ink painters in and outside China. Most recently, he contributed the chapter “The Story of Singapore Art” in both the Chinese and English editions of A General History of the Chinese in Singapore, published in 2015 and 2019 respectively. 

Lim Tze Peng in his studio, still trying out new ideas.

The 'late style' of 102-year-old artist Lim Tze Peng

Artist Lim Tze Peng, who turned 102 this year, was born and bred in Singapore. From having a firm grasp of traditional Chinese painting techniques, he continually experimented with different methods, adjusting his style and finding a new path. Writer Teo Han Wue was there to witness the artist’s pivotal change in style some 15 years ago, when the artist was in his 80s. This was when Lim experimented with using bold, cursive-style calligraphic brushstrokes to create near-abstract and completely abstract paintings, with trees as the main subject matter — a style which came to be known as hutuzi (糊涂字, “muddled writing”). Lim’s “late style” continues to evolve, even until today.
Artist Soh Suan Cheok carved a cement block for his work, 压死你 (“crushing you to death”).

Carving contemporary expressions: The Chinese art of seal carving

Recent exhibition Carving Possibilities, presented by Siaw Tao Chinese Seal Carving, Calligraphy and Painting Society, showed how artists across generations are reinventing the ancient Chinese art form of seal carving. Former journalist Teo Han Wue shares his observations.
K C Low (left) and Teo Han Wue at the talk on the art of Kaii Higashiyama. (Photo: Terence Tan)

Kaii Higashiyama’s art as tribute to Chinese monk Jianzhen

Attending a recent talk by veteran Singapore writer K C Low recently on the life of Japanese artist Kaii Higashiyama, Teo Han Wue hears about a series of temple murals Higashiyama painted in tribute to Jianzhen, a Tang dynasty monk who had spread Buddhist teachings and promoted the learning of Chinese culture in Japan.
Cover of the book on the exhibition “Soo Bin: Life of Art, Art of Life”. (Photo provided by Teo Han Wue)

The significance of Singaporean photographer Chua Soo Bin’s work

Teo Han Wue tells us more about the life and work of Singapore’s veteran photographer, Chua Soo Bin, who took striking profile shots of leading Greater China artists and went on to make fellow Singapore artists the subject of his portraiture.
The late theatre pioneer Kuo Pao Kun, whose plays and teachings have shaped a generation of theatre makers in Singapore. (The Theatre Practice)

True gems: Singapore’s pioneers of the arts deserve more credit

Teo Han Wue laments that we are not doing enough to remember the remarkable contributions that Singapore’s pioneers of the arts have made. Singapore’s early artists and theatre practitioners were the avant-garde who went beyond the tried and tested in China or elsewhere. If we don’t remember our past achievements, how can we be inspired to produce greater things in the future?
Teo Han Wue's black-and-white print entitled Pan Shou's Calligraphy. (Photo: Teo Han Wue)

Must one read Chinese to appreciate Chinese calligraphy?

Teo Han Wue has always believed that one need not be literate in the Chinese language to appreciate calligraphy. He was heartened that many others seem to share his view, going by how well-received a photograph of Singaporean poet-calligrapher Pan Shou’s calligraphy was at his solo photography exhibition recently. Without him regaling them with tales of Pan Shou, they found their own delight appreciating this artform through an image of an image.
Hoo Ah Kay at Nam-sang Fa-un. (Photo: Kua Bak Lim/Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)

Memories of South China: The enchanting garden that Whampoa built in Singapore

It is commonly thought that Singapore’s horticultural history dates back to the beginnings of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Actually, a little earlier in the mid-19th century, Singapore pioneer Hoo Ah Kay, known as “Whampoa” after his hometown in Canton, China, had built a Chinese garden in Serangoon Road. It was resplendent with flora and fauna, and even unusual animals and birds. This is the story of Whampoa Garden.
(left to right) Professors Tu Wei-ming, Wu Teh Yao, and Yü Ying-shih participated in the preparatory works of a conference on Confucianism in 1988, Singapore. (SPH)

Remembering Yü Ying-shih in Singapore: An ambitious social experiment disrupted

Renowned historian and sinologist Yü Ying-shih passed away earlier this month. Chinese culture and history enthusiasts may be familiar with his life’s work on Chinese history and observations of contemporary China, but few may know that he has a connection to Singapore’s history. During the 1980s, the education ministry explored the prospect of teaching Confucian ethics in schools. In the process, they tapped the expertise of eminent scholars such as Prof Yü. Did the experiment bear fruit in the end?
A girl uses a mobile phone as she rests on a bench in Beijing, China, on 4 March 2021. (Wang Zhao/AFP)

A former Singapore journalist remembers a very different China in the 1980s

Former journalist Teo Han Wue chuckles as he recalls his first assignment in China covering an international Confucianism conference in Qufu, Confucius’ hometown in Shandong. Telecommunications facilities then were a far cry from the advances in 5G or AI that China enjoys now. Even sending a facsimile was a comedy of errors.