Teo Han Wue

Writer

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. 

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 Yu Ying-shih participated in the preparatory works of a conference on Confucianism in 1988, Singapore. (SPH)

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

Renowned historian and sinologist Yu 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 Yu. 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.
A good understanding of the Chinese language must begin with an appreciation of the importance of its writing system. (iStock)

How the 'tree' of Chinese writing united dialects, culture and people through the millennia

From the oracle bone scripts of the past to the Modern Standard Chinese script of the present, the written Chinese language is pictorial and highly evocative. What’s more, its unchanging nature gives it the power to preserve the unity of Chinese culture. While regional dialects vary, the written script remains the same. Teo Han Wue explores the characteristics of and philosophy behind the Chinese writing system.
Zall Bookstore’s black-and-white design is inspired by calligraphy and the architecture of Jiangnan Watertown, with a circular arch resembling a river bridge. (SPH)

Chinese bookshops in Singapore: Art salons of the 1970s and 1980s

With the arrival of a swanky new Chinese bookshop/gallery/cafe in the heart of town, Teo Han Wue recalls that such integrated spaces are hardly new in Singapore’s history. Several Chinese bookshops in the past held art exhibitions within their premises and were often the stomping ground of artists and the arterati. What were these art salons of days gone by like?
Staff of the Shanghai Book Company at an exhibition in 1965, Singapore. (Photo provided by Zhang Langhui)

How the Shanghai Book Company enlivened Singapore's cultural scene

In December 2020, family and friends of Shanghai Book Co Ltd produced a commemorative book of the now-defunct bookstore. Founded in 1925, Shanghai Book Co Ltd played a pivotal role in shaping the consciousness of Chinese-speaking Singaporeans in the 1950s. It was a meeting point of ideas and voices, not only from greater China, but within Southeast Asia. In fact, it had helped to nurture the budding interest of Chinese-speaking young students in Malay language and culture. Teo Han Wue recounts how this bookshop in North Bridge Road, easily stereotyped as Chinese-centric, became instead an emblem of openness and cultural diversity.