It is unsurprising that Singapore is often thought of as being the home of “Crazy Rich Asians” – in no small part thanks to Kevin Kwan’s novel and subsequent film adaptation. While Kwan’s work is entirely fictional, it is well-known that many high-net-worth individuals have long called this city-state home. One “Crazy Rich Asian” from modern Singapore’s early history is the esteemed businessman Aw Boon Haw. While his fortune was largely made off the still-popular Tiger Balm, contemporary audiences would associate him with the eponymous Haw Par Villa – equal parts architectural marvel and macabre-kitsch showcase of mythology. But how did Aw come to build a business empire that lasts to this day?
A Study of Aw Boon Haw & His Entrepreneurship: A Perspective of Cultural History (谱写虎标传奇：胡文虎及其创业文化史) seeks to answer this, by conceptualising and contextualising Aw’s enterprising spirit and business acumen, which has left an indelible mark across Asia and the globe.
The third volume in the Hakka Cultural Studies Series, jointly published by the NUS Department of Chinese Studies and two external institutions, A Study of Aw Boon Haw & His Entrepreneurship: A Perspective of Cultural History (谱写虎标传奇：胡文虎及其创业文化史) is authored by Sin Yee Theng, who holds a PhD from the Department of Chinese Studies at NUS.
Sin first explores Aw’s entrepreneurial expansion strategies in Singapore and China, describing Aw’s attempts at modern journalism and examining his speeches and writings. Sin discusses how Haw Par Villa, ostensibly Aw’s self-branding project, has shaped the modern cultural landscape of Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as Aw’s numerous charity projects, involvements in public healthcare promotion and advertisements. Using the conceptual lens of “Cultural Entrepreneurship”, Sin argues that Aw Boon Haw was a bona fide cultural agent who transformed the cultural landscape of Southeast Asia and Greater China in the first half of the 20th century.
By adopting the perspective of a new cultural history, Sin diligently explores Aw’s multifaceted entrepreneurial endeavours, success, wealth, and cultural capital, which ultimately resulted in an exceptional legacy within the annals of both Singapore and China.
Haw Par Villa, Singapore by User:Sengkang is licensed for copyrighted free use
Interior of the Ten Courts of Hell by is licensed under CC BY 4.0
Chinese-style Paifang after main entrance by
Aw Boon Haw (Hu Wenhu; Ho Wen-hu) (1882 – 1954) is in the public domain
is licensed under CC BY 4.0