Han Wai Toon（韩槐准; 1892–1970) was born in 1892 in Hainan, China. Due to impoverished circumstances, he only started schooling at 14 and completed his primary education when he was 21. In 1913, together with friends, he ran a dye factory business after school. The business failed to take off and was forced to close down. He arrived in Singapore in 1915 and got a job as a clerk in a company in the Karimun islands. Due to the global demand for rubber at this time, a rubber plantation worker could get paid nearly 10 times more than a clerk and Han took on both jobs so as to earn enough to clear his debts incurred after his dye factory business failed. He joined his relative Foo Khee How in a medical office set up by German immigrants, working as a clerk-cum-dispenser.
For over 20 years, Han worked as a dispenser as well as in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Through diligent self-study, he accumulated knowledge in Chemistry and pharmaceutical science.
During this time, he also became interested in photography and began to study film processing techniques. He also started to be recognised for his photographic work.
In the 1930s, Han turned his interests to history and archaeology. He was especially interested in ancient Chinese ceramics and he read what he could find about these topics. With his accumulated knowledge of Chemistry and experience gained from work in the dye factory, he was able to estimate the age of a ceramic piece. He would study the transformation of the pigments in the underglaze under heat processing and cross-reference this information with his knowledge of when various colour and cobalt pigments were imported to China. He became an expert in Chinese ceramics.
He later purchased a property in Sembawang and built a garden known as 愚趣园 (Yu Qu Yuan) which would then become a place of leisure and art appreciation in the 1930s to the 1960s. His visitors and friends include the poet Yu Da Fu and the painter Xu Bei Hong.
Selected Books on Han Wai Toon
Selected newspaper articles on Han Wai Toon
神农药房股东韩槐准一生贡献大. (1995, June 25), 联合早报， p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This is a write-up and biography of Han Wai Toon. He passed away in Beijing on October 2, 1970.
COLLECTING CERAMICS. (1950, January 12). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This article shared Han Wai Toon’s interest in archaeology and ancient Chinese ceramics.
HAN, 69, STUDIES HISTORY FROM OLD CHINA. (1961, January 5). The Singapore Free Press, p.14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This article discusses Han Wai Toon’s collection of old china. He also shared exciting history from his 40-year-old collection which included porcelain art from the Song and Ming dynasties.
Has largest collection. (1950, January 12). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
In this article, Han Wai Toon revealed that he first became interested in archaeology as a young man, but now he found ceramics to be a more fascinating hobby. He believed that study of ceramography enabled one to have a better insight into the culture and art of China as each specimen unearthed may be of great historical value.
Ming China treasures shown in Spore.(1955, July 31). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Han Wai Toon displayed his 20-year-old collection of china to members of the China Society. Two china water carriers, used by pilgrims on their way to Mecca, were believed to have been exported into Malaya from China via barter trade around 1,500 A.D.
China Society officials. (1959, March 18). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
This newspaper article reports that Mr Lee Siow Mong, then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, was re-elected as president of the China Society in March 1959 and Mr Han Wai Toon was elected as one of vice presidents.
Selected Websites on Han Wai Toon
- E-Bulletin – The Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore. Retrieved from The Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore website: https://www.pss.org.sg/whats-happening/e-bulletin/issue-no-27/medical-office-and-dispenser#.W0Qz2kknbIU
Han Wai Toon first became interested in archaeology as a young man, but later ceramics bore a more fascinating interest for him. He believes that the study of ceramography enables one to have a better insight into the culture and art of China.