Aw Boon Haw



Aw Boon Haw (b. 1882, Yangon, Myanmar1–d. 1954, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA2), whose name means “gentle tiger”, was also nicknamed “Tiger Balm King”.3 He is known for having established the Chinese cure-all, Tiger Balm, and for building an empire around it.4 His other contributions include building the Haw Par Villa (also known as Tiger Balm Gardens) in Singapore, and setting up a local Chinese daily, the Sin Chew Jit Poh.5 He was also a philanthropist, funding the construction of schools, hospitals, maternity clinics, orphanages and homes for the aged.6

Early life
Aw was born in Yangon, Myanmar where his father had founded a medical shop, called Eng Aun Tong, or Hall of Everlasting Peace, with the help of his uncle in 1870.7 Aw’s name means “gentle tiger” in Hokkien, although he was of Hakka descent with roots in Fujian, China. He was the second of three sons; his older brother was named Boon Leong, meaning “gentle dragon”, and his younger brother Boon Par, meaning “gentle leopard”.8


In his youth, Aw was so ill-behaved that his father sent him to his ancestral village in China to be raised by an uncle, to no avail.9 In 1908, while Aw was still abroad, his father died, leaving his business to Boon Par.10 Boon Par, unable to bear the burden of running the business himself, sent word for Aw to return, so that they might run it together.11

Accomplishments
Development of Tiger Balm ointment
The true origin of the soothing oriental ointment known today as Tiger Balm is unknown.12 According to Sam King, whose 1992 biography of Aw received the cooperation of the Aw family, Boon Par had received the recipe from an aged Chinese doctor, who had invented the ointment.13 The contemporary proprietors of the Tiger Balm brand, however, claim the recipe is derived from a formula originating from the days of Chinese emperors.14 Other rumours involve a German pharmacist who was a family friend.15 In any case, with Boon Par’s pharmaceutical training, the brothers produced an ointment they called Ban Kim Ewe or “Ten Thousand Golden Oil”.16 The ointment was a great success, and Aw subsequently renamed it Tiger Balm, and marketed it throughout Southeast Asia.17 Other Tiger products include Tiger Headache Cure, Balashin Sai (Pat Kwa Tan), Chee Thone San and Chinkawhite Wind Mixture.18

By 1920, Aw was among the richest men in Yangon.19 According to his Chinese biographer Zhang Ronghe, his business empire reached its peak in the mid-1930s, covering Thailand, Myanmar, Malaya, Indonesia, Hong Kong as well as a dozen cities in China. His empire, however, faced difficulties in the late 40s, when his son’s involvement in a currency-smuggling incident caused him to lose favour with Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang government.20 He was later also accused of cooperating with the Japanese during World War II to further his business interests, importing rice for Japanese troops, and going so far as to visit Tokyo to express his admiration for the Japanese.21 Historians disagree on whether he might have done this under duress.22

Timeline
1911: Opens Eng Aun Tong’s first branch outside Rangoon in Bangkok.23
1926: Moves his head office to Singapore after the British conducted an unsuccessful opium raid in his house.24 Opens Eng Aun Tong Medical Hall in Singapore.25 Turnover of his company reaches $10 million.26
1929: Founded Sin Chew Jit Poh, a Chinese newspaper competing with Tan Kah Kee’s Nanyang Siang Pau, to help promote Tiger Balm.27
1932: Moves his head office to Hong Kong to capture the China market.28
1937: Builds Haw Par Villa, otherwise known as the Tiger Balm Gardens, for his brother, Boon Par.29 The gardens depict Chinese mythology.30
1938: Receives an OBE for his philanthropic contributions.31
1950: Sets up Chung Khiaw Bank with other Hakka merchants, becoming its chairman.32
1954: Dies in Honolulu, Hawaii on his way home after a stomach operation in America.33 His empire is subsequently divided between six of his nine surviving children as well as four nephews, with nephew Aw Cheng Chye at its helm.34
1970: Cheng Chye transfers most of the Aw family’s business to a newly-incorporated company, Haw Par Brothers International Limited, listed on the Malaysian and Singaporean stock exchanges, serving as chairman himself.
1971: Against protests from the rest of the family, Cheng Chye hands control of the company over to Slater Walker Securities of London, in an attempt to expand the company. He remains the chairman initially, but dies later in the year.35 The Aw family thus loses control of the company.36

Aw’s newspaper empire included dailies such as the Sing Kong Yih Pao (1935, Amoy), Sing Tao Yih Pao (1938, Hong Kong), Sing Pin Jih Pao (1938, Penang), Sing Ming Yih Pao (1946, Bangkok), Hongkong Tiger Standard (1946, Hong Kong) and Singapore Tiger Standard (1950, Singapore).37 After Haw Par Brothers was acquired by Slater Walker in 1971, its newspaper division was sold back to the Aw family.38 This division continued to flourish in Hong Kong as the Sing Tao group, headed by Aw’s daughter Sally Aw Sian (also known as Aw Sien), until the mid-late-80s when unsuccessful dabbling in real estate and other publishing ventures drained the division’s coffers.39 In mid-1999, Sally sold controlling shares of Sing Tao to Lazard Fund Asia for HK$262 million.40

Family
Father: Aw Chi Kim, a herbalist from Zhongchuan, Yong Ding, Fujian, China.41
Mother: Lee Kim Peck.
Brothers: Aw Boon Leong (“gentle dragon”), Aw Boon Par (“gentle leopard”).
Wives: Tay Piah Hong, Tan Kim Kee (a.k.a. Kyi Kyi), Ooi Geik Cheah, Khoo Siew Eng.42
Sons: Aw Kow (adopted) – later director of Sin Chew Jit Poh, Singapore Tiger Standard and Chung Khiaw Bank; Aw Swan (adopted; possibly an illegitimate son by a servant girl) – later general manager of Eng Aun Tong Medical Hall and its Canton factory; Aw Hoe (adopted) – later general manager of the Medical Hall and managing director of Tiger Standard and Sin Chew Jit Poh. Killed in an aeroplane crash in 1951; Aw It Haw (by Geik Cheah) 43; Aw Jee Haw (a.k.a. Haw Kia; by Geik Cheah) – killed by a Japanese shell in 1942; Aw Sar Haw (by Siew Eng) – died of cholera in 1942; Aw See Haw (by Siew Eng).44
Daughters: Sally Aw Sian (adopted)45; Aw Seng (by Siew Eng).46



Author
Bonny Tan 



References

1. HuayiNet. (n.d.). Aw Boon Haw. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archive website: https://web.archive.org/web/20081122020321/http://www.huayinet.org/biography/biography_awboonhaw.htm; King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN; Mulliner, K., & The-Mulliner, L. (1991). Historical dictionary of Singapore. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, pp. 29–30. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 MUL-[HIS]); Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM); Koh, T. et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
2. Mulliner, K., & The-Mulliner, L. (1991). Historical dictionary of Singapore. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, pp. 29–30. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 MUL-[HIS])); Koh, T. et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
3. HuayiNet. (n.d.). Aw Boon Haw. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archive website: https://web.archive.org/web/20081122020321/http://www.huayinet.org/biography/biography_awboonhaw.htm; King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN); Mulliner, K., & The-Mulliner, L. (1991). Historical dictionary of Singapore. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, pp. 29–30. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 MUL-[HIS])
4. The Tiger’s tale. (1998). In J. Brandel, & T. Turbeville, Tiger Balm Gardens. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archives website: https://web.archive.org/web/20031204120231/http://www.tigerbalmgardens.com/tigertale.html
5. Toh, P. C. S. (1994). Legend from a jar: The story of Haw Par: Haw Par Brothers International Limited's 25th anniversary commemorative book. Singapore: Haw Par Brothers International, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 338.8809 HAW); HuayiNet. (n.d.). Aw Boon Haw. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archive website: https://web.archive.org/web/20081122020321/http://www.huayinet.org/biography/biography_awboonhaw.htm; King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 249. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN); Mulliner, K., & The-Mulliner, L. (1991). Historical dictionary of Singapore. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, pp. 29–30. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 MUL-[HIS]); Koh, T. et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
6. HuayiNet. (n.d.). Aw Boon Haw. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archive website: https://web.archive.org/web/20081122020321/http://www.huayinet.org/biography/biography_awboonhaw.html; King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 57. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN); Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM)
7. King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 17, 19. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN); The Tiger’s tale. (1998). In J. Brandel, & T. Turbeville, Tiger Balm Gardens. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archives website: https://web.archive.org/web/20031204120231/http://www.tigerbalmgardens.com/tigertale.html; Koh, T. et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
8. King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 11, 19. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN)
9. HuayiNet. (n.d.). Aw Boon Haw. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archive website: https://web.archive.org/web/20081122020321/http://www.huayinet.org/biography/biography_awboonhaw.htm; King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 20–21. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN)
10. King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN)
11. Toh, P. C. S. (1994). Legend from a jar: The story of Haw Par: Haw Par Brothers International Limited's 25th anniversary commemorative book. Singapore: Haw Par Brothers International, pp. 14—15. (Call no.: RSING 338.8809 HAW); King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN)
12. Lifestyle of The Tiger was a walking advertisement. (1998, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 39.  Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 23–26. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN)
14. Toh, P. C. S. (1994). Legend from a jar: The story of Haw Par: Haw Par Brothers International Limited's 25th anniversary commemorative book. Singapore: Haw Par Brothers International, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING 338.8809 HAW); Haw Par Corporation Ltd. (2012). About us: Heritage. Retrieved 2016, November 24 from Haw Par Corporation website: http://www.hawpar.com/about-us/heritage.html
15. Lifestyle of The Tiger was a walking advertisement. (1998, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. HuayiNet. (n.d.). Aw Boon Haw. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archive website: https://web.archive.org/web/20081122020321/http://www.huayinet.org/biography/biography_awboonhaw.htm; King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 26–27. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN)
17. Toh, P. C. S. (1994). Legend from a jar: The story of Haw Par: Haw Par Brothers International Limited's 25th anniversary commemorative book. Singapore: Haw Par Brothers International, pp. 16—17. (Call no.: RSING 338.8809 HAW); King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 30. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN)
18. King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 29–30, 51. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN); Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM)
19. King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 56. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN); The Tiger’s tale. (1998). In J. Brandel, & T. Turbeville, Tiger Balm Gardens. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archives website: https://web.archive.org/web/20031204120231/http://www.tigerbalmgardens.com/tigertale.html
20. Lifestyle of The Tiger was a walking advertisement. (1998, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 39.  Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 328–331. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN); Lifestyle of The Tiger was a walking advertisement. (1998, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 39;  Chen, K. (1998, October 25). Was Aw a Japanese collaborator? The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Chen, K. (1998, October 25). Was Aw a Japanese collaborator? The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Lifestyle of The Tiger was a walking advertisement. (1998, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG;  Koh, T. et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
24. Berfield, S. (1999, February 12). Fall of the House of Aw. Asiaweek. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archive website: https://web.archive.org/web/20071107172329/http://www.asiaweek.com/asiaweek/99/0212/cs1.html; HuayiNet. (n.d.). Aw Boon Haw. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archive website: https://web.archive.org/web/20081122020321/http://www.huayinet.org/biography/biography_awboonhaw.htm; Lifestyle of The Tiger was a walking advertisement. (1998, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG;  King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 99–103. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN); Koh, T. et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
25. HuayiNet. (n.d.). Aw Boon Haw. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archive website: https://web.archive.org/web/20081122020321/http://www.huayinet.org/biography/biography_awboonhaw.htm; King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 103. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN); Mulliner, K., & The-Mulliner, L. (1991). Historical dictionary of Singapore. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, pp. 29—30. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 MUL-[HIS]); Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM)
26. Lifestyle of The Tiger was a walking advertisement. (1998, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. HuayiNet. (n.d.). Aw Boon Haw. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archive website: https://web.archive.org/web/20081122020321/http://www.huayinet.org/biography/biography_awboonhaw.htm; King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 249. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN); The Tiger’s tale. (1998). In J. Brandel, & T. Turbeville, Tiger Balm Gardens. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archives website: https://web.archive.org/web/20031204120231/http://www.tigerbalmgardens.com/tigertale.html; Lifestyle of The Tiger was a walking advertisement. (1998, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM); Koh, T. et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
28. Lifestyle of The Tiger was a walking advertisement. (1998, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 39.  Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Toh, P. C. S. (1994). Legend from a jar: The story of Haw Par: Haw Par Brothers International Limited's 25th anniversary commemorative book. Singapore: Haw Par Brothers International, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 338.8809 HAW); HuayiNet. (n.d.). Aw Boon Haw. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archive website: https://web.archive.org/web/20081122020321/http://www.huayinet.org/biography/biography_awboonhaw.htm; Mulliner, K., & The-Mulliner, L. (1991). Historical dictionary of Singapore. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, pp. 29—30. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 MUL-[HIS]); Koh, T. et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
30. Mulliner, K., & The-Mulliner, L. (1991). Historical dictionary of Singapore. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, pp. 29—30. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 MUL-[HIS])
31. Toh, P. C. S. (1994). Legend from a jar: The story of Haw Par: Haw Par Brothers International Limited's 25th anniversary commemorative book. Singapore: Haw Par Brothers International, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 338.8809 HAW); HuayiNet. (n.d.). Aw Boon Haw. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archive website: https://web.archive.org/web/20081122020321/http://www.huayinet.org/biography/biography_awboonhaw.htm
32. HuayiNet. (n.d.). Aw Boon Haw. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archive website: https://web.archive.org/web/20081122020321/http://www.huayinet.org/biography/biography_awboonhaw.htm; Koh, T. et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
33. Lifestyle of The Tiger was a walking advertisement. (1998, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 39.  Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Koh, T. et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
34. Toh, P. C. S. (1994). Legend from a jar: The story of Haw Par: Haw Par Brothers International Limited's 25th anniversary commemorative book. Singapore: Haw Par Brothers International, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 338.8809 HAW); Lifestyle of The Tiger was a walking advertisement. (1998, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 39.  Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Toh, P. C. S. (1994). Legend from a jar: The story of Haw Par: Haw Par Brothers International Limited's 25th anniversary commemorative book. Singapore: Haw Par Brothers International, pp. 5—6. (Call no.: RSING 338.8809 HAW)
36. Lifestyle of The Tiger was a walking advertisement. (1998, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 39.  Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
37. Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM)
38. Toh, P. C. S. (1994). Legend from a jar: The story of Haw Par: Haw Par Brothers International Limited's 25th anniversary commemorative book. Singapore: Haw Par Brothers International, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 338.8809 HAW)
39. Berfield, S. (1999, February 12). Fall of the House of Aw. Asiaweek. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archive website: https://web.archive.org/web/20071107172329/http://www.asiaweek.com/asiaweek/99/0212/cs1.html
40. HK Global China in talks to buy Sing Tao stake. (2001, January 3). Dow Jones International News. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
41. The Tiger’s tale. (1998). In J. Brandel, & T. Turbeville, Tiger Balm Gardens. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archives website: https://web.archive.org/web/20031204120231/http://www.tigerbalmgardens.com/tigertale.html
42. King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 4, 18–19, 39, 59, 66, 128, 315. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN)
43. King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 47–50, 91, 139, 271–272, 353. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN); Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM)
44. King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 276, 324, 326, 329, 353. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN)
45. Berfield, S. (1999, February 12). Fall of the House of Aw. Asiaweek. Retrieved 2016, November 23 from Internet Archive website: https://web.archive.org/web/20071107172329/http://www.asiaweek.com/asiaweek/99/0212/cs1.html; HK Global China in talks to buy Sing Tao stake. (2001, January 3). Dow Jones International News. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 314. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN); Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM)
46. King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 316–317. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN); Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM)



Further resource
Tiger Balm. (1990). Annual report. Singapore: Author.
(Call no.: RCLOS 338.7616154509 TBARTB-[AR])



The information in this article is valid as at 2005 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


 

Subject
Businessmen--Singapore--Biography
Aw Boon Haw, 1882-1954
Philanthropists--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Healthcare and medicine
Community leaders
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Communication and media>>Media
People and communities>>Social groups and communities