Aw Boon Haw
Comments on article: InfopediaTalk
Aw Boon Haw (b.1882, Yangon, Myanmar - d.1954, Honolulu, Hawaii, US) whose name means "gentle tiger", was also nicknamed the "Tiger Balm King". He is known for having established the Chinese cure-all, "Tiger Balm", and for building an empire around it. His other contributions include building the Haw Par Villa (Tiger Balm Gardens) in Singapore and setting up the local Chinese daily, the Sin Chew Jit Poh. He was also well-regarded for his generosity as a philanthropist.
Boon Haw whose name is translated the "gentle tiger" was a Hakka whose roots were from Fujian, China. He was born in Yangon, Myanmar where his father together with his uncle, Eng Aun Tong founded a medicinal shop, the Hall of Everlasting Peace in 1870. He was the second of three sons but was so notorious during his younger days that, in desperation his father sent him to an uncle at their ancestral village for disciplining but to no avail.
Development of "Tiger Balm" ointment
It is believed that Boon Haw and his brother, Aw Boon Par, inherited their father's recipe for a soothing oriental ointment. However, various rumours concerning the origins of the balm pervades. There are suggestions that the recipe came from an aged Chinese doctor while others point to a supposed German pharmacist who was a family friend. With Boon Par's pharmaceutical training, they produced Ban Kim Ewe or "Ten Thousand Golden Oil" which they later patented. Boon Haw renamed the ointment the "Tiger Balm" and marketed it throughout Southeast Asia, gaining great fame as the Tiger Balm King. Other "Tiger" products include Tiger Headache Cure, Balashin Sai (Pat Kwa Tan), Chee Thone San, Chinkawhite Wind Mixture.
By 1920, Boon Haw was easily the richest man in Yangon. According to his Chinese biographer Zhang Ronghe, his business empire reached its peak in the mid-'30s, covering Thailand, Myanmar, Malaya, Indonesia, Hong Kong as well as a dozen cities in China. His empire however faced difficulty in the late 1940s with his son's involvement in a currency-smuggling incident which caused him to lose favour with Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomingtang government. Added to this was his rumoured war-time co-operation with Japan.
1911: First branch outside Rangoon set up in Bangkok
1926 : He moved his head office to Singapore after the British conducted an unsuccessful opium raid in his house. He opened the Eng Aun Tong Medical Hall in Singapore. Turnover of his company reached $10 million.
1929 : Founded Sin Chew Jit Poh, a Chinese newspaper competing with Tan Kah Kee's Nanyang Siang Pau. To further promote his Tiger products he also published the Tiger Standard.
1932 : Moved his head office to Hong Kong to capture the China market
1937 : Built Haw Par Villa otherwise known as the Tiger Balm Gardens for his brother, Boon Par. The gardens depict Chinese mythology.
1938 : An OBE conferred on him for his philanthropic contributions
1950 : Set up the Chung Khiaw Bank
1954 : He died in Honolulu half-way home after a stomach operation in America. His empire was divided among six of his nine surviving children and four nephews.
1972 :The Tiger Balm business fell out of the Aw family's control when it was acquired by Slater Walker Securities of London.
His newspaper empire included dailies like the Sing Kong Yih Pao (1935 Amoy), Sing Tao Yih Pao (1938 Hongkong), Sing Pin Jih Pao (1938 Penang), Sing Ming Yih Pao (1946 Bangkok ) and the Hongkong Tiger Standard and Singapore Tiger Standard (1950). This division continued to remain strong in Hongkong as the Sing Tao group, headed by daughter Sally Aw Sian (Aw Sien), until the mid late '80s when unsuccessful dabbling in real estate and other publishing ventures drained the division's coffers. In mid-1999, Sally Aw sold controlling shares of Sing Tao to Lazad Fund Asia for HK$262 million.
Father: Aw Chi Kim, a herbalist from Zhongchuan, YongDing, Fujian Province in China.
Brothers: Aw Boon Leong ("gentle dragon"); Aw Boon Par ("gentle leopard").
Wives: Boon Haw had four wives. For his second wife, Tan Kyi Kyi, he built a special home in Tai Hang Road, Hong Kong.
Sons: Aw Kow, who became director of the Sin Chew Jit Poh, the Singapore Tiger Standard and the Chung Khiaw Bank; Aw San, who became general manager of the Eng Aun Tong Medical Hall and its Canton factory; Aw Hoe, who became general manager of the Medical Hall and managing director of the Tiger Standard and the Sin Chew Jit Poh; It Haw, youngest son.
Daughters: Sally Aw Sian (adopted), who was a renowned Hong Kong newspaper publisher but had to sell of much of the family's fortunes to avoid bankruptcy; Aw Sin.
King, S. (1992). Tiger Balm king. Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 338.04092 KIN)
Mulliner K. (1991). Historical dictionary of Singapore (p. 29). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57003 MUL)
Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore (p. 4). Singapore: Nan Kok.
(Call no.: RCLOS 920.05951 SIM)
HK Global China in talks to buy Sing Tao stake. (2001, January 3). Dow Jones International News.
Berfield, S. (1999, February 12). Fall of the House of Aw. Asiaweek. Retrieved September 29, 2005, from http://www.asiaweek.com/asiaweek/99/0212/cs1.html
The Tiger's tale. Tiger Balm Gardens. Retrieved December 4, 2002, from
Tiger Balm. (1990). Annual report. Singapore: The author.
(Call no.: RSING 338.7616154509 TBARTB)
Lifestyle of The Tiger was a walking advertisement. (1998, October 25). The Straits Times, Review Focus, p. 39.
Was Aw a Japanese collaborator? (1998, October 25). The Straits Times, Review Focus, p. 39.
Aw Boon Haw. HuayiNet - Chinese Overseas Databank. Retrieved December 5, 2002, from www.huayinet.org/biography/biography_awboonhaw.htm
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.
Aw Boon Haw, 1882-1954
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Healthcare and medicine
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Communication and media>>Media
People and communities>>Social groups and communities