Wee Kek Koon

Wee Kek Koon

Having lived his whole life in the modern cities of Singapore and Hong Kong, Wee Kek Koon has an inexplicable fascination with the past. He is constantly amazed by how much he can mine from China's history for his weekly column in Post Magazine, which he has written since 2005.

Latest from Wee Kek Koon

Reflections | China was a sustainability pioneer, learning early that human exploitation of nature should be synchronised with nature’s cycle

Chinese civilisation learned the concept of ecological sustainability at an early stage, based on the idea that human exploitation of nature had to be synchronised with nature’s cycle.

Chinese civilisation learned the concept of ecological sustainability at an early stage, based on the idea that human exploitation of nature had to be synchronised with nature’s cycle.

13 Jan 2022 - 8:45AM
Reflections | Singapore’s early history captured in Chinese merchant’s ‘A Brief Account of the Barbarians of the Islands’ is closest we have to a reliable historical record

Fourteenth-century traveller Wang Dayuan wrote of pirates and people wearing headdresses and red cloths in his account of Singapore, part of his wider observations on Southeast Asia.

Fourteenth-century traveller Wang Dayuan wrote of pirates and people wearing headdresses and red cloths in his account of Singapore, part of his wider observations on Southeast Asia.

7 Jan 2022 - 3:56PM
Reflections | How the Chinese eat tangyuan, or tong yuen, at winter solstice, the shortest day of the year – a state holiday in China for over 2,000 years

A state holiday for over 2,000 years in China, winter solstice sees Chinese families everywhere gather for special meals, and tangyuan, or tong yuen, is one of their favourite treats.

A state holiday for over 2,000 years in China, winter solstice sees Chinese families everywhere gather for special meals, and tangyuan, or tong yuen, is one of their favourite treats.

20 Dec 2021 - 8:45AM
Reflections | The Christian converts in Ming dynasty China who made the religion respectable there and the millions of Chinese who will celebrate Christmas

A form of Christianity reached China in the 7th century, but it was Catholic missionaries in the Ming dynasty who helped it take root. Today tens of millions of Chinese Christians celebrate Christmas.

A form of Christianity reached China in the 7th century, but it was Catholic missionaries in the Ming dynasty who helped it take root. Today tens of millions of Chinese Christians celebrate Christmas.

9 Dec 2021 - 8:45AM
Reflections | How ancient Chinese wills protected the deceased’s family, and the contents of China’s original last will and testament

Yu, the legendary king who founded the Xia dynasty, gave his ministers specific instructions on where and how he wanted to be buried.

Yu, the legendary king who founded the Xia dynasty, gave his ministers specific instructions on where and how he wanted to be buried.

2 Dec 2021 - 10:55AM
Reflections | The Chinese recognised humans’ environmental impact more than 2,000 years ago, and punishments for violating laws governing nature were harsh

Great thinkers such as Guan Zhong and Xunzi were already mindful of the human impact on the natural environment and you wouldn’t want to caught violating the laws that governed it.

Great thinkers such as Guan Zhong and Xunzi were already mindful of the human impact on the natural environment and you wouldn’t want to caught violating the laws that governed it.

25 Nov 2021 - 11:49AM
Reflections | When Han Chinese, the largest ethnic group in China, were the despised bottom class of their own country

In Yuan dynasty China, Han Chinese were the bottom of four ethnic groups, according to traditional scholarship, and were subjected to all manner of prejudice and abuse.

In Yuan dynasty China, Han Chinese were the bottom of four ethnic groups, according to traditional scholarship, and were subjected to all manner of prejudice and abuse.

18 Nov 2021 - 8:45AM
Reflections | Hong Kong had the King of Kowloon, eccentric graffiti artist. Yuan dynasty China had Ni Zan, king of Lake Tai and equally eccentric minimalist painter

Tsang Tsou-choi, some of whose graffiti graces Hong Kong’s new M+ museum, was eccentric, but he had nothing on Ni Zan, a 14th century Chinese landscape artist.

Tsang Tsou-choi, some of whose graffiti graces Hong Kong’s new M+ museum, was eccentric, but he had nothing on Ni Zan, a 14th century Chinese landscape artist.

11 Nov 2021 - 8:45AM
Reflections | All through Chinese history its global cities’ fortunes have waxed and waned – people in Hong Kong should relax and accept a change in its status

Chang’an was one of China’s most cosmopolitan cities 1,500 years ago. You might know it as Xian, a second-tier hinterland city today. It’s not the only international city in Chinese history to have seen its fortunes wax and wane. Look at Guangzhou.

Chang’an was one of China’s most cosmopolitan cities 1,500 years ago. You might know it as Xian, a second-tier hinterland city today. It’s not the only international city in Chinese history to have seen its fortunes wax and wane. Look at Guangzhou.

4 Nov 2021 - 8:45AM
Reflections | ‘Chinese Halloween’ the Hungry Ghost Festival sticks to its roots, unlike this week’s celebrations

The Hungry Ghost Festival, observed in the seventh month of the traditional Chinese calendar, is celebrated in many different ways, none of which involve devouring sweets or getting drunk.

The Hungry Ghost Festival, observed in the seventh month of the traditional Chinese calendar, is celebrated in many different ways, none of which involve devouring sweets or getting drunk.

28 Oct 2021 - 8:45AM
Reflections | Ancient China’s news service: how liaison reports or ‘dibao’ in the Han period were an early form of newspapers

In ancient China, liaison agencies conveyed documents back to the provinces that included ‘liaison reports’, which served as an early form of newspapers.

In ancient China, liaison agencies conveyed documents back to the provinces that included ‘liaison reports’, which served as an early form of newspapers.

21 Oct 2021 - 8:45AM
Reflections | Princess Mako’s marriage to her ‘commoner’ fiancé - what Chinese history can teach us about it, from men who had to walk behind their wives to princesses who kept male harems

Much attention has been paid to whether Princess Mako of Japan will cope with losing her title when she marries a commoner – but what about her husband? In ancient China, royal consorts had a hard time.

Much attention has been paid to whether Princess Mako of Japan will cope with losing her title when she marries a commoner – but what about her husband? In ancient China, royal consorts had a hard time.

18 Oct 2021 - 8:45AM
Reflections | Like the Taliban, Chinese once publicly displayed bodies of the executed, in a form called ‘abandoned in the marketplace’

Called ‘abandoned in the marketplace’, victims’ bodies were left for public display in ancient China as an indication of the severity of their crimes, with one famous example.

Called ‘abandoned in the marketplace’, victims’ bodies were left for public display in ancient China as an indication of the severity of their crimes, with one famous example.

9 Oct 2021 - 12:04PM
Reflections | The Aukus alliance: what ancient China’s Warring States period tells us about the forces in play and their possible fates

What lessons, if any, does China’s Warring States period hold for East Asia in the Aukus era. Then, a nominal hegemon, a rising power and six smaller states caught in the middle jockeyed for supremacy.

What lessons, if any, does China’s Warring States period hold for East Asia in the Aukus era. Then, a nominal hegemon, a rising power and six smaller states caught in the middle jockeyed for supremacy.

30 Sep 2021 - 8:45AM
Reflections | Chinese men who wore make-up weren’t ‘sissies’, they were admired and emulated by many of their contemporaries for centuries

Often celebrities of their time, Chinese men throughout history have used make-up to achieve a fair complexion, though only the privileged could afford to.

Often celebrities of their time, Chinese men throughout history have used make-up to achieve a fair complexion, though only the privileged could afford to.

23 Sep 2021 - 8:45AM
Reflections | Smoking in China: from ‘herb that makes you forget your worries’ to ‘poisonous weed’ in the span of a few decades, and the 300 million still lighting up there over 300 years later

Tobacco reached China from the Philippines in the 16th century and quickly caught on. At first its health benefits were touted, but soon came warnings of its ill-effects, and in 1639 a ban.

Tobacco reached China from the Philippines in the 16th century and quickly caught on. At first its health benefits were touted, but soon came warnings of its ill-effects, and in 1639 a ban.

16 Sep 2021 - 8:45AM
Reflections | Taking collagen is like the old Chinese belief that eating pigs’ brains improves brain power

A story in The Guardian questioning the efficacy of taking collagen orally reminds of the Chinese culinary tradition of ‘strengthening like with like’ which, surprisingly, still has adherents.

A story in The Guardian questioning the efficacy of taking collagen orally reminds of the Chinese culinary tradition of ‘strengthening like with like’ which, surprisingly, still has adherents.

9 Sep 2021 - 10:45AM
Reflections | Power of ‘the people’ – how the term, in whatever language, has been co-opted by political leaders

Politicians, commentators and activists of every stripe in Malaysia pepper English-language speech with ‘rakyat’, the Malay word for ‘the people’. The labels leaders everywhere attach to the polity carry much weight.

Politicians, commentators and activists of every stripe in Malaysia pepper English-language speech with ‘rakyat’, the Malay word for ‘the people’. The labels leaders everywhere attach to the polity carry much weight.

4 Sep 2021 - 12:10PM
Reflections | Qipao out, hanfu in? Advocates for traditional Chinese clothing have some problems to resolve

Advocates for hanfu, the traditional dress of China’s Han majority, want it to be as widely accepted as the kimono is in Japan or the ao dai in Vietnam. But how do they define hanfu?

Advocates for hanfu, the traditional dress of China’s Han majority, want it to be as widely accepted as the kimono is in Japan or the ao dai in Vietnam. But how do they define hanfu?

26 Aug 2021 - 11:44AM
Reflections | Quanzhou, Unesco World Heritage city in China that gave us ‘satin’, and its storied place in history

Newly added to Unesco’s World Heritage List, Quanzhou in southeast China was a bustling port city that drew travellers Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo in the 14th century. Soon after their visits came its ruin.

Newly added to Unesco’s World Heritage List, Quanzhou in southeast China was a bustling port city that drew travellers Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo in the 14th century. Soon after their visits came its ruin.

24 Aug 2021 - 12:52PM
Reflections | Another great China flood: the story of how the Yellow River was tamed, and a Confucian lesson to boot

Stories of ancient deluges often involve the divine and the supernatural, but the tale of The Great Yu Controlling the Flood­­­waters is grounded in human enterprise.

Stories of ancient deluges often involve the divine and the supernatural, but the tale of The Great Yu Controlling the Flood­­­waters is grounded in human enterprise.

9 Aug 2021 - 8:45AM
Reflections | Men have always paid for female companionship, as Singapore was reminded by KTV coronavirus cluster

Throughout history men of means have paid for the companionship of women, whether in the entertainment quarters of ancient China’s cities or by keeping a bevy of courtesans at home.

Throughout history men of means have paid for the companionship of women, whether in the entertainment quarters of ancient China’s cities or by keeping a bevy of courtesans at home.

29 Jul 2021 - 10:06AM
Reflections | If Haiti president’s assassination is a puzzle, how about when Chinese imperial palace maids tried to kill an emperor in his sleep?

The most bizarre attempt on a Chinese emperor’s life occurred in 1542, when palace maids tried to strangle the Ming dynasty’s Jiajing Emperor in his sleep.

The most bizarre attempt on a Chinese emperor’s life occurred in 1542, when palace maids tried to strangle the Ming dynasty’s Jiajing Emperor in his sleep.

26 Jul 2021 - 9:45AM
Reflections | The Chinese Communist Party has governed for 72 years. How did China’s longer imperial dynasties fare after the same time?

The Chinese Communist Party is still in its ‘early period’ of governance compared with China’s longer-lived imperial dynasties, but how did those periods fare after 72 years?

The Chinese Communist Party is still in its ‘early period’ of governance compared with China’s longer-lived imperial dynasties, but how did those periods fare after 72 years?

15 Jul 2021 - 9:12AM
Reflections | The ship that took a man to space and back in ancient Chinese tale

According to third century author Zhang Hua, a man travelled to space and back, crossing an invisible boundary between Earth and sky. China’s Shenzhou 12 astronauts may have had a similar sensation.

According to third century author Zhang Hua, a man travelled to space and back, crossing an invisible boundary between Earth and sky. China’s Shenzhou 12 astronauts may have had a similar sensation.

10 Jul 2021 - 10:45AM
Reflections | Aliens in China? An extraterrestrial civilisation thrived in ancient times, believe some, based on relics uncovered by archaeologists

Three thousand-year-old artefacts unearthed at Sanxingdui, first in the 1920s and then in the 80s, have convinced many of past alien life in southwestern China

Three thousand-year-old artefacts unearthed at Sanxingdui, first in the 1920s and then in the 80s, have convinced many of past alien life in southwestern China

2 Jul 2021 - 8:45AM
Reflections | Why are young Chinese people criticised for ‘lying flat? It proved an invaluable cultural gain for the country once

If the intellectual Tao Yuanming hadn’t decided he’d had enough of the political arena of the time, China would likely have lost an invaluable cultural resource.

If the intellectual Tao Yuanming hadn’t decided he’d had enough of the political arena of the time, China would likely have lost an invaluable cultural resource.

22 Sep 2021 - 4:50PM
Reflections | The 3 ways children fail their parents in traditional Chinese culture and why the worst is perhaps not all bad

The reluctance of young people in mainland China to have children brings to mind the other ways in which children fail their parents in traditional Chinese culture.

The reluctance of young people in mainland China to have children brings to mind the other ways in which children fail their parents in traditional Chinese culture.

22 Sep 2021 - 4:50PM
Reflections | How Chinese parable of man who wanted to buy shoes explains the state of affairs in Hong Kong

The story of the Man of Zheng, who wrote down his foot measurements and sought to use them to buy new shoes without trying any on, mocks those who adhere dogmatically to rules rather than being practical.

The story of the Man of Zheng, who wrote down his foot measurements and sought to use them to buy new shoes without trying any on, mocks those who adhere dogmatically to rules rather than being practical.

11 Jun 2021 - 8:22AM
Reflections | ‘Work from home’ for Chinese emperors wasn’t as fun as you might think: a Qing dynasty ruler’s day

While their homes were literally palatial, offering material comforts most of us cannot even begin to imagine, Chinese emperors adhered to strict, often arduous, daily routines.

While their homes were literally palatial, offering material comforts most of us cannot even begin to imagine, Chinese emperors adhered to strict, often arduous, daily routines.

3 Jun 2021 - 9:15AM