1928  — 1984

Han Wei

Paul Han , 韓偉

Christian Leader, Physician-Scientist, Educator

Early Influences

Paul Wei Han was born 1928 Dec 12 (lunar calendar), the third child and the oldest son of Mr and Mrs Johnson Han. His parents were devout believers and at the age of nine Paul was baptized.

When the World War 2 broke out, the family had to leave their home in Suzhou, Jiangsu, and move inland, which brought them closer to Mrs Han’s family. This was a difficult period, as Johnson eventually went back to Jiangsu to have suitable employment (he worked as a part time English teacher with two of his students being son Paul and daughter Lucy) and was separated from the family for over four years. Meanwhile, Mrs Han had to raise five children, they were mistreated, and resources were scarce. Paul Han once wore boxer shorts to school and was ridiculed by his classmates. The next day, thinking that he had figured out how to rectify this, he wore two pairs of boxers thinking that the “outer boxers” were the pants, and the “inner ones” were the underwear! Even so, every night, his mother would gather the children for prayer and devotions, thanking their heavenly father for giving them grace and provision for the day. Even later in life, Paul would strive to live a simple life: Saturday lunch at the Han household was often soup and bread.

During the latter years of the war, Paul was placed in Madam Chiang’s “orphanages” and school where his mother was a dorm auntie. Much of his formal education was received through government funded programs, and this made a big impact on his patriotic feelings and duty he felt toward public service.

By age 10 Paul had determined to study medicine. Providential circumstances opened the door for him to study first in Suzhou, then when the family evacuated to Taiwan, he was accepted through a special program to the National Defense Medical School in Taipei, graduating in 1954. In medical school, he was as well known for his extracurricular activities in basketball, volleyball and bridge, as he was for his academics, ranking third in his class. Following an internship year, he was granted one of 17 scholarships for post-graduate training in America. Two years of funding was provided with the expectation that the recipients would return for two years of service. Paul studied for a PhD at University of Pennsylvania over the next four years, specializing neurophysiology under his mentor John Brobeck, who was a fine scholar and also a devoted Christian.

It was in Philadelphia that Paul met his future spouse, Katherine Qimin Wu. Through the misadventure of losing her suitcase during a student Christian conference, Katherine was forced to stay in Philadelphia much longer than originally planned. During this time, Paul arranged for her to transfer to Penn’s nursing program to continue her studies. He even guaranteed that he would tutor her in English to make sure that she would qualify for the program. She would later say that she “lost a suitcase, but gained a husband.”

First return to Taiwan

Following their marriage at 10th Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Paul did a brief post-doctoral stint at the University of California in Berkeley, where his oldest son Aaron was born. They then returned to Taipei to fulfill his obligation to the government, and also to comfort his newly-widowed father. Much publicity accompanied his return, as many of those who received scholarships reneged on their commitment, staying in America. This was one aspect of his integrity that was to mark much of his life. He would always keep his word, even when it was not to his advantage.

At the end of four years, Paul Han had established himself as a well-liked teacher, and had published his research in international journals. Bible studies began in their home for medical students, which then led to the formation of a fellowship group. Because of his desire to continue his research career, when Dr. Brobeck offered him a junior faculty position at the University of Pennsylvania, they decided to emigrate to the U.S. with their three children (son Benjamin and daughter Claudia have been born in Taipei).

Second Stay in the U.S.

Life in America brought security and success: Paul received permanent residency and academic tenure. The family eventually moved to a suburb of Philadelphia with an excellent public school system for the children. They carried on an active ministry among the Chinese students and the Chinese Gospel Church. Many of those who were Westminster Seminary students and participants of the Bible Study group were to take on significant roles of leadership in the development of Chinese graduate theological education and missions.

In 1969, an invitation came to become president of Chung Yuan Christian College in Taiwan. Feeling honored for him to be a candidate, Paul and Katherine put out a “fleece.” When this was not answered in the affirmative, they thought that perhaps God was not calling them to this position. During the next year, God continued to work in their hearts. A series of circumstances led to Paul preaching a sermon on the restoration of Peter by Jesus Christ. The words of Christ “do you love me more than these” seemed to be personally addressed to both Paul and Katherine and cut at their heart motivations. They realized that God had been at work taking away his pride and self reliance, and her love of the American lifestyle. They committed to returning to Taiwan should the call to Chung Yuan be extended again. When it came the second time, the family prepared for their return to Taiwan.

The presidency of Chung Yuan Christian College (now University) was not an easy assignment. This was a school with a long history, and Paul was not a proven administrator, with a temperament that some would say was perhaps ill-suited for the politics associated with such a post. Giving people “face” and the culture of accepting gifts and some “bribes” ran counter to his ethos, in which most issues were black and white, and his strong sense of fairness and candor. His four years at Chung Yuan were marked by many achievements, including strengthening of the faculty and the return of many other scholars who were inspired by the Hans’ sacrifice in leaving the U.S. for Taiwan; the establishment of the first biomedical engineering program in the country; and the raising of the spiritual climate of the school. His vision and passion for students and for higher Christian education, and his loyalty to his people, were evident.

When the selection to be the founding president of Yang Ming Medical College (now University) came in 1975, most people were shocked by the choice of Paul Wei Han. This was to be a unique institution where students were provided full financial support in exchange for 6 years of service in the government public system. As the time neared for the decision to be made, God used several verses to confirm this leading to Paul. One was the verse to the apostle Paul that he was to be God’s witness in Jerusalem (a Christian context like Chung Yuan) as well as Rome (a secular context like Yang Ming).

It turned out to be a wonderful fit and professional challenge for Dr. Han. He had a chance to build a unique organization and shape its culture from the first day. Many criticized him for decisions that were religiously motivated, but history has shown that most of his choices were based on solid reason and even science. One such was his no-smoking policy, over which he fired people who failed to live up to their pledge/commitment not to smoke on Yang Ming premises. When the first graduates of Yang Ming were sent to serve in the countryside, Dr. Han took a sabbatical to set an example and worked in a remote clinic. In 1984, nine years later, he was to finish his last term at Yang Ming and perhaps higher office in Education Yuan would have been available to him, but God saw fit to call him home at age 56, still in his prime, and with many dreams for his next assignment.

His legacy extended beyond higher Christian education and medical education. He was also in on the strengthening of Taiwan medical missions and the “nationalization” of many of the “foreign” mission hospitals. He always had a special heart for students and served Campus Evangelical Fellowship. Also, the church benefited from his writings and enduring materials including apologetics, science and Christianity, and marriage and family curriculum coauthored with Mrs. Han.

Dr. Han was an active member of Xinyi (Hsin-Yi Friendship) Presbyterian Church (which later withdrew from the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. with which it had been affiliated, forming a new but informal relationship with the Presbyterian Church in America, being in effect an independent congregation, with no ties to the Taiwan Presbyterian Church). He was a second generation elder and at one time served alongside his father Johnson. His leadership included standardizing salary structure and benefits for staff; training the dlum. He preached monthly, and for a season when Hsin Yi Church was between preaching pastors oversaw the pulpit needs.

Other highlights of his ministry included giving his personal testimony and translation at the Billy Graham Taipei crusade, and representing Taiwan Christians at the Lausanne Conference in 1974.

Before he died, he had hoped to take a sabbatical to study apologetics and reaching mainland China’s next generation that had been raised under communism.

As the book of Hebrews says “Though dead he still speaks.”

[Dr. Han, though promoting the indigenous leadership of Chinese churches, was a strong friend of foreign missionaries. When my wife was having complications with our daughter’s birth, he and Mrs. Han visited us late at night at the hospital to make sure that she was receiving the best possible care. He broke with Chinese convention in many ways, such as admitting his faults and his failings as a husband, and leading the men to wash dishes after their frequent home meetings. His monthly sermons in church went through the Gospel of John one chapter at a time, with ever-fresh understanding and application, leaving a memorable impression and setting an example for expository preaching. He combined zeal for God, professional excellence, and warm love in an outstanding way. G. Wright Doyle, editor ]

About the Author

Aaron Han

Aaron is the eldest son of the late Paul Han. Following in his father's footsteps, he pursued a career in medicine. He served as an Elder his church in Pennsylvania, and has a heart for mobilizing Asians for kingdom work.