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Literary Arts

Chew Kok Chang

One of Singapore’s most prolific and well-known Chinese writers.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


Time taken : >15mins

Do you know the way in which a tree protests?
It is like this
Roots and branches
Point towards the blue sky
Leaves, flowers and fruit
Are strewn on the ground

– Translated from 树的方式 (The Way of the Tree)

Chew Kok Chang is one of Singapore’s most prolific and well-known Chinese writers and a giant in the Singapore Chinese literary field. Born in 1934 in Guangdong, China, he has published more than 80 works including poetry, novellas, short stories, essays and children’s literature. Also known by various pen names including Zhou Can (周粲), Qiu Ling, Yu Yin, Lin Zhongyue, Zhou Zhixian and Zhou Aijia, he is widely acclaimed regionally and well loved for his ability in being simple yet profound through his spare, elegant writing. He has received several awards including the 1995 Singapore Chinese Literature Award and the 1990 Cultural Medallion.

Chew Kok Chang was born in Guangdong province in China in 1934 and, at the age of four, moved to Singapore with his family in 1938. An avid reader who could not partake in many childhood activities due to poor health, he studied at Chinese language schools Duan Meng Primary School and Chung Cheng Secondary School. In 1953, he published his first collection of poems The Dream of A Child, which was a volume that was well-received by critics and readers and that had him dubbed “a prodigy in the world of poetry”.

Chew continued his studies at Nanyang University’s Faculty of Chinese Language and subsequently at the University of Singapore on a government scholarship. After graduating with first class honours and then a Masters of Arts in Literature in 1969, he became a teacher at various Singapore schools and at the National Institute of Education. He then joined Curriculum Planning Division in the Ministry of Education and wrote educational supplementary materials.

At the same time, he continued writing. With six publications to his name by the time he had graduated from university, Chew remained passionately committed to writing even as he worked in the educational industry. Over the decades, he has proven to be a versatile writer, wearing the multiple hats of poet, academician and literary critic, short story writer, novelist, editor and children’s writer with equal aplomb.

As a poet, he has published 10 volumes of poetry over the years. These have contained astute observations of and reflections on life as well as private expressions of deep emotion all written
in the modern, vernacular style with spare, lyrical language. As an academician, particularly in the earlier years of his literary career, Chew has written several noteworthy essays of literary criticism, analysing works of modern poetry and classical literature including an appreciation of Song Dynasty lyrics, as well as essays on the teaching of the Chinese language and literature in Singapore.

As a travel writer, he has published four travelogues. As a writer of prose and short stories, he has written beautifully engaging tales, many of them little vignettes of everyday life in Singapore, and others being reflections on issues or encounters, expressing profound thoughts in simple, quiet prose. He also expanded his short story format early on and branched into writing novellas, becoming, in 1988, the first Singapore writer to publish a compilation of novellas with The Devil’s Night: A Collection of Mini-Novels, following that debut with four more. He also became the editor of the mini-novel compilation A Kaleidoscope of Mini-Novels (1994) and the Mini-Novel Quarterly Periodical published by the Singapore Association of Writers. Today, he is widely regarded as a pioneer of the Singapore Chinese novella.

As a children’s writer, particularly in the latter part of his literary career, Chew has contributed enormously to the world of children’s Chinese literature, writing volumes of poetry for children,
as well as writing and translating children’s fairytales, folktales, nursery rhymes and poems. His poetry collection for children, Our Country (1976), was awarded the National Book Development Council of Singapore Book Prize (Children’s and Youth Literature) in 1976. His Chinese adaptation of folktales from the Philippines, The Crow and the Coleto: Folktales from the Philippines (1980), has been translated into English and Malay, as have his poems.

So far, in a literary career that has spanned almost 60 years, Kok Chang has published over 80 literary works. For his literary achievements, he has also received the 1980 National Book Development Council of Singapore Book Prize (Poetry) for Firefly Catcher, the 1990 Cultural Medallion (Literature) from the National Arts Council, and the 1995 Singapore Chinese Literature Award.

Currently, Chew is retired from teaching but remains in touch with the literary scene as a member of the Singapore Association of Writers and an honorary executive committee member of the Singapore Literature Society.

More importantly, he continues to write. He presented his latest publication to his readers in
January 2012 at a sharing and book-signing session at the National Library, and remains very active on his Chinese-language website Zhou Can’s Writing Desk, posting his latest poems, essays, short stories and other works online for all to share.

Timeline

1934

Born in Guangdong, China.

1938

Moved to Singapore with his family.

1940 to 1950

Attended Duan Meng Primary School and Chung Cheng Secondary School.

1953

Published first volume of poetry 孩子底梦: 新诗创作集 (The Dream of a Child: A Collection of Modern Poetry).

1958

Published青春 (Youth).

1960

Graduated from Nanyang University’s Faculty of Chinese Language Published 云南园风景画 (The Beautiful Sceneries of Yunnan Garden).

1964 to 1969

Attended University of Singapore. Graduated with first class honours and subsequently, Masters of Arts in Literature.

1965

Published 宋词赏析 (Appreciation of Song Dynasty Lyrics).

1966

Published 铁栏里的春天 (Spring Time Behind Metal Bars).

1968

Published 千年之莲 (The Thousand Year Lotus).

1969

Published 读诗写诗谈诗 (Reading, Writing and Talking about Poems).

1971

Published 多风的早晨: 诗集 (Poetry: A Breezy Morning).

1972

Published 会飞的玻璃球: 诗集 (Poetry: The Flying Glass Balls).

1973

Published 华文教学论文集 (Essays on the Teaching of Chinese Language).
Published 五色喷泉: 周粲散文集 (The Colourful Fountain: A Collection of Zhou Can’s Prose).

1974

Published 写给孩子们的诗 (Poems for the Children).
Published 踪迹 (Footprints).

1975

Published 新诗评论集 (Essays on Modern Poetry).

1976

Published 玲珑望月:散文集(Looking at the Moon: A Collection of Prose).
Published 我们的国家 (Our Country).
Published 元代散曲文学研究 (Critical Study of San-Chu of the Yuan Dynasty).
Published 最后一个女儿: 短篇小说集 (The Last Daughter: A Compilation of Short Stories).
Published children’s poetry collection Our Country.
Awarded the National Book Development Council of Singapore Book Prize (Children’s and Youth Literature) for Our Country.

1977

Published 魔镜 (The Magic Mirror).
Published 只因为那阳光 (Because of the Sun).

1978

Published 窗外那云 (The Cloud outside the Window).
Published 满天的风筝 (A Sky of Kites).
Published 雨在门外 (Rain outside the Door).

1979

Published 剥蕉记 (Peeling Bananas).
Published 捕荧人 (Firefly Catcher).
Published 儿女英雄传 (Tales of Heroes and Heroines).
Published 江南江北 (Jiang Nan Jiang Bei).

1980

Received National Book Development Council of Singapore Book Prize (Poetry) for Firefly Catcher.
昆虫儿歌集 (Nursery Rhymes of Insects).
Published 榴莲树下 (Beneath the Durian Tree).
Published 禽鸟儿歌集 (Nursery Rhymes of Birds).
Published 小动物儿歌集 (Nursery Rhymes of Little Animals).
Published 乌鸦和哥烈多鸟: 菲律宾民间故事 (The Crow and the Coleto: Folktales from the Philippines).
Published 野兽儿歌集 (Nursery Rhymes of Scary Beasts).
Published 忠义故事 (Stories of Loyalty).
Published Burung Gagak dan Burung Koleto: Cerita Dongeng dari Filipina (The Crow and the Coleto: Folktales from the Philippines).

1981

Published 白雪公主 (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs).
Published 丑小鸭 (The Ugly Duckling).
Published 大拇指 (The Thumb).
Published 东东搬家 (Dong Dong Moves House).
Published 东东和老祖母 (Dong Dong and His Old Grandmother).
Published 东东和沙爹小贩 (Dong Dong and the Satay Hawker).
Published 东东和太空人 (Dong Dong and the Astronaut).
Published 东东恋爱了 (Dong Dong Falls in Love).
Published 东东上学记 (Dong Dong Goes to School).
Published 东东是小英雄 (Dong Dong is a Little Hero).
Published 东东玩捉迷藏 (Dong Dong Plays Hide-and-Seek).
Published 东东做了爸爸 (Dong Dong Becomes a Father).
Published 公主和豌豆 (The Princess and the Pea).
Published 红母鸡 (The Red Hen).
Published 灰姑娘 (Cinderella).
Published 狼和七只小羊 (The Wolf and the Seven Little Lambs).
Published 魔术豆 (Jack and the Beanstalk).
Published 三只小猪 (The Three Little Pigs).
Published 太空老鼠东东 (Space Mouse Dong Dong).

1982

Published 绿窗读书录 (The Days of Studying).
Published 著名神话选 (Famous Legends).

1983

Published 方块文章 (The Square-Tiled Literary Work).

1985

Published 夺魂铃: 周粲小说集 (The Killer Bell: A Collection of Zhou Can’s Novels).
Published 呼兰河传 (A Biography of the Hulan River).

1988

Published 白痴的灯笼 : 周粲小品 (The Stupid Lantern: Zhou Can’s Prose).
Published 成语故事精选 (A Collection of Chinese Idiom Stories).
Published 都市的脸: 散文集 (Faces of the City: A Collection of Prose).
Published 恶魔之夜: 微型小说 (The Devil’s Night: A Collection of Mini-Novels).
Published 金色的海螺 (The Golden Sea-Shell).
Published 快乐王子 (The Happy Prince).
Published 妈妈的手 (The Hands of My Mother).
Published 时光隧道: 周粲诗集 (Time Tunnel: A Collection of Zhou Can’s Poetry).
Published 死亡的脚印 (The Footprints of Death).

1989

Published 螺旋梯 (The Spiral Staircase).
Published 摩登逃难记 (A Modern Escape).

1990

Published 迷路的童年 (The Lost Childhood).
Published 抢劫 (Robbery).
Published 收藏风景: 小品文集 (Collecting Sceneries: A Compilation of Prose).
Received Cultural Medallion for his contributions to literature.

1991

Published 磁化人: 杂文集 (The Magnetic Individual: A Collection of Prose).
Published 书林小品: 小品文 (Shu Lin Xiao Pin: A Prose Collection).
Published 掌声响起 (The Sound of Applause).
Published 制造春天 (Creating Spring).

1992

Published 枫在燃烧 (The Burning Maple Leaf).
Published 会叫的水壶 (The Water-Bottle that Spoke).
Published 喷泉 (Fountain,).
Published 葡萄这一家 (The Grape Family).
Published 小溪水 (The Little River).
Published 鸭子溜冰 (The Ice-Skating Duck).
Published 周粲散文选 (A Compilation of Zhou Can’s Prose).

1993

Published 山中岁月: 周粲诗集 (The Days in the Mountains: A Collection of Zhou Can’s Poems).

1994

Published 落叶季节 (The Season of Falling Leaves).
Published 生而为一棵树:散文集 (Born As A Tree: A Collection of Prose).

1995

Published 落叶季节 (The Season of Falling Leaves).
Published 生而为一棵树:散文集 (Born As A Tree: A Collection of Prose).

1996

Published 鸟儿说法 (Words of Birds).

2000

Published 沉默族:微型小说集 (The Silent Group: A Compilation of Mini-Novels).
Published 东东 (Dong Dong).
Published 东东和朋友 (Dong Dong and His Friends).
Published 李光耀传记:磨练的岁月 (A Biography of Lee Kwan Yew: The Drilling Days).

2003

Published 夜车: 微型小说集 (The Night Vehicle: A Compilation of Mini-Novels).

2004

Published 周璨微型小说 (A Collection of Zhou Can’s Mini-Novels).

2009

Published 青春 (Youth).


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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