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Literary Arts

Lim Hung Chang

Leading figure in Chinese literature in Singapore.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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In Singapore, writers often need to take on other full-time jobs in order to support their families. In other words, they can only be amateur writers, but they still need to put full concentration into their writing. So you need to be clear about what you want and what kind of work to do, especially those who are very capable and can excel in other professions. You need to make choices. To write, you need to focus and you have to give up certain material temptations.

Lim Hung Chang is also known by his pen names Lin Yifei and Lin Gao. He has been active in the Chinese literary scene in Singapore since the 1970s, and has published 17 works of prose, fiction and children's literature. His work explores contemporary society and the mystery of human nature, and has been translated to international critical acclaim. He began working in the genre of micro-fiction in the 1980s, and in 2014 was awarded the Singapore Literature Prize in the Fiction category for his short story collection Micro-fiction.

Lim is a leading figure in the promotion of Chinese literary culture in Singapore. A former Chinese-language teacher, curriculum specialist writer at the Ministry of Education and editor of children's literary magazines, Lin also mentors budding writers and has served in leadership roles at the Singapore Association of Writers. He also pens columns and reviews for newspapers and journals, to help cultivate interest in Chinese literature. In 2015, he was awarded the Cultural Medallion.

Lim Hung Chang was born in 1949, and grew up in Singapore's Cheng San Village. His family was not well-off, and he remembers there being no books in his home. But the introverted Lim gravitated towards reading from a young age, and the Kong Yiong Primary student visited the library regularly to seek out books such as abridged versions of classical Chinese novels like Romance of the Three Kingdoms and The Water Margin.

When Lim was 19, his father died of lung cancer. He gave up his original plan to study political science at Nanyang University (Nantah), and became a teacher. Beginning in 1975, he would teach Chinese language and literature for over three decades, at schools such as Tampines Junior College, Jurong Junior College and Raffles Institution. During his training at the Teachers' Training College and over the course of his teaching career, he also befriended like-minded colleagues who were similarly passionate about writing. This spurred him to start submitting his work to literary journals like New Generation. "We appreciated and motivated one other. Passion for Chinese literature requires an environment and a group of friends," he says.

Friendship was instrumental to his journey in higher education. When he was 32, a friend encouraged him to apply for a Public Service Commission Overseas Scholarship to study Chinese at National Taiwan University, and he decided to give it a shot even though the scholarship was for applicants under the age of 30. His application was successful, and his time abroad proved to be formative. He was inspired by Taiwan's receptivity to the arts, an attitude prevalent not just on campus but throughout all tiers of society.

He was also deeply influenced by his teachers. One was Madam Yue Hengjun, whose passion for Cao Xueqin's Dream of the Red Chamber and compelling way of teaching the text instilled a life-long love for this iconic novel in Lim. Another memorable literary encounter was with Xu Fuguan's The Spirit of Chinese Art, which gave Lim an insight into how the profundities of Chinese philosophy and aesthetics could be conveyed in a relatable way.

When Lim was in his 50s and on the brink of retiring from teaching, another friend told him that the United Teachers' Union and China's Huazhong Normal University were offering courses in Singapore. He decided to take the opportunity to pursue further studies, and enrolled in this programme to earn his master's degree in classical Chinese. Under the tutelage of Professor Dai Jianye, Lim focused on the works of poet Tao Yuanming.

To date, Lim has published 17 works of prose, fiction and children's literature. He is an early proponent of micro-fiction, having written for this genre since the 1980s. Besides serving as one of the directors of the World Micro-fiction Research Society (Singapore branch), he also co-founded the quarterly Micro-fiction journal in 1992. In 2014, he was awarded the Singapore Literature Prize in the Fiction category for his short story collection Micro-fiction. While the form's brevity may be more suited to the time-starved readers in fast-paced Singapore, Lim is quick to point out that writing micro-fiction demands a great deal of great focus and dedication, and the genre is by no means "disposable" literature.

Lim is also a leading figure in the promotion of Chinese literary culture in Singapore. He served as the executive director of the Singapore Association of Writers from 1992 to 1998, and as its vice-president from 1998 to 2000. In these roles, he co-founded several literary journals and magazines, and also wrote numerous columns that sought to spark and sustain interest in Chinese literature. The veteran educator has also contributed to school textbooks on Chinese language and literature, and helped to train teachers in the pedagogy of these subjects.

In Singapore, where the English language is dominant, readers may need a guide of sorts to begin their engagement with Chinese literature, he believes. "I guess I am a sort of matchmaker. A good writer can write good literature, but these will only survive if there are readers who are able to appreciate the writing. We are still reading the poetry written during ancient dynasties; they have survived because in each era there were always readers who appreciated these works."

A literary quote that has always struck a chord with him comes from Cao Xueqin's Dream of the Red Chamber, and translates roughly as: "All paint the author as a fool; who can truly savour his content?” “It sounds a little sad, but I find encouragement and comfort in these words," says Lim. "In this journey of writing, we never know if our work will ever encounter readers who truly understand what we are trying to say. So Cao's words inspire me—they express the strange happiness of the loner."

Timeline

1949

Born in Cheng San Village in Singapore.

1975

Started teaching in Thomson Secondary School.

1981

Obtained Public Service Commission Scholarships to further his studies at National Taiwan University.

1990 to 1991

Editor of semi-annual magazine Literature (Wen Xue).

1992

Started the quarterly Micro-fiction Journal (Wei Xing Xiao Shuo Ji Kan).

1992 to 1998

Executive director of Singapore Association of Writers.

1993

Started the triannual Afterwards magazine (Hou Lai).

1998 to 2000

Became vice-president of Singapore Association of Writers.

2006 to 2008

Invited by Lianhe Zaobao editors to start a monthly column analysing and recommending articles from the paper's Literature City section (Wenyi Cheng).

2006

Earns master degree from China's Huazhong Normal University.

2012

Starts a column recommending good micro-fiction and poetry in the magazine Yuan, an initiative by the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations.

2013

Took part in writing programme of Toji Cultural Centre in South Korea.

2014

Awarded Singapore Literature Prize (Chinese Fiction).

2014 to 2015

Trained teachers at Singapore Centre for Chinese Language.

2015

Awarded the Cultural Medallion.


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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