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Literary Arts

Neo Choon Hong

Chinese-language poet.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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Neo Choon Hong is a Chinese language poet who goes by the pen name Liang Yue. His first book of poetry, So Says Tea, won the National Book Development Council of Singapore Award in 1986. He went on to publish three more volumes over a period of 30 years. They are Three Vicissitudes in Life, Selected Verses by Liang Yue and Thy Name. One of his most notable poems, The Merlion, is widely cited in local and regional publications. Other than being a prominent figure in literary arts, Neo is a Chinese language educator—he was the Assistant Director of Chinese Language and Literature at the Ministry of Education and a senior lecturer at the National Institute of Education. Currently he is the Vice-President of the Chinese Language Society (Singapore).

Neo Choon Hong was born in Singapore in 1950. He attended Sin Cheng Primary School and Sin Min High School. His proficiency in Mandarin had always been strong thanks to his love for reading. He was one of the few students who studied Chinese literature in secondary school. This was when he encountered poems by contemporary Taiwanese writers Yu Guangzhong, Lo Fu and Zheng Chouyu. He went on to major in Chinese Language and Chinese Literature at Nanyang University, Singapore, graduating with honours in 1973.

From a young age, he had an eye on teaching as a vocation, and he enrolled at the National Institute of Education for his teaching Diploma after university. Upon graduation, he was posted to Swiss Cottage Primary School where he was appointed as a Chinese Language Teacher.

After three years at the school, Neo became a senior specialist writer with the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore at the Ministry of Education (MOE). He stayed with the Ministry until 2007, becoming the Assistant Director of Chinese Language and Literature with the Curriculum Planning and Development Division in 2001 and the Head Secretariat of MOE's Committee in Promoting Chinese Language Learning in 2004.

While at MOE as a curriculum specialist, Neo was in charge of compiling and developing instructional materials and supplementary readers for pre-primary schools. It was during this period that he put together his first poetry collection, So Says Tea, which won the National Book Development Council of Singapore Award in 1986. The book is a selection of 42 poems written before 1984 detailing Neo's observations of and reflections on society, history and culture.

He had always loved words and writing poetry since his university days, and believes that to write poems, one must be finely attuned to his or her feelings. The selecting panel at the National Book Development Council noted that his work departed from traditional forms of language and expression, venturing instead into creative ways of exploring personal subjects, including the circumstances of life, man’s response to nature, and love and friendship.

After publishing his first book, Neo went on to write three more volumes of poetry under his pen name, Liang Yue. His second book, Three Vicissitudes in Life, consists of 62 poems exploring the social life, history and culture of Singaporeans. The poet took 13 years to compile this collection of impassioned and vividly descriptive poems. His works have been lauded by contemporaries such as Professor Wong Yoon Wah, who said that Neo's "rationality and emotions as well as outstanding language and imagination enables him to maintain consistently high standards".

In 2002, Neo published his third book, Selected Verses by Liang Yue, in Hong Kong. This volume departs from his previous two works as a bilingual edition. Neo’s most notable composition is The Merlion, which has been widely cited by local and regional academics. The poem describes the confused nature of the mythical creature that is neither mammal nor fish, referring to the dilemma of modern Singaporeans who seem to struggle with their cultural identity.

Besides penning poems, Neo is an authority on the teaching and learning of the Chinese language. Always keen on expanding his awareness of Chinese language and culture, he obtained a Masters degree in Chinese literature from the National University of Singapore in 2003. At the same time, he contributed research articles to The Selected Writings on Chinese Language Teaching in Singapore, in which he examined how Chinese language education can be improved. He continued to contribute to the journal until 2009, becoming the chief editor of the fifth and sixth editions. One of his missions as an advocate for Chinese education in Singapore is to establish a solid body of literary works written by Singaporeans with a strong sense of local identity.

Neo has lent his expertise and knowledge to a number of associations. He was appointed President of the Chinese Language Society (Singapore) in 2007. Currently, he is a committee member of the May Poetry Society and a member of the Singapore Writers Association. In addition, he has served as advisor to a range of professional bodies, including the Promote Mandarin Council, the Translation Standardisation Committee for the Chinese Media, the Selection Panel for the Most Inspiring Teacher Award and the Selection Panel for the Nanyang Neo Clan Association Scholarship.

In 2007, Neo was seconded to the National Institute of Education as a teaching fellow. He lectured at the institute until his retirement in 2012. He wrote his latest poetry collection, Thy Name, in 2011. The book was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize in 2012. Currently the Vice-President of the Chinese Language Society (Singapore), Neo continues to champion the development of Chinese literature in Singapore.

Timeline

1950

Born in Singapore.

1957 to 1962

Attended Sin Cheng Primary School.

1963 to 1966

Attended Sin Min High School.

1967 to 1968

Attended Sin Min High School for pre-university education.

1973

Graduated from Nanyang University, Singapore, with honours in Chinese Language and Literature.

1977

Graduated with a Diploma in Education from the Institute of Education, Singapore.

20 Jun 1977 to 31 Dec 1980

Chinese Language teacher at Swiss Cottage Secondary School, Singapore.

1 Jan 1981 to 31 Jul 1986

Senior Specialist Writer with the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore, Ministry of Education.

1984

First poetry collection So Says Tea was published.

1986

Won a Singapore Book Development Council award for poetry for So Says Tea.

1 Aug 1986 to 9 Dec 1996

Project Director of the CLIPS Project Team with the Curriculum Institute of Singapore, Ministry of Education.

1993

Awarded the Efficiency Medal by the Ministry of Education, Singapore.

1996 to 2001

Senior Curriculum Specialist of Language and Literature with the Curriculum Planning and Development Division, Ministry of Education, Singapore.

1997

Poetry collection Three Vicissitudes in Life was published in Hong Kong.

2000

Awarded the Long Service Medal by the Ministry of Education, Singapore.

2001

Research article The Standardisation of Chinese Language In Chinese Language Society (Singapore) (Ed.), published in Selected Writings on Chinese Language Teaching in Singapore (pages 57-63), Singapore.
Research paper The Five Integrative ways of Teaching Chinese In Chinese Language Society (Singapore) (Ed.), published in Selected Writings on Chinese Language Teaching in Singapore (pages 38-46), Singapore.

2001 to 2006

Part of the Translation Standardisation Committee for the Chinese Media.
On the Selection Panel for Most Inspiring Teacher Award.

2001 to 2007

Member of the panel of experts on the evaluation of degrees from PRC and Taiwan (Public Service Commission).

2001 to 2008

Part of the National Promote Mandarin Council.

24 Jul 2001 to 31 Dec 2006

Assistant Director of Chinese Language and Literature with the Curriculum Planning and Development Division, Ministry of Education, Singapore.

2002

Awarded the Public Administrative Medal (Bronze) by the Ministry of Education, Singapore.
Bilingual poetry collection Selected Verses by Liang Yue was published in Hong Kong.

2003

Graduated from National University of Singapore with a Masters degree in Chinese Literature.
Research paper Some Thoughts on Teaching Chinese Literature in Singapore In Chinese Language Society (Singapore) (Ed.), was published in Selected Writings on Chinese Language Teaching in Singapore (pages 141-150), Singapore.

2003 to 2006

On the Selection Panel for Outstanding Chinese Language Lesson Plan Award.

2003 to 2006

On the Selection Panel for CLAN Association Scholarship.
On the Selection Panel for Nanyang Neo CLAN Association Scholarship.

2004 to 2011

Head Secretariat of the Ministry of Education's Committee to Promoting Chinese Language Learning.

2007

Research paper "A study on the use of Rhetoric in the Teaching of Chinese Language at Primary Level" was published in Theory, Practice and Reflection: Thirteen writings on Singapore Chinese Teaching (revised version) (pages 54-64), Singapore.

Jan 2007 to Jun 2008

Teaching Fellow (Secondment) with the National Institute of Education, Singapore.

2007 to 2010

President of the Chinese Language Society (Singapore).

1 Jul 2008 to 31 Dec 2012

Senior Lecturer (Secondment) with the National Institute of Education, Singapore.

2008

Research paper "A study on the use of the locative terms in modern Chinese Literature. In Chinese Language Society" was published in Selected Writings on Chinese Language Teaching in Singapore (pages 122-136), Singapore.
Chief editor of the fifth issue of The Selected Writings on Chinese Language Teaching in Singapore.

2009

Research work The Direction and Footsteps of Literature was published.
Chief editor of the sixth issue of The Selected Writings on Chinese Language Teaching in Singapore.

2011

Poetry collection Thy Name was published.

Present

Teaching Consultant, National Institute of Education , Nanyang Technological University.


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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