Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).

Literary Arts

Tham Yew Chin (You Jin)

Chinese-language writer.


Published: 12 Oct 2016

Time taken : >15mins

Your personal values and worldview will completely inform and influence your work. Whether or not you can have a positive impact on your readers depends on your attitude and your convictions in life. Young authors should have a positive attitude towards life.

Tham Yew Chin, better known by her pen name You Jin, is the author of some 158 books and a prolific writer of travelogues, essays, opinion pieces, short stories and novels. Known for her heartwarming and sensitive observations of everyday life, she has been recognised in Singapore and China. The inaugural recipient of the Singapore Chinese Literary Award and the Montblanc-NUS Centre of the Arts Literary Award, she was honoured with the establishment of the You Jin Research Centre in Chongqing University in 2000. In 2009, Tham received the Cultural Medallion for her contributions to literature in Singapore.

Born in Ipoh, Malaysia in 1950, Tham Yew Chin moved to Singapore with her family when she was eight years old. An avid reader of Chinese literature since young, she was the daughter of a war hero who fought in the resistance movement during the Japanese Occupation of Malaysia. Tham grew up with a strong sense of moral duty and a hunger for the betterment of others.

Tham’s writing career started early on in her life when she was in primary five. An 11-year-old Tham came upon a book rental cart near her home one day, and discovered that many students were using their pocket money to rent books containing violent and salacious themes. Feeling that these books were akin to drugs that were unhealthy for the soul, Tham made the decision that she would be a writer of meaningful fairy tales for children when she grew up.

Soon after, she received an essay assignment in school that required her to write on her ambition. Tham submitted an essay titled I Wish to Be a Fairy Tale Writer, which received the highest marks in class and was read out to her classmates by her teacher. Feeling elated and encouraged by her achievement, Tham submitted the essay to the newspapers. Around a month later, I Wish to Be a Fairy Tale Writer was published, marking a young Tham’s debut as a published writer.

From there, Tham set herself on a literary path, continuing to write throughout her secondary and university studies and during her career as a professional.

In 1973, she graduated from Nanyang University with a first class Honours degree in Chinese Literature. She went on to be a librarian at the National Library for three years, and then joined Chinese-language daily Nanyang Siang Pau as a journalist and supplement editor. The ’80s saw Tham beginning a new career as an educator as she became a teacher at Hua Yi Secondary School, later on teaching at Pioneer Junior College.

Throughout her professional career, Tham wrote voraciously in her spare time, requiring only four to five hours of sleep every night. She built up an immense body of work, consisting of over 150 short story collections, novels and travelogues that were published in Southeast Asia and East Asia, some of which have been translated to other languages. She gained popularity particularly for her touching and humorous travelogues, which—like all her other writing—was informed by her affirmatory attitudes towards life. Her short stories and novels became known for their gentle adages and personal reflections.

Tham received the National Book Development Council of Singapore book award twice for her travelogue The White House in the Desert in 1982 and her novel The Burning Lion in 1991. She also holds the honour of receiving the inaugural Singapore Chinese Literary Award from the Singapore Literature Society in 1991, and the inaugural Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award in 1996. In 2009, Tham received the Cultural Medallion for her contributions to literature in Singapore.

In 2008, Tham’s book Short Stories by You Jin was selected for the National Library Board’s Read! Singapore campaign.

Tham also received much acclaim and recognition in China, with the You Jin Research Centre being established in Chongqing University in 2000. She was also invited to take part in Chengdu city’s inaugural writer-in-residence programme in 2007, resulting in the publishing of the book 《缤纷城事: 尤今读成都》 The Colourful City the next year.

Today, Tham continues to write and is a regular feature writer for Singapore Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao and Shanghai newspaper Xin Min Daily News. When not putting her heart into her writing, she bakes in her free time.


10 Oct 1950

Born in Ipoh, Malaysia.


Moved to Singapore with family.

1958 to 1962

Attended Yu Qun Primary School and Seng Poh Primary School.

1963 to 1968

Attended River Valley High School.

1970 to 1973

Attended Nanyang University. Graduated with a first-class Honours degree in Chinese Literature.

1973 to 1976

Librarian, National Library, Singapore.

1976 to 1982

Journalist and supplement editor, Nanyang Siang Pau, Singapore.


Published first book 《社会鳞爪》 A Glimpse of Society, a collection of essays written for Nanyang Siang Pau.

1982 to 1999

Teacher (Chinese Language), Hua Yi Secondary School.


Received National Book Development Council of Singapore book award for travelogue 《沙漠里的小白屋》The White House in the Desert.
Graduated from National Institute of Education with a diploma in Education.


Received inaugural Singapore Chinese Literary Award, Singapore Literature Society.
Received National Book Development Council of Singapore book award for novel 《燃烧的狮子》The Burning Lion.


Received Straits Love Award, Beijing, China.


《尤今评传》A Critical Biography of You Jin published in China.


Received inaugural Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award.

2000 to 2009

Teacher (Chinese Language), Pioneer Junior College.

17 Sep 2000

Establishment of You Jin Research Centre, Chongqing University, China.


Published literary memoir 《文字就是生命--尤今创作之路》Literature is My Life.
Published short story collection 《伤心的水》The Sad Water.


Published 《走过叛逆青春》The Rebellious Youth.
Published 《风铃叮当响》The Wind Chime.


Writer-in-residence, Chengdu, China.
Short story collection 《伤心的水》The Sad Water translated and published in Indonesian.


《尤今小说精选》Short Stories by You Jin selected for Read! Singapore, National Library Board, Singapore.
Published 《缤纷城事:尤今读成都》 The Colourful City.

2009 to present

Freelance writer and literary instructor.


Received Cultural Medallion for contributions to literature in Singapore.
Published 《没有选择的选择》Choice Out of No Choice.
《文字就是生命--尤今创作之路》Literature is My Life published as 《我是一尾沉默的鱼》I Am a Silent Fish in China.


Received inaugural Zhong Shan Literary Award for 《我是一尾沉默的鱼》I Am a Silent Fish, China.
Published 《爱是一朵花》 Love is a Blossom Flower.


Published 《菩萨的境界》The Buddha’s World.
Short story collection 《听,青春在哭泣!》 is translated and published as Teaching Cats to Jump Hoops, Epigram Books. Translated by Sylvia Li-chun Lin.
Published short story collection 《金色的袋鼠》 The Golden Kangaroo.
Published travelogue 《心也飞翔》Flying with Feeling.


Published short story collection 《释放快乐》Release Happiness.


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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