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Literary Arts

Wong Meng Voon

Co-founder of the Singapore Association of Writers.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


Time taken : >15mins

We need to be able to pursue our artistic passions and interests and not just focus on earning money. This gives us a valuable diversity as a society.

Wong Meng Voon, who also writes under his pen name Meng Yi, is a renowned scholar, translator, editor, and one of Singapore’s most well-known and prolific Chinese-language authors who has written books on the history of Singapore Chinese-language literature. Best known for his micro-novels, Wong has promoted the form through his writings and critical studies, helping to place Singapore on the world Chinese literary map. In 1981, he became Singapore’s first Chinese-language literature recipient of the Cultural Medallion.

Born on 27 July 1937 in Perak, Malaysia, Wong Meng Voon lived through the Japanese Occupation years with his family who relocated to Pahang to avoid the Japanese invasion. In 1946, he started his primary school education and began reading classical Chinese novels the next year at the age of 10. This would be Wong’s first encounter with Chinese literature that would set him on the path to becoming one of Singapore’s significant Chinese-language writers.

Besides novels, Wong also read Chinese-language short stories and folk story books in primary school. His budding interest in Chinese literature meant that he excelled in Chinese in school. Gaining confidence in his Chinese-language ability and influenced by his passion for reading, Wong felt the impulse to start writing too.

Wong then moved to Penang, Malaysia, and attended Han Jiang High School. Wong began submitting his literary works to Chinese-language literary publications in Malaysia and Singapore, and regularly saw them published. As he made his way up to the upper secondary levels of his studies, he received prizes for his submissions, and other writers and critics would in turn publish analyses of his work. This affirmation of Wong’s abilities as a writer encouraged him to pursue his passion.

In 1958, after a short stint teaching in Pahang, Wong moved to Singapore to study at the Nanyang University where he would obtain his Bachelor of Arts degree in Chinese literature. He then obtained his honours degree at the University of Singapore in 1966 after spending some time as an editor with the Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao and as a secondary school teacher. Two years later, he obtained his Masters degree at the University of Singapore.

In 1975, Wong received his Ph.D in Asian Studies at the University of Washington, USA. There, Wong had access to many Chinese literary publications that were not easily attainable back in Singapore and Malaysia. Though he had already published two short story collections, his time spent in the US proved to be a particularly enriching and formative period of his writing career that would have a significant impact on his later works.

Wong’s early influences included Guy de Maupassant and Anton Chekhov, both renowned masters of the short story. His early writings were full of compassion for the underprivileged, exemplified in his well-received short story collections 《再见惠兰的时候》 (When I Meet Huilan Again) and 《我要活下去》 (I Want to Live). Later, he was more inspired by the magical realism of South American literature, and his writing style took on shades of satire as he cultivated a style of writing that he could call his own. Several of Wong’s works also came to be translated to other languages such as English, Malay, Tagalog and Japanese.

Besides his own fictional work, Wong has also edited and compiled several anthologies that showcase the works of other Singapore authors, published numerous essays, and edited literary magazines. His 2002 edited volume A Preliminary Study of the History of Singapore Chinese Literature is a significant and pioneering contribution that systematically documents the development of Singapore Chinese literature.

Wong has also been extremely active in promoting literary activities of all kinds in Singapore. A co-founder of the Singapore Association of Writers in 1970, he went on to serve as its president and then honorary president for over 20 years. He also served as the president of the World Chinese Writers Association (Singapore), the vice-president of the Asian Chinese Writers Association, and the charter president of the World Chinese Micro-Fiction Research Association. Despite officially retiring in 2000, he continued to lecture at universities in Singapore, and often represented Singapore at literary conferences worldwide. Since 2002, Wong has also been a member of the Arts Advisory Panel at the National Arts Council, Singapore.

For his accomplishments in Chinese literature, Wong has received many honours including the S. E. A. Write Award in 1981 and the Nanyang Chinese Literature Award in 2011. In 1981, Wong also received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to literary arts in Singapore.

Wong continues to write and devote himself fully to the development of Chinese literature.

Singapore Association of Writers

Timeline

27 Jul 1937

Born in Perak, Malaysia.

1941

Moved with family to Pahang, Malaysia.

1946 to 1953

Attended Bang Jiang Primary School, Pahang, Malaysia.
Attended Chong Hua Primary School, Kuala Lipis, Pahang, Malaysia.
Attended Chong Jing Secondary School, Raub, Pahang, Malaysia.

1951

Received a literary award for short story 往事, published in 《华中月报》, Singapore.

1954 to 1956

Attended Han Jiang High School, Penang, Malaysia.

1957

Teacher, Chong Hua Primary and Secondary School, Kuala Lipis, Pahang, Malaysia.

1958

Moved to Singapore.
Received a literary award for short story 柳暗花明, published by Nanyang University Chinese Society, Singapore.

1958 to 1961

Graduated from Nanyang University with a Bachelor of Arts in Chinese Language and Literature.

1962

Editor, Min Pao Daily.

1963

Teacher, Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School, Singapore.

1964 to 1966

Awarded a fellowship by the Public Service Commission to attend the University of Singapore.
Graduated from Nanyang University with BA Hons (First Class) in Chinese Language and Literature.

1966 to 1978

Worked in the Singapore Administrative Service.

1968

Graduated from the University of Singapore with Masters in Chinese Literature.

1969

Published short story collection 《再见惠兰的时候》 (When I Meet Huilan Again).

1970

Awarded the Gowen Fellowship to study at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA.
Co-founder, Singapore Association of Writers.
Published short story collection 《我要活下去》 (I Want to Live).
Published 《宋代白话小说研究》 (A Study of Short Stories and Novels of the Sung Dynasty).
Editor, 《新加坡华文文学作品选集》 (A Collection of Singapore Chinese Literature).

1974

Editor, 《新马华文文学大系》 (An Anthology of Singapore Chinese Literature).

1975

Graduated from the University of Washington, Seattle, USA, with a PhD in Asian Studies.

1976 to 1996

President, Singapore Association of Writers.

1978

Received Translation Prize, National Book Development Council of Singapore.

1979

Distinguished International writer, International Writing Program, University of Iowa, USA.

1980

Published 《新马文艺论丛》 (A Study of Singapore and Malaysia Literature).

1981 to 1984

Vice-president, Asian Chinese Writers Association.

1981

Received Cultural Medallion for contributions to literary arts. First Chinese-language literary artist to do so.
Received S.E.A. Write Award.
Published Glimpses of the Past: Stories from Singapore and Malaysia.

1983

Editor, 《新华文学作品选》 (Anthology of Singapore Chinese Literature).

1984 to 1994

President, World Chinese Writers Association (Singapore branch).

1988 to present

Honorary president, Singapore Association of Writers.

1989

Glimpses of the Past: Stories from Singapore and Malaysia published in Tagalog.

1990

Editor, micro-fiction collection 《赤道边缘的珍珠》.

1991

Published short story and micro-novel collection 《安乐窝》 (The Happy Nest).

1993

Published prose and short story collection 《朝阳从我身边掠过: 散文集》 (The Sun Brushes Against Me).
Published short story and micro-novel collection 《学府夏冬》 (From Summertime to Wintertime at Water Curtain Cave Secondary School).

1994

Received Special Literary Award (prose), Beijing Radio, China.

1995

Published 《黄孟文文集》 (A Collection of Wong Meng Voon’s Writings).
Editor, 《新加坡小说精选》(A Collection of Singapore's Short Stories).
Editor, 《新加坡散文精选》(A Collection of Singapore Prose).
Editor, 《东南亚华文文学大系(新加坡卷)》.
Editor, 《亚细安青年微型小说》 (ASEAN Youth Mini-Fiction).

1996

Received Literary Award (prose), Top China magazine, China.
Published 《黄孟文微型小说选评》 (A Collection of Micro-Fiction and Commentaries by Wong Meng Voon).
Published 《新华文学评论集》 (A Collection of Essays on Singapore Chinese Literature).
Editor, 《首届世界华文微型小说研讨会论文集》 (Proceedings from the First World Chinese Micro-Fiction Seminar).
Editor, 《世界华文微型小说名家名作丛编(新马泰卷)》 (World Chinese Micro-Fiction – Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand).

1997

Researcher, Centre for Chinese Language and Culture, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Published prose and short story collection 《啊! 东方城市》(Oh! Eastern City).
Editor, 《新加坡作家作品国际研讨会》.

1998

Editor, 《新加坡诗歌精选》 (A Collection of Singapore Poetry).

1999

Co-founder, World Chinese Micro-Fiction Research Association.
Charter president, World Chinese Micro-Fiction Research Association.
Researcher, Guangdong Zhangjiang Normal University, China.

2002

Editor, 《新加坡华文文学史初稿》< (A Preliminary Study of Singapore Chinese Literary History).

2002 to present

Member, Arts Advisory Panel, National Art Council, Singapore.

2003

Editor, 《从选集看历史—新马新诗选析》 (A Study of History Between 1919–1965 Through Singapore and Malaysia Chinese Poetry).
Editor, 《亚细安青年微型小说2》 (ASEAN Youth Micro-Fiction 2).

2004

Published 《黄孟文微型小说》 (A Collection of Micro-Fiction by Wong Meng Voon).
Editor, 《世界华文微型小说研究会丛书系列》 (World Chinese Micro-Fiction Research Association Series).

2007

Published 《黄孟文中短篇小说自选集》 (A Self-selected Collection of Short Stories by Wong Meng Voon).
Published 《微型小说微型论》 (A Theoretical Discussion of Micro-Fiction).
Lecturer, Singapore Institute of Management.

2008

Received Whole-Life Accomplishment on World Chinese Micro-Fiction Award, awarded jointly by the World Chinese Micro-Fiction Research Association, China's Micro-Fiction Association and Shanghai's Literary Publishing Association.
Published 《新华文学•世华文学: 评论与史料选辑》 (Singapore and Global Literature – A Collection of Essays and Historical Extracts).

2009

Received Special Recognition Award, National Arts Council, Singapore.

2010

Lecturer, Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore.

2011

Received Nanyang Chinese Literature Award, Confucius Institute, Singapore.
Received Micro-Fiction Lifetime Achievement Award, 4th Zhenzhou Micro-Fiction Festival.


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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