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Literary Arts

Wong Yoon Wah

Writer, contemporary poet, scholar and critic.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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I write in Chinese, but I write about things that are universal, instead of writing about or alluding to things Chinese and in China. I explore new subject areas for my readers.

Prof. Wong Yoon Wah is a veteran writer, contemporary poet, scholar and critic of international standing and with an international following. A former Head of Department of Chinese Studies at the National University of Singapore, he has published over 20 books and over 50 articles on classical and modern Chinese literature, comparative literature and postcolonial Chinese literature. He was the recipient of the Cultural Medallion Award for Literature in 1986.

Born in 1941 and brought up in Malaysia, Wong grew up amongst rubber plantations against the tumultuous background of the Malayan Emergency. This was an often horrific experience that he could not talk about for many years but which was clearly a formative period of time, and has remained a source of inspiration for his literary output. Caught between Communist guerrillas of the Malayan National Liberation Army and punitive British forces, he spent much of his unforgettable childhood in a “new village”—in practice a barbed-wire compound which, for all its electricity and running water, was basically a concentration camp whose inhabitants lived under the permanent scrutiny of British guards.

Later on, he would move to Taiwan to study English literature at Taiwan's National Chengchi University, graduating with a BA in 1966. He then went to the USA where he pursued his Ph.D in Chinese Literature at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In 1972, he moved to Singapore with his wife, fellow writer Lew Poo Chan, to teach in Nanyang University and later became the head of the Department of Chinese Studies at the National University of Singapore.

Over the years, he would spend his time at various universities in China and North America as a visiting scholar. And in 2002, he was appointed the Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Taiwan's Yuan Ze University, where he currently serves as the university’s Faculty Professor of Chinese Language and Literature and Director of International Language and Culture Centre.

Prolific on many fronts, Wong has published over twenty collections of prose and poetry, including Beyond Symbols (1984), Poems of Water and Mountains (1988), and Tropical Forrest and the British Colony (1999). His numerous academic and critical studies on Chinese and comparative literature (in Chinese or English) include Ss'u-k'ung T'u: A Poet-Critic of the Tang, Essays on Chinese Literature: A Comparative Approach, and Yu Dafu: Sources for the Study of His Last Days in Singapore and Sumatra. His work has been widely anthologized in Asia.

For many years the editor of Singa: Literature and the Arts in Singapore, and the Singapore editor of the Anthology of ASEAN literatures, he also served as a member of the National Arts Council’s Arts Advisory Panel and as president of the Singapore Writers Association.

For his commitment to promoting literature regionally, his many distinctions include The Epoch Poetry Award (1974); The China Times Literary Award (1981); the Southeast Asia Write Award (1984); and the ASEAN Cultural Award (1993). In 1986, Wong received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to literature in Singapore.

Currently, besides spending his time at Yuan Ze University, Wong also serves as vice-president of Southern College in Malaysia.

Timeline

13 Aug 1941

Born in Perak, Malaysia.

1966

Graduated with BA in English Literature from National Chengchi University, Taiwan.
Published prose collection Ye Ye Zai Mu Ying Xia.
Published poetry collection Huan Bing De Tai Yang.

1969

Graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

1970

Published poetry collection Gao Chao.

1972

Graduated with Ph.D in Chinese Literature from University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.
Research Associate, University of Iowa, USA.

1973

Lecturer, Chinese Language Literature Department, Nanyang University, Singapore.

1975

Received Epoch Poetry Award.

1976 to 1977

Acting Director, Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang University, Singapore.

1977 to 1979

Director, Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang University, Singapore.

1978

Published poetry collection Nei Wai Ji.

1979 to 1980

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

1980

Published poetry collection Xiang Jiao Shu: Nan Yang Xiang Tu Shi Ji.

1981 to 1989

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

1981

Received The China Times’ Literary Award, Taipei.
Received Zhong Xing Literary Award, Taiwan Writers and Artists Association.
Published prose and poetry collection Nan Yang Xiang Tu Ji.

1983 to 1985

Sub-Dean, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore.

1983

Visiting professor, Tsing-hua University, Taiwan.

1984

Received SEA Write Award.
Published poetry collection Beyond Symbols.

1984 to 1989

President, Singapore Association of Writers.

1985

Honorary Fellow, International Writing Programme, University of Iowa, USA.

1986

Received Cultural Medallion for contributions to literature.
Published prose and poetry collection Wang Run Hua Zi Xuan Ji.

1986 to 2002

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

1986 to 2003

Vice-chairman, Singapore National Selection Committee, SEA Write Award, Bangkok, Thailand.

1988

Published poetry collection Shan Shui Shi.
Published prose collection Qiu Ye Xing.

1989

Visiting scholar, Fudan University and Nanjing University (China), University of British Columbia (Canada), University of Wisconsin and Harvard University (USA).

1989 to 2002

Editorial Advisor, Chinese Culture, Beijing, China.

1990 to 1999

Associate Professor, Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore.

1990

Visiting scholar, University of California, Berkeley (USA) and University of London (UK).

1993

Received ASEAN Cultural Award (Literature).
Visiting Professor, Peking University, Beijing, China.

1995

Published prose collection Ba Hei Ye Dai Hui Jia.
Published poetry collection Wang Run Hua Wen Ji.

1996

Honorary Fellow, International Writing Programme, University of Iowa, USA.

1996 to 2002

Deputy Director, Centre for the Arts, National University of Singapore.

1997 to present

Vice-chairman, Asian Chinese Writers Association.

1998 to 2009

President, Singapore Association of Writers.

1999 to 2002

Professor and Head, Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore.

2000

Visiting Professor, Central China Normal University.
Guest Professor, Sichuan University, Chengdu, China.
Published poetry collection Re Dai Yu Lin Yu Zhi Min Di.

2000 to 2002

Professor and Head, Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore.

2001

Visiting professor, Suzhou University, China.

2002

Adjudicator, 7th Malaysia Chinese Literary Award, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

2002 to 2004

Advisor, World Chinese Mini-fiction Research Association.

Nov 2002 to Jul 2005

Dean, College of Humanities and Social sciences, Yuan Ze University, Taiwan.

Nov 2002 to Aug 2006

Professor and Chairman, Department of Chinese Linguistics and Language, Department of Applied Chinese, Yuan Ze University, Taiwan.

2003

Published prose and poetry collection Liu Lian Zi Wei.

2005

Visiting professor, Shandong University, Jinan, China.

2006

Faculty Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, Yuan Ze University, Taiwan.
Director of International Language and Culture Center, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Yuan Ze University, Taiwan.

2012 to present

Vice-president, Southern College, Malaysia.


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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