Life and works of Singapore literary pioneer, Khoo Seok Wan, on exhibition at National Library

Life and works of Singapore literary pioneer, Khoo Seok Wan, on exhibition at National Library
MOS Sim Ann (right) with Mr Ong Cheng Kian (centre), grandson of Khoo Seok Wan, and Ms Yeoh Chee Yan, Chairman, NLB

SINGAPORE - The life and works of Singapore literary pioneer, Khoo Seok Wan, take centre stage at the National Library's latest exhibition, Khoo Seok Wan: Poet & Reformist.

For the first time, more than 150 rare artefacts depicting his life and poetry are on display in Singapore.

Ms Sim Ann, Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information and Ministry of Education, launched the exhibition at the National Library Building Thursday.

Master Poet of the South

Born in 1874 in China, Khoo Seok Wan was a prolific poet and well- known literary figure in Nanyang (Southeast Asia) at the turn of the century.

His first poem at the young age of 15 won him fame as the "Master Poet of the South", for his ability to weave observations of daily life into lyrical verses of classical Chinese poetry.

He wrote over 1,000 poems, covering personal reflections, politics, and social commentary on the world around him.

The people and culture of Singapore inspired him to compose "Nanyang-flavoured" poems on local traditions and lifestyles, which even included a sprinkling of Malay words.

A Life of Community Involvement

Khoo was an active community leader, and strongly advocated Chinese culture and education in early Singapore. He donated money to the founding of Singapore Chinese Girls' School in 1899, in support of education for girls.

To aid children in their study of Chinese, he updated a 1,400-year-old Chinese text, Thousand Character Classics, with more familiar phrases relevant for children living in Southeast Asia.

Khoo also followed the political developments in China at that time closely.

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