Literary pioneer's documents on show

Literary pioneer's documents on show
Khoo Seok Wan wrote more 1,000 poems on life in early Singapore and his involvement in social reforms.

As a boy, Mr Ong Cheng Kian would see his mother taking out century-old letters, newspaper cuttings, books and other documents belonging to his late grandfather Khoo Seok Wan to sun on a good day.

"Every time she did that, she would tell me stories about my late grandfather," recalled the retired businessman, 73, who took over the collection after his mother Khoo Meng Kuan died in 1967, aged 65.

An expert today on the Singapore literary pioneer and late 19th century community leader, Mr Ong has offered some of the family's treasures for the Khoo Seok Wan: Poet and Reformist exhibition.

The event was opened by Ms Sim Ann, Minister of State for Education and Communications and Information at the National Library Building last night.

More than 150 artefacts and original documents are on display, including Khoo's poems dating to 1898 and an 1899 letter from the Qing Dynasty scholar and reformer Kang Youwei.

"These treasures which I have kept all these years are seeing the light of day for the first time," said Mr Ong, who brought along the elder of his two sons, Mr Ong Sin Wei, 41, and 13-year-old grandson Alexander to a preview of the exhibition on Tuesday.

NLB's head of exhibitions and curation Tan Huism said the show, with the valuable documents and artefacts from the family, is the most comprehensive to date on Khoo, who wrote over 1,000 poems painting a vivid life of early Singapore and his involvement in social reforms.

Born in 1874 in Fujian, China, to a wealthy rice merchant, he moved to Singapore with his parents when he was eight. But he returned home to study the classics till he obtained the title of ju ren, given to successful candidates at the provincial level under the examination system in Imperial China, in 1894.

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