Chinese calligrapher Tan Siah Kwee has been recognised for his nearly five-decade promotion of the art of Chinese brush writing at a television award in Beijing.
Tan, 66, was among 10 individuals from nine countries to receive the third Brilliance of China: Choice for Chinese Culture Promoter of the Year Award on Dec 19.
He is the first Singaporean to receive the annual award organised by China's Ministry of Culture since 2012 to "encourage Chinese and Chinese overseas in the promotion of Chinese culture throughout the world".
Other recipients at last month's awards ceremony, televised globally on CCTV 4 satellite network on Sunday, included Brazil's first ethnic Chinese legislator Li Siu Yuk, 61; Chinese-American composer Tan Dun, 57, of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame; and Peking Opera artist Wu Rujun, 51.
Tan, president of the Chinese Calligraphy Society of Singapore which he founded in 1968 and a Cultural Medallion recipient, tells Life!: "The award came unexpectedly, but I am happy that tiny Singapore is now known for the promotion of Chinese calligraphy in the world."
Mr Matthias Yao, a former Singapore Senior Minister of State, who was with Tan at the ceremony, said in his citation that Chinese calligraphy was on the decline in Singapore in the 1970s, but Tan "worked day and night" to promote the art and rescued it from obscurity and reinstated it to the level of recognition it enjoys today.
Tan, Mr Yao added, also helped in the formation of the International Centre for Chinese Calligraphy in Singapore in 1988 and initiated a calligraphy grading test two years later to allow those interested in the art form to learn it systematically.
Singapore's former president S R Nathan and several former and current Cabinet ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, had also learnt Chinese calligraphy under Tan's guidance.
Mr Yao also pointed out that Chinese calligraphy has become a national art form in multiracial Singapore due to Tan's efforts.
Recipients of the Brilliance of China: Choice for Chinese Culture Promoter of the Year Award were picked by a 22-member jury headed by former Chinese Culture Minister and writer Wang Meng.
Other members include top Chinese government officials, academics, writers and journalists such as Peking University's Professor Zhang Yiwu, People's Daily deputy chief editor Chen Junhong, writer Yu Qiuyu and CCTV's chief Hu Zhanfan.
It was learnt that the jury received nearly 200 nominations from all over the world before deciding on the recipients out of a shortlist of 20 semifinalists.
Past recipients include Harvard Confucian scholar Tu Weiming, Chinese NBA basketball star Yao Ming, Chinese novelist and Nobel laureate Mo Yan, American-Chinese celebrity chef Martin Yan and Hong Kong gongfu superstar Jackie Chan.
Recipients each received a gold-plated trophy and a certificate with no cash awards.
Looking at his trophy, Tan said: "I am humbled by the recognition and will continue to promote Chinese calligraphy for everyone, irrespective of his nationality, race and cultural origins.
This article was first published on Jan 8, 2015.
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