Bilingual writer Li Lienfung dies at 88

By David Lim

Among the many fond memories that entrepreneur Ho Kwon Ping has of his mother, who died on Wednesday night, some stand out - the dinners they had together, just the two of them.

"I will miss the times when just the two of us would go for dinner and get tipsy on sake," Mr Ho said in an e-mail to my paper yesterday. "I will also miss our regular Sunday lunches, when the whole family would gather."

Madam Li Lienfung died at 11.30pm on Wednesday, after suffering a massive brain haemorrhage and slipping into a coma.

She was 88. She left behind a daughter, two sons and six grandchildren.

Madam Li's eldest child, Minfong, is an acclaimed writer. Her second child, Kwon Ping, is the executive chairman of hospitality group Banyan Tree Holdings. He is married to former Nominated Member of Parliament Claire Chiang. Younger son Kwoncjan is an architect.

Madam Li was married to the late Mr Ho Rih Hwa, a prominent businessman and Singapore's former ambassador to Thailand.

An accomplished figure in her own right, Madam Li was a prolific writer and an ardent supporter of the arts.

She wrote the popular bilingual Bamboo Green column in The Straits Times from 1979 to 1984 and from 1993 to 1998, which detailed her childhood in China. She was also a columnist for Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao from 1998 to 2009.

She wrote the English play, A Sword Has Two Edges, in 1954, the first Singaporean work in English that is based on a Chinese classic, The Romance Of The Three Kingdoms.

Born in Shanghai, Madam Li was trained as a chemist in the United States and later studied literature at Cornell University, where she met her husband.

Mr Ho died in 1999, five years after suffering a serious stroke. In 2001, Madam Li donated $500,000 to the Singapore Management University to establish a lecture series in her husband's name.

Remembering his mother as a lively and quick-witted person, Mr Ho Kwon Ping said yesterday: "(She has a) strong conscience about the world that she passed on to me. She was a prolific writer and a good mother."

Madam Li's wake, which is open to the public, is being held at 36 King Albert Park. The funeral will be on Sunday afternoon.

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