Nick Shen was caned for pursuing Chinese opera

When he was 13, local actor-host Nick Shen Weijun told his father that he would be staying over for a month at a friend's home.

During that month, he was secretly performing with Chinese opera troupes without his father's knowledge.

When his father found out, punishment for Shen was swift and painful.

"He caned me the whole night," said Shen, who is in his 30s.

"My dad was furious because he saw no future in Chinese opera and wanted me to focus on my studies instead."

Two decades later, his father's reaction to him being a Chinese opera advocate is different.

He is at all his son's performances and even helps out with the costumes.

"I think he slowly saw meaning in the work I do and decided to support me," said Shen.

"What really touched me was how he would help out backstage when we need it. The work we do together now is meaningful."

His father is not the only one to recognise his work in Chinese opera.

Shen was recently named one of Junior Chamber International's Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World (JCI TOYP) in the category of cultural achievement.

He beat more than 200 nominees in Singapore in April and will be one of the 10 shortlisted out of 150 contestants in the world to receive the award in Germany on Nov 28.

JCI, which is based in the US, is a worldwide membership-based non-profit organisation of young active citizens aged 18 to 40 who are committed to making an impact in their communities.

The award honours 10 outstanding young people under the age of 40 who provide extraordinary service to their communities each year.


"I feel humbled and blessed. I think this is a good chance to showcase Chinese opera to Singapore and the rest of the world," said Shen, who is the seventh Singaporean to have won the award.

"It's a good platform to bring more awareness to the art and allow more young people to learn about it."

Shen was first introduced to Chinese opera when he was a toddler, as his grandfather used to be a drummer for a street opera troupe.

His grandmother would carry him in her arms to watch the performances and explain the plot and the characters to him.

Shen said: "My grandparents planted these seeds in me when I was young. Chinese opera is not just about performing. There are a lot of moral values being taught as well."

When asked if he had regrets about caning his son, Shen's father, Mr Sim Soo Guan, a retiree, said: "This was our way of disciplining our kids in those days. I was worried there was no future in Chinese opera and that he would be led astray."

Shen went on to pursue a diploma in mass communications.

He started his TV career in 1999 after winning the then-Television Corporation of Singapore's Star Search talent contest.

He was also Most Popular Newcomer in the Star Awards that year.

He left his full-time acting job with MediaCorp three years ago to focus on promoting Chinese opera here.

His company, Tok Tok Chiang, works with different organisations and statutory boards such as National Arts Council and National Heritage Board to takeChinese opera to the heartland, schools, corporate functions and more.

"Initially, I felt disheartened as interest in the art form is dwindling and there is a very small audience now," he said.


"But I don't feel lonely because I am starting to get a lot of support. It is very encouraging."

Mr Sim, 67, is proud of his son's achievements.

He said: "It is a miracle as the other nominees are very strong, and are outstanding youth in their fields too. I never expected my son to win this.

"Nick is very hard-working and serious in wanting to revive Chinese opera here and it's not an easy task. I respect him for it."

With his father behind him, Shen is confident that he will be able to keep Chinese opera alive for future generations.

"If I don't fight for this dying art, no one else would," he said.

"I try to create a bigger platform for the troupe artists, so that they can survive. That's what keeps me going."

This article was first published on Nov 10, 2014.
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