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Lung Ying-tai: Stirring a ‘small river, small sea’ in Singapore

By Quek See Ling

To some readers, Taiwanese writer Lung Ying-tai’s The Wild Fire Collection is like a miniature Cultural Revolution. She once lit another fire with her 1994 article, Glad I Am Not a Singaporean. “Even with higher economic growth, better security, and a more efficient government, I will not give up my personal freedom and dignity.” Her words set many locals ablaze, prompting responses like Glad I Am a Singaporean and Glad She Is Not a Singaporean.

Lung Yingtai_2_WebLung Ying-tai on stage with the chair, Prof Eddie Kuo Chen-Yu (Director, UniSIM Centre for Chinese Studies) (Source: SIM University)

Fast forward to 2015, Singapore is celebrating 50 years of independence. Professor Lung, who left her portfolio as Taiwan’s first Minister of Culture in December 2014 to return to writing, agreed to give a lecture at the 2015 UniSIM Cultural China Public Lecture in Singapore on 25 October 2015. The theme was “From Village to Metropolis: My Private Cultural Album”.
The ripple was felt even before Lung set foot in the country; Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had shared Lung’s recent interview with Lianhe Zaobao on his Facebook page. But Lung seemed to have soften her stance, leaving many to wonder whether it was Singapore, or Lung, who has changed.

Village: Happiness Starts from the Bottom

“Strength does not reside in computer, mobile phones and the virtual world. When you realise this, you will find a way to connect yourself to the soil, barefooted.”

Right at the start of her lecture, Lung stated that she came from a village and modern cities of today have evolved from villages. Lung said that those who are struggling in the giant wheel of modernity should not be forgotten.

The Chinese society’s preference for dismantling the old to make way for the new means our surrounding is always changing. Lung related how she was struck by the scenery of boundless green fields and herds in their hundreds crossing the roads on her first trip to Europe. Seeing how the Europeans could preserve their quaint old streets, official documents like passports could be processed even in a village office, and villagers could dress neatly to attend a cello concert – it dawned on Lung that traditions could exist alongside modernity.
Lung stressed that public officers have a duty to ensure every child has access to the same cultural resources. Lung believes raising awareness will enable us to realise that rural traditions do not equate to a lack of refinement.

Lung Yingtai_3_WebFrom left) Prof Eddie Kuo Chen-Yu (Director, UniSIM Centre for Chinese Studies, UniSIM), Prof Wang Gungwu (Chairman, East Asian Institute, NUS), 
Ms Sim Ann (Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth & Ministry of Finance), Lung Ying-tai, 
Prof Aline Wong (Chancellor, UniSIM), Mr Anthony Tan (Executive Vice President, Chinese Media Group, Singapore Press Holdings), 
Mr Ch’ng Jit Koon (Representative, Business China) (Source: SIM University)

(Please look out for Part 2 – Lung Ying-tai: Culture, Language and Tradition Set the Foundation)

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