Lee Dai Sor



Lee Dai Sor (b. 1913–d. 23 March 1989, Singapore), also known as Lee Dai Soh or Li Da Sha, was a renowned Cantonese storyteller. He was especially popular among radio listeners in the 1950s and 1960s. Lee, together with Ng Yong Khern and Ong Toh, who performed in Teochew and Hokkien respectively, is regarded as one of Singapore’s master storytellers.1

Early life
Lee was born Lee Fook Hai,2 the third child in a family of nine boys and one girl, in Telok Blangah, Singapore. In his first month, Lee was struck by a strange illness and lost his voice. Thinking that he was dying, Lee’s mother abandoned him at a rubbish dump, but he was discovered and returned by a beggar. Lee subsequently recovered and regained his voice. Only Lee and four of his brothers survived to adulthood.3

Lee’s father, a boilermaker with the Singapore Harbour Board4 (later the Port Authority of Singapore), was financially well off and donated generously to Yeung Ching School (renamed Yangzheng Primary School in 19885)  where Lee and his brothers studied. The family led a comfortable life, but their fortunes took a turn for the worse when their mother died of complications due to a stillbirth. The shock of his wife’s passing made Lee’s father mentally ill, and he went to China to seek treatment. While in his hometown of Dongguan in Guangdong province, the senior Lee was killed by an angry mob after he had acted disrespectfully in a temple.As a result of their father’s death, Lee and his brothers were left to fend for themselves. Fortunately, the principal of Yeung Ching School took pity on the brothers and cared for them. With his help, the brothers managed to continue with their education. To make ends meet, Lee and his brothers worked part-time in the school’s bookshop and food stall.7

Storytelling career
In 1931, at the age of 17, Lee began working full-time. He worked in various positions, including a draftsman, rubber shoe factory supervisor, cane factory worker, clerk, typesetter and reporter. His career as a storyteller began in 1938 when he joined Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM), a Malaysian public broadcaster, and hosted a Cantonese programme, Tam Tin Shuit Tei, which ran for more than 30 years.9 Meanwhile, Lee also hosted other Cantonese programmes narrating folktales, ghost stories, swordfighting stories, detective stories and Chinese classics.10


Lee’s career took off when Rediffusion began operations in Singapore in 1949. This provided him with an additional platform to expand his storytelling repertoire. His stories struck a chord with radio listeners, and he became a household name during the 1950s and 1960s. At one point, he was considered one of the best paid storytellers in Malaya with a salary of $700 a month.11 In July 1958, Cathay signed a three-year acting contract with Lee, but no movies were made. In the early 1960s, Lee was invited to star in Hong Kong movies but declined due to his busy schedule. However, Lee did make a number of guest appearances in movies filmed in Singapore and Hong Kong. At the height of his career in 1963, Lee was hosting up to 20 programmes weekly for Rediffusion as well as local and Malaysian radio stations. He also made recordings for the Chinese network of the Australian Broadcasting Company in the 1960s.12

Lee’s broadcasting career was affected when the Malaysian Radio and Television Corporation decided in 1973 that he could not continue hosting their programmes because he was not a Malaysian citizen. The launch of the Speak Mandarin Campaign in 1979 dealt a further blow to his career when Rediffusion and local radio stations had to cease all dialect programmes by the end of 1982. In 1982, amid the discontinuation of dialect programmes, Lee recorded his debut album Ru Chao San Bu Wen (入朝三不问), which was well received by his fans. He went on to produce more albums and, by the end of 1983, had 12 albums under his belt, with the last album consisting of eight volumes.13

When Rediffusion ceased its dialect programmes on 30 December 1982, Lee left the broadcasting scene.14 However, he continued to make recordings for Radio Australia until his death in 1989.15 He also continued to entertain audiences with his storytelling performances at clan associations and public events.16

Lee passed away on 23 March 1989 at the age of 76.17

Family
18

Wives: Wong Chow Foon, Meng Yeow Hoh.
Son: Lee Chee Leong Clement.
Daughters: Lee Yun Han Molly, Lee Oi Lin.



Author
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia



References
1. 莫美颜 [Mo, M. Y.]. (2003, June 9). 《最后一位讲古大师黄正经作古 一个民俗文化时代结束》[The last of the dialect storyteller passed away, ending Singapore’s dialect storytelling era], p. 27. 《联合早报》[Lianhe Zaobao], Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Obituary. (1989, March 24). The Straits Times, p. 38. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. 李大傻 [Li, D. S.]. (1984). 《讲古的一生 : 李大傻自传》[His life as a storyteller: Lee Dai Sor autobiography]. 新加坡: 联邦出版社, pp. 1–3. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 790.20924 LDS); Lo-Ang, S. G., & Chua, C. H. (1992). Vanishing trades of Singapore. Singapore: Oral History Department, p. 50. (Call no.: RSING 338.642095957 VAN) 
4. Tan, L. (Interviewer). (1983, March 22). Oral history interview with LEE Fook Hai @ Lee Dai Soh [Transcript of cassette recording no.000260/07/01, p. 1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
5. Yangzheng Foundation. (2012). Our history. Retrieved 2016, September 3 from Yangzheng Foundation website: http://yangzhengfoundation.com/history.php
6. 李大傻 [Li, D. S.]. (1984). 《讲古的一生 : 李大傻自传》[His life as a storyteller: Lee Dai Sor autobiography]. 新加坡: 联邦出版社, p. 3. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 790.20924 LDS)
7. 李大傻 [Li, D. S.]. (1984). 《讲古的一生 : 李大傻自传》[His life as a storyteller: Lee Dai Sor autobiography]. 新加坡: 联邦出版社, pp. 1–3. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 790.20924 LDS); Lo-Ang, S. G., & Chua, C. H. (1992). Vanishing trades of Singapore. Singapore: Oral History Department, p. 50. (Call no.: RSING 338.642095957 VAN)
8. Lo-Ang, S. G., & Chua, C. H. (1992). Vanishing trades of Singapore. Singapore: Oral History Department, p. 50. (Call no.: RSING 338.642095957 VAN) 
9. Lo-Ang, S. G., & Chua, C. H. (1992). Vanishing trades of Singapore. Singapore: Oral History Department, p. 50. (Call no.: RSING 338.642095957 VAN); 李大傻 [Li, D. S.]. (1984). 《讲古的一生 : 李大傻自传》[His life as a storyteller: Lee Dai Sor autobiography]. 新加坡: 联邦出版社, p. 24. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 790.20924 LDS)
10. 莫美颜 [Mo, M. Y.]. (2003, June 9). 《最后一位讲古大师黄正经作古 一个民俗文化时代结束》[The last of the dialect storyteller passed away, ending Singapore’s dialect storytelling era], p. 27. 《联合早报》[Lianhe Zaobao], Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Chan, C. B. (1957, July 14). Meet Malaya’s best paid story-tellerThe Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Lo-Ang, S. G., & Chua, C. H. (1992). Vanishing trades of Singapore. Singapore: Oral History Department, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 338.642095957 VAN); 王振春 [Wang, Z. C.]. (1982, March 31). 《李大傻为讲故事忙:新马奔波数十年如一日》[Microfilm no.: NL 11888]. Shin Min Daily News, p. 16.
13. Lo-Ang, S. G., & Chua, C. H. (1992). Vanishing trades of Singapore. Singapore: Oral History Department, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 338.642095957 VAN); 李大傻 [Li, D. S.]. (1984). 《讲古的一生 : 李大傻自传》[His life as a storyteller: Lee Dai Sor autobiography]. 新加坡: 联邦出版社, pp. 90-91, 96. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 790.20924 LDS)
14. Lo-Ang, S. G., & Chua, C. H. (1992). Vanishing trades of Singapore. Singapore: Oral History Department, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 338.642095957 VAN)
15. Tang, K.F. (1989, March 24). Storyteller Lee Dai Soh dies while waiting to see a doctorThe Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Yeo, G. L. (Interviewer). (1989, March 13). Oral history interview with LEE Fook Hai @ Lee Dai Soh [Transcript of cassette recording no.000260/07/03, p. 25]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
16. Activities in Chinatown (1985, February 23). Singapore Monitor, p. 20; How to spin a yarn, the Lee Dai Soh way (1987, May 5). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. 莫美颜 [Mo, M. Y.]. (2003, June 9). 《最后一位讲古大师黄正经作古 一个民俗文化时代结束》[The last of the dialect storyteller passed away, ending Singapore’s dialect storytelling era], p. 27.《联合早报》[Lianhe Zaobao], Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Obituary. (1989, March 24). The Straits Times, p. 38. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at August 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Li, Da Sha
Storytellers--Singapore
Arts>>Popular culture
Personalities
Personalities>>Biographies
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