Li Lienfung



Li Lienfung (李廉凤) (b. 1923, Shanghai, China–d. 3 August 2011, Singapore) was a chemist and writer. She worked in the Wah Chang group of companies started by her father, Li Kuo Ching, with her huband Ho Ri Hwa, a prominent businessman and former ambassador. As a writer, she was known for “Bamboo Green”, a column in the bilingual section of The Straits Times which ran from 1979 to 1984 and 1993 to 1998. Li also authored plays in both English and Mandarin.1

Early life and education

Born in 1923 in Shanghai, Li grew up learning to speak Hunanese, Mandarin and Shanghainese. Her father, who was an engineer, went to work in the U.S., leaving Li and her mother with his parents in Shanghai. He eventually started a new family in America, when Li’s mother did not attend to his request to join him there. Due to the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, Li moved to Hunan in 1937, and subsequently left for Hong Kong with her mother. In 1940, she left for the U.S. to study at Mills College in California where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.2 


Li then continued studying chemistry as a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, before switching to a masters course in English literature at Cornell University in New York. At Cornell, she met Ho Rih Hwa, a fellow student whom she married in July 1946.3 She also reconciled with her father, who had then become one of America’s wealthiest Chinese businessmen.4  After marriage, Li and Ho embarked on a few business ventures that were unsuccessful. She then worked briefly as a chemist with American Cyanamid, a dye manufacturer in New Jersey.5

Working life
In late 1947, Li and Ho began working for Wah Chang Group, which was established by Li’s father. The first in China to discover tungsten, her father’s discovery earned him his reputation and wealth decades later; and Wah Chang’s main businesses were related to tungsten trading between America and China, as well as engineering. At the request of Li’s father, Li and Ho moved to Bangkok, Thailand in 1948 to work in Thai Wah, a company under the Wah Chang Group.6

In Bangkok, Li worked in Thai Wah’s laboratories, before moving to Rangoon (presently Yangon), Myanmar in 1949, where her husband was expanding Thai Wah’s tungsten trading business. There, she gave birth to her first child, Minfong, in January 1951.7

The couple also started a factory producing mung bean vermicelli in Rangoon, before expanding to Bangkok in 1952 by setting up a larger vermicelli factory called Walon. In July that year, Li went to Hong Kong to give birth to Kwon Ping, her second child.8

Upon her return to Bangkok in late 1952, Li resumed her work in both Thai Wah and Walon, utilising her training as a chemist to introduce modern methods of production as well as resolve quality issues.9 She eventually became vice-chairman of Wah Chang.10

Between 1967 and 1971, Ho served as Singapore’s ambassador to Thailand and Li fulfilled the duties of a diplomat’s wife.11 That aspect of her life continued from 1972 to 1974, when Ho was Singapore’s ambassador to Belgium and the European Economic Community.12 The family, including Li’s third child Kwon Cjan, had settled in Singapore in 1971,13 but Li continued to travel often due to her husband’s professional obligations.14 

Literary career
Li’s first foray into publishing was a collection of essays on life in China when she was 13.15 While working as a chemist, she translated Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape into Mandarin, and had her short stories and travelogues published in newspapers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.16

In 1954, Li wrote The Sword Has Two Edges, a play in English based on a minor character, Cicada (貂蝉; Diaochan), from the Chinese classic novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义). The play was initially written for Li’s friend who had a theatre group in Honolulu, but it was not staged by the group.17 Then in 1976, the play was read by D. Murugan, a member of the Experimental Theatre Club (ETC). With Li’s permission, the play was produced by the club and ran for four performances in August 1977.18 It was also performed in November 1990 at the TheatreWorks’ Festival of Singapore Plays.19 In addition, the play was published in print in 1979, and reprinted in 2004.20

Encouraged by the response to her first play, Li wrote another play titled Trials and Turbulence of the Twilight Years. The play won first prize in the Chinese Three-Act Play category of the Ministry of Culture’s Play Competition in 1978.21 It was subsequently performed as The Late Storm (晚来风急) by the Singapore Creative Dramatic Society in 1981.22

Between 1979 and 1984, Li wrote “Bamboo Green”, a weekly column in the bilingual section of The Straits Times, which featured traditional Chinese stories and personal anecdotes. Her columns were compiled in two books, Bamboo Green and A Joss Stick for My Mother.23 The latter won a “Highly Commendation” award from the National Book Development Council of Singapore in 1986.24

The column “Bamboo Green” had a re-run in The Straits Times from 1993 to 1998, and this time centred more on stories of Li’s family and her childhood. Li’s columns proved popular, and were known for connecting English-educated readers to Chinese culture.25 She also wrote a column for the local Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报) between 1998 and 2009.26

During the 2000s, Li published Battle at the Red Cliff and Only a Sandpiper. Both publications were guides to classical Chinese literature.27 In 2010, she published 两片灵芝, a memoir on her parents’ relationship and family life.28 The book was translated into English by Li, and published the following year as A Daughter Remembers.29

Li advocated a number of causes in Singapore, including women’s rights in the 1970s, and promotion of the arts.30 She chaired the Singapore Totalisator Board Arts Fund Committee between 1994 and 2002.31 In 2001, Li donated S$500,000 to the Singapore Management University (SMU) to establish the Ho Rih Hwa Leadership in Asia Public Lecture Series.32 Two years later, she donated S$1 million to set up and run Lien Fung’s Colloquium at SMU, a lecture and talk series on societal and cultural issues.33

Death
On 1 August 2011, Li went into a coma after suffering from a massive brain haemorrhage. She passed away at the National University Hospital, with family members at her side, two days later on 3 August at 11.30 pm.34

Family
Father: Li Kuo Ching, founder of Wah Chang Group.35 
Mother: Luo Bu Ge.36 
Husband: Ho Rih Hwa, former ambassador and prominent businessman.
Sons: Ho Kwon Ping, chairman of Wah Chang International Corporation and Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts; and Ho Kwon Cjan, architect, and senior vice president and group chief designer of Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts.37
Daughter: Ho Minfong, writer and Cultural Medallion recipient.38

Works
1954: The Sword Has Two Edges.
1981: 晚来风急.

1982: Bamboo Green.
1985: A Joss Stick for My Mother.
2003: Only a Sandpiper: Appreciating Classical Chinese Poetry.
2004: Battle at the Red Cliff: A Guide to Three Kingdoms.
2010: 两片灵芝.
2011: A Daughter Remembers.



Author

Alvin Chua



References
1. Li, L. F. (2011). A daughter remembers. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 371—372. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 LI)
2. Li, L. F. (2011). A daughter remembers. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 371—372. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 LI); Ho, R. H. (1991). Eating salt: An autobiography. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 115. (Call no.: RSING 338.092 HO)
3. Ho, R. H. (1991). Eating salt: An autobiography. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 113–116. (Call no.: RSING 338.092 HO), Sim, M., & Hoe, P. S. (2011, August 5). Writer Li Lien Fung dies at age 88. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Ho, R. H. (1991). Eating salt: An autobiography. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 115. (Call no.: RSING 338.092 HO), Li, L. F. (2011). A daughter remembers. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 371. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 LI)
5. Ho, R. H. (1991). Eating salt: An autobiography. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 119—121. (Call no.: RSING 338.092 HO)
6. Ho, R. H. (1991). Eating salt: An autobiography. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 121—124, 156. (Call no.: RSING 338.092 HO)
7. Ho, R. H. (1991). Eating salt: An autobiography. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 159, 162, 170. (Call no.: RSING 338.092 HO)
8. Ho, R. H. (1991). Eating salt: An autobiography. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 182—189. (Call no.: RSING 338.092 HO)
9. Ho, R. H. (1991). Eating salt: An autobiography. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 189—192. (Call no.: RSING 338.092 HO)
10. Lee, S. C. (1993, July 26). Li’s personal glimpses. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Ho, R. H. (1991). Eating salt: An autobiography. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 256—269. (Call no.: RSING 338.092 HO)
12. Koh, B. S. (1991, June 15). Sifting salt. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Sim, M., & Hoe, P. S. (2011, August 5). Writer Li Lien Fung dies at age 88. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ho, R. H. (1991). Eating salt: An autobiography. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 270. (Call no.: RSING 338.092 HO)
14. Ho, R. H. (1991). Eating salt: An autobiography. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 270—287. (Call no.: RSING 338.092 HO)
15. Lam, D. (1990, October 18). Sword point. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Li, L. F. (1982). Bamboo green. Singapore: Federal Publications, p. vi. (Call no.: RSING 070.442 LI)
17. Lam, D. (1990, October 18). Sword point. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Mahbubani, G. (1980, March 8). The woman behind ‘The Sword’. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Lam, D. (1990, October 18). Sword point. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Li, L. F. (1979). The sword has two edges. Singapore: Times Books International. (Call no.: RSING 828.995957 LI); Li, L. F. (2004). The sword has two edges: An original play. Singapore: SNP Editions. (Call no.: RSING S822 LI)
21. Mahbubani, G. (1980, March 8). The woman behind ‘The Sword’. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Fan, Y. F. (1981, December 17). Play highlights problems of aged in modern society. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Lee, S. C. (1993, July 26). Li’s personal glimpses. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. 16 authors honoured. (1986, September 6). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Lee, S. C. (1993, July 26). Li’s personal glimpses. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Sim, M., & Hoe, P. S. (2011, August 5). Writer Li Lien Fung dies at age 88. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Li, L. F. (2004). Battle at the red cliff: A guide to Three Kingdoms. Singapore: SNP Editions. (Call no.: RSING 895.1346 LI); Li, L. F. (2003). Only a sandpiper: Appreciating classical Chinese poetry. Singapore: SNP Editions. (Call no.: 895.11009 LI)
28. 李廉凤 [Li, L. F.]. (2010). 《两片灵芝》 [Two pieces of Ling Zhi]. 北京: 人民文学出版社. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 338.04092 LLF-[BIZ])
29. Li, L. F. (2011). A daughter remembers. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 LI)
30. Prolific writer Li Lienfung dies at 88. (2011, August 4). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
31. Li Lienfung. Retrieved 2016, October 10 from Tribute.sg website: https://www.tribute.sg/artist-profile-li-lienfung
32. Ong, R. (2001, May 15). Standing tall in the shadows of time. The Business Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Sim, M., & Hoe, P. S. (2011, August 5). Writer Li Lien Fung dies at age 88. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Sim, M., & Hoe, P. S. (2011, August 5). Writer Li Lien Fung dies at age 88. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Li, L. F. (2011). A daughter remembers. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 LI)
36. Li, L. F. (2011). A daughter remembers. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 338.04092 LI)
37. Sim, M., & Hoe, P. S. (2011, August 5). Writer Li Lien Fung dies at age 88. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Bayan Tree Hotels & Resorts. (2016). Management team. Retrieved 2016, October 10 from Banyan Tree website: http://investors.banyantree.com/Management_Team.html
38. National Arts Council. (2017). Cultural Medallion. Retrieved 2017, June 30 from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/singaporeartsscene/culturalMedallion/overview.html



The information in this article is valid as at 2011 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
Writers
Women chemists--Singapore--Biography
Li, Lienfung, 1923-2011
Bilingual authors--Singapore--Biography
Language and literature>>Literatures>>East and Southeast Asian literature>>Singapore literature
Personalities>>Biographies>>Authors