Chia Hwee Pheng (Xi Ni Er)



Chia Hwee Pheng (b. 1957, Singapore)1 is an accomplished Chinese poet and novelist who writes under the pseudonym of Xi Ni Er.2 Chia has won many major literary awards, including the Golden Lion Literary Award and the National Book Development Council of Singapore’s Book Award. For his contributions to literature, Chia was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Literary Arts in 2008.3

Early life and career
Chia grew up in a kampong (Malay for “village”) along the Kallang River. His father was a first-generation immigrant from Chaozhou, a city in China’s Guangdong Province, who made a living from selling chwee kueh (a Teochew dish consisting of steamed rice cakes topped with preserved radish) while his mother was a housewife. When Chia was 12 years old, the kampong he was living in was demolished to make way for redevelopment and his family was resettled into a government flat along Old Airport Road.4


Chia attended Serangoon Gardens Technical School, where lessons were conducted in Chinese even though his textbooks were in English.5 He did not get good grades in Chinese as his teachers considered his writing style unconventional.6 Subsequently, Chia enrolled in the former Ngee Ann Technical College and graduated with a diploma in mechanical engineering. He then worked as a quality manager in a battery manufacturing plant.7 Chia continued with a full-time job while pursuing his literary interest.8


Artistic career
Literature for the young Chia came in the form of listening to wuxia (martial arts) stories read out in Hokkien over the radio by popular storyteller Wang Dao. His first book was a half-torn wuxia novel by Gu Long, a famous writer of the genre.9


Although Chia won first prize in a school writing competition, he only really started writing seriously when he was conscripted into the army in the 1970s to do his National Service.10

During his time in the army, Chia had trouble communicating with the other soldiers as they spoke mainly in English, Malay or Hokkien while he spoke mostly Mandarin. So Chia started a conversation with himself instead by writing essays and poems, which he submitted to the Chinese newspapers.11

Chia’s first break as a writer came when Yao Zi, editor of the Shin Min Daily newspaper and also a well-known author, published his works in a column for young writers. Between 1976 and 1977, Chia contributed regularly to the column. When the column ended, Chia turned to writing for competitions as he found it hard to get his articles published in the newspapers.12 Chia’s poems and novels won awards in a number of writing competitions, which encouraged him to write more.13

Chia continued to write while he was studying at Ngee Ann Technical College. During this period, he read voraciously and delved into the works of Taiwanese authors like Bai Xian Yong, Ya Xuan, Yu Guang Zhong, Zhang Da Chun, Lin Huai Min, Huang Chun Ming and Wang Shang Yi.14

In 1978, Chia (under the pen name of Qi Si), together with his brother Chia Joo Ming, published a collection of essays entitled Liu Xia Qin Zhi Ge.15

In 1982, Chia’s novel Jiang Jun Lei won the first Golden Lion Literary Award.16

In the early 1980s, Chia started to experiment with writing mini-fiction (short stories between 1,500 to 2,500 words in length) as he felt that it was important for him to find a niche as a writer.17

Chia’s mini-fiction pieces were published in various local newspapers, literary magazines and anthologies published locally and in China. In 1987, his mini-fiction Heng Tian Shao Jiang won second prize in a national mini-fiction writing competition.18 In 1992, another of his mini-fictions, Ren Zhen Mian Ju (The Earnest Mask), won first prize in the ASEAN mini-fiction competition.19

Chia has also received other prestigious awards for his literary works. He received the National Book Development Council of Singapore’s Book Award twice, in 1990 and 1994, the Cultural Medallion for Literary Arts in 2008, and the S.E.A. Write Award (also known as the Southeast Asian Writers Award) in 2009.20

Other than writing, Chia also became an active member of the Singapore Association of Writers (SAW) where he was involved in organising and participating in literary activities in Singapore. Chia was in the editorial team for Literature Half-Yearly, Mini-Fiction Quarterly and numerous other publishing projects commissioned by the association.21

In 2004, Chia was appointed the chief editor of Singapore Chinese Literature, one of the longest-running literary journals in Southeast Asia.22

Chia is a well-known author in the region. He has taken part in numerous overseas conferences and symposiums, including the World Chinese Writers’ Conference (Taiwan, 1998), International Poets Conference (China, 2005) and World Chinese Mini-Fiction Conference. In 2007, he participated in Singapore Season in China as one of the delegates promoting Singapore literature through talks and readings for the general public and students in Beijing and Shanghai.23

Chia’s works have been selected as part of the Singapore school curriculum and as a thesis subject at the university. Xi Ni Er Xiao Shuo Xuan (The Mini-Fiction of Xi Ni Er) was selected as a featured book for the National Library Board’s READ! Singapore initiative in 2005.24

In 2008, Chia was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Literary Arts, one of the highest honours for an artist in Singapore.25

As he has a full-time job, Chia can pursue his writing interests only after work and often writes late into the night. However, he is satisfied to know that his work has contributed to the literary arts scene in Singapore.26

Stylistic conventions
Chia started off writing poetry but later ventured into writing novels and mini-fiction. He feels that the structure of a novel enables him to write about the complexities of life and social issues more adequately than poetry.27

Chia believes that mini-fiction in particular is a suitable literary form for urbanites as they live very hectic lives and have no time to read long novels. Mini-fiction is thus able to better capture their attention. Besides, Chia admits to being an impatient writer who wants to convey his thoughts in as concise a manner as possible, hence his preference for mini-fiction.28

Chia’s stories are usually under 2,000 words in length and written in many different literary styles and genres such as science fiction, fables, letters, obituaries, notices and emails.29 Of his works, Chia commented, “In my [full-time] job, I think about how to attract people to look at a product. It is about packing. So I use interesting titles and different forms to help people enter the story’s world”.30

Chia writes about things he is familiar with and also about his personal experiences. For example, his National Service days and the Kallang River where he grew up are sources of inspiration for a number of his works.31 He has also written about historical events and people, such as the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–1945) and wartime hero Lim Bo Seng.32

Chia’s writing also touches upon current affairs and social trends that concern him Some of the events that have inspired his writings include the runaway elephants on Pulau Tekong, the felling of a heritage tree in Changi and the desire of Singaporean youths to be Japanese. These events were creatively woven into his stories to highlight greater social issues and concerns. Chia’s stories inspire readers to think more deeply about public policies, history, Chinese culture, social identities and a sense of belonging.33

Awards34
1982:
Golden Lion Literary Award.

1990: National Book Development Council of Singapore Book Award.
1994: National Book Development Council of Singapore Book Award.
2008: Cultural Medallion Award for Literature.

Selected works35
1989: Bang Jia Sui Yue (Kidnapping Times), poetry.
1992: Sheng Ming Li Nan Yi Cheng Shou De Zhong (The Unbearable Heaviness of Life), mini-fiction.
1999: Ren Zhen Mian Ju (The Earnest Mask), mini-fiction.36
2004: Xi Ni Er Xiao Shuo Xuan (The Mini-Fiction of Xi Ni Er), mini-fiction.



Author
Chor Poh Chin


References
1. 希尼尔 [Xi, N. E.]. (2007). 希尼尔小说选: 新加坡当代作家作品选 [Xi Ni'er xiao shuo xuan: Xinjiapo dang dai zuo jia zuo pin xuan]. 香港: 明报出版社; 新加坡: 新加坡青年书局, p. 230. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C813.4 XNE)
2. National Arts Council Singapore. (2012). Profiles: Cultural Medallion 2008 – Chia Hwee Pheng. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: http://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/news/(cd)-pr-arts-awards-2008_annex-2.doc
3.
National Arts Council Singapore. (2013, October 4). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award Recipients for Literature. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/art-forms/literary-arts/local-directory/cultural-medallion-young-artist-award-recipients-for-literature
4. A river of memories, captured in verse. (2009, August 8). The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Engineer who writes for fun. (2008, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 81. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2010, March 18). Oral history interview with Chia Hwee Pheng [Cassette recording no. 003348/05/01]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
7. Engineer who writes for fun. (2008, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 81. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2010, March 19). Oral history interview with Chia Hwee Pheng [Cassette recording no. 003348/05/02]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
9. Engineer who writes for fun. (2008, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 81. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2010, April 22). Oral history interview with Chia Hwee Pheng [Casette recording no. 003348/05/04]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
10. Engineer who writes for fun. (2008, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 81. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2010, March 19). Oral history interview with Chia Hwee Pheng [Cassette recording no. 003348/05/02]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
11. Engineer who writes for fun. (2008, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 81. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2010, March 19). Oral history interview with Chia Hwee Pheng [Cassette recording no. 003348/05/02]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; 希尼尔 [Xi, N. E.]. (2007). 希尼尔小说选: 新加坡当代作家作品选 [Xi Ni'er xiao shuo xuan: Xinjiapo dang dai zuo jia zuo pin xuan]. 香港: 明报出版社; 新加坡: 新加坡青年书局, p. 230. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C813.4 XNE)
13. Engineer who writes for fun. (2008, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 81. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 希尼尔 [Xi, N. E.]. (2007). 希尼尔小说选: 新加坡当代作家作品选 [Xi Ni'er xiao shuo xuan: Xinjiapo dang dai zuo jia zuo pin xuan]. 香港: 明报出版社; 新加坡: 新加坡青年书局, p. 230. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C813.4 XNE)
14. 吴启基, 周文龙 & 胡文雁. [Wu, Q. J., Zhou, W. L. & Hu, W. Y.]. (2008, October 18). 希尼尔写诗的工程师 [Xi Ni Er xie shi de gong cheng shi]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. 希尼尔 [Xi, N. E.]. (2007). 希尼尔小说选: 新加坡当代作家作品选 [Xi Ni'er xiao shuo xuan: Xinjiapo dang dai zuo jia zuo pin xuan]. 香港: 明报出版社; 新加坡: 新加坡青年书局, p. 230. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C813.4 XNE); 伍木 [Wu, M.]. (1987, January 1). 感知的承担 [Gan zhi de cheng dan]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 63. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. 希尼尔 [Xi, N. E.]. (2007). 希尼尔小说选: 新加坡当代作家作品选 [Xi Ni'er xiao shuo xuan: Xinjiapo dang dai zuo jia zuo pin xuan]. 香港: 明报出版社; 新加坡: 新加坡青年书局, p. 230. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C813.4 XNE)
17. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2010, March 19). Oral history interview with Chia Hwee Pheng [Cassette recording no. 003348/05/02]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
18. 希尼尔 [Xi, N. E.]. (2007). 希尼尔小说选: 新加坡当代作家作品选 [Xi Ni'er xiao shuo xuan: Xinjiapo dang dai zuo jia zuo pin xuan]. 香港: 明报出版社; 新加坡: 新加坡青年书局, p. 223. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C813.4 XNE)
19. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2010, March 19). Oral history interview with Chia Hwee Pheng [Cassette recording no. 003348/05/02]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; 希尼尔 [Xi, N. E.]. (2007). 希尼尔小说选: 新加坡当代作家作品选 [Xi Ni'er xiao shuo xuan: Xinjiapo dang dai zuo jia zuo pin xuan]. 香港: 明报出版社; 新加坡: 新加坡青年书局, p. 231. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C813.4 XNE)
20. National Book Development Council of Singapore. (2014). Database: Chia Hwee Pheng. Retrieved from http://bookcouncil.sg/resources/database-detail/chia-hwee-pheng1
21. National Arts Council Singapore. (2012). Profiles: Cultural Medallion 2008 – Chia Hwee Pheng. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: http://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/news/(cd)-pr-arts-awards-2008_annex-2.doc
22.
National Arts Council Singapore. (2012). Profiles: Cultural Medallion 2008 – Chia Hwee Pheng. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: http://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/news/(cd)-pr-arts-awards-2008_annex-2.doc
23.
National Arts Council Singapore. (2012). Profiles: Cultural Medallion 2008 – Chia Hwee Pheng. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: http://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/news/(cd)-pr-arts-awards-2008_annex-2.doc
24.
National Arts Council Singapore. (2012). Profiles: Cultural Medallion 2008 – Chia Hwee Pheng. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: http://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/news/(cd)-pr-arts-awards-2008_annex-2.doc
25.
National Arts Council Singapore. (2012). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award Recipients for Literature. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/art-forms/literary-arts/local-directory/cultural-medallion-young-artist-award-recipients-for-literature
26. 吴启基, 周文龙 & 胡文雁. [Wu, Q. J., Zhou, W. L. & Hu, W. Y.]. (2008, October 18). 希尼尔写诗的工程师 [Xi Ni Er xie shi de gong cheng shi]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. 吴启基, 周文龙 & 胡文雁. [Wu, Q. J., Zhou, W. L. & Hu, W. Y.]. (2008, October 18). 希尼尔写诗的工程师 [Xi Ni Er xie shi de gong cheng shi]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. 吴启基, 周文龙 & 胡文雁. [Wu, Q. J., Zhou, W. L. & Hu, W. Y.]. (2008, October 18). 希尼尔写诗的工程师 [Xi Ni Er xie shi de gong cheng shi]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Engineer who writes for fun. (2008, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 81; 许福吉 [Xu, F. J.]. (2005, February 1). 梦翅膀多元飞翔与变奏梦幻母题的呈 [Meng chi bang duo yuan fei xiang yu bian zou meng huan mu ti de cheng]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Engineer who writes for fun. (2008, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 81. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. A river of memories, captured in verse. (2009, August 8). The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. 许福吉 [Xu, F. J.]. (2005, February 1). 梦翅膀多元飞翔与变奏梦幻母题的呈 [Meng chi bang duo yuan fei xiang yu bian zou meng huan mu ti de cheng]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 29; A river of memories, captured in verse. (2009, August 8). The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Engineer who writes for fun. (2008, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 81; 许福吉 [Xu, F. J.]. (2005, February 1). 梦翅膀多元飞翔与变奏梦幻母题的呈 [Meng chi bang duo yuan fei xiang yu bian zou meng huan mu ti de cheng]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. 希尼尔 [Xi, N. E.]. (2007). 希尼尔小说选: 新加坡当代作家作品选 [Xi Ni'er xiao shuo xuan: Xinjiapo dang dai zuo jia zuo pin xuan]. 香港: 明报出版社; 新加坡: 新加坡青年书局, p. 230. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C813.4 XNE); National Arts Council Singapore. (2013, October 4). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award Recipients for Literature. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/art-forms/literary-arts/local-directory/cultural-medallion-young-artist-award-recipients-for-literature
35.
National Arts Council Singapore. (2012). Profiles: Cultural Medallion 2008 – Chia Hwee Pheng. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: http://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/news/(cd)-pr-arts-awards-2008_annex-2.doc
36. 希尼尔 [Xi, N. E.]. (2007). 希尼尔小说选: 新加坡当代作家作品选 [Xi Ni'er xiao shuo xuan: Xinjiapo dang dai zuo jia zuo pin xuan]. 香港: 明报出版社; 新加坡: 新加坡青年书局, p. 231. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C813.4 XNE)



Further resources

希尼尔 [Xi, N. E.]. (1989). 绑架岁月 [Bang jia sui yue]. 新加坡: 七洋出版社.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C811.5 XNE)

希尼尔 [Xi, N. E.]. (1992). 生命里难以承受的重 [Sheng ming li nan yi cheng shou de zhong]. 新加坡: 新加坡潮州八邑会馆.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C813.4 XNE)

希尼尔 (主编) [Xi, N. E. (ed.)]. (1998). 五月情诗选 [Wu yue qing shi xuan]. 新加坡: 五月诗社.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C811.5 WYQ)

希尼尔 [Xi, N. E.]. (1999). 认真面具 [Ren zhen mian ju]. 新加坡: SNP Publishing.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C813.4 XNE)

希尼尔 [Xi, N. E.]. (2001). 轻信莫疑 [Qing xin mo yi]. 新加坡: 新加坡作家协会.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C811.5 XNE)

希尼尔 [Xi, N. E.]. (2002). 希尼尔短诗选 [Xi ni er duan shi xuan]. 香港: 银河出版社.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C811.5 XNE)

希尼尔 [Xi, N. E.]. (2007). 希尼尔小说选: 新加坡当代作家作品选 [Xi Ni’er xiao shuo xuan: Xinjiapo dang dai zuo jia zuo pin xuan]. 香港: 明报出版社; 新加坡: 新加坡青年书局.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C813.4 XNE)

希尼尔 [Xi, N. E.]. (2009). 青春摩天轮: 驻校作家计划学生作品选集 [Qing chun mo tian lun: zhu xiao zuo jia ji hua xue sheng zuo pin xuan ji]. 新加坡: 玲子传媒公司.
(Call no.: Chinese YRSING C810.08 QCM)



The information in this article is valid as at 6 March 2014 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
Personalities
Arts