Tham Yew Chin (You Jin)



Tham Yew Chin (b. 1950, Ipoh, Malaya–),[1] better known by her pseudonym You Jin, is a well-known local Chinese language writer.[2] A prolific writer, Tham has written numerous short stories, novels, travelogues, essays and opinion pieces, some of which have been translated to other languages. Her works have been published not only in Singapore, but also in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia.[3] [4] For her contributions to the literary scene, she was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Literature in 2009.[5]

Early life and career
Tham was born in Ipoh, Malaya (now Malaysia) and spent her early childhood years there. She is the second of four children in her family, which includes an elder sister and two younger brothers.[6] Her father Tham Sien Yen was a member of Force 136, which was a secret organisation established by the British to carry out covert military operations against the Japanese in Southeast Asia during World War II.[7] After Tham’s father married and settled down, he tried his hand at various business ventures, ranging from mining and publishing a newspaper to selling liquor.[8] These ventures, however, did poorly and as a result the family remained very poor.[9]


In spite of the grim circumstances, there were always books in the house. Every night, Tham’s mother would tell the children bedtime stories drawn from books such as Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Arabian Nights and Aesop’s Fables as well as fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson.[10]

In 1958, when Tham was eight years old, her father decided to make a living in Singapore, so the family left Ipoh. In Singapore, Tham attended the now defunct Yi Qun Primary School[11] and subsequently Seng Poh Primary School.[12]

Although finances were tight, Tham’s parents valued their children’s education.[13] Tham’s mother brought along from Ipoh her treasured possessions of Chinese literary classics such as Dream of the Red Chamber, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, and Outlaws of the Marsh. Tham devoured these books voraciously even though she did not understand all of them at the time.[14]

When she was 11, Tham often noticed a book rental cart on her way to school and discovered that many students were using their pocket money to rent books containing violent and undesirable themes. She felt that these books were unhealthy for the soul and made a decision that she would be a writer of meaningful fairy tales for children when she grew up.[15] Soon after, Tham wrote an essay entitled I Wish To Be A Fairy Tale Writer, which was published in a local Chinese newspaper, Nanyang Siang Pau. It was her very first published work.[16]

Tham was a quiet child. She was an avid reader and her greatest joy was reading. She was, however, not very interested in other subjects. To the despair of her father, she did not do well in her studies other than in Chinese language and literature.[17] Recognising her strength in the Chinese language, Tham’s father decided to let her pursue her interest. She was the only child in the family to be educated entirely in the Chinese stream.[18]

In 1969, Tham enrolled in the then Nanyang University (now Nanyang Technological University) to study Chinese language and literature[19] and eventually graduated with first-class honours. She also won the gold medal as the top student. Upon graduation, she became a librarian for three years until 1976, when she joined Nanyang Siang Pau.[20] Tham worked as a journalist for the next five years using the pseudonym Tang Mei.[21]

In 1981, Tham decided to make a career switch in order to have more time for her family. She enrolled in the National Institute of Education (NIE) to train as a teacher. Upon graduation, she became a Chinese teacher at Hua Yi Secondary School, where she taught for the next 18 years.[22] In 2000, Tham was transferred to Pioneer Junior College where she taught until her retirement in 2009.[23] [24]

Writing career
Since her first essay in primary five, Tham set herself on a literary path, continuing to write throughout her secondary and university days. Throughout her professional career, Tham wrote voraciously in her spare time, getting only four to five hours of sleep every night.[25]


Her first book published in 1978 entitled A Glimpse of Society was a collection of special features she had written for the newspaper.[26] Tham continued to write and publish short story collections, travelogues, essays and novels while holding down a full-time day job. While working as a teacher, Tham continued to be a columnist for several newspapers, including writing for The Descendants of the Dragons column in The Straits Times.[27]

In the late 1980s, Tham’s works started to gain popularity internationally. In 1986, one of her books was published in Taiwan.[28] In 1988, Tham’s friend Dong Rui showed her works to a publisher in China. In 1989, Tham’s collection of stories based on her travels was published in China and sold out.[29]

Tham started to gain immense popularity in China. There was a feverish rush for her works and her books sold out quickly. This craze for Tham’s works was termed You Jin Fever’. Some even named 1991 as ‘You Jin Year’.[30] Tham was invited to various cities in China for autograph sessions where she had many ardent fans.[31]

In 2000, the You Jin Research Centre was established in Chongqing University, China.[32] Tham was later invited to take part in the Chinese city of Chengdu’s inaugural writer-in-residence programme in 2007, which resulted in the publication of her book The Colourful City the following year.[33] Tham’s popularity in China and Taiwan enhanced the reputation of Singapore Chinese authors in general.[34]

Tham received the National Book Development Council of Singapore book award twice, for her travelogue The White House in the Desert in 1982, and her novel The Burning Lion in 1991. She also holds the honour of receiving the inaugural Singapore Chinese Literary Award from the Singapore Literature Society in 1991, and the inaugural Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award in 1996. In 2009, Tham received the Cultural Medallion for her contributions to literature in Singapore. In 2008, Tham’s book, Short Stories by You Jin, was selected for the National Library Board’s nationwide reading initiative, Read! Singapore. Tham continues to write and is a regular feature writer for Singapore Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao and Shanghai newspaper Xin Min Daily News.[35]

Stylistic conventions
Although Tham writes short stories, travelogues, essays and novels, it is her travelogues that stand out and are the most popular with her readers. The travelogues are largely personal accounts of what she saw and learnt from her travels. Tham’s trademark style is to focus on the personal lives of individuals she has met while weaving in the details of the land. Her writings exude wit, humour, warmth and humanity.[36] [37]

Another salient feature of her writings is that they are based on real-life stories and accounts. Tham likes to write from personal experiences, drawing from the sights and sounds of her travels and interactions with students. Although it was Tham’s childhood ambition to be a fairy tale writer, she has not written a single fairy tale as she feels that “there are too many stories from real-life experiences to be told”.[38] While she does not write fairy tales, Tham has fulfilled her childhood aspiration of writing meaningful stories. All her experiences with the outside world are sieved for moral lessons. She does not just write for fun but does so with a mission to spread values like filial piety and discipline.[39] Tham once said in an interview, “A story without social values is like a story without a soul.”[40]

Family
[41]
Husband:
James Lim Jit Teng.

Daughter: Jacintha Lim.
Sons: Ivan and Danny Lim.

Awards
[42]
1982:
National Book Development Council of Singapore Book Award.

1991: National Book Development Council of Singapore Book Award.
1991: Singapore Chinese Literary Award (from the Singapore Literature Society).
1996: Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award.
2009: Cultural Medallion for Literature.



Author
Chor Poh Chin



References
[1] Tribute.sg. (2012). Tham Yew Chin. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Tham+Yew+Chin+(You+Jin)
[2] Du, C. (1992, February 13). Big in China. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[3] Tay, S. C. (2009, October 17). Medallion winner author of 140 books. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[4] Tribute.sg. (2012). Tham Yew Chin. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Tham+Yew+Chin+(You+Jin)
[5] National Arts Council Singapore. (2013, October 4). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award Recipients for Literature. Retrieved from https://www.nac.gov.sg/art-forms/literary-arts/local-directory/cultural-medallion-young-artist-award-recipients-for-literature
[6] S'pore's million-selling author. (1993, September 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[7] Tay, S. C. (2009, October 17). Medallion winner author of 140 books. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[8] 尤今 [You, J.]. (2005). 文字就是生命: 尤今创作之路 [Wen zi jiu shi sheng ming: You Jin chuang zuo zhi lu]. 新加坡: 八方文化创作室, pp. 18, 23. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C810.92 YJ)
[9] 尤今 [You, J.]. (2005). 文字就是生命: 尤今创作之路 [Wen zi jiu shi sheng ming: You Jin chuang zuo zhi lu]. 新加坡: 八方文化创作室, pp. 21, 22. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C810.92 YJ)
[10] 尤今 [You, J.]. (2005). 文字就是生命: 尤今创作之路 [Wen zi jiu shi sheng ming: You Jin chuang zuo zhi lu]. 新加坡: 八方文化创作室, pp. 24, 25. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C810.92 YJ)
[11] 尤今 [You, J.]. (2005). 文字就是生命: 尤今创作之路 [Wen zi jiu shi sheng ming: You Jin chuang zuo zhi lu]. 新加坡: 八方文化创作室, p. 60. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C810.92 YJ)
[12] 尤今 [You, J.]. (2005). 文字就是生命: 尤今创作之路 [Wen zi jiu shi sheng ming: You Jin chuang zuo zhi lu]. 新加坡: 八方文化创作室, p. 71. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C810.92 YJ)
[13] S'pore's million-selling author. (1993, September 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[14] 尤今 [You, J.]. (2005). 文字就是生命: 尤今创作之路 [Wen zi jiu shi sheng ming: You Jin chuang zuo zhi lu]. 新加坡: 八方文化创作室, p. 51. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C810.92 YJ)
[15] 尤今 [You, J.]. (2005). 文字就是生命: 尤今创作之路 [Wen zi jiu shi sheng ming: You Jin chuang zuo zhi lu]. 新加坡: 八方文化创作室, pp. 72, 73. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C810.92 YJ)
[16] 尤今 [You, J.]. (2005). 文字就是生命: 尤今创作之路 [Wen zi jiu shi sheng ming: You Jin chuang zuo zhi lu]. 新加坡: 八方文化创作室, p. 75. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C810.92 YJ)
[17] 尤今 [You, J.]. (2005). 文字就是生命: 尤今创作之路 [Wen zi jiu shi sheng ming: You Jin chuang zuo zhi lu]. 新加坡: 八方文化创作室, p. 51. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C810.92 YJ)
[18] Education was writer's passport to a better life. (1996, January 2). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[19] 尤今 [You, J.]. (2005). 文字就是生命: 尤今创作之路 [Wen zi jiu shi sheng ming: You Jin chuang zuo zhi lu]. 新加坡: 八方文化创作室, p. 111. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C810.92 YJ)
[20] S'pore's million-selling author. (1993, September 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[21] 李白娟 [Li, B. J.]. (2005, March 1). 尤今出版一生中只能与一次的书 [You Jin chu ban yi sheng zhong zhi neng yu yi ci de shu]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[22] 尤今 [You, J.]. (2005). 文字就是生命: 尤今创作之路 [Wen zi jiu shi sheng ming: You Jin chuang zuo zhi lu]. 新加坡: 八方文化创作室, pp. 234, 249. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C810.92 YJ)
[23] 尤今 [You, J.]. (2005). 文字就是生命: 尤今创作之路 [Wen zi jiu shi sheng ming: You Jin chuang zuo zhi lu]. 新加坡: 八方文化创作室, p. 250. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C810.92 YJ)
[24] Tay, S. C. (2009, October 17). Medallion winner author of 140 books. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[25] Tribute.sg. (2012). Tham Yew Chin. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Tham+Yew+Chin+(You+Jin)
[26] Tay, S. C. (2009, October 17). Medallion winner author of 140 books. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[27] Tan, S. E. (1994, July 26). Web of drug abuse is subject of You Jin's first novel. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[28] Tay, S. C. (2009, October 17). Medallion winner author of 140 books. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[29] S'pore's million-selling author. (1993, September 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[30] Du, C. (1992, February 13). Big in China. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[31] 张曦娜 [Zhang, X. N.]. (1996, August 25). 梦乡有限字句无边 [Meng xiang you xian zi ju wu bian]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 43. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[32] 骆明 [Luo, M.]. (2000, October 10). 尤今研究中心在重庆成立 [You Jin Yan Jiu Zhong Xin zai Chong Qing cheng li]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 43. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[33] 张曦娜 [Zhang, X. N.]. (2008, April 4). 当成都首位驻城作家尤今细诉缤纷城事 [Dang Cheng Du shou wei zhu cheng zuo jia You Jin xi su bin fen cheng shi]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[34] Du, C. (1992, February 13). Big in China. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[35] Tribute.sg. (2012). Tham Yew Chin. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Tham+Yew+Chin+(You+Jin)
[36] 张曦娜 & 李白娟 [Zhang, X. N. & Li, B. J.]. (2001, October 4). 访尤今恒远的旅人 [Fang You Jin heng yuan de lu ren]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[37] S'pore's million-selling author. (1993, September 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[38] You Jin’s success story. (1993, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[39] S'pore's million-selling author. (1993, September 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[40] You Jin’s success story. (1993, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[41] S'pore's million-selling author. (1993, September 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[42] Tribute.sg. (2012). Tham Yew Chin. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Tham+Yew+Chin+(You+Jin)


Further resources

尤今 [You, J.]. (1979). [Mo]. 新加坡: 教育出版社.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C813.4 YJ)

尤今 [You, J.]. (1982). [Yuan]. 新加坡: 新加坡文化事业.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C813.4 YJ)

尤今 [You, J.]. (1987). 人生 [Ling long ren sheng]. 新加坡: 新亚出版社.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C818.2 YJ 1987)

尤今 [You, J.]. (1993). 百年苦 [Bai nian ku le]. 新加坡: 新亚出版社.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C818.2 YJ)

尤今 [You, J.]. (1994). 在心中 [San zai xin zhong]. 新加坡: 成功出版公司.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C818.2 YJ)

尤今 [You, J.]. (1995). 的旋 [Gui li de xuan wo]. 新加坡: 教育出版公司.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C813.4 YJ)

尤今 [You, J.]. (1997). 南瓜情 [Nan gua qing]. 新加坡: SNP出版公司.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C814.3 YJ)

尤今 [You, J.]. (2001). [Yi xiang qing yuan]. 新加坡: 玲子传媒公司.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C813.4 YJ)

尤今 [You, J.]. (2003). 沙漠彩虹 [Sha mo cai hong]. 新加坡: 玲子传媒.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C818.2 YJ)

尤今 [You, J.]. (2005). 风铃叮当响 [Feng ling ding dang xiang]. 昆明: 云南敎育出版社.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C818.2 YJ)

尤今 [You, J.]. (2010). 那个染金的男孩 [Na ge ran jin fa de nan hai]. Singapore: Pearson Education South Asia Pte Ltd.
(Call no.: Chinese YRSING 741.595957 YJ)

尤今 [You, J.]. (2010). 爪虎牙: 尤今作品(小品) [Shi zhua hu ya: You Jin zuo pin xuan (xiao pin)]. 新加坡: 青年书局.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C818.2 YJ)



The information in this article is valid as at 5 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

All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2014.