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
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.6 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
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.8 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
Wives: Wong Chow Foon, Meng Yeow Hoh.
Son: Lee Chee Leong Clement.
Daughters: Lee Yun Han Molly, Lee Oi Lin.
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia
1. Mo Meiyan 莫美颜, “Zuìhòu yī wèi jiǎnggǔ dàshī huáng zhèngjīng zuògǔ yīgè mínsú wénhuà shídài jiéshù” “最后一位讲古大师黄正经作古 一个民俗文化时代结束,” Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报 , 9 June 2003, 27. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Obituary,” Straits Times, 24 March 1989, 38. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Li Dasha 李大傻, Jiǎnggǔ de yīshēng: Lǐ dà shǎ zìzhuàn讲古的一生 : 李大傻自传 [His life as a storyteller: Lee Dai Sor autobiography] (Singapore: Commonwealth Press, 1984), 1–3 (Call no. Chinese RSING 790.20924 LDS); Lo-Ang Siew Ghim and Chua Chee Huan, Vanishing Trades of Singapore (Singapore: Oral History Department, 1992), 50. (Call no. RSING 338.642095957 VAN)
4. Lee Fook Hai @ Lee Dai Soh, oral history interview by Liana Tan and Yeo Geok Lee, 22 March 1983, transcript and audio, 27:16, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 000260), 1.
5. “Our History,” Yangzheng Foundation, accessed 3 September 2016.
6. Li Dasha, Jiǎnggǔ de yīshēng, 3.
7. Li Dasha, Jiǎnggǔ de yīshēng, 1–3; Lo-Ang and Chua, Vanishing Trades of Singapore, 50.
8. Lo-Ang and Chua, Vanishing Trades of Singapore, 50.
9. Lo-Ang and Chua, Vanishing Trades of Singapore, 50; Li Dasha, Jiǎnggǔ de yīshēng, 24.
10. Mo Meiyan, “Zuìhòu yī wèi jiǎnggǔ dàshī huáng.”
11. Chan Chin Bock, “Meet Malaya’s Best Paid Story-Teller,” Straits Times, 14 July 1957, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Lo-Ang and Chua, Vanishing Trades of Singapore, 51; Wang Zhenchun 王振春, Lǐ dà shǎ wèi jiǎng gùshì máng: Xīn mǎ bēnbō shù shí nián rúyī rì 李大傻为讲故事忙：新马奔波数十年如一日, Shin Min Daily News新民日报 , 31 March 1982, 16. (Microfilm NL11888)
13. Lo-Ang and Chua, Vanishing Trades of Singapore, 51; Li Dasha, Jiǎnggǔ de yīshēng, 90–91, 96.
14. Lo-Ang and Chua, Vanishing Trades of Singapore, 51.
15. K. F. Tang, “Storyteller Lee Dai Soh Dies While Waiting to See a Doctor,” Straits Times, 23 March 1989, 22 (From NewspaperSG); Lee Fook Hai @ Lee Dai Soh, oral history interview by Liana Tan and Yeo Geok Lee, 13 March 1989, transcript and audio, 30:29, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 000260), 25.
16. “Activities in Chinatown,” Singapore Monitor, 23 February 1985, 20; “How to Spin a Yarn, the Lee Dai Soh Way,” Straits Times, 5 May 1987, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Mo Meiyan, “Zuìhòu yī wèi jiǎnggǔ dàshī huáng.”
The information in this article is valid as at August2018 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.
Li, Da Sha