Yeng Pway Ngon

Yeng Pway Ngon (英培安; b. 26 January 1947, Singapore–d. 10 January 2021, Singapore) was a well-known poet, novelist and critic in the Chinese literary scene in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Yeng was a prolific writer, and his works have been translated into English, Malay and Dutch. He was a recipient of the Singapore Book Award, the Singapore Literature Award (thrice), and the Southeast Asian Writers Award.1 For his contributions to the literary scene, Yeng was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Literature, the highest artistic honour in Singapore, in 2003.2 Besides being a writer, Yeng was also a publisher, editor and a bookstore owner.

Early life
Yeng was born in the Bugis area of Singapore in 1947. His father was a Chinese physician who came from China, and his mother worked in a coffee shop in the area. Yen’s parents married during the Japanese Occupation (1942–45).3

Yeng attended Catholic High School, where he excelled in Chinese and art but struggled with other subjects.Because of his poor academic performance, he left Catholic High School in secondary two and transferred to Wei Li (Methodist) School.4

When Yeng was in secondary one or two, he began writing under the pseudonym Qi Fei. He later drew comics for a student paper and won a comics competition.During his secondary school days, Yeng was once given an assignment by his teacher to write an essay, but he wrote a poem instead. Instead of being scolded by his teacher, Yeng received high marks for his work. Encouraged by this, Yeng subsequently got his poem published.6

Artistic career
In 1966, Yeng enrolled in Ngee Ann College (now Ngee Ann Polytechnic). It was during his time in college that he developed an interest in writing, especially poetry writing. Yeng was particularly inspired by the modern Taiwanese poets of the 1960s such as Yang Mu and Ya Xian.7 Using the pen name Kong Da Shan, Yeng wrote and submitted essays to the various Chinese newspapers for publication.8 Yeng also became the editor and publisher of a literary magazine, Tea House (茶座), and in 1968, his collection of poetry, On the Operating Table (手术台上) was published.9

Yeng graduated from Ngee Ann College with a Bachelor of Arts in Chinese Literature in 1969.10 Upon graduation, Yeng had an opportunity to further his studies in Taiwan. However, he chose to stay in Singapore instead as he wanted to be close to his girlfriend (later wife) Goh Beng Choo, who became the English translator of his works.11

Yeng went on to publish a literary magazine, Vanguard Monthly (), for which he was also the editor. In 1974, Yeng published a collection of poetry, Rootless Strings (无根的弦), and a collection of essays, The World of Mr An (安先生的世界). That same year, he opened Vanguard Bookshop (前卫书店). The bookstore was sold two years later, and Yeng subsequently opened the first iteration of Grassroots Book Room (草根书室).12

Yeng was an outspoken young man then.13 His vigorous critique of social issues in his writings, in addition to a false accusation, led to a run-in with the government. In 1977, Yeng was detained under the Internal Security Act for more than four months. Upon his release, Yeng closed Grassroots Book Room.14

From 1978 to 1983, Yeng worked as a newspaper columnist for Nanyang Siang Pau writing for the column Shuo Chang Dao Duan (说长道短). In 1983, Nanyang Siang Pau merged with Sin Chew Jit Poh to become Lianhe Zaobao. Yeng continued contributing as a columnist for the newpaper’s Ren Zai Jiang Hu (人在江湖) column.15

The 1980s was a fruitful period for Yeng, who had become a full-time writer.16 In addition to writing for the newspapers, Yeng wrote radio plays for Rediffusion, ten collections of essays and short stories, and two novels.17 His novel A Man Like Me (一个像我这样的男人), published in 1987, won the National Book Development Council of Singapore Book Award the following year.18

In 1990s, Yeng published another literary magazine, Encounter (接触), which ceased publication a year later.19 In 1994, Yeng spent a year in Hong Kong as a freelance columnist for United Daily NewsMing PaoSing Tao Daily and Sing Tao Evening News.20 He returned to Singapore in 1995 and reopened Grassroots Book Room, which stocked specialist and limited edition books on history, philosophy and literature.21

Yeng’s reputation as a writer had grown by then. In 2000, he was invited to Taiwan by the Cultural Bureau of Taipei to be a fellow at the Taipei International Writers-in-Residence programme. He was the only Singaporean selected to attend the programme.22 Three of his novels won the Singapore Literature Award: Unrest (骚动; published in 2002), Trivialities about Me (我与我自己的二三事; published in 2006), and Art Studio (画室; published in 2011)The latter two were selected by the journal Yazhou Zhoukan (亚洲周刊) in 2006 and 2011 respectively for its prestigious annual list of top 10 best Chinese novels in the world, along with the works of Nobel laureate Mo Yan and the acclaimed writer Yan Geling.23

Several of Yeng’s plays have been performed, including Man and Bronze Statute and Love Story by Singapore Broadway Playhouse in 2002 and 2003 respectively.24 His novel Art Studio was adapted to a play and staged by Nine Years Theatre as the opening performance of Singapore International Festival of Arts in 2017.25

In 2013, Yeng was invited to be the first participant in the Nanyang Technological University Chinese department’s writer-in-residence scheme, where he taught classes on Chinese literature and novel writing.26

While still operating his bookstore, Yeng worked on a novel about the lives of Cantonese opera actors.27 This book was eventually published in 2015 as Costume (戏服). The title was also listed as one of the top ten Chinese novels of 2015 by Yazhou Zhoukan.28 It was reported in 2013 that Yeng had been considering to close his bookstore as it was making a loss, and he wished to spend more time writing.29 In 2014, Lim Jen Erh and two of his friends took over the bookstore and shifted it to Bukit Pasoh.30

Stylistic conventions
Yeng’s influences as a writer were the Taiwanese poets and writers of the 1960s, such as Li Ao and Liang Shi Qiu, and leading figures of modern Chinese literature, such as Lu Xun and Zhang Ai Ling.31 Yeng also admired the works of America writers Saul Bellow and Erica Jong, Czech writer Milan Kundera and Italian writer Italo Calvino.32

As a columnist, Yeng’s sharp satirical writing style and his independent, inquiring mind were legendary among readers of his newspaper column.33

Yeng dabbled in almost every genre of writing: novels, short stories, poetry, essays, literary criticism and social critique. However, writing novels appealed most to him. Yeng’s novels reflect many of his own life experiences. Unrest, for example, was written based on his memories of being in detention, while Art Studio was penned as the result of his struggle with cancer.34 Of his various works, writing the novel Unrest gave Yeng the most satisfaction, while the novel he was most satisfied with is The Lonesome Face (孤寂的脸).35

Despite his prolific works, Yeng never stopped writing. In an interview in 2013, he said, “I still feel like I haven’t written the book I was meant to write”.36 Before he passed away from cancer on 10 January 2021, his novel Colour of Dusk (黄昏的颜色) and collection of poetry Stone (石头) were published in 2019 and 2020 respectively.37

Wife: Goh Beng Choo
Daughter: Ying Ke Wei

1988: National Book Development Council of Singapore book award for A Man Like Me (一个像我这样的男人》)39
2003: Cultural Medallion for Literature40
2004: Singapore Literature Prize for Unrest (骚动》)41
2008: Singapore Literature Prize for Trivialities About Me (《我与我自己的二三事》)42 
2012: Singapore Literature Prize for Art Studio (《画室》)43 
2013: Southeast Asian Writers Award (also known as the S.E.A. Write Award)44 
2016: Merit Award for Singapore Literature Prize for Costume (《戏服》)45

Chor Poh Chin

1. “Yeng Pway Ngon,” Esplanade, 12 October 2016; Olivia Ho, “Renowned Chinese-Language Writer Yeng Pway Ngon Dies,” Straits Times, 11 January 2021, A3. (From Factiva via NLB's eResources website
2. Corrie Tan, “In Good Books,” Straits Times, 29 April 2013, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Yeng Pway Ngon, oral history interview with Lye Soo Choon, 25 March 2007, transcript and MP3 audio 54:06, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 003125), 2–5.
4. Yeng Pway Ngon, oral history interview, 25 March 2007, 18, 21.
5. Yeng Pway Ngon, oral history interview, 25 March 2007, 22, 27.
6. Tan, “In Good Books.”
7. Esplanade, “Yeng Pway Ngon.”
8. Li Baijuan李白娟, “Zuojia Ying Pei An chu shu 20 ben cong mei xiangguo hui de jiang” 作家英培安出书20本从没想过会得奖 [Writer Yeng Pway Ngon has not expected the award despite having written 20 titles], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 27 September 2003, 37. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Esplanade, “Yeng Pway Ngon.”
10. Esplanade, “Yeng Pway Ngon.”
11. Zhang Xina and Long Guoxiong 张曦娜 and 龙国雄, “Zhong qing jiangli xianghu fuchi” 重情讲理相互扶持 [Valuing relationship and reasoning and supporting each other], Lianhe Zaobao联合早报, 28 October 2003, 34. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Esplanade, “Yeng Pway Ngon.”
13. “I Offend People,” Straits Times, 27 September 2003, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Tan, “In Good Books.”
15. Esplanade, “Yeng Pway Ngon.”
16. Esplanade, “Yeng Pway Ngon”; Li Baijuan, “Zuojia Ying Pei An chu shu 20 ben cong mei xiangguo hui de jiang.”
17. Clarissa Oon, “Not Just a Love Story,” Straits Times, 15 December 2003, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Esplanade, “Yeng Pway Ngon.”
19. Zhang Xina and Li Baijuan张曦娜 and 李白娟, “Ying Pei An an hui dao xiaoshuo de paodao” 英培安安回到小说的跑道 [Yeng Pway Ngon returns to writing novel], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 8 July 2001, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Esplanade, “Yeng Pway Ngon.”
21. Zhang and Li, “Ying Pei An an hui dao xiaoshuo de paodao”; Tan, “In Good Books.”
22. Tay Shi’An, “Wow, They Still Remember Me,” Straits Times, 4 December 2000, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Tan, “In Good Books.”
24. Esplanade, “Yeng Pway Ngon”; Oon, “Not Just a Love Story.”
25. Wang Yiming and Chen Yuxin, “Guoji yishu jie kaimu yanchu huaju ‘huashi’ wenxue yu xiju hu wen duizhao” 国际艺术节开幕演出话剧《画室》 文学与戏剧互文对照 [Singapore International Festival of Arts opening performance, Art Studio, a blend of literature and play], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 28 July 2017. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
26. Tan, “In Good Books.”
27. Tan, “In Good Books.”
28. Zhang Xina 张曦娜, “Ying Pei An ‘xi fu’ huo xuan yazhou zhoukan 2015 nian shi da xiaoshuo” 英培安《戏服》获选亚洲周刊2015年十大小说 [Yeng Pway Ngon’s Costume was selected as one of the top ten novels of 2015 by Yazhou Zhoukan], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 8 January 2016. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
29. “Caogen shu shi 19 nianlai bu ceng yíngli mingnian huo jieye” 草根书室 19年来不曾盈利明年或结业 [Grassroots Bookstore has not earned any profit in the past 19 years, may close next year], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 13 October 2013, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Shen Sihan沈斯涵, “Linrenyu jieshou hou ‘caogen shu shi’ jiang zhuanxíng shishang shudian” 林仁余接收后‘草根书室’将转型时尚书店 [After Lim Jen Erh takes over, Grassroots Bookstore will transform into a trendy bookstore], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 26 September 2014, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Li Baijuan, “Zuojia Ying Pei An chu shu 20 ben cong mei xiangguo hui de jiang”; Zhang Xina and Li Baijuan 张曦娜 and 李白娟, “Ying Pei An an huí dao xiaoshuo de paodao” 英培安安回到小说的跑道 [Ying Pei An returns to the runway of the novel], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 8 July 2001, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
32. Zhang and Li, “Ying Pei An an hui dao xiaoshuo de paodao.”
33. “I Offend People.”
34. Tan, “In Good Books.”
35. Li Baijuan, “Zuojia Ying Pei An chu shu 20 ben cong mei xiangguo hui de jiang.”
36. Tan, “In Good Books.”
37. Ho, “Renowned Chinese-Language Writer Yeng Pway Ngon Dies.” 
38. Zhang Xina and Long Guoxiang, “Zhong qing jiangli xianghu fuchí.”
39. Koh Buck Song, “The Women in Ying Peian’s World,” Straits Times, 28 September 1988, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
40. “Three Receive Premier Arts Honour,” Straits Times, 27 September 2003, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
41. Clara Chow, “Novel Mamon Inc Wins Singapore Literature Prize,” Straits Times, 26 November 2004, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
42. “2008 Xinjiapo wenxue jiang Ying Pei An, Xi Ni Er tong huo huawen zu shou jiang” 2008新加坡文学奖 英培安、希尼尔同获华文组首奖 [Singapore Literature Prize 2008 Yeng Pway Ngon and Xi Ni Er (Chia Hwee Pheng) tied in the Chinese category], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 4 December 2008, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
43. Adeline Chia, “Three Win Singapore Literature Prize,” Straits Times, 10 November 2012, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
44. Akshita Nanda, “Yeng Pway Ngon Wins SEA Write Award,” Straits Times, 9 October 2013, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
45. “2016 Winners & Shortlists,” Singapore Book Council, accessed 11 January 2021.

Further resources

Yeng Pway Ngon, A Man Like Me (Singapore: Grassroots Book Room, 1993). (Call no. RSING S823 YEN)

Yeng Pway Ngon, Poems 1, Rebellion = Ying Peian (Singapore: The Literary Centre, 2010). (Call no. RSING 895.11 YIN)

Yeng Pway Ngon, Poems 2, Personal notes = Ying Peian (Singapore: The Literary Centre, 2012). (Call no. RSING 895.11 YIN)

Yeng Pway Ngon, Poems 3, Self exile = Ying Peian (Singapore: The Literary Centre, 2012). (Call no. RSING 895.11 YIN)

Yeng Pway Ngon, Poems 4, Resurgence = Ying Peian (Singapore: The Literary Centre, 2012). (Call no. RSING 895.11 YIN)

Yeng Pway Ngon, Poems 5, Other thoughts = Ying Peian (Singapore: The Literary Centre, 2012). (Call no. RSING 895.11 YIN)

Ying Pei An英培安, Shou shu tai shang 手术台上 [On the operating table] (Singapore: May Press, 1968). (Call no. Chinese RCLOS 811.5 YPA)

Ying Pei An英培安, An xian sheng de shi jie 安先生的世界 [The world of Mr An] (Singapore: Tea House Publishing House, 1974). (Call no. Chinese RSING C818 YPA 1974)

Ying Pei An英培安, Yuan ding ji 园丁集 [Collection of a gardener] (Hong Kong: shanbian she, 1983). (Call no. Chinese RSING C818.2 YPA)

Ying Pei An英培安, Pai an ji: Ying Peian wen ji 拍案集: 英培安文集 [Collection on anger] (Singapore: Literature Bookstore, 1984) (Call no. Chinese RSING C818 YPA)

Ying Pei An英培安, Fan shen peng tou ji 翻身碰头集 [Collection on frustration] (Singapore: Grassroots Book Room, 1985). (Call no. Chinese RSING C818 YPA)

Ying Pei An英培安, Ma yi chang ge 蚂蚁唱歌 [The ant sings] (Singapore: Grassroots Book Room, 1992). (Call no. Chinese RSING C818.2 YPA)

Ying Pei An英培安, Ren yu tong xiang 人与铜像 [Man and bronze statue] (Singapore: Grassroots Book Room, 2002). (Call no. Chinese RSING C812.7 YPA)

Ying Pei An英培安, Sao dong 骚动 [Unrest] (Taipei: Erya Publishing House, 2002). (Call no. Chinese RSING C813.4 YPA)

Ying Pei An英培安, Ai qing gu shi 爱情故事 [Love story] (Taipei: Tangshan Publishing House, 2003). (Call no. Chinese RSING 792.92095957 YPA)

Ying Pei An英培安, Ri chang sheng huo: Ying Peian shi ji 日常生活: 英培安诗集 [Everyday life: Yeng Pway Ngon’s poetry collection] (Singapore: Grassroots Book Room, 2004). (Call no. Chinese RSING C811.5 YPA)

Ying Pei An英培安, Wo yu wo zi ji de er san shi 我与我自己的二三事 [Trivialities about me] (Taipei: Tangshan Publishing House, 2006). (Call no. Chinese RSING C813.4 YPA)

Ying Pei An英培安, Bu cun zai de qing ren: Ying Peian duan pian xiao shuo ji 不存在的情人: 英培安短篇小说集 [The non-existent lover: Yeng Pway Ngon’s essay collection] (Taipei: Tangshan Publishing House, 2007). (Call no. Chinese RSING C813.4 YPA)

Ying Pei An英培安, Yi ge xiang wo zhe yang de nan ren 一个像我这样的男人 [A man like me] (Taipei: Tangshan Publishing House, 2004). (Call no. Chinese RSING C813.4 YPA)

Ying Pei An英培安, Hua shi 画室 [Art studio] (Taipei: Tangshan Publishing House, 2001). (Call no. Chinese RSING C813.4 YPA)

The information in this article is valid as at April 2021 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.


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