Aspiring novelist gets help from clans

Ms Chen is among four recipients of this year's SFCCA scholarship. She will read history at Fudan University in Shanghai, starting next month.
Ms Chen is among four recipients of this year's SFCCA scholarship. She will read history at Fudan University in Shanghai, starting next month.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

Few young Singaporeans have the dream of becoming a full-time Chinese author when they finish university. But 19-year-old Sophia Chen is one who does and she moved a step closer to her goal when she received a scholarship from the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA) on Monday. She will read history at Fudan University in Shanghai starting next month.

The China-born straight-A student from River Valley High School was among the four recipients of this year's SFCCA scholarship, set up by the federation in 2011 to help Singapore students strong in Chinese to further their studies at top Chinese universities.

"I chose to study history at Fudan because I feel that all writers need to know about the past, especially me as I intend to write a historical novel some day," she said.

Her short essays were first published in Lianhe Zaobao's youth pages when she was 13. In March she self-published her first prose collection, Love And Healed, which includes an award-winning short story on environmental protection and a poem she wrote as a tribute to Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

"I have always enjoyed writing, and chose to become a writer because I can express my feelings, tell stories about human nature, their triumphs and failings, and expose cruelties in society," said Ms Chen, who became a Singapore citizen in Secondary 2 after winning a bicultural scholarship in school.

She would like to publish her next book on her travels soon. "I will continue to write when I am in Fudan," said Miss Chen, who lives in a five-room flat in Bukit Batok with her civil engineer father and kindergarten teacher mother who moved here from China when she was one. She has a younger brother who was born here.

The other scholarship winners - Png Wen Xi, Koh Hui Xin and Adeline Lim, all 19 - come from Hwa Chong Institution. Ms Png and Ms Lim will study international relations at Peking University and Ms Koh will study international politics at Fudan. All of them, including Ms Chen, also received a Chinese government scholarship which covers their tuition fees and lodging at the universities.

The SFCCA scholarship provides an annual grant of between $5,000 and $15,000 to meet their other expenses during their courses.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2016, with the headline 'Aspiring novelist gets help from clans'. Print Edition | Subscribe