Authors slam Singapore Writers Festival for inviting Wang Lei as speaker

Wang Lei is one of the speakers of a panel discussion about endangered art forms such as getai and Teochew opera.
Wang Lei is one of the speakers of a panel discussion about endangered art forms such as getai and Teochew opera.PHOTO: LEI.WANG/INSTAGRAM

SINGAPORE - Home-grown authors have slammed the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) after it was revealed that veteran getai host Wang Lei will be appearing as a guest speaker.

The 60-year-old is one of the speakers of Vanishing Trades, a panel discussion in Mandarin about endangered art forms such as getai, Teochew opera and Chinese puppetry. It is slated for Nov 6.

Lee Leng Kiong, a former Mediacorp producer who is now an author and photographer, called the move "totally unacceptable" on his Facebook page.

He wrote in Mandarin: "Do the organisers know that he's someone who spews vulgarities in his videos, doesn't respect others and even uses blasphemous language without a care in the world? Does the SWF need content like this?"

Ng Wai Choy, a local writer and artist known for his travelogues, replied to Lee's post: "The relevant authorities here often think that our people's sensibilities are so base. When there's something to promote, they find this sort of famous people to promote it in such a cheap and crude way."

Wang, who has carved a career out of selling things, especially seafood, on live stream after the pandemic dampened getai activities, is famously foul-mouthed - expletives are common in his live streams as Fish-selling Big Brother, or 'mai yu ge'.

In 2018, he published a book, Wang Lei: Tales From The Night, about his getai experiences.

In a phone interview with The Straits Times, Wang lamented the criticism. "I've been invited to speak about getai, not about selling fish or drawing or novels. I've had 24 years of experience in getai - it's where my roots are. Why do they want to pluck my roots away from me?

"Yes, I swear as 'mai yu ge' but guess what? My foul mouth helped me sell fish and it helped me put three meals on the table when everyone in the getai industry lost their livelihoods. What's wrong with that?"

Wang added that he had expected attacks from netizens after news broke that he would be a guest speaker, but did not imagine that local authors would object so harshly.

He said of his detractors: "I have to treat them as online haters. To them I say: 'Write your books, sketch your drawings but keep in your lane.'"

Mr Ken Tan, senior director of programming and producing at SWF organiser Arts House Limited said: "The theme of SWF 2021 is Guilty Pleasures, and one of our aims is to challenge audiences' preconceptions towards 'low-brow' and 'high-brow'.

"The topic of Chinese traditional cultural art forms is perfectly suited to this theme and we hope audiences attending Vanishing Trades can find new resonance with getai, Teochew opera and Chinese puppetry, and have new ideas about the passing down and preservation of these cultural practices.

"We are fortunate to have been able to invite three excellent speakers who are all knowledgeable in their respective fields."

This year's SWF runs from Nov 5 to 14. Speakers include fashion expert Tan France, a host on reality television show Queer Eye; Elizabeth Gilbert, the bestselling author of the 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love; and Julia Quinn, whose popular Bridgerton romance series has been adapted for Netflix.

Past editions of the festival have included headliners like Irvine Welsh, the Scottish author famed for explicit novels such as Trainspotting (1993).