Ding Yi Music Company and historian Kua Bak Lim honoured for contributions to Singapore Chinese culture

Mr Kua Bak Lim with his Singapore Chinese Cultural Contribution Award.
Mr Kua Bak Lim with his Singapore Chinese Cultural Contribution Award.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Veteran historian Kua Bak Lim and chamber music ensemble Ding Yi Music Company have been honoured for their contributions to Chinese culture in Singapore.

The cultural stalwarts received the Singapore Chinese Cultural Contribution Award from Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu at the launch of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre's Cultural Extravaganza on Friday (May 24).

The annual award, now in its third year, is given to an individual and an organisation each year. They receive $20,000 each - $10,000 in cash and up to $10,000 in project funding - as well as trophies sculpted from jade and stainless steel.

Mr Kua, 71, is the chief editor of A General History Of The Chinese In Singapore - a hefty tome that was launched in 2015 and whose English version will hit shelves next month. The last such comprehensive historical book was Song Ong Siang's One Hundred Years' History Of The Chinese in Singapore , published in 1923.

The historian said he plans to spend the money on a new book project – comprising a selection of documents from a late 19th-century Chinese textbook written for British civil servants, titled A Text Book Of Documentary Chinese, Selected And Designed For The Special Use Of Members Of The Civil Service Of The Straits Settlements And The Protected Native States.   

Mr Kua, who also chairs the research committee of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, notes that a lot of Singapore's early history was written by Westerners.

"I want to take the power of discourse back from their hands," he said in Mandarin.

“I don’t deny the value of their work, but it’s better if we can write about our own history ourselves.” 

Ding Yi Music Company, founded in 2007, has a wide repertoire ranging from traditional Chinese chamber music to more contemporary-sounding works.


(From left) Ding Yi Music Company's assistant general manager, Ms Sally Ng, concert master and huqin musician Chin Yen Choong, general manager and assistant conductor Dedric Wong, pipa soloist Chua Yew Kok, and marketing manager Tan Hong Ging. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

The 20-strong ensemble, which organises outreach and school programmes, also collaborates with other media to attract younger audiences.

Assistant conductor Dedric Wong, 32, says: "How do we make them (young people) interested? That's the most important question. That's why we try a lot of different collaboration models. For example, we work with different ethnic musicians, we work with pop artists... We also work with different art forms - sand art, photography, and this year we are working with crosstalk on Singapore history."

One of the group's key events is the biennial Ding Yi Chinese Chamber Music Festival, organised in collaboration with Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay. Then there is Composium, a composition competition and symposium held every three years.

The latest edition of the competiton, which took place in 2018, saw more Singaporean submissions than before, said Wong, who is also the group's general manager.

"A big problem is there's not enough repertoire (for Chinese chamber music). We hope to build up a big library (of compositions)."

He adds that he wants Ding Yi to gain a bigger international profile as it finds its own unique sound.

"What if one day you heard Singapore Chinese chamber music and could tell straight away that was from Singapore? That's something we hope to achieve."

The Singapore Chinese Cultural Contribution Award covers a range of cultural categories, from the arts and history to education and architecture.

"This award covers a wide scope," said judging committee chairman Liu Thai Ker. "Not just artistic works, but research, customs - even culinary, if someone comes up with some good story to tell us... We don't want to confine the word 'culture' to arts."

The veteran architect added: "We are not in China. We are in Singapore, we are our own country. So how do we adapt our Chinese culture to the modern age, as well as to our society, especially a society that is multi-ethnic?

Mr Kua and Ding Yi Music Company were chosen from 23 individuals and nine organisations. Last year's winners, musician Lee Yuk Chuan and the Singapore Association of Writers, used their award money to fund two concerts and the inaugural Singapore Youth Chinese Poetry Awards competition respectively.

Ms Fu said in her speech that Singapore's multicultural character, bilingual education policy and international outlook have given its people advantages when they interact with those from other countries, with "obvious benefits in the economic and business sectors".

"But as importantly," she added, "these characteristics have given us the confidence to face a fast changing world, overcome challenges, and shape our future ourselves.

"As we mark our Bicentennial, it is the time to remember our history, reflect on our cultures and how they have evolved, and grasp the values that take us into the future."

The Cultural Extravaganza runs till June 15, with programmes ranging from exhibitions and workshops to performances such as the Sing.Lang Concert. For more information on the event and Singapore Chinese Cultural Contribution Award, go to www.singaporeccc.org.sg and www.scccaward.org.sg/