SINGAPORE - Well-known Chinese language author Tham Yew Chin and her husband, Mr James Lim, have made a gift of $500,000 to the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to nurture future generations of students in Chinese studies.
Better known by her pen name You Jin, Madam Tham will also donate 206 of her books to the NTU Chinese Library.
With government matching, the total amount raised is $1.25 million.
The You Jin Education Endowment Fund will fund two awards, a scholarship, and two awards under a bursary every academic year. It will also support the creation of a creative writing publication run by NTU faculty and students.
The gift signing and book donation ceremony on Friday (Aug 12) was witnessed by Ms Low Yen Ling, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, and Trade and Industry.
Madam Tham, 71, told The Straits Times that it was natural for her to give back to the Chinese department of NTU, which had nurtured her in the past.
She was recognised with the Nanyang Alumni Achievement Award in 2016 for her achievements as a writer and contributions to the Chinese literary scene. She is known for her travelogues, as well as her essays, short story collections and novels.
She graduated from Nanyang University in 1973 as the top student in her cohort, with first-class honours in Chinese language and literature. She said she hoped her gift can play a "small role" in drawing young people to the department in pursuit of Chinese studies.
She said: "Many Singaporean students feel that Chinese is boring and difficult to learn. It is purely a misunderstanding arising from lack of in-depth contact with the language. Chinese is a beautiful and profound language, and its importance will increase day by day."
Mr Lim, a 76-year-old retired engineer who is donating the money to start the fund in his wife's name, told ST: "I hope that future generations will remember my wife's achievements and follow her example. It is also our wish that more will come forward to contribute to education, which can alleviate poverty."
The couple have three children - bank executive Danny, 45, corporate development director Ivan, 40, and online travel agency chief executive Jacinta, 38 - and five granddaughters.
NTU's vice-president (university advancement), Ms Lien Siaou-Sze, said their contributions will help to inspire future generations of students to pursue academic excellence and spur an interest in Chinese and other humanities subjects.
Madam Tham's first published work was at the age of 11 when she submitted a piece titled "I wish to be a fairy-tale writer" to the now-defunct Singapore Chinese newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau. She went on to join the paper as a features reporter and eventually published her first book, A Glimpse Of Society, in 1978.
She turned to teaching in the early 1980s and remained a teacher for nearly three decades.
Her works started to gain popularity internationally in the late 1980s.
She broke into the China market in 1989 when a publisher in Zhejiang released five of her travelogues. Her books sold out quickly from Guangzhou to Shanghai. A decade later, Chongqing University set up the You Jin Research Centre for university students to study her works and those of other South-east Asian writers.
She has won many accolades, including the Cultural Medallion award in 2009. In 2019, she was inducted into the Singapore Women's Hall of Fame.
She is working on a book to share her experience as an educator of 29 years. It will be published next year.