Thursday, April 1, 2010
Calligraphy at Tuan Mong 端蒙书法
Tuan Mong School at Tank Road, which is on the fringe of the Central Business District, was set up in 1906 as a primary school by public-spirited Teochew clan leaders. As with schools built by the various clan associations in Singapore, Tuan Mong served the education needs of Teochew children, and was staffed by Teochew teachers using the dialect as the medium of instruction in its early days. In 1953, the Ngee Ann Kongsi took over the management of the school. Two years later, it became known as Tuan Mong High School when secondary levels were included.
The school, which took in about 1,900 students in 1960, occupied the three upper floors of the four-storey Teochew Building. The lower floor housed the offices of the Ngee Ann Kongsi and the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan.
However, the school closed on December 31, 1994 due to falling enrolment as more schools were built away from the city area and nearer to housing estates where the bulk of Singapore's population lived.
Calligraphy was tremendously popular at Tuan Mong, especially in its early days. There were many factors contributed to this, and one of them could be because the school was traditionally a Chinese school that emphasised on learning and developing Chinese cultures. Chinese calligraphy is the most sublime form of Chinese arts, and it was naturally included as one of its co-curricular activities. Obviously, it also helped to have teachers and principals who were accomplished calligraphers and who truly loved calligraphy.
In 1950s, one of the teachers who cultivated the tradition of learning calligraphy at Duan Mong was Zhu Yeyin. Another teacher that is worth mentioning was Yang Baobin. Although he taught English in school, he was proficient in both English and Chinese. He was good in chanting poetry and writing couplets, and proficient in calligraphy.
When one recalls the heyday of calligraphy at Duan Mong, one will inevitably remember Tan Keng Cheow (Chen Jingchao), who was an accomplished artist profient in calligraphy. He was its principal for 14 years. When he was the principal, due to his busy schedule, he did not teach Calligraphy, but he would find opportunities to write school notices, banners in calligraphy. One can not underestimate his influence on cultivating the love of calligraphy that continued through time at Duan Mong. By the time he left Duan Mong in 1964, the school had already established a positive environment for learning calligraphy.
During the later period, it was Chang Kwang Wee (Zeng Guangwei) who had contributed greatly to calligraphy education in Duan Mong. He was a hardworking teacher, practising hard on various types of model calligraphic works, and he did his utmost to promote calligraphy in the school. Chang, born in 1936, is still active in promoting Chinese calligraphy now in Singapore.
The whole-hearted love of calligraphy at Duan Mong is indeed something rare in the local calligraphy scene. Even today, when we meet someone who is good at calligraphy, we will ask naturally, ‘Excuse me, are you from Duan Mong?’