Award-winning bilingual writer and successful businesswoman
Best known as an award-winning bilingual playwright and newspaper columnist, Li Lienfung was also a businesswoman who put her degree in chemistry to good use in the family’s enterprises.
Lienfung was raised by her mother after her father left his family in China to go to work in the United States. She was an avid reader and writer as a child, and an essay she wrote when she was 13 was chosen for One Day in China, a selection of essays by writers from all over the country.
After her schooling in China and Hong Kong, Lienfung got a chemistry degree from a college in California, US, and then began postgraduate studies in chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But she switched and instead got a master’s degree in English literature from Cornell University, where she met Ho Rih Hwa whom she was to marry in 1946.
While in the US she reconciled with her long absent father Dr Li Kuo Ching, an engineer who had discovered tungsten deposits in China and who had become a very successful businessman in the US. In 1948 Lienfung and Rih Hwa moved to Bangkok to work for her father in his Wah Chang group of companies. They then moved to Rangoon where, along with running her father’s businesses, they started their own vermicelli making business. They also during this time started a family, producing three children between 1951 and 1956.
Despite the demands of running businesses and raising a family, Lienfung found time to write short stories and travelogues that were published in newspapers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. In 1954 she completed The Sword has Two Edges, a play in English based on a character in the Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. A second play, Titles and Turbulence of the Twilight Years, won first prize in the Culture Ministry’s competition in 1978.
She also won a Highly Commended award from the National Book Development Council of Singapore in 1986 with A Joss Stick for My Mother, a compilation of her newspaper columns. She wrote, for a total of 10 years, the weekly Bamboo Green for The Straits Times, and later another column for 10 years in Lianhe Zaobao.
In 2010 she wrote A Daughter Remembers, an account in Mandarin of her family life. The English version was published shortly after she died in 2011 following a brain haemorrhage. An ardent supporter of the arts, champion of women's rights and a philanthropist, Lienfung chaired the Singapore Totalisator Board Arts Fund Committee from 1994 to 2002.
"It is never too late if you really want to do something. You`ve got to keep on prodding. I don`t regret anything I`ve done; I only regret what I haven`t been able to do."