26 February 2021: Support from the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation forms cornerstone of Chinese Studies at Yale-NUS

By Salome Ong

Alumnus Mr Aditya Talwar (Class of 2020), a recipient of the Chinese Language Scholarship Programme supported by the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation under the Tan Chin Tuan Chinese Culture and Civilisation Programme. Image provided by Mr Talwar. Photo was taken before the implementation of COVID-19 safe distancing requirements.

Yale-NUS College alumnus Mr Aditya Talwar (Class of 2020) was flummoxed when he first played a game of mahjong with some of his classmates. Unable to understand what the different tiles meant, he decided to learn how to count to ten in Mandarin. What started as a passing interest quickly turned into a deep passion, culminating in Mr Talwar’s career choice: a YouTuber producing hit videos in Mandarin.

The journey behind Mr Talwar’s fluency in Mandarin was difficult but rewarding. During his first mid-year break at the College, he enrolled in an intensive two-month Chinese Language Scholarship Programme in Beijing supported by the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation under the Tan Chin Tuan Chinese Culture & Civilisation Programme at Yale-NUS. The Programme encourages students to deepen their understanding of China and Chinese culture.

For Mr Talwar, the time spent in China under the Programme was crucial to his learning – but it was also tough. “I struggled with the language, and even simple daily tasks like getting a SIM card or buying groceries became a chore,” recalled Aditya. “But it was worth it, and after my two months in Beijing I went from speaking very broken phrases to being able to hold a conversation confidently.”

Mr Talwar’s Mandarin fluency has lasted long beyond his summer in Beijing. His YouTube channel, Indian Prince Adi, which boasts over 90,000 subscribers, aims to give Chinese speakers a glimpse of Indian culture and his background.

Mr Talwar, in one of his videos, doing a tour of his dormitory room at Yale-NUS College. Image taken from Mr Talwar’s YouTube video.

“The channel felt like a way that I could break down certain stereotypes about India or at least give people a more realistic and perhaps an alternative view of what it means to be Indian,” he explained.

One of Mr Talwar’s videos was a day-in-the-life vlog, where he documented his day spent travelling around in India, showcasing its colours and culture, all while narrating in fluent Mandarin.

His rapid progress in Mandarin under the Chinese Language Scholarship Programme speaks of the success of the Tan Chin Tuan Chinese Culture & Civilisation Programme at the College.

The Foundation also supports the Tan Chin Tuan Professorship in Chinese Studies, of which Professor of Humanities (Chinese Studies) Scott Cook is the inaugural recipient. An expert in Chinese history, Prof Cook leads the Yale-NUS Chinese Studies Council and teaches courses such as Classical Chinese, the only introductory Classical Chinese course within the National University of Singapore.

The generous funding provided by the Foundation has enabled Prof Cook to further his research in early Chinese intellectual history and manuscript studies. His upcoming book, 上博竹書孔子語錄文獻研究 (A Study of Recorded Conversations of Confucius Texts among the Shanghai Museum Manuscripts), sheds new light on the study of Warring States-period philosophical history and, more broadly, on the study of early China.

Professor Scott Cook (left), the inaugural recipient of the Tan Chin Tuan Professorship in Chinese Studies. Image provided by Prof Cook. Photo was taken before the implementation of COVID-19 safe distancing requirements.

Prof Cook shared that the Professorship was a “unique opportunity to build a world-class Chinese Studies programme, and to do that in a part of the world where Chinese culture has a long history of close interaction with other regional cultures and which occupies a pivotal juncture in China’s geopolitical relations with other nations across the globe today.”

Funding from the Tan Chin Tuan Chinese Culture & Civilisation Programme has enabled students and faculty alike to attend conferences and short-term exchange programmes, as well as host conferences and workshops to advance the understanding of China and Chinese culture.

“The ability to host international conferences and symposia is particularly exciting, as it gives us a chance to showcase our College as an important centre of Sinological research and instruction to leading scholars throughout the world and gives our students the opportunity to observe intense academic debate first-hand,” Prof Cook explained.

On 3 February 2021, the Chinese Studies Council organised the History of Overseas Chinese in Singapore symposium. The full-day hybrid event featured renowned local historians like Professors Wang Gungwu and Kwa Chong Guan, amongst other prominent names. The event attracted the highest participation for a symposium by Yale-NUS with over 500 physical and virtual attendees from Singapore and all around the world. The Symposium explored the historical pressures faced by Nanyang Chinese and how these have shaped our understanding of the current relationship between Chinese in China, Singapore and the region.

Speakers of the Symposium on The History of Overseas Chinese in Singapore, alongside Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation, Ms Yap Su-Yin (front row, far left) and Advisor Mr Eric Teng (second row, far left). Pictured from top row to bottom row (left to right): Prof Scott Cook, Assoc Prof Kwee Hui Kian, Mr Eric Teng, Mr Low Sze Wee, Prof Kwa Chong Guan, Assoc Prof Huang Jian Li, Ms Yap Su-yin, Prof Wang Gungwu and Mr Kua Bak Lim. Image provided by Yale-NUS Development Office.

“The Tan Chin Tuan Foundation’s generous funding for Chinese Studies at the College allows us to hold significant events on campus every semester. At the same time it affords numerous faculty research and student learning opportunities to enhance the College’s existing faculty strengths in Chinese Studies and to fully capitalise on student motivations. The resources it provides for building such a robust programme are tremendous,” shared Prof Cook.