Catherine Lim

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Catherine Lim (林宝音)
Born 21 March 1942 (1942-03-21) (age 76)
Penang, British Malaya (now Malaysia)
Nationality Singaporean
Citizenship Singaporean
Occupation Writer, teacher

Catherine Lim Poh Imm (Chinese: 林宝音; pinyin: Lín Bǎoyīn, born 21 March 1942) is a Singaporean fiction author known for writing about Singapore society and of themes of traditional Chinese culture. Hailed as the "doyenne of Singapore writers",[1] Lim has published nine collections of short stories, five novels, two poetry collections, and numerous political commentaries to date.[2] Her social commentary in 1994, titled The PAP and the people - A Great Affective Divide[3][4] and published in The Straits Times criticised the ruling political party's agendas.


Lim was born in Kulim (Malaya) and studied in the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus. Early childhood reading was mainly influenced by British fiction, including Enid Blyton, Richmal Crompton and comics.[5]

She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Malaya in 1963, moving to Singapore in 1967. In 1988, she received her Ph.D in applied linguistics from the National University of Singapore. Lim subsequently attended Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley as a Fulbright scholar (1990). She also worked as a teacher and later as project director with the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore and as a specialist lecturer with the Regional English Language Centre, teaching sociolinguistics and literature. In 1992, she left her professional career to become a full-time writer. Lim was subsequently made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters (France) in 2003 and an ambassador of the Hans Christian Andersen Foundation (Copenhagen) in 2005. She received an honorary doctorate in literature from Murdoch University.[2]

Lim published her first short story collection called Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore in 1978. A succeeding collection, Or Else, the Lightning God and other Stories, was published in 1980. The short story collection was the first Singapore book to be tested for the Cambridge International Examinations in 1989 and 1990.[6] Another story collection that followed in this tradition was O Singapore!: Stories in Celebration from 1989, but two years earlier she published The Shadow of a Shadow of a Dream, which found Lim experimenting with new techniques and extending her subject range.[7]

Her first novel, The Serpent's Tooth, was published in 1982. Other books that have been published since then include The Bondmaid (1995) and Following the Wrong God Home (2001). The major theme in her stories is the role of women in traditional Chinese society and culture. In 1998 Lim was awarded the Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award[8] and in 1999 she received the S.E.A. Write Award.[9]

In 2000, Lim worked with the now-defunct web portal Lycos Asia to write an e-novella called Leap of Love. It was sold online (at 19 cents a chapter) before it was published by Horizon Books in 2003. It served as basis for the film The Leap Years by Raintree Pictures in 2008.

Another best-selling novel was The Bondmaid, which sold 75,000 copies.

In 2015, Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore was selected by The Business Times as one of the Top 10 English Singapore books from 1965–2015, alongside titles by Arthur Yap and Daren Shiau.[10] In the same year, The Straits Times' Akshita Nanda selected Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore as one of 10 classic Singapore books. "Catherine Lim's early short, sharp fiction describes the results of such social engineering", she wrote, "a Singapore growing more cosmopolitan and Singaporeans losing touch with their roots. Little Ironies spotlights ordinary people at their best and worst, such as 'The Taximan's Story', in which a cab driver is happy to make money off sex workers while looking down on them."[11]


Lim came into conflict with the People's Action Party (PAP) in 1994 when she wrote an article published in The Straits Times (PAP and the People: A Great Affective Divide).[3] From comments made by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and other cabinet ministers, especially George Yeo, this episode gave rise to the political "out of bounds" marker that came to be known as "boh tua boh suay" (literally, "no big, no small" in the Chinese dialect of Hokkien, to mean "no respect for rank and seniority").[12] Lee Kuan Yew dismissed Lim's views as "the popular theory that the Western press writes about". In his memoirs, Lee is quoted as saying:

Supposing Catherine Lim was writing about me and not the prime minister. She would not dare, right? Because my posture, my response has been such that nobody doubts that if you take me on, I will put on knuckle-dusters and catch you in a cul-de-sac. There is no other way you can govern in a Chinese society.[13]



Short story collections[edit]



  • Unhurried Thoughts At My Funeral (2005, Horizon Books) ISBN 9810523068
  • A Watershed Election: Singapore’s GE 2011 (2011, Marshall Cavendish Editions) ISBN 9789814351706
  • Roll Out the Champagne, Singapore!: An Exuberant Celebration of the Nation's 50th Birthday (2014, Marshall Cavendish Editions) ISBN 9789814561587


  • Kampong Amber (1994)



  1. ^ Literary meal: eat your words with Catherine Lim 3 November 2012 Old Parliament House, Singapore
  2. ^ a b Yap, Stephanie (3 August 2008). "Daily despair". Singapore: Straits Times Life. p. 23. 
  3. ^ a b The PAP and the people – A Great Affective Divide Archived 3 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine. 3 September 1994 The Straits Times
  4. ^ Colony, Nation, and Globalisation 2010, Hong Kong University Press
  5. ^ "'Book Talk' in School," LPC Reporter, Vol.8, No.2, 1987, p.5
  6. ^ Sin, Yuen (15 February 2016). "Who's afraid of 'chao ah beng'? Overseas universities use Singaporean literature to teach". Singapore Press Holdings. The Straits Times. Retrieved 15 February 2016. 
  7. ^ "Taking the Pulse of Singapore," Asiaweek, 23 August 1987
  8. ^ Sleep & Get Rich! 2009, Armour Publishing
  9. ^ S.E.A Write Award Winners List 1999 S.E.A. Write Award
  10. ^ Yusof, Helmi. "Tomes that show us how we live". The Business Times. Singapore Press Holdings. Retrieved 5 January 2015. 
  11. ^ Nanda, Akshita. "10 Singapore stories to ponder". The Straits Times. Singapore Press Holdings. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  12. ^ "Debate yes, but do not take on those in authority as equals", The Straits Times 20 February 1995
  13. ^ Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas 1998, Singapore Times

Further reading[edit]

  • Quayum, Mohammad A., Peninsular Muse: Interviews with modern Malaysian and Singaporean poets, novelists and dramatists, Peter Lang, 2007, ISBN 3-03911-061-6

External links[edit]

Catherine Lim (q5052793)