Thursday, June 09, 2016

Lim Hak Tai (former Bidadari Christian Cemetery)

Lim Hak Tai  (alias Lim Hsueh Ta, 林学大) was the founder and principal of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA). Born on May 28, 1893 in Amoy, China. In 1914, he enrolled in the Fuchow Academy as a trainee teacher specialising in Mathematics and Arts. However it was Arts that he will be forever remembered by. graduating in 1916,  he taught in many schools including the Amoy Academy of Art and the Chi Mei College in which he taught Western painting. With the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war in 1936, Lim Hak Tai and many Chinese chose to migrate to the "Southern Seas", the label then for South-east Asia. He arrived Singapore in the early 1937 and true to his nature, established a school of art with fellow instructors such as Kao Fei Zhe, Chiu Ling kue and Chong Ming Shi. In 1938, they moved to 93, Serangoon Road and Nan-yang Yi-shu Yuan (南洋美术专科学校 or Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts) was inaugurated. The first cohort was of 14 students and none of the staff were paid. Lim Hak Tai taught at Chinese High School.

Lim Hak Tai 
Despite early setbacks, (Japanese Occupation of Singapore, funding issues, recognition of its diploma), Lim Hak Tai was very determined to spread this new localised art form in Singapore. In 1946,  the Academy reopened at 49, St. Thomas Walk. Between 1946-1953, he recruited Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi and Georgette Chen to join his school.

In an oral interview by National Archives with Georgette Chen, she recalled that when she joined NAFA, Lim Hak Tai was already very sick with tuberculosis and because of this his frequency of painting was low although he still continued painting in oils and Chinese inks.

In 1962, Lim Hak Tai was awarded the Sijil Kemuliaan (Certificate of Honor) by the Yang Di-Pertuan Negara during that year's National Day celebration.


On February 13, 1963 after a long illness, Lim Hak Tai passed away at his home in St. Thomas Walk. He is survived by a son (Lim Yew Kuan), two daughters an a number of grandchildren. he was buried in Bidadari Christian Cemetery. After Bidadari cemetery was redeveloped, he and his wife were re-interred in a niche in a Christian Memorial Chapel.


Lim Hak Tai gave his passion and life towards the betterment of the Nanyang Arts in Singapore. He was however not a well known administrator. Enrolment after the death of Lim Hak Tai, steadily declined until a critical stage in 1978, when aware of its plight, the Chinese community came to the school's rescue. The Chinese community rallied together and in 1979, a group of old boys from Chinese High School led by lawyer Tang Liang Hong, formed a new board of directors and expanded  the school beyond pre-war house-cum-school at 49, St. Thomas Walk by occupying various old school buildings of the Chinese clan associations to Middle road and eventually today its city campus in Bencoolen.


In 1938, Lim Hak Tai’s wife died in Hong Kong while making her way from China to Singapore with their 3 sons and 2 daughters. During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, his eldest son was arrested and died during imprisonment.

Lim Yew Kuan, his second son, succeeded him as the second principal, serving from 1964 to 1979.


Hak Tai points the way. (1981, February 1981). The Straits Times.
Art School Principal dies at 70. (1963, February 17). The Straits Times
Art and Artist. (1980, October 4). The Straits Times.
The Joke is on the doubting Artist. (1988, April 6).The Straits Times.
Nanyang's resurrection. (1998. April 17). The Straits Times
Lim Hak Tai. (website). TributeSG. Last accessed, June 8, 2016
Lim Hak Tai. (website). Infopedia. Last accessed June 8, 2016

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