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Personality

Lucien was a dedicated individual who believed in hard work; was devoted to her career as a pianist and had a passion for teaching. She was not only a pianist but an artist who was good at painting and writing poems. Despite her remarkable achievements, she remained humble and preferred to do behind-the-scene work. She led a simple life and described her life philosophy as “enough is as good as a feast”. Her simplicity, bountiful kindness, enthusiasm and self-sacrifice were qualities that made her a very special person for many people [i].

Lucien was portrayed in the English media as a very friendly and warm person. Chong Wing Hong, a journalist who interviewed her in 1982, described that Lucien gave him a very welcome and invited him to her house for dinner[l]. Another journalist similarly described her as a "gracious and hospitable host" with a "warm and disarming personality" who received them as if they were lost friends [xvii]. In an interview with the media on her principles, she shared her golden rules of living which she described as:

"Let worry worry itself.

Don’t be possessive.

Lead a simple life.

Always keep peace of mind – that is the most important.”[li]

Lucien Wang's View on Success

In a speech (that she seems to have given before her student Mr Ong Lip Tat’s performance) [XLVII], Lucien Wang mentions of the ‘words of wisdom from three persons’ that have been ‘deeply etched in [her] mind since childhood’. The three people she mentions are: Dr Sun Yat Sen, her mother, and Miss Herriet Noves, the Principal of the True Light Primary School in Canton, China, to which she attended.

Quoting Dr Sun, Lucien Wang says “No matter how small or large the job entrusted to you, if you start it right and end it well, giving of your best efforts, THIS IS SUCCESS*.”

Next, Lucien Wang quotes her mother, who always “reminded [her] that it is god to be ambitious but not overly ambitious. Know thyself. A small fish cannot turn the way a big fish does. Each of us must know our own limits and try our hardest. THIS TOO IS SUCCESS*!”

Lastly, of Miss Harriet Noves, Lucien Wang notes her philosophy as “a sound body and a sound mind.” She quotes Miss Noves explaining that “just as the body needs food, so also our mind needs feeding. Music is good for our minds and our souls.”

*Emphasis original.

Health

Lucien Wang had a severe obstruction in her nasal tract. She had undergone an operation and other types of treatments under the supervision of her doctor, S. Lai for five years (1949-1953).

S. Lai had also advised her to go to Switzerland as the treatments in Singapore were not proving to be effective [lv]. During this time, Lucien Wang also consulted Claude Bertier for medical prescriptions [lvi]. 

Hobbies

Lucien particularly enjoyed magic which she learnt in order to entertain her mother. She was a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, a club located in East Coast Road, Singapore. She often received correspondence from this club and seems to have been an active member. [citation needed] The exact details of the magic tricks she would conduct are not known. In addition to magic she spent her time embroidering and painting. She also liked to collect newspaper cuttings.

Community Involvement

Her kindness was not only limited to those she knew but extended beyond her friends and family. She was a philanthropist and made generous donations for the flood victims in China [ii]. She was also active in Alliance Française, Singapore and YMCA Singapore. She organized a concert programme for YMCA in order to support the YMCA Swimming Pool Fund [LXIV]

Relationships

She was very close to her family, especially her mother. Her relationships to her friends, teachers and students could best be described as those that exist between blood-kin. Given her warm, hospitable nature, she was not afraid to befriend anyone and treated everyone like family. She was quite informal in her engagements with others, even her teacher, Alfred Cortot with whom she was not impersonal and professional, but rather warm and friendly. Her warmth and informality was reciprocated by others which is quite apparent from the personal titles and affectionate words used for her by her friends, teachers and students in their letters to her.

Mother

She was very close to her mother, Madam Li Hui De, who played a key role in shaping Lucien’s personality. After her husband’s death, she stayed by herself for five years until Madam Li decided to come to Singapore from her homeland in Guangzhou. Lucien’s students described her as someone with a sense of humor and often addressed her as “Por Por” (Mandarin for grandma) In fact, Madam Li always told her students that the reason why Lucien chose to pursue music instead of medicine was because “a doctor would always have to face patients who looked sorrowful, downhearted or even upset whereas a music teacher would always face students who are brimming with curiosity and joy at the prospect of learning!”[liv]

Lucien was extremely filial to her mother. In order to entertain and amuse her mother at home, she started learning magic [liv]. Initially, it was quite clear to her students that she was not familiar or even well practiced with the tricks but eventually, Lucien’s proficiency improved to such an extent that she was offered membership in the International Brotherhood of Magicians. 

 Her mother’s eight principles about leading a fulfilling life served as a constant reference for Lucien [iii]. When she was encouraged by her teacher to study music abroad, her mother was the only one in her family who supported her [iv]. In 1950 when Lucien’s piano teacher Alfred Cortort invited her to go back to Europe for advanced study, Lucien was hesitant to go, as she was worried about her mother’s health. However, it was her mother who insisted that Lucien should go [v]. In 1959, while in Europe, Lucien immediately went back home upon hearing the news of her mother’s sickness [vi]. According to Lucien, had it not been for her mother’s encouragement she would not have been a pianist [vii].

(Lucien Wang with her mother, undated)

Husband

During her time in Paris, Lucien met Wang Zu Hui who had grown up in Beijing and was studying Electrical Engineering in Paris. They admired each other and soon fell in love. In 1936 they went back to China and got married in 1939 [viii]. After the start of the Second World War, they fled to Singapore to escape the Japanese invasion of China. Unfortunately, in 1941 her husband disappeared during a Japanese exercise to verify potential hostile elements and was never heard off again [ix]. Her profound sorrow at losing her husband was reflected in the songs she wrote for him [x]. She also painted an oil-paint portrait of her husband and hung it on her room’s door to mourn his loss [xi].

Wang Zuhui was the son of a Qing scholar and judge [xxvii]. After the two met in Paris, they returned to Beijing and Guangzhou respectively. They kept in touch through French letters [xxvii]. Later, Wang Zuhui took up a post with the electrical bureau in Guangzhou, and the two got married soon after. [xxvii] After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war, Lucien Wang wished to go to Nanyang while her husband was unwilling to leave China [xxvii]. He decided to follow her after she said "I want to go. If you don't want to go, you can stay [xxvii]." A newspaper feature describes them as a loving couple, with Wang Zuhui sending Lucien Wang to school every day and asking her if she missed him when he returned [xxvii]. Lucien Wang repeatedly said that "I'm responsible for his plight. If I hadn't been so adamant about moving south, he would not have met with such a tragic fate. [xxvii]" 

(Lucien Wang with her husband Wang Zu Hui, undated)

Friends

One of her closet friends was Ye Zhi Rong, her schoolmate from primary school till college. In her letters to Lucien, Zhi Rong often mentioned childhood memories that they had shared and requested Lucien to send her their school photographs [xii].

Another very close friend was Peter Lee who, in his letters, always addressed Lucien affectionately as “My Dearest Lux”. He was known to be very fond of her as his teacher. From his letters it appears that they often confided in each other and he provided her with emotional support [xiii]. They regularly exchanged gifts, especially photographs [xiv] [xv] and in 1948 Lucien sent Peter Lee her first watercolor drawing which he greatly admired [xvi]. In return, Lee would send some books on music theory and analysis that were not available in Singapore at the time, as well as the course syllabus for Associated Board of the Royal School of Music (ABRSM) and Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music (LRAM) [lii] for her reference when teaching. In the book "Mozart and the Moonlight Sonata" that he sent her in 1955, he left a short message for her and signed himself off as "Polly".

Lucien was described by one of her students who really treasured and valued the friendships she has cultivated over her lifetime. Due to her proficiency in multiple languages – Mandarin, French, English, her circle of friends extended beyond the country, many of which she has met during her travels [liv]. Many of them included fellow music educators and musicians. Lucien also held close ties to the teachers who have taught her in the European academies she studied in, writing to share with each other the different joys and sorrows in their respective lives. One of Lucien's teachers in Europe, Joseph Morpain, related the ?painful experience of his ailment and how his sickness resulted in the amputation of his right leg ?[xxv]; in her letter correspondence with Morpain, and later his friends and family upon his passing, it was evident that Lucien emphatised deeply with their experiences. Friends were an important part of Lucien's life, and sharing her life experiences was integral to how she related to them.

For someone who was known to be thrifty, Lucien had no qualms with regards to spending lavishly whenever her friends from abroad came over to visit. In her student’s words, she would often “show off” on these occasions by bringing her friends over to the Chinese restaurant near her place for a sumptuous and expensive meal [liv]

Based on the English and French letters that have been archived and documented, there were a few other friends that Lucien Wang kept in more frequent contact with apart from Michael and Peter. These friends that she kept in more frequent contact with also appear to be closer friends, often addressing her as Nancy. One such friend is Elizabeth Howe that she met when they were both together in Canton City, Ohio, Canada [xlviii][xlix]. The both of them appears to have been involved in Canton’s Young Women’s Christian Association together with a group of friends [xl]. Some other friends that she kept in touch with via letters were Jane Debriel and Ling-Hua Tsou. 

It was clear that Lucien Wang was greatly appreciated and well loved by her friends. For the Honor-Teach 40 Years concert organized for her by students to commemorate her 40 years of involvement in music education, many of her friends actually wrote essays and songs dedicated to her in the commemorative booklet prepared by her students for the event [liv].

Michael Liroudia

Michael Liroudia was born around 1931 [xxviii]. His letters were mostly addressed from Rethymnon, Crete, Greece and the correspondence lasted for over 17 years [xxix, xxx].He describes her as “a friend who can understand me” and asks for her forgiveness “for bothering you with my jeremiads”.He also urged her not to “shut yourself up” and “brood of what will happen when you'll be old” [xxxi].

They exchanged a number of gifts; among other things, Michael Liroudia sent her a piece of music [xxxi], a painting of Cretan art, and a silver bracelet [xxxii]. He mentions that his sister still keeps her “little Chinese card” while he keeps her “Chinese little doll” [xxxiii], and expresses his gratitude for “your jade, over my wedding ring, your shawl over the piano, your painting over the sideboard, your pictures on the table, your sketch of my profile”[xxxii]. He encouraged her interest in learning about the Greeks by recommending books such as “Teach Yourself About the Greeks” and mentioning Greek thinkers such as Euripedes[xxxvii]. In her travel journal, Lucien Wang recalls a visit to Rethymnon to his wife Fofo[xxxiv], who was her classmate. There, she was told that she “was the first Chinese who had stepped on their soil” [xxxv]. 

While we often read that Lucien Wang always had a very positive attitude and outlook towards life, we see a glimpse of her inner struggle through Michael's replies to Lucien Wang. Notably, in one of his replies dated 5 September 1953, Michael writes that "I think you are wrong there, that you have no future. Helen of Troy, was forty-five when Paris abducted her. It is never too late one should always hope, never despair" [LVII]. Lucien Wang might have also been distressed with her looks, and Michael replies to her that "Personally I never consider beauty. I told you this before, I esteem character". He also tells her that "[Helen of Troy] was very ugly." ???[LVIII]. We also see that Lucien Wang herself wished that she was a male, which might have been influenced by her parents wish. [LIX].

It is uncertain what the real nature of their relationship was. One possibility is that Lucien Wang was a family friend of Michael - Lucien Wang knew of Michael's sister, who often sent Lucien Wang her regards through Michael's letters and Lucien herself sends several gifts to her [LX], and Michael often ends his letter by sending regards to Lucien's mother and servant. At the same time, their relationship might have been something more personal and secretive - Lucien seems to have been paranoid that other people should see her letters that she told Michael repeatedly about whether anyone has seen her letters [LVIII]. It is also possible that they had a romantic relationship. Lucien talks about "the right one" in at least one of her letters [LXI]. She always sent perfumed envelopes, and on one odd occasion she sent one with the lipstick mark on it, which Michael found 'romantic' [LXII]. Michael also makes several ambiguous references to the past, such as "I was singing to the person of which I was sure that very minute. I would have looked into your eyes but I have doubted, then" which makes it harder to infer the nature of the relationship they had [LVIII, LXIII]. 

Teachers

In 1930, she moved to Paris and managed to get herself accepted by the renowned Franco-Swiss pianist, Alfred Cortot. In an interview with Music Notes in 1992, she recalled that Cortot was very demanding and exceedingly hard to please. However, Lucien always tried her best and managed to leave a strong impression on Cortot, who in 1956 invited her to be an examiner at the Paris Conservatory [xvii]. She had a close relationship with Cortot, who treated her like his daughter. They regularly exchanged gifts and Cortot often addressed her as “Dear friend” in his letters [xviii] [xix]. In 1978, she organized a music concert to commemorate Cortort’s 100th posthumous birthday [xx].

(Lucien Wang with her piano teacher Alfred Cortort, undated)

As mentioned earlier, Lucien Wang was also taught by Joseph Morpain who then became a close friend. Lucien Wang took lessons in piano and harmony from Morpain, who was Professor of National School of Music of Paris (Ecole Normale de Musique) from 6 June to 1 September 1935 [xxxvii].  Joseph Morpain was both an Honorary Professor at the music conservatory and was also the director of Ecole Normale de Musique [xxxviii], which was founded by Alfred Cortot [xxxix].  Lucien Wang kept in contact with Morpain through letters all the way up till 1961 when he passed away [xl]. The two of them had a very close relationship and like Cortot, Morpain addressed her as both a student and friend in his letters. In their correspondence, Morpain frequently kept Lucien Wang updated about how Cortot was doing since Cortot was also teaching at Ecole Normale de Musique[xli][xlii][xliii][xliv][xlv][xlvi]. In fact, Morpain even kept a collection of letters and photos from Lucien Wang [xl].

Students

She was very devoted to her students, who called her “Auntie Wang”, and took an active interest in improving their piano skills. May of her students insisted that she teach their children who called Lucien “Por Por”, meaning Grandma in Mandarin [xxi].  She regularly organized concerts for her students and always tried to attend the concerts of well-known visiting musicians with her students [xxii]. One of her prominent students, Ong Lip Tat attributed his success to the rigorous training he received under her [xxiii]. Her students believed that they learnt a lot more from her than simply music, as they were strongly influenced by her dedication, patience and love [xxiv].

Since she did not have any children, she treated her students as though they were her own children. She was known to bring home-cooked soup backstage for her students to calm their nerves and provide emotional support when they were participating in piano competitions. She always emphasized to them that they should compete not against others but only against themselves. Should her students fail to meet up to their personal expectations, she would always have a kind word for them, such as "it is not your fault: the judges do not know how to fully appreciate the French style of playing." [xxvi]

She placed great importance on the learning and development of her students as musicians. She would approach her contemporaries and request that they take in her own students if she felt that the students would learn better under another teacher, something that is uncommon even today as music teachers would usually zealously guard their students from other teachers. She would seize every learning opportunity for her students and send her students for masterclasses. If her students could not afford to pay for those sessions, she would pay on their behalf without asking for anything in return. [xxvi]

According to Dr. Liu Hui Xia who is a student of Lucien Wang, Wang herself led a simple life but was generous to her students. After Singapore’s symphony orchestra was founded, she often bought lots of tickets which cost 3 dollars each before the concert and invited her students as well as their parents to listen to the classical music. And after the concert ended, she usually took the students to the back stage to let them learn more from the performers. This is her way to cultivate her students’ love for music. [liii]


[i] Newspaper article: “??,??“,Straight Times 1980: Chinese C03

[ii] Newspaper article: Chuan, Hong Yong. “Dedicated Music education, Groomed Talents in Singapore”, Hua Sheng Pau March 1983: Chinese C014

[iii] Letter: Lucien Wang to Mr. Zhi Cheng, 30 July 1979: Chinese C214

[iv] Newspaper article: “??????,??????“ :  Chinese C022

[v] Newspaper article: “??????(Lucien Wang’s interview), Nanyang Siang Pao 25 July, 1954, Chinese C002

[vi] Newspaper article: Wang, Lucien. “The Teacher I knew – Mr. Alfred Cortot” Straits Times 17 July 1962: Chinese C030

[vii] Letter: Lucien Wang to Mr. Zhi Cheng, 30 July 1979: Chinese C214

[viii] Letter : Lucien Wang to Mr. Zhi Cheng, 30 July 1979: Chinese C214

[ix] Newspaper article:  “ ?????????? ??????????????????,” Nanyang Siang Pau 21 February 1962, Chinese C139

[[x]] Newspaper article: “After the gold crane flies away, it leaves the white clouds alone foreover“ Lian He Zao Bao 7 February 1988 : Chinese C148

[xi] Newspaper article: “??????(Lucien Wang’s interview)”, Nanyang Siang Bao 25 July 1954: Chinese C002

[xii] Letter: Ye Zhi Rong to Lucien Wang: Chinese C327

[xiii] Letter: Peter Lee to Lucien Wang, 15 November 1946: English E3.119

[xiv] Letter: Peter Lee to Lucien Wang, 8 November 1947: English E3.110

[xv] Letter: Peter Lee to Lucien Wang, 9 December 1947: English E3.112

[xvi] Letter: Peter Lee to Lucien Wang, 5 March 1948: English E3.117

[xvii] Newspaper article: “Lucien Wong – A Portrait of Singapore’s Leading Piano Teacher”, Music Notes January/February 1992, p. 1: English E1.026

[xviii] Letter: Alfred Cortot to Lucien Wang, 14 August 1954: French F3.075

[xix] Letter: Alfred Cortot to Lucien Wang, 31 January 1962: French F3.047

[xx] Newspaper article: “Dedicated music groomed talent, Madam Lucien Wang’s interview”, Straight Times 28 August 1980:  Chinese C007

[xxi] Newspaper article: “????????????“, Lian He Zao Bao 10 November 1987: Chinese C019

[xxii] Letter : Lucien Wang to Mr. Zhi Cheng, 30 July 1979: Chinese C214

[xxiii] Newspaper article: “Lucien Wong – A Portrait of Singapore’s Leading Piano Teacher”, Music Notes January/February 1992, p. 2: English E1.026

[xxiv] Newspaper article: “??,??“,Straight Times 1980: Chinese C03

[xxv] Letter: Joseph Morpain to Lucien Wang, 15 January 1956: French F3.009

[xxvi] Interview: Ong Lip Tat, 6 April 2012

[xxvii] Newspaper Article: Li, Da. "Yan Bo Jiang Shang Shi Ren Chou", Lian He Zao Bao 7 February 1988. Chinese C148. 

[xxviii]Letter: Michael Liroudia to Lucien Wang, 28 June 1953, English E3.145

[xxix]Letter: Michael Liroudia to Lucien Wang, 11 May 1953, English E3.161

[xxx]Letter: Michael Liroudia to Lucien Wang, 4 February 1970, English E3.265

[xxxi]Letter: Michael Liroudia to Lucien Wang, 23 June 1954, English E3.115

[xxxii] Letter: Michael Liroudia to Lucien Wang, 7 December 1955, English E3.133

[xxxiii] Letter: Michael Liroudia to Lucien Wang, 17 October 1954, English E3.130

[xxxiv] Letter: Michael Liroudia to Lucien Wang, 26 July 1956, English E3.137

[xxxv] Travel Journal: Lucien Wang, “An Adventure in Rethymnon.” English E5.012

[xxxvi] Letter: Michael Liroudia to Lucien Wang, 10 November 1954, English E3.131

[xxxvii] Testimonial: Issued by Joseph Morpain, 1 Sep 1953, French, F2.004

[xxxviii] Greeting Card: Joseph Morpain to Lucien Wang, n.d., French, F4.002

[xxxix] http://www.ecolenormalecortot.com/rep2/index.html

[xl] Letter: Denise Morpain to Lucien Wang, 1 Mar 1961, French, F3.040 

[xli] Letter: Joseph Morpain to Lucien Wang, 16 Oct 1956, French, F3.007

[xlii] Letter: Joseph Morpain to Lucien Wang, 20 Apr 1954, French, F3.008

[xliii] Letter: Joseph Morpain to Lucien Wang, 15 Jun 1956, French, F3.009

[xliv] Letter: Joseph Morpain to Lucien Wang, 26 Sep 1955, French, F3.021

[xlv] Letter: Joseph Morpain to Lucien Wang, 21 Jun 1954, French, F3.056

[xlvi] Letter: Joseph Morpain to Lucien Wang, 15 Jul 1956, French, F3.082

[xlvii] Speech: By Lucien Wang, date unknown, English, E5.003

[xlviii] ?Letter: Elizabeth Howe to Lucien Wang, 30 Aug 1951, English, E3.034

[xlix] http://www.ywcacanton.org/

?[l] Newspaper article: “Evening of Song to Remember”, The Straits Times, 28 Jul 1982, English E1.020

[li] Newspaper article: “Madam Wong's golden rules of living”_, _The Straits Times, 24 May 1979, English E1.023

[lii] Letter: Peter Lee to Lucien Wang, 12 Sep 1948, English, E3.121

[liii] Newpaper article: "???? ??--????????", Nan Yang Arts, 2007 Issue 2, Chinese

[liv] http://www.malaysia-chinese.com/cgi-bin/czread.pl?file=&User=&Pass=&board=luntan&read=messages/2007/06/16833.htm| http://www.malaysia-chinese.com/cgi-bin/czread.pl?file=&User=&Pass=&board=luntan&read=messages/2007/06/16833.htm||||\l (Cited 15 April 2012)

[lv]  Letter: S.Lai to Lucien Wang, 3 February 1953: English E3.095

[lvi] Medical Prescription, 26 June 1953.

[LVII] Letter: Michael Liroudia to Lucien Wang, 5 September 1953, English E3.152

[LVIII] Letter: Michael Liroudia to Lucien Wang, 13 September 1953, English E3.153

[LIX] Letter: Michael Liroudia to Lucien Wang, 13 June 1953, English E3.146

[LX] Letter: Michael Liroudia to Lucien Wang, 16 November 1953, English E3.149

[LXI] Letter: Michael Liroudia to Lucien Wang, 22 December 1953, English E3.163

[LXII] Letter: Michael Liroudia to Lucien Wang, 12 August 1954, English E3.151

[LXIII] Letter: Michael Liroudia to Lucien Wang, 2 May 1953, English E3.160

[LXIV] Letter: Rowland Lyne to Lucien Wang, 18 Dec 1951, English, E3.024

  1. She led a simple life and described her life philosophy as “enough is as good as a feast” [citation needed].