Tan Swie Hian published his first collection of modern poetry The Giant in 1968, which is the culmination of the Chinese modernist literary movement in the history of Chinese literature in Singapore and Malaysia. To date, he has had 39 publications of poetry, essays, stories, criticisms and translated works to his credit. Being multilingual, he is the first to have translated works by such literary giants as A. Huxley, H. Michaux, J. Prevert, S. Beckett, V. Nijinsky and M. Sorescu into Chinese. In 1978, he was conferred Chavalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France. In 1998, he won the Marin Sorescu International Poetry Prize from Romania.
Tan held his first exhibition in 1973 and ever since he has exhibited his paintings in oil, Chinese ink and acrylic, sculptures, calligraphy, cartogravures, prints and seal engravings in numerous solo and group shows in Singapore and worldwide. In 1987, he was conferred the Singapore Cultural Medallion. He went on to win a Gold Medal in Salon des Artistes Francais, Paris in 1995 and the Seoul International Calligraphy Gold Medal in an international calligraphy exhibition to mark the Korea/Japan World Cup 2002. In 2003, he was conferred the prestigious Crystal Award by the World Economic Forum for outstanding artistic achievements and contribution to cross-cultural understanding. In the same year, the President of Singapore conferred on him the Meritorious Service Medal which is the highest honour for a cultural personality in the Republic.