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In Memory of Fang Xiu, Chinese Literary Pioneer (1922-2010)

By Lye Soo Choon, Oral History Specialist

The Oral History Centre pays tribute to literary pioneer Fang Xiu (方修)who passed away on 5 March 2010. We were honoured to have interviewed him in 2006. 

Fang Xiu was born in Guangdong, China on 9 February 1922 and educated there. He started his career in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as a journalist and then editor. In 1951, he relocated to Singapore when he was employed as an editor for Sin Chew Jit Poh and Sin Chew Weekly. He became the chief news editor in 1956.

A pioneer in the study of Singapore-Malayan Chinese literature, Fang Xiu was one of the interviewees captured in OHC’s recent project on “Development of the Chinese Literary Scene in Singapore”. Due to Fang Xiu’s ill-health, the interview focused on his reflections in his research work in Nanyang Chinese literature.

On how he was inspired to write about Chinese literature in Malaysia and Singapore, Fang Xiu recalled:

“I have some interest in history, have been reading historical books since young. Most of the books I read are books on China new literature. For example, Lu Xun and Guo Mu Ruo are writers that I like and I like their history. I developed the interest after I read “Modern Chinese Literature History” written by Chinese. I wished to also write such history for local Chinese literature. Later...friends gave me materials such as newspapers, magazines that they kept for a long time [for reference]. It was just the right time that I was interested; therefore I gathered the materials slowly, planned slowly and wrote slowly. That was the process.”

One of Fang Xiu’s most respected work has been the compilation of “Comprehensive Anthology of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature”, a project he undertook without any funding assistance. To date, it is still an important set of reference materials on Chinese literature in Southeast Asia:

“It has been my personal wish to complete the history of literature, thus I am determined to do it. On the one hand is my interest, another is my wish, and also with help from friends…Sometimes my work is busy, I used to work till one, two am and yet next day, I still bring up my camera and note book and go to the library [for research].

I have to put in heart, mind and soul, if not you can’t do it, to compile so many things alone without help.”

Seah Khok Chua, a retired editor had this to say of Fang Xiu when he was interviewed by OHC in 2004:

“Fang Xiu devotes much more time than others. Unlike others who compile the materials, add some figures and rush to publish them without bothering to read the literary works, Fang Xiu is much more serious. He has better judgement, not like others who just spent a little time. Therefore his is the most reliable source for the study of Singapore-Malayan Chinese literature.”

Another oral history interviewee Yap Koon Chan, President of Singapore Literature Society also said that without Fang Xiu, Singapore would not even have an outline of the history of Singapore literature:

“I admire Fang Xiu. On his own effort, he started the path in the study of development of Chinese literature. He wrote the history, compiled the anthology. His contributions cannot be written off. Therefore I always feel that Singapore should present him a national award. China and Taiwan researchers have the support from their countries, few can hold a candle to Fang Xiu’s contributions.”

The video interview with Fang Xiu captured how he gathered materials for his research, wrote his draft on “Post-war Malayan-Chinese Literature” and the process of compiling two volumes of Malayan-Chinese Literature. Fang Xiu also talked about his single most regret of not being able to complete the two volumes due to his deteriorating health. But his fighting spirit enabled him to try his best to the very end.

When Fang Xiu was asked about his contributions in his interview, he had this to say:

“No, always felt that I have not done enough... I always felt that something has not been completed…I hope to complete at least two volumes of literature anthology, i.e. ten books for postwar, ten books for pre-war……hope to compile them……however the results were not satisfactory.”

“I am eighty-four this year, hands and legs cannot move, can’t walk, can’t run, how long can I survive? I think at most (I can live for another) one or two years, can’t do anything. Not like you, young and energetic, has lots of time and energy.”

Information extracted from the following Oral History Interviews.

1. Interview with Mr Goh Tze Kwang @ Fang Xiu
Oral History Centre, Accession no. 003040

2. Interview with Mr Seah Khok Chua@Xie Ke
Oral History Centre, Accession no. 002761. Transcripts available on-line.

3. Interview with Mr Yap Koon Chan@Luo Ming
Oral History Centre, Accession no. 002802. Transcripts available on-line.

Other interviewees who have talked about Fang Xiu:

1. Interview with Mr Lim Kok Peng@Fang Ran
Oral History Centre, Accession no. 002941.

2. Interview with Mr Lam Yau Cheung@Yuan Dian
Oral History Centre, Accession no. 002947.