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Literary Arts

Fang Xiu

A pioneer of Chinese literature in Singapore and Malaysia.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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We should note down what we know and what we see. If we don’t do this properly, later generations will not know how we lived.

Fang Xiu was a pioneer of Chinese literature in Singapore and Malaysia. A journalist, scholar, educator and literary champion, he single-handedly laid the foundations for the study of Malayan Chinese literature since the ’50s. In 1970, he published A Comprehensive Anthology of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature, a 20-year labour of love that was the first ever collection and all-encompassing study of Malayan Chinese literature, comprising short stories, poems, dramas, prose, and literary criticism published in the six decades between 1919 and 1976. An essayist, poet and literary critic, he also wrote and compiled comprehensive histories of modern Malayan Chinese literature. In 2008, he received the inaugural Nanyang Literature Award from the Confucius Institute of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Born Goh Tze Kwang in Guangdong, China in 1922, Fang Xiu attained his primary and secondary education in Guangdong. After spending a year at a training institute for teachers, he moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with his parents in 1938, and found work in a factory manufacturing machine spare parts.

In 1941, he started working as a proofreader and a reporter on probation for the night shift at Xin Guo Min Daily News, beginning a long career in the papers. Working at the newspaper, Fang Xiu got to know many other journalists and writers who encouraged him to submit his writings for publication.

However, the Japanese army invaded Malaysia at the end of 1941, and Fang Xiu and his peers escaped to Singapore. They joined a youth cadre the following year, and lived out the rest of the World War II years in Singapore.

When the war ended in 1945, Fang Xiu moved back to Kuala Lumpur to work for Min Sheng Pau. The next year, he joined Zhong Hua Newspaper, and then returned to settle down in Singapore to become a primary school teacher, teaching in schools in Singapore, Johor and the Riau Islands in Indonesia.

In 1951, Fang Xiu returned to a career in journalism and became editor of Sin Chew Jit Poh and Sin Chew Weekly, rising to become chief news editor in 1956. During this period, Fang Xiu decided to document the development of Chinese literature in Singapore and Malaysia, and embarked on the monumental task of single-handedly compiling a history of modern Malayan Chinese literature and what would become A Comprehensive Anthology of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature, a 10-volume collection that took him 20 years to complete and publish. Along the way, he also served as the editor for several publications including 《文艺》(Wen Yi), 《星期小说》(Xing Qi Xiao Shuo), 《青年知识》(Qing Nian Zhi Shi) and 《文化》(Wen Hua).

Fang Xiu’s task was aided by his own philosophy that writers should have good and honest characters and attitudes. Living a simple life completely consumed by his task, he stayed at home writing and compiling, only leaving to research at the newspaper offices or the libraries with his note book and camera, taking photos of research materials that he could not borrow. He used his earnings towards the collection, buying books for research, film for his camera and hiring assistants to make copies of research materials. His friends and fellow journalists also aided him by passing him old magazines and newspapers for him to scour for information.

In 1970, after two decades of putting his heart and soul into the collection, Fang Xiu published the complete A Comprehensive Anthology of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature, the first ever collection and all-encompassing study of Singapore and Malayan Chinese literature, comprising short stories, poems, plays, prose, and literary criticism that were published in the five decades between 1919 and 1969. The anthology immediately became an important and authoritative reference on Chinese literature in Singapore and Malaysia, providing a significant and detailed record of Singapore Chinese literature for the first time. Fang Xiu also compiled and published other detailed anthologies on the topics of Malayan Chinese literature in the pre- and post-World War II periods and Chinese literature in Malaysia.

Besides his role at the Sin Chew newspapers, Fang Xiu also became a part-time lecturer at the University of Singapore in 1966, teaching courses on modern Chinese literature and Malayan Chinese literature. Through his teachings and the publication of A Comprehensive Anthology of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature, Fang Xiu was an instrumental pioneer in the academic study of Chinese literature in Singapore and Malaysia.

Known among his peers for his modesty and gentle nature, Fang Xiu enjoyed sharing his knowledge and engage with his fellow writers to do his part in promoting and contributing to the development of Chinese literature in Singapore and Malaysia. Regarded as the foremost authority and a living encyclopaedia of Chinese literature, younger peers often visited him at his home to consult and seek advice. Fang Xiu came to mentor and guide many young writers in to ’60s through to the ’80s.

In 1978, Fang Xiu retired from both his newspaper and teaching jobs. Two years later, he became the chief editor of the bi-monthly literary magazine 《乡土》(Xiang Tu). In 1997, he founded 热带文学艺术俱乐部 Tropical Literature & Art Club, for which he served as a consultant.

Through the decades, Fang Xiu edited and compiled over 100 literary publications—many of them on the topic of Malayan Chinese literature—and wrote almost 70 poems. As a writer, he believed that literature should reflect the historical realities and the aspirations of people in Singapore and Malaysia.

For his invaluable contributions to Chinese literature in Singapore, Fang Xiu received the inaugural Nanyang Chinese Literature Award from the Confucius Institute of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore in 2008.

In Feb 2010, he contracted pneumonia and was admitted into Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Fang Xiu passed away three weeks later at the age of 88.

In May 2010, the Tropical Literature & Art Club and the National Library Board organised In Memory of Fang Xiu: A Commerorative Forum at the National Library, with the club launching 《论说方修》Remember Fang Xiu, a collection of essays and poems by Fang Xiu’s admirers and friends. The event was attended by Singapore writers, scholars and friends of Fang Xiu, who shared their thoughts and memories of the Chinese literary giant.

At the event, Fang Xiu’s youngest child, Alan Goh, announced a donation of $40,000 towards a foundation for the Fang Xiu Literature Award, which was established in 2009 by the Tropical Literature & Art Club.

Timeline

9 Feb 1922

Born in Guangdong, China.

1938

Moved with family to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

1938 to 1941

Worker, machine parts factory.

1941

Proofreader and reporter on probation, Xin Guo Min Daily News, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

1941

Moved to Singapore to escape Japanese invasion of Malaysia.

1941

Member, youth cadre.

1942

Moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

1945

Journalist, Min Sheng Pau, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

1946

Journalist, Zhong Hua Newspaper, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Moved to Singapore.

1946 to 1950

Primary school teacher at schools in Singapore, Johor, Malaysia and the Riau Islands, Indonesia.

1951 to 1955

Editor, Sin Chew Jit Poh, Singapore.

1951 to 1957

Editor, Sin Chew Weekly, Singapore.

1956 to 1958

Chief editor, Sin Chew Jit Poh, Singapore.

1957

Published prose collection 《谈小品散文》 (Tan Xiao Pin San Wen).

1958

Published paper 《马华文坛往事》 (Ma Hua Wen Tan Wang Shi).

1958 to 1959

Editor, 《文艺》 (Wen Yi).

1960

Published literary criticism 《红楼梦简说》Dream of the Red Chamber Short Story.
Published essay collection 《避席集》 (Bi Xi Ji).

1961

Published paper 《文艺界五年》(Wen Yi Jie Wu Nian).

1961 to 1962

Edited and published 10-volume collection 《马来亚文学丛书共十册》(Ma Lai Ya Wen Xue Cong Shu Shi Ce).

1962

Published 《马华文艺史料》History of Malayan Chinese Literature.
Published paper 《文艺界五年》(Wen Yi Jie Wu Nian)
Published paper 《马华新文学史稿》(Ma Hua Xin Wen Xue Shi Gao).
Editor, novel 《残梦(丁之屏)》(Can Meng [Zhi Ping Ding]).
Editor, short story 《阴影(黄山)》(Yin Ying [Huang Shan]).
Editor, short story 《生命的航程(梅拉)》(Sheng Ming De Hang Cheng [Mei La]).
Editor, literary commentary 《短书集(欧阳攀龙)》(Duan Shu Ji [Ou Yang, Pan Long]).
Editor, essay collection 《停晷集(叶观复)》(Ting Gui Ji [Ye Guan Fu]).
Editor, essay collection 《椰林短曲(以今)》(Ye Lin Duan Qu [Yi Jin]).
Editor, poetry collection 《椰笛与竖琴(莎茄、蓝金)》(Ye Di Yu Shu Qin [Sha Jia, Lan Jin]).
Editor, short story 《投资(李过)》(Tou Zi [Li Guo]).
Editor, short story collection 《学成归来(谢克)》(Xue Cheng Gui Lai [Xie Ke]).
Editor, essay 《陈炼青文集》(Chen Lian Qing Wen Ji).

1964

Published literary commentary 《文艺杂论》(Wen Yi Za Lun).

1966 to 1978

Part-time lecturer, University of Singapore.

1966 to 1968

Editor, 《星期小说》(Xing Qi Xiao Shuo).

1967

Published 《文艺杂论二集》(Wen Yi Za Lun Er Ji).
Editor, essay 《迎春小唱》(Ying Chun Xiao Chang).

1968

Edited and published 4-volume collection of dramas, stories and poems 《马华新文学选集》(Ma Hua Xin Wen Xue Xuan Ji).

1969 to 1971

Editor, 《青年知识》(Qing Nian Zhi Shi).

1970

Published 10-volume collection of stories, poems, dramas, prose and literary criticism 《马华新文学大系》共十册 A Comprehensive Anthology of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature.
Published paper 《马华文艺思潮的演变》(Ma Hua Wen Yi Si Chao Di Yan Bian).

1971 to 1978

Editor, 《文化》(Wen Hua).

1972

Published second edition of 10-volume collection 《马华新文学大系》A Comprehensive Anthology of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature.

1973

Published prose collection《长夜集》(Chang Ye Ji).

1974

Published prose collection 《轻尘集》 (Qing Chen Ji).
Published literary commentary on modern Malayan Chinese literature 《马华新文学及其历史轮廓》(Ma Hua Xin Wen Xue Ji Qi Li Shi Lun Kuo).
Published paper 《马华新文学简史》(Ma Hua Xin Wen Xue Jian Shi).

1975

Published prose collection《沉沦集》(Chen Lun Ji).
Editor, essay 《血颂(李蕴朗遺作)》(Xue Song [Li Yun Lang Yi Zuo]).
Published revised edition paper 《马华新文学史稿 : 马华新文学大系附编》(Ma Hua Xin Wen Xue Shi Gao: Ma Hua Xin Wen Xue Da Xi Fu Bian).

1976

Published literary criticism collection 《文艺界又五年》(Wen Yi Jie You Wu Nian).
Published paper 《马华新文学的现实主义传统》(Ma Hua Xin Wen Xue De Xian Shi Zhu Yi Chuan Tong).
Published biography collection 《人物篇》(Ren Wu Pian).
Editor, poetry 《原甸诗选》(Yuan Dian Shi Xuan).

1977

Published essay 《炉烟集》(Lu Yan Ji).
Editor, essay collection 《郁达夫选集》(Yu Da Fu Xuan Ji). Co-compiled with Zhang Jia.
Editor, commentary 《郁达夫选抗战文集》(Yu Da Fu Xuan Kang Zhan Wen Ji). Co-compiled with Lin Xu Dian.

1978

Published literary criticism collection 《小休录》(Xiao Xiu Lu).
Published 《战後马华文学史初稿》History of Post-World War II Malayan Chinese Literature.

1979

Published essay collection 《两径轩杂文》(Liang Jin Xuan Za Wen).
Editor, essay collection 《王君实选集》(Wang Jun Shi Xuan Ji). Co-compiled with Ye Guan Fu.
Published paper on trend of thoughts in Malayan Chinese literature《马华文艺思潮的演变》(Ma Hua Wen Yi Si Chao Di Yan Bian).
Editor, 《马华新文学大系:战后 戏剧一集》Anthology of Post-World War II Malayan Chinese Literature: Dramas and Stories.
Editor, essay collection 《铁抗作品选》(Tie Kang Zuo Pin Xuan).
Editor, essay collection 《金丁作品选》(Jin Ding Zuo Pin Xuan).
Editor, essay collection 《流冰作品选》 (Liu Bing Zuo Pin Xuan).
Editor, essay collection 《白荻作品选》(Bai Di Zuo Pin Xuan).
Editor, essay collection 《张天白作品选》(Zhang Tian Bai Zuo Pin Xuan).
Editor, essay collection 《胡愈之作品选》(Hu Yu Zhi Zuo Pin Xuan).

1980

Chief Editor,《乡土》 (Xiang Tu) literary magazine, Singapore.
Editor, essay collection 《叶尼作品选》(Ye Ni Zuo Pin Xuan).
Editor, essay collection 《流浪作品选》(Liu Lang Zuo Pin Xuan).
Editor, essay collection 《李润湖作品选》(Li Run Hu Zuo Pin Xuan).

1981

Editor,《马华新文学大系:战后 散文一集》Anthology of Post-World War II Malayan Chinese Literature: Prose.

1982

Editor,《马华新文学大系:战后 诗集》Anthology of Post-World War II Malayan Chinese Literature: Poetry.

1984

Editor, essay collection 《郁达夫佚文集》(Yu Da Fu Yi Wen Ji).

1986

Published commentary collection on history of Singapore and Malayan Chinese literature 《新马文学史论集》(Xin Ma Wen Xue Shi Lun Ji).
Published literary criticism collection 《游谈录》(You Tan Lun).
Editor, anthology 《剪刀声里(张曙生佚作)》(Jian Dao Sheng Li [Zhang Shu Sheng]).

1987

Published biography 《文学。报刊。生活》 (Wen Xue, Bao Kan, Sheng Huo). Dictated by Fang Xiu and recorded by Lin Zhen.

1988

Published anthology 《方修自选集,1955-1977》(Fang Xiu Zi Xuan Ji).
Published essay 《夜读杂抄》(Ye Du Za Chao).

1989

Editor, 4-volume collection 《马华文学作品选(战前)》Anthology of Pre-World War II Malayan Chinese Literature.

1991

Editor, poetry collection 《佐丁诗稿》(Zuo Ding Shi Gao).
Editor, 4-volume collection 《马华文学作品选(战后)》Anthology of Pre-World War II Malayan Chinese Literature.

1992

Published literary commentary 《息游集》(Xi You Ji).
Editor, literary commentary 《池鱼集》(Chi Yu Ji).

1994

Compiled and published literary commentary 《看龙集》(Kan Long Ji).

1996

Published paper regarding history of Malayan Chinese literature 《马华文学史补》(Ma Hua Wen Xue Shi Bu).

1997

Founder, 热带文学艺术俱乐部 Tropical Literature & Art Club.
Published paper regarding history of Malayan Chinese Literature 《马华文学史百题》(Ma Hua Wen Xue Shi Bai Ti). Published literary commentary 《评论五试》(Ping Lun Wu Shi).

1997 to 2010

Consultant, 热带文学艺术俱乐部 Tropical Literature & Art Club.

1998

Published poetry collection on history of Singapore and Malayan Chinese literature 《重楼小诗》(Chong Lou Xiao Shi).

1999

Editor, commentary on history of Singapore and Malayan Chinese literature 《新马文学史丛谈》(Xin Ma Wen Xue Shi Cong Tan).
Editor, 2-volume collection, Anthology of Post-World War II Malayan Chinese Literature: Stories.

2000

Published poetry and essay 《方修诗文选》(Fang Xiu Shi Wen Xuan).

2001

Published 2-volume poetry and drama collection of Singapore and Malayan Chinese Literature 《战后新马文学大系》(Zhan Hou Xin Ma Wen Xue Da Xi).
Published anthology of essays, poetry etc 《新加坡潮籍作家百人集》(Xin Jia Po Chao Ji Zuo Jia Bai Ren Ji).
Fang Xiu Works International Conference, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Presented by 董教总教育中心 Dong Jiao Zong Higher Learning Centre and eight other organisations.

2002

Published literary commentary 《英灵集》(Ying Ling Ji).

18 May 2002 to 26 May 2002

Fang Xiu Exhibition, Johor, Malaysia.

1 Jun 2002 to 11 Jun 2002

Fang Xiu Exhibition, World Book Fair, Suntec City, Singapore. Presented by Maha Yu Yi Bookstore and Taode Library.

2005

Published poetry and commentary 《重楼诗补》(Chong Lou Shi Bu).
Published literary criticism 《红楼梦简说》增订版 Dream of the Red Chamber Short Story (revised edition).
Fang Xiu: 60 Years of Literary Life, Teochew Poit It Huay Kuan. Presented by Tropical Literature & Art Club.
Featured in Literary Pioneers of Singapore exhibition, National Library Board, Singapore.

2006 to 2008

Compiled and published 2-volume collection 《新马华文文学六十年》A 60-Year History of Singapore and Malayan Chinese Literature.

2008

Received inaugural Nanyang Chinese Literature Award, Confucius Institute, Nanyang Technological University.
Fang Xiu: Our Literary Pioneer exhibition, National Library, Singapore. Presented by Tropical Literature & Art Club and National Library Board.

2009

Fang Xiu Literature Award established, Tropical Literature & Art Club.

4 Mar 2010

Passed away from pneumonia at age of 88 in Singapore.

19 Mar 2010 to 28 Mar 2010

Exhibition of life and works, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

23 May 2010

In Memory of Fang Xiu: A Commemorative Forum, National Library, Singapore. Presented by Tropical Literature & Art Club and National Library Board.
《论说方修》Remember Fang Xiu, a collection of essays and poems by Fang Xiu’s admirers and friends, published by Tropical Literature & Art Club.

30 May 2010 to 6 Jun 2010

Exhibition of life and works, Singapore Book Fair, Suntec City, Singapore. Presented by Maha Yu Yi Bookstore

Jun 2010

Exhibition of life and works, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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