About this article

Kenneth Pai Hsien-yung: The Revolving Door of Life (Part 1)

The words that come to mind when Professor Kenneth Pai Hsien-yung is mentioned would probably be: “Kun Qu Opera”, “Young Lovers’ Edition”, and “Peony Pavilion”. This giant of the literary world is renowned for promoting Kun Qu Opera; his dedication and perseverance is also shared by Mr Chou Cheng Ngok, Group CEO of Popular Holdings, in reviving the glory of the Chinese publishing industry in early Singapore – the aim of Chou Sing Chu Foundation, which he has established to honour his father.

Kenneth Pai Hsien-yung_Web_CSCF

Source: Fisfisa Media/Flâneur Culture Lab

In June 2016, SIM University partnered with Taiwan’s Fisfisa Media and Flâneur Culture Lab to present the “The Inspired Island II Literary Film Festival”. Pai was invited to launch the Southeast Asian premiere of Hsien-Yung Pai (《姹紫嫣红开遍》), the movie which documents his important life events and career milestones. With the kind assistance of Faber He from World Scientific Publishing’s Global Publishing, POPULAR News interviewed Pai for his views on literature, Kun Qu Opera and life.

Promoting Kun Qu Opera

“The most important thing is cultural identity.” The Chinese language connects the Chinese all over the world and determines their cultural identity; mastering the Chinese language is inheriting a cultural heritage. Pai said this was the thinking behind promoting Kun Qu Opera. Developed in the Ming Dynasty, its cultural importance is no less than the Shang Dynasty’s bronze wares and the Song Dynasty’s porcelains; it is a literary continuation of the Tang poems, Song Ci, and Yuan Qu. Every Kun Qu Opera performance is like admiring the Terracotta Army. “We would lose a lot if we allow it to disappear.”

Kenneth Pai Hsien-yung_Web_CSCF2

Senior Vice President of Malaysia’s Southern University College and celebrated poet, Professor Wong Yoon Wah (right), engaging Kenneth Pai Hsien-yung in a literary discussion before the Southeast Asian premiere of the movie about Pai’s life and career (Source: SIM University)

Instead of viewing it as promoting a cultural drama or a language, why not view it as discovering our cultural identity? The achievements of this island nation are undisputable “but I believe there is a missing piece of culture in the mind of Singaporeans.” After all, the Chinese culture is different from the West, be it family, habits or values. There are just too many reasons why we should look to our heritage.

Touching on his experience of bringing Peony Pavilion – Young Lovers’ Edition to Singapore in 2009, Pai exclaimed, “The audience’s response was overwhelming!” He attributed the success of the performance to the primeval memory of Chinese culture buried deep within the populace. Besides, who could resist such magnificently beautiful and youthful performance which connected language with music and dance? It is instinctive, “even if you do not understand the story, you can still take it all in.” That is the reason why the Kun Qu Opera performance has been doing its rounds in Europe and the United States to standing ovations. The “youthfulness” that Pai is trying to revive transcends culture, language, and geography.

About Kenneth Pai Hsien-yung

The internationally acclaimed writer was born in Guangxi’s Guiling, China in 1937, and moved to Taiwan in 1952. He once dreamt of participating in the Three Gorges Dam project and enrolled himself in the Department of Hydraulic Engineering at Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University. Realising his love for literature, he made the switch to the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at National Taiwan University. Furthering his studies in the United States of America, Pai went on to teach Chinese language and literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and published several short stories like Lonely Seventeen, Taipei People, and New Yorkers; essays like Suddenly Turning Back; and novels like the epic Crystal Boys.

Please look out for Kenneth Pai Hsien-yung: The Revolving Door of Life (Part 2)

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author(s). Reproduction of content will require full and clear credit to the author(s) and CSCF.