Recollecting the Three Pioneers of the Singapore Book Industry (Part 2)
By Chou Sing Chu Foundation
Continued from Recollecting the Three Pioneers of the Singapore Book Industry (Part 1)
Chou Sing Chu: World Book Company Tilling Southeast Asia
“His commitment in promoting Chinese in Southeast Asia was obvious,” said Chou Cheng Ngok, the son of Chou Sing Chu (1905 – 1986). Despite being a bookseller, the younger Chou said his father’s motivation was not purely profit driven.
Having left home at the age of 16 to pursue his studies, the inconvenience of travel meant that the younger Chou did not go home frequently. “Letters became my means of communicating with my parents,” he said, “Besides night classes, I learnt Chinese through these letters to home.” The younger Chou has never forgotten how his father carved a career in the book industry after leaving Zhejiang Province at the age of 19. In 2004, he established Chou Sing Chu Foundation to continue his father’s dedication to promote Chinese culture, education and language.
Having spent many years at World Book Company, famous book collector Yeo Oi Sang recalled Chou Sing Chu as a benevolent boss who kept a low profile. “Not knowing how to pronounce his name,” he said, “many new employees did not know who the boss was.” But Chou never took this to heart, and instead, continued relentlessly to contribute to local cultural development by establishing the Popular Library, opening up an alternative route via Hong Kong in respond to the book ban, cultivating publishing talent in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, and insisting on publishing localised textbooks to till the cultural landscape.
Given the perpetual challenges of the book industry, Yeo was asked whether he would have chosen this path again. “It was not easy to make a living without formal education, I still believe that a bookstore is a good learning environment for me,” he replied, “I hope to let everyone know how to continue learning even after dropping out of school.”
Yeo’s reply drew an immediate response from the younger Chou: “Many say that POPULAR is very successful, but the most successful person is you, Mr Yeo Oi Sang.” Such professional admiration is not just cuddling together to stay warm in an industry that has seen much cooling. It is a continuation of the cultural heritage that the book industry’s pioneers have left us, one that the warm and passionate hearts are determined to pass on.
(Translated by Shawn Pang)