The Affinity between Fang Xiu and World Book Company
It was 35 years ago, on 31 July 1982, when a World Books Company’s advertisement in the Sin Chew Jit Poh caught the attention of many readers: “Who says there is no local literary talent in Singapore and Malaysia?” It was an eye-catching headline. The advertisement went on to promote local literary works like Lien Shih Sheng Collection and Nanyang Literature and Art. Amongst the literary masterpieces were A Comprehensive Anthology of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature, Selected Works of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature, and A Draft of the History of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature, all written by a local writer – Fang Xiu.
That’s right, who said there was no local literary talent? Known as the “leading man of Malayan Chinese literature”, Fang was the true local literary talent. And thanks to three important persons, there was an affinity between Fang and World Book Company.
The leading man of Malayan Chinese literature, Fang Xiu (Source: Internet)
Lin Chen, the Literary Matchmaker
Fang Xiu, who was born Goh Tze Kwang in 1922 in Guangdong, left China to head south in the 1930s. Having worked at Xin Guo Min Daily News and Zhong Hua Newspaper as a journalist, Fang later took on teaching assignments in Johor and Singapore. He returned to journalism in 1947 as an editor in Sin Chew Jit Poh, and was put in charge of many newspaper supplements like Sin Chew Weekly, Nanyang Press, Wen Yi, Xing Qi Ri Xiao Shuo, Qing Nian Zhi Shi, and Wen Hua, amongst others.
Fang once recollected that he started compiling the Malayan Chinese literature in late 1950s and his affinity with World Book Company had also started around then. When Sin Chew Weekly ceased publication in 1957, prose writer Chang Ching Kwong – who was also Sin Chew Jit Poh’s Johor Bahru correspondent – passed a bound periodical of the pre-war Nanyang Weekly to Fang and the latter started noting the reported historical literary events within. In 1960, Fang took his collation work to the newspapers archives in the universities’ libraries and spent a great amount of time flipping through the newspapers, taking notes of significant details by hand. It was through this tedious process that Fang reckoned there was enough information on the Malayan Chinese literature for him to start compiling them.
Coincidentally, the period between the mid-1950s till the early 1960s was also World Book Company’s busiest period. The person in charge then was Mr Chou Cheng Chuen, the second son of World Book Company’s founder, Mr Chou Sing Chu. And the person who made the connection between Fang and World Book Company was Lin Chen. Lin was not only World Book Company’s editor, he was also a theatre director at the Arts Theatre of Singapore. An accomplished writer and a prominent playwright, Lin had even adapted plays for Radio Singapore and Rediffusion, two radio broadcasting stations in Singapore.
As World Book Company had an editorial team providing manuscripts for its Hong Kong publishing subsidiary, Lin was hoping Fang could come on board to increase the number of submissions. This was the harbinger that eventually led to the publication of Fang’s famous works by World Book Company: A Draft of the History of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature, A Comprehensive Anthology of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature and Selected Works of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature. Lin was the matchmaker who had recommended Fang to his boss at World Book Company. Two of Lin’s works, Mr Director and Bubble, were even featured in Fang’s A Comprehensive Anthology of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature.
(Please look out for Part 2 – The Cultural Legacy of Mr Chou Sing Chu)