The Cultural Legacy of Mr Chou Sing Chu
(Continued from Part 1 – The Affinity between Fang Xiu and World Book Company）
The second person who brought the relationship between Fang and World Book Company to the next level was none other than the senior Mr Chou himself.
Fang recalled having read the senior Mr Chou’s written exchanges with a fellow bookseller in the newspapers in the 1920s. It was an intense exchange but the senior Mr Chou’s writing was so brilliant that his letters would make the headlines on the supplement. Fang told Lin about these exchanges and having never heard of the exchange or that the senior Mr Chou could write so well, the sceptical Lin then asked the senior Mr Chou about it. Though he verified the exchanges, the senior Mr Chou dismissed the matter as having no great significance.
A Comprehensive Anthology of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature (Pre-War Collection， Vol. 1 to 10; 1972)
Whilst working on History of Malayan Chinese Literature, Fang discovered that the origin of the Malayan Chinese literature was Xin Guo Min Daily News’ literary supplement that was published in Singapore since 1919. Incidentally, Mr Chou Sing Chu, who was an ardent fan of the literary history, was planning to publish a series of essays written as far back as the 1920s called Selected Works of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature. Therefore, Fang and the senior Mr Chou began discussing about a possible partnership. Mr Chou’s plan was to print a thousand copies; giving 200 copies to the writers as tokens of appreciation and selling the rest or giving them away. Given the senior Mr Chou’s understanding of the book market, he was sure the publication would not sell well but he saw its publishing as his mission to pass on our cultural and literary heritage even if he would be making a loss.
Fang’s three-volume series of A Draft of the History of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature was published between 1962 and 1965, and it was so well received by the public that it had to be reprinted in 1971. Fang, who had started part-time teaching modern Chinese literature and Malayan Chinese literature at the University of Singapore in 1966, continued to work on Selected Works of Modern Malayan Chinese Literature according to the senior Mr Chou’s vision. The original plan was to publish more volumes but when the fourth volume was done – two volumes of novels, a volume of poetry and a volume of plays – the junior Mr Chou halted further work.
Mr Chou Cheng Chuen’s Unfulfilled Dream
When World Book Company’s Hong Kong subsidiary published Sequel to Comprehensive Anthology of New Chinese Literature, the junior Mr Chou invited Fang to start compiling a local version of the pre-war period’s Malayan Chinese literature, beginning with a series of 10 volumes highlighting major events and including representative works from 1919 to 1942. The editorial work proceeded smoothly and steadily; once a volume was done, it was sent to Hong Kong for printing and the series was completed between 1970 and 1972.
Incidentally, Educational Publishing House (EPH) had also started publishing another “Anthology” around the same time. Edited by Lee Ting Hui, A Comprehensive Anthology of Chinese Literature in Singapore and Malaysia was a compilation of representative literary works in the post-war period between 1945 and 1965. The junior Mr Chou then asked Fang’s opinion on whether they should continue compiling another series of 10 volumes for the post-war period.
Fang highlighted that his work covered the Chinese literature of Singapore, Malaya and Borneo whilst EPH’s publication only focused on Singapore. He also opined the difference in selection methodology between the two publications would lead to a different set of articles. The junior Mr Chou then invited Fang to continue his work on the period between 1942 and 1970, with four volumes comprising of novels, plays, prose and poetry published between 1979 and 1983. Further publishing was put on the back burner after 1983 as the junior Mr Chou had relocated to Kuala Lumpur then.
The junior Mr Chou returned to Singapore a few years later and vowed to complete publishing the remaining six volumes before he reached 60 years old. Sadly, he was hospitalised shortly after and the publishing work was delayed once again. With his passing, the post-war series was never completed and became an unfulfilled dream for both of these great men.
On 5 March 2010, Fang Xiu passed away at the age of 88. It has been six years since.
It would be impossible not to come across his name when researching about the history of Malayan Chinese literature. In fact, Fang is the starting point; without him, the seemingly disorganised history of Malayan Chinese literature might just have remained as that. Scholar Lim Kien Ket once wrote that Fang holds a unique position in the history of Malayan Chinese literature; not only was Fang directly involved in compiling the historical references, it was his work that made researching Malayan Chinese literature possible. Without a doubt, Fang’s literary works are classics. And the three important persons who truly appreciated his masterpieces and played important roles in bringing Fang’s classics to life are World Book Company’s Lin Chen, Chou Sing Chu and Chou Cheng Chuen.