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The Singapore and Malaysia Literary Works in Hong Kong’s Libraries – Remembering World Book Company’s Founder Chou Sing Chu

The Chinese Studies departments in the universities in Singapore and Malaysia have traditionally focused their research effort on the literature and culture of the Chinese diaspora. The libraries, literature museums and tertiary education institutions in these two countries have been the important collection troves of local literary works. Unbeknownst to many, Hong Kong is also a treasure chest for literary works from Singapore and Malaysia.

An article titled The Singapore and Malaysia Literary Works in Hong Kong’s Libraries – Remembering World Book Company’s Founder Chou Sing Chu was published in the supplementary of the 8 December 2014 issue of Lianhe Zaobao. Written by journalist Ina Chang (章星虹), the article mentioned a special collection in the Chinese University of Hong Kong Library that is not just a treasure trove for researching Hong Kong’s literature and culture. In fact, it is where many literary works from Singapore and Malaysia in the last century are kept. This collection of local books exists mainly because of the donation made by renowned Hong Kong essayist and educator, Professor Lo Wai Luen (widely known by her pseudonym Siu Sze), and owner of Xinhua Cultural Enterprises in Singapore, the renowned book collector Mr Yeo Oi Sang.

The attention that the Hong Kong tertiary education institutions is paying to the early literary works from Singapore and Malaysia stems from the Chinese bookstore industry’s business strategy of “print in Hong Kong and sell in Singapore” in the last century. The giant of the bookstore industry responsible for this strategy was the founder of World Book Company, Mr Chou Sing Chu.

Mr Yeo Oi Sang, who had worked in World Book Company for almost 25 years, recalled that Mr Chou Sing Chu was an unassuming but discerning boss who took on the costly task of publishing the local literary works in Hong Kong. With the need for Chinese literary culture in Nanyang to be infused with local context post World War II, Mr Chou’s undertaking created long-lasting positive impacts on the cultural exchange between the two regions. In those days, three-quarters of his publications in Hong Kong would be exported to Nanyang (Southeast Asia) whilst the rest were kept for domestic consumption. In doing so, the local literary works were taken out of its geographic restriction and given a regional exposure. Not one to back off from a worthy challenge, Mr Chou successfully made the publishing and sales of local literary works the road map for the future of World Book Company.

In keeping with Mr Chou Sing Chu’s vision and aspirations, the Chou Sing Chu Foundation will continue to use Singapore and Malaysia as our base to promote the Chinese culture, education and language in Southeast Asia.