A Tribute by Chng Seok Tin
Translated by Karen Goh and Teng Siao See
First published in 方修印象记 (Impressions of Fang Xiu), 2005
I was acquainted with Mr Fang Xiu. He was an unassuming but knowledgeable and amiable elder. Those who were not familiar with him could have easily dismissed him as an idling senior citizen if they encountered him seated at the void decks. Even those in Chinese literary circles may not have been aware of Mr Fang’s outstanding life-long achievements. For someone ignorant like myself, I had only known his edited compilation, Ma Hua Hua Wen Wen Xue Da Xi, or Malayan-Chinese literature series. I only realized the extent of Mr Fang’s remarkable lifelong contribution after visiting the stall at the World Book Fair held at Suntec City (1-11 June 2002) jointly set up by a local Chinese bookshop, Maha Yu Yi and Johor Bahru’s Taode Shuxiang Lou or Taode Library. In over a few decades, this elderly man had produced an excellent track record. I have always thought that there were only inconspicuous wild flowers and shrubs in our unfertile literary soil, never realizing that there was an old sturdy pine like Mr Fang growing in the midst of stones. Although the pine tree has since withered with the passing of time, I believe that so long as global Chinese literature exists, Mr Fang’s spirit would continue to shine brightly even when he is not with us.
Revered Mr Fang, how you had silently toiled and sweated while laboriously researching and tirelessly undertaking editorial and compilation work. Such an energy-sapping and lonely job! How did you gather the strength that sustained you through years of hard work without a word of complaint? This was a demanding and thankless task which most people would have avoided.
This exhibition was first launched in Johor (18-26 May 2002) and it received widespread attention. The two leading Chinese newspapers in Malaysia, Sin Chew Jit Poh and Nanyang Siang Pau, had recognized and highlighted Mr Fang’s integrity and relentless pursuit of knowledge. However, such a literary giant in the Chinese literary scene in Singapore who was without predecessors and probably also worthy successors did not even receive a cultural award of the most basic level.
Mr Fang did not care for such glory. Yet, for Singapore which has aimed to become a Renaissance City, such an oversight is bewildering. A possible explanation for the neglect is that Chinese literature has been considered to be non-mainstream. If that is the case, what then do we consider as “orthodox”? What is even more unbelievable is that many of the publications and journals displayed at the Book Fair were once considered “trash” to be disposed of. Whenever learning that a library, association or school was discarding old books, my friend, Koh Nguang How and my brother, Yue Tian would rush to scavenge for and salvage these culturally valuable books and publications . At times, they would purchase these items cheaply from second hand book stalls. In fact, copies of the exhibited item “Ma Hua Hua Wen Wen Xue Da Xi” (Volumes 1 and 2) which was featured at the exhibition were discarded by a well-known girls’ school as the students were not familiar with fan ti zi, the traditional characters used in the volumes.
What a lamentable situation!
The 2002 Fang Xiu exhibition continued in Kuala Lumpur between 13 and 28 July after its sojourn at Suntec City between 1 and 11 June 2002.
On 8 March 2008, the National Library Board in Singapore held a talk and exhibition on the writer, finally giving Fang Xiu the due respect he deserved.
Fang Xiu died on 4 March 2010 at the age of 88.
Another exhibition of Fang Xiu’s life work was held in Kuala Lumpur between 19 and 28 March 2010. Maha Yu Yi held another exhibition at the World Book Fair at Suntec City between 28 May and 6 June 2010. A similar exhibition was held at another book fair in KL between 4 June and 13 June 2010.
Sources on Chng Seok Tin: chngseoktin.com, biotechnics.org, NAC, NLB, postcolonialweb.org