“An introduction to Constructing Nanyang Childhood” by Edgar Liao

“Introducing Xu Lanjun and Li Lidan (eds). Constructing Nanyang Children
by Edgar Liao

徐兰君 李丽丹 (主编). 建构南洋儿童:战后新马华语儿童刊物及文化研究. 新加坡:八方文化创作室 Xu Lanjun and Li Lidan (eds). Constructing Nanyang Children: Studies of Chinese Children’s Publications in Post-War Singapore and Malaya. Singapore: World Scientific Global Publishing 2016

This is a synopsis of an edited volume consisting of eleven essays examining publications for children and youth – comics, magazines, and educational materials – published in Singapore/Malaya, Shanghai and Hong Kong and distributed and disseminated throughout Asia between the 1950s and 1970s. Put together by faculty and alumni of the Chinese Studies department, National University of Singapore, the volume greatly increases our knowledge and understanding of the energetic and exciting (as well as tumultuous and uneasy) world of the publication houses whose products were read by the local Chinese-speaking children and youth in Singapore and Malaya between the 1950s and the 1970s, and of the authors and publishers that produced them.[1] Where it is feasible to do so, s/pores is keen to introduce non-English language materials in its issues.

While the essays and interviews in the book do not offer the multiple voices or perspectives of children and youth in the 1950s themselves, they do provide insights into the multi-faceted and intersecting ways local developments (particularly the rise of local nationalisms) and transnational, global events (in particular the Cold War and the founding of the Communist People’s Republic of China) shaped the vibrant landscape of publishing for the child readership. These publications catered to the tastes and needs of local children and youth and advanced the political or ideological agendas of adults.  The increasing aspirations for education in post-war Singapore and the corresponding provision of more opportunities for education also contributed to the development of the book publishing trade. These popular publications would have influenced the reading culture and socialization of local children and youth in Singapore and Malaya to some degree. Chinese-language bookshops and book publishers in Singapore and Malaya served as platforms for, and agents of, ideological and cultural influence in the cultural Cold War, either on their own impetus or in alliance with local and foreign governments, and American organizations like the US Information Service or the Asia Foundation.

Contents of book (translations of section/chapter title in parentheses)

目录 (Contents page)

序言 (Preface by Xu Lanjun)

Editor Xu explains in the Preface that the essays are the work of Honours and Masters students in the NUS Chinese Studies Department whom she has taught, supervised, and encouraged to pursue research into local children’s publications, for the past six years. These research efforts became viable with source materials that more and more donors and contributors have started to make available.[2]

Their findings and analyses demonstrate that “childhood” and “children” are historically and culturally constructed concepts. These concepts became increasingly intertwined with discourses of national progress and development in the post-war period as national futures became associated with the proper upbringing and education of future citizens. Publications for children and youth published or distributed in Singapore and Malaya were used to cultivate desired values, ideologies, national consciousness or civic consciousness in young audiences. Some of these tried to cultivate a regional consciousness that transcended and went beyond national consciousness (p. xxvii) in the imagination and construction of a Southeast Asian youth. Historicizing “children” thus reflects and illuminates the contestations, struggles, and developments in the post-war era, particularly the way the Cold War and the rise of local nationalisms transformed the ways children’s publications shaped the construction of “ideal citizens”. In addition, the comparison of children’s publications from China, Hongkong, and Southeast Asia allows for deeper analyses of how they constructed future ideal citizens and nationhood, and how they were adapted to local circumstances and conditions (p. xi).

Prasenjit Duara’s concept of “circulatory histories” (in his recent book The Crisis of Global Modernity: Asian Traditions and a Sustainable Future) describes the uneven and variegated way these publications were produced, disseminated and adapted throughout Asia. These “circulatory histories” belie easy generalization or essentialization as a uni-lineal process of cultural influence from Shanghai (p. xi). Their contents cannot be easily fitted into either of the two ideological camps in the Cold War, often transcending or occupying positions between them. The contents and style of these publications were often adapted to local political circumstances to avoid falling foul of the colonial authorities’ prohibition and censorship of left-wing literature and material, as well as to cater to local tastes, preferences and national aspirations.

1.《马来亚少年》(1946–1948):马来亚少年的政治意识 ·徐祯 Young Malayans (1946-1948): The Politics of “Young Malayans” by Hsu Chen

Hsu Chen examines the first four years’ issues of the first post-World War Two youth magazine. Young Malayans was published in English by the Public Relations Office of the colonial government, and subsequently the Malayan Union Publishers. A Chinese edition 来亚少年 Malaiya Shaonian (“Young Malayans”) was published by Malayan Union Publishers, and Nanyang Book Company from the 15th issue onwards. The magazines were initiated by prominent Chinese educationist, scholar, and businessman, and co-founder of the Nanyang Book Company, Tan Yeok Seong, at the behest of the colonial Education Department to help “Malayanize” local youth. The colonial government was keen to instil and inculcate Malayan consciousness in the Straits Chinese and overseas Chinese, and recruited the support of local educationists and publishers in this pedagogical endeavour. The magazines’ iconography and contents of the two magazines emphasized multiculturalism, the harmonious co-existence of the different races, the unity of the states of Malaya (which they included Singapore), and the spirit of endeavour among Malayan youth. The Chinese version of the publication carried many translations or adaptations of Western images, fairy tales, and stories.

2. 超越民族国家的公民意识培养 ——1957年前的《世界儿童》. 曾麒霖、史林和熊青  Transcending “Nation” in the Cultivation of Civic Consciousness – World Children before 1957 by Zeng Qilin, Shi Lin & Xiong Qing     

This essay studies 世界儿童 Shijie Ertong (“World Children”), which World Book Company published and distributed in Singapore, Malaya, the rest of Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, and mainland China between 1950 and 1957 to nurture modern citizens. The magazine strongly reflects the “idealism and expectations” that the authors and publisher bore towards local children and youth in the forging of a new modern era. World Children pursued citizenship education through providing readers with knowledge of Southeast Asian geography, Chinese Confucian mores, global affairs, and Western science. The publication did not aim to create modern citizens that only identified with a single nation. Instead, it tried to create citizens with regional and global consciousness. The magazine was Southeast Asia-centric in its orientation. This was in part due to the growth of local nationalisms in Southeast Asia and to the disruption of connections with China after host countries no longer permitted their overseas Chinese population to make visits to China after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

3.《世界儿童》中的南洋儿童形象·林燕纯 Images of Nanyang Children in World Children by Lim Yen Chun

This essay discusses the first 50 issues of 世界儿童 Shijie Ertong published between 1950 and 1954. The magazine aimed at cultivating Nanyang children that could and would take on the responsibility of nation-building. These children should pursue self-improvement, healthy strong bodies, cohesion, and love for learning and possess both regional and global consciousness. The magazine also sought to expose children to knowledge and understanding of different landscapes, climates, and places in Southeast Asia. Pictorially, children were usually depicted in urban and modern themes and settings such as modern classrooms, though there were some depictions of Nanyang children in outdoor and nature settings as well.

4. 《世界少年》的史地教育与东南亚少年的建构 ·吴鸿飞 林秀婷 林煜辉 World Youth and the Construction of “Southeast Asian Youth” by Wu Hong Fei, Lin Xiu Ting, Lin Yu Hui

世界少年 Shijie Shaonian (“World Youth)” was published by the World Book Company founded by Chow Sing Chu between 1953 and 1978, and distributed to Southeast Asian countries – Indonesia, Malaya, Singapore, Borneo, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, and the Philippines. The magazine featured a variety of articles and stories concerning the geography, society and culture, history, and current affairs of countries and regions around the world. The magazine’s editors and authors were caught up with the intersecting politics of the Cold War and ascendant anti-colonial nationalism in the region. Wu, Lin and Lin observe the gradual “de-Sinicization” of the magazine and re-orientation of its contents towards the world and Southeast Asia to avoid falling foul of the Emergency Regulations and the Federation of Malaya and Singapore colonial governments’ prohibitions on “undesirable” publications. The magazine attempted to cultivate Southeast Asian youth that support freedom, democracy, and self-determination, identify with Southeast Asia and the world, and participate in their progress.

5. 浅析《世界少年》对理想东南亚少年的建构·李岚花 The Construction of Ideal Southeast Asian Youth in World Youth by Li Lan Hua

This essay examines how 世界少年 Shijie Shaonian sought to construct ideal Southeast Asian youth. Li notes that some early articles in the magazine encouraged the youth to remember their identities as Chinese (zhong guoren), and exhibited a significant degree of Sino-centrism. This changed after the July 1955 general elections in Federation of Malaya that heralded the Federation’s independence from British rule in 1957 – the magazine took on a stronger local emphasis. Li also contextualizes the magazine’s emphasis on the cultivation of values and morals within the anti-“yellow culture” campaign that gelled in Singapore following the rape and murder of a 16-year old Chinese girl in October 1953. The magazine also played an important role in improving the literary skills and language proficiency of Chinese youth.

6. 孩子·冷战·科学:香港亚洲出版社的少年儿童出版初探·陈凌子 Children, the Cold War, Science: Preliminary Investigations into the Children and Youth Publications of the Hongkong Asia Publishing Company by Chen Ling Zi

The next two essays bring us to Hongkong – another arena deeply embroiled in the cultural Cold War with its proximity to the People’s Republic of China and its status as a British colony. After the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the US Central Intelligence Agency established the Asia Foundation to support the activities of cultural organizations in Hong Kong, helping to establish publishing houses like Union Book. Co. (1951) and Asia Publishing Co. (1952). In addition, Hong Kong had become a place of refuge for the right-wing intelligentsia who fled China after the founding of the Communist PRC in 1949, and the leftist groups that fled Kuomintang persecution earlier. These groups engaged in a cultural and ideological war through publications in Hong Kong, and children and youth publications became an important arena for this battle.

Authors used stories of space exploration and fantastic adventures to transmit nationalism, knowledge of Chinese culture, and modern scientific knowledge. These stories also reveal poignant expressions of ambiguities and anxieties with regards to the authors’ identities and the homeland that they were unable to return to.

7. “战场上的儿童: 香港儿童杂志《小朋友画报》与《儿童乐园》的比较研究(1963–1967·王楠 Children “on the Battlefield”: A Comparative Analysis of Children’s Magazines Little Buddies Comics and Children’s Paradise in Hong Kong (1963-1967) by Wang Nan

This essay analyses the 1963-1967 issues of two children’s publications 小朋友画报 Xiao Peng You Huabao (“Little Buddies Comics”) and 儿童乐园 Ertong Le Yuan (“Children’s Paradise”) published in Hong Kong between 1959 and 1992 and between 1953 and 1994 respectively. These two comics and their respective publishers construct, propagate, and reinforce the contesting ideologies of the Cold War in 1960s Hong Kong. The Asia Foundation funded the Union Book Company’s publication of 儿童乐园, which was evidently aligned to the American position. 小朋友画报 was printed and distributed in Hongkong by the local printing agency of the PRC-linked Chunghwa Book Company. The latter was, however, unable to compete with the Union Book Company’s strong financial backing. As the late-comer to the children’s literature market, it had to eschew an overtly leftist tone, and model itself after 儿童乐园 in terms of content. Although both publications did not offer any overt ideological messages, their adventure stories sought to incept and order the readers’ visions of the world. For instance, stories of travel around the world in 儿童乐园  valorized the economic inter-dependence of the capitalist world order and effaced Communist countries in their depiction of the world. Adventure tales in 小朋友画报, on the other hand offered readers positive images of a modernizing, industrializing Communist China.

儿童乐园 covers (from the Chinese Wikipedia’s article on the publication: https://zh.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3712060)

8.《少年乐园》的理想少年的建构·谭玉Construction of “Ideal Youth” in Teenager’s Paradise by Tan Yu

少年乐园 Shaonian Leyuan (“Teenager’s Paradise”) was published by Hong Kong Union Cultural Organization from March 1964 onwards. A bi-monthly, it featured a variety of content, including discussions of youth issues such as, educational content, biographies of famous people, mention a few names scientific knowledge, news from different places. It was distributed to Malaya, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sabah, Sarawak, Thailand etc. The publication openly aimed to educate the Free World, help Chinese youth in Southeast Asia recognise the truth about Communism, and work together with the people of Southeast Asia to counter the Communist Revolution (p. 125). It attempted to socialize its young audience into imbibing ideas of democracy and favourable impressions of the United States. The magazine also featured photographs of Hong Kong film actresses associated with the right-wing Shaw Organization on its covers.

Covers from first two issues of Shaonian Leyuan (from “Books on a tree 樹上書屋”’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1015339641885718&id=192886974130993)

9. 新加坡小学《公民》教科书内课程与教科书外潜课程的互动对儿童的国民身份的建构·李丽丹 (The Construction of National Identity in Singapore through Primary School Civics Textbooks as well as Other Informal Pedagogies by Li Lidan)

This essay examines the civics textbooks published in 1968 by two private commercial publishers, Singapore Xinhua Culture Pte. Ltd. and World Book Company. These were listed in the Ministry of Education recommended readings and were widely used in schools. Li analyses their impact on inculcating national identity and civic consciousness in Singaporean children and in constructing ideals of healthy and hygienic, morally up-right, and patriotic citizens. The Xinhua edition was more overt in its aims of advancing citizenship education while the World Book Company edition focuses on the cultivation of good character and values. However, there was no ideological differences of note. The accompanying lesson guides for teachers of the Xinhua edition encouraged teachers to use informal pedagogies such as reflection and practical exercises to reinforce learning. Extra-curricular activities became another platform for citizenship education. For example, the Boy Scouts troop of a local school used the Xinhua Civics textbook to instil civic consciousness in the Scouts.

10.《生活教育》书写的在地文化对新加坡儿童的国民意识的建构 · 李丽丹 (The Construction of Local Culture in Education for Living textbooks and the Cultivation of Civic Consciousness in Singapore Children by Li Lidan)

Education for Living textbooks were published by the Singapore Ministry of Education in 1974 to replace the previous Civics textbooks. These textbooks on civics, history and geography for primary school students were published in Chinese and Tamil (Note: The Tamil language student population was probably considered too small to warrant a textbook written for them. It is interesting that the Ministry chose to publish textbooks for the Chinese and the Tamil Indians, two migrant communities). Their purpose was to instil consciousness and pride in the nation.  Students were to become loyal, patriotic and responsible law-abiding citizens. They should also have healthy and rugged bodies and minds and good character. The textbooks valorized the peaceful harmonious co-existence of diverse communities and races as the core of Singaporean culture, so as to foster an appreciation of multiculturalism in the young students. Singapore’s educationists were also keen to resist what they considered undesirable Western counter-culture, and to help students to improve their proficiency in their Mother Tongue.

11.《少年月刊》(1976–1981)的新加坡少年想象 · 李志萍 (The Imagination of “Singapore Youth” in Youth Monthly (1976-1981) by Li Zhi Ping)

Singapore’s Ministry of Education published 少年月刊 Shaonian Yuekan (“Youth Monthly”) to provide youths with wholesome material that promoted their literacy and language proficiency, and provided moral cultivation, and civic education. The publication strongly emphasized multiculturalism and civic consciousness in its construction of the ideal Singaporean youth. S/he should play a part in nation-building, value multiculturalism and social cohesion, and pursue “an ideal lifestyle” of study, extra-curricular activities, and participation in cultural festivals. The magazine appeared during a period when the government was promoting greater proficiency in Mandarin.

12. 杨善才先生口述采访 · 采访者:李丽丹 (Interview with Mr Yeo Oi Sang (Yeo San Chai) by Li Lidan)

An interview of Mr Yeo San Chai (Yeo Oi Sang), who worked in World Book Company for 25 years and later founded Xinhua Cultural Enterprises Pte. Ltd, a bookshop in Bras Basah Complex which is still in operation.  He was instrumental in providing important source material, guidance and information to Dr Xu Lanjun and her students. World Book Company started publishing World Children and World Youth in 1950 and 1953 respectively to cultivate youth proficient in the Chinese language and help them understand Southeast Asia. Yeo attests to a vibrant landscape of Chinese-language publications for children, where the proliferation of Chinese bookshops then enjoyed the patronage of Chinese-medium schools students and teachers. Kids and Chinese-medium school students bought and read these publications because they were interesting and they were cheap.  Yeo also highlights the circulatory networks of children’s periodicals between Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia (including Singapore).

[See also a 2017 interview with Mr Yeo San Chai published in s/pores (http://s-pores.com/2017/01/interview-with-mr-yeo-san-chai-yeo-oi-sang-of-xinhua-cultural-enterprises-s-pte-ltd/)]

13. 网雷、长谣口述采访 · 采访者:李丽丹 (Interview with Wang Lei, Zhang Yao by Li Lidan)

Two cultural practitioners, – Wang Lei, a writer, and Zhang Yao, a poet and novelist, discuss the publications they read in their childhood and youth, including those examined in the volume.  They give us a sense of the reading culture of Chinese youth, who browsed and read books in Singapore’s active and vibrant Chinese bookshops scene in the 1950s before the imposition of restrictions and prohibitions on a great number of Chinese-language books from the mid-1950s  on account of their political content.

附录 1940–1970年代新加坡华文少儿刊物一览表 (Appendix – Table of Chinese-Language Publications for Children and Youth in Singapore, 1940-1970) 

参考资料 (Bibliography)       

Edgar Liao is a PhD. Candidate with the Department of History, University of British Columbia.


[1] The book is co-edited by Xu Lanjun and Li Lidan. Xu Lanjun is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chinese Studies in the National University of Singapore who has researched and published on modern Chinese literature, Chinese cultural history, film theory and Chinese cinema, the cultural history of childhood and youth in modern China. She has written a monograph 儿童与战争:国族、教育和大众文化 Chinese Children and War: Nation, Education and Mass Culture (Peking: Peking University Press 2015) and her next English-book project is on The Child and Chinese Modernity: Culture, Nation and Technologies of Childhood in Modern China. Li Lidan is a Masters graduate of the NUS Chinese Studies Department and formerly lectured in the Beijing Arts University.

[2] An account of how the complete set of Er Tong Le Yuan (“Children’s Paradise”) has finally been assembled and made available to researchers is given in the interview with Mr Yeo San Chai (Yeo Oi Sang) of Xinhua Cultural Enterprises (S) Pte Ltd in s/pores January 2017.