Chinese Language Literature in Malaya during the Japanese Occupation (1941-1945)

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Writing literary works in colloquial Chinese by Chinese writers living in Malaya began in the 1920s. However, those works written before the 1950s have been treated either as a part of Malayan literature or as a part of Chinese literature. On the other hand, those works written after the independence of Malaysia have been clearly dissociated from Chinese literature and definitely treated as a part of Malayan literature. This manipulation in the treatment of the Chinese literary works in studies of the literature history appears to be closely connected with the identity issue of overseas Chinese living in Malay. In such a contextual backdrop, those works written in the period of Japanese Occupation has been delibarately ignored. The present report is a first step toward filling this void in the history of Chinese literature in Malaya.
As soon as the Japanese military administration started, the publication of most of the periodicals thus far published in Malaya were banned. Instead, the military government began to publish periodicals specifically for the purpose of promoting support of and obedience to the military rule. In addition to such pro-government publications, there were also anti-Japanese resistance literature. Most of them were underground publications or not formally published until the end of the war.
Malay literature in the period of Japanese occupation has already been studied by Prof. Michiko Nakahara, who published an article entitled, "Malay literature under the Japanese Occupation: tracking the Malay nationalism" (1978). In this article, Prof. Nakahara states as follows:

"In the publications made during the Japanese military
administration, the freedom of expression was severely
restricted. As a result, the literature could not play a
proper role. Needless to say, it was abused as a means
for disseminating political propaganda (p.221)".

Also, she puts:

"It should be noted that a number of Malaysian youth who
joined the nationalist movement under the British
administration became journalists and wrote a variety of
literary works during the period of Japanese military
administration. In spite of severe restrictions imposed on
the publications, it is remarkable that their works
successfully depicted lives of the common people during
the period (pp.233-234)".

In addition to Prof. Nakahara, Arena Wati (1968) and Li Chuan Siu (1966) also refer to the Malay literature under the Japanese Occupation in their historical studies of the modern Malay literature.
A number of the works which could not be published during the military administration began to be published as soon as the war was over. Also, it was not unusaul that posthumous works of the writers who died during the war were published on Chinese language newspapers in the period immediately after the war. Those works written during the military administration and published in the post-war era are assembled to the Chinese Malaysian Literature Hall in Johor Baru, which opened in April 1998.
Most of the 3000 Chinese language literature originally assembled to the hall were collected by Wu Tiancai, ex-profeesor of the Department of Chinese Studies, Malaya University, from the 1940s to 1990s. At first, South Seas University for Science and Engineering in Singapore planned to purchase Wu's collection. However, this plan was suspended due to the effort of the individuals who regret to let it out of the home country, Malaysia. Facscimiles of 2272 volumes in the collection were also assembled to Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan last year and are planned to be used as sources for Chinese Malaysian studies.
In the period of Japanese Occupation, three Chinese language newspapers [that is, Syonan Ribao of Singapore, Xinya Ribao of Kuala Lumpur, Binan Xinwen (the former Binan Ribao) of Penang] and one Chinese language magazine were authorized to be published. These newspapers included literature columns of about 2000 letters. The only magazine which was allowed to publish was "Nanguang Zhoukan (Nanguang Weekly)" published by Syonan Nippo Company. This magazine also included pages of novels and poems.
Underground Chinese language publications during the Japanese Occupation are currently being collected and sorted by Malaysian and Singaporean scholars. These publications included periodicals such as Ziyoubao and Jiefangbao which are said to have been published nearly once a month. These publications consist of four pages as a total and one or half page of them (that is, about 2000 letters) were assigned to print literary works. Because very few individuals or institutions have kept such underground publications until today, a large portion of the literary works published on them has been completely lost forever. With regard to this issue, Fang Xiu, a Malayan Chinese literature historian, says as follows:

"Over 95% of the Chinese literature in Malaya during the Japanese
military administration appeared on underground publications. The
loss of most of them is an irrecoverable damage in the history of
Chinese literature in Malaya. We can do nothing but leaving a
significant part of the literature history blank forever (Fang Xiu
1995, p.34)".

Thus, the loss of the publications is substantial in Malaysia. In contrast, several hand-written journals published in the military administration such as Zhenli Xunkan (by Zhenlishe), Zhengui Banyuekan (by Bai Caohan) and Yinghuo (by Xinzhou Wenyi Yanjiuhui) managed to survive in Singapore.
In addition to the above sources, Chinese language literary works are also included in the following materials: (1) writings of imprisoned anti- Japanese resistance members and (2) writings of refugees. The former includes not only works written on pieces of papers or on walls of prisons, but also those memorized by peer inmates, visitors, and so forth. Most of these works are naturally short and are usually poems because of the difficult situations in which they were created and recorded. It is mentioned that a collection of poems, "Zhenzhushan shang (on the Perl Mountain)", which was jointly edited by Xiao Yang (or Hai Lan, the autonym is Lin Ziping) and Ye Jinzhong, included more than ten such poems. Of these, only two or three of them were successfully reconstructed in the post-war era. It is a rare example that last works of Wang Qunshi, a Chinese essayst, who committed a suicide in 1942 were written on pieces of wrapping papers and are completely preserved until today. It is conceivable that letters, wills and so forth of resistance inmates are also discovered in future.
A number of Chinese influential persons escaped out of the Peninsula Malay before the fall of Singapore. The case of Yu Dafu, a leading Chinese writer, who died in Sumatra is a well known example. These individuals published works in the locality to which they escaped. For instance, Li Tiemin who was the editor of a literary works column ("Shisheng") on the "Nanyang Shangbao" newspaper in the 1930s escaped to Indonesia with Tan Kahkee and published literary works there until he migrated to China in 1948.
It should be noted that some of the works in Chinese language literature during the Japanese Occupation were privately printed. For instance, poems of Feng Jiaoyi who died in October 1940 were compiled and privately printed by his friends. Fifty copies of this private publication were distributed only to his close friends.
Fang Xiu (1999, p.5-9) enumerated the names of many Chinese writers who died during the Japanese Occupation, which include Tie Kang, Wang Qunshi, Zhan Xi, Xiao Yang, Dai Qingcai, Yu Dafu, Huang Qingtan, Zi Yan, Jiu Hui, Chu Hang, Ke Lan, Li Ciyong, Ke Xintong and Rao Baiyin. It will be of certain significance for Japanese researchers to be involved in the study of Chinese language literature in Malaya during the Japanese Occupation from the view point of the nationals who are responsible for the death of so many Chinese writers.

Session 171. The Japanese Occupation of Malaya/Singapore, 1941-1945. 52nd Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, Mar.11, 2000. San Diego, CA





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