Show Ying Xin: Sinophone literature in the making of Malaya

Visual Art Program, Cultural Centre, University of Malaya, and Malaysia Design Archive present


Dr. Show Ying Xin (Postdoctoral fellow, International Institute ​for Cultural Studies, National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan)

Date: 18 August 2018 (Saturday)
Time: 3.30PM – 5.30PM
Venue: Malaysia Design Archive
2nd Floor, 84, Jalan Rotan
Kampung Attap

In postwar Malaya, literature was a site of contention for writers from different ideological camps to experiment with tactics of localisation in their works at the time when a nation was coming into being. This talk addresses the much-contested realist vs. modernist debate in Sinophone Malaysian literature by considering how Malaya was imagined in the works of Sinophone writers from three different ideological camps during the 1940s to 1960s.

Months before the Malayan Emergency was declared in June 1948, a polemical debate that would last for six months broke out in Chinese newspapers in Malaya and Singapore. The key figure of this debate was leftist writer Jin Zhimang (金枝芒), who later joined the communist armed forces in the jungle. He can be seen as an exemplary figure among social realist writers who no longer saw China as the homeland to return to. Instead, he argued for writers to contribute actively in creating a new literary imagination rooted in Malaya.

In 1955, a “pure-Malayanized” literary magazine, Chao Foon (蕉風), was founded in Singapore by a Hong Kong publisher with US-backed funding. These “south-coming writers” (南來文人) in the magazine were modernists in essence, and they brought about the first wave of modernism in Sinophone Malaysian literature.

Meanwhile, locally-born writer Wei Beihua (威北華), who spent 12 years in Indonesia and had been associated with Chairil Anwar during his time there, returned to Singapore and later worked as a translator and editor of a Malay magazine, Majalah Kebangsaan. His writings were modern but in a way quite different from his peers.

The talk reflects on the formation of a literary identity by these writers during the cultural Cold War, and argues from a de-Cold War perspective to grasp the ideological tensions in Chinese Malaysian literature of that period.


Show Ying Xin received her PhD in humanities from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore in 2016. Her dissertation compares contemporary Sinophone and Anglophone Malaysian literature pertaining to the issues of nationhood, language, politics and memories of communism. She used to work in the media industry, and her research interests span multiple fields. She is an incoming postdoctoral fellow for the International Institute ​for Cultural Studies, National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan. She co-founded ‘Amateur’ and ‘Rumah Attap Library & Collective’ in Kuala Lumpur, and co-edited (with Ngoi Guat Peng) Revisiting Malaya: Political and Historical Thoughts (Inter-Asia School & SIRD, 2017).

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