林保圣 Lim Poh Seng (新加坡) 20-03-03
“Lychee Fragrance-The Flame Lives on”
The reading of “Lychee Fragrance” has given rise to many thoughts in me: firstly, it is now more than forty years since Chen Qing Shan passed away, and it is quite remarkable that his children should put together his works and publish them to leave behind for other readers. Even more praiseworthy is that his two sons Peter and Michael should find the time to render these works into English and have the Chinese and English text printed side by side. Through the efforts of Peter and Michael, our country’s youth will benefit from the knowledge that our forefathers’ spirit and contribution to society continue to live on till today, in the public or private enterprise and domain. It is indeed a laudable effort.
We are a newly independent nation of people with diverse cultural origins. Our forefathers were immigrants from China, India and other countries who have come here and by their sweat and toil built up this country into our home. It is from the cross fertilisation of the many culture, traditions and personal experiences they had brought along with them that was born the multi-cultural new society of our nation. It is from the writings by our forefathers that we can learn much of their philosophy, their lives and family values and their contribution to our nation. To collect, edit and publish the writings that they had left behind is indeed a very meaningful pursuit which we should greatly encourage. Otherwise, these invaluable records and insights would over time all be lost.
“Lychee Fragrance” comprises Chen Qing Shan's four prose compositions, five short stories, six letters to his son, three classical poems and one lyric-poem play. There are many illustrations and old photographs of the author’s family throughout the book, thus enhancing its historical nature and bring to life the descriptions of everyday living of that era. On reading the chapter “Langkap Massacre”, with the photograph of the simple granite plaque erected in the little town, inscribed with the words “In Memory of the Anti-Japanese Comrades who Sacrificed Their Lives in Martyrdom”, the writer felt as though he was standing in the midst of the terrible event, bearing witness to this atrocity by the Japanese soldiers. The young in our country may not know that the terrible massacres of our people committed by the Japanese army are a fact of history. First hand accounts such as this will form a meaningful chapter in our National Education Programme curriculum. The prose composition “A Roomful of Rice and Salt” takes us into the everyday living of the early Chinese immigrants to Malaya and Singapore and pokes fun at the rather inane views on life of some of the young people of the time. The chapter “My Native Land” reflects the dichotomy faced by the early immigrants who yearned for their far away native land and at the same time were determined to stay rooted to their new found land to build a new home for their families. The subject of the prose composition “Uncle Gao-liang” was a real person, viz., the younger brother of the author’s wife. It is light hearted and written with great humour. The photographs and illustrations bring the whole story to life and make it all the more interesting.
The five short stories comprise “Xin-er’s Birthday”, “Juzi”, “352 Letters”, “Peanuts” , “Madam 5th Sun-she”. Our Chinese literary historian Fang Xiu has remarked that the short stories by Chen Qing Shan basically bear the characteristics of the New Revolution Literature that was born of the May Fourth Movement. This form of literature is characteristically anti-feudalism, with the call to break away from the discriminatory practices in society and to promote the equality between man and woman. The writer however feels that Chen Qing Shan’s writings have in store some other qualities. In the story “Xin-er’s Birthday” for example, Xin-er’s tragic misfortune is very much a reflection of life’s reality. One’s fortune can change so suddenly. When someone on whom we depend on patronage is suddenly gone, our life can turn into the misery of hell just overnight. Such a reality is not uncommon in life. The story “352 Letters” may look like an ordinary sto! ry of love pure and unchanging, a love story not constrained by time. Tucked within this “ordinary story” however is an account of the public spirited Chinese immigrants in their promotion of education. Before the advent of any government funded education organisations, they were driven only by their civic mindedness for the betterment of society. Our forefather’s contribution to education is something we should always remember.
Of all the sections in “Lychee Fragrance”, it is the “Letters from Home” that leaves the deepest impression on me. From these few letters, we can see how much importance Chen Qing Shan placed on the teaching of family values in the home, how much concern he showed for his son as he taught him the Chinese language and interpersonal relationship. In the “Letter No.1 (Lesson from Home)”, he wrote to his son with this exhortation, “The Malay student is boarding in the same place as you. If you do not speak Chinese for a long time, perhaps you may eventually forget how to. It is best that on Sundays or during vacation, you seek out a few Chinese speaking friends to communicate with, then only will you not forget your mother tongue. There is also something positive for you to be boarding with a Malay student. If you can get along with each other, it will also be good if you can use the opportunity to learn Malay …... When you live among people from a different ethni! c community, because their religion, customs, traditions and practices are different from ours, we must respect and thoroughly understand them. When you are engaged in casual discussion with Malayans, avoid intruding into communal issues.” The letters are also filled with a parent’s care and worry whether the son is adequately clothed and eating the proper food, all of which speak clearly of how great a mother’s love is, moving the reader to the point of tears. From today’s viewpoint, some of the things said in the letters may appear somewhat old fashioned, but the norms of good interpersonal relations should always be learned and practised, and the love and care between parent and children is something that should always be nurtured at home. Parents today should know that there is still much that cannot be taught in school.
In one of the three classical poems in “Lychee Fragrance”, viz., “Buying Books to Celebrate My Birthday”, the “elder son” refers to the translator Peter who was then studying in Australia on a scholarship. His living expenses depended on his scholarship but he managed to eke out five Australian Pounds to send as a birthday gift for his father to buy something he particularly liked to eat. This expression of filial piety moved his father tremendously. In Chinese tradition an act of filial piety is the greatest reward for parents who have at great sacrifice brought up their children. This is a traditional Chinese virtue that should continue to be preserved and passed on.
Its publication in a Chinese-English bilingual format is yet another special feature of the book. The translators Peter and Michael have carefully lined up the Chinese and English texts so that each corresponds with the other on the page. This format is doubly valuable to all readers, irrespective of whether it is the Chinese or English language that they wish to study and practise. Readers who are good in Chinese but wish to improve their English, will find examples of good Chinese writing and at the same time see how the same ideas are expressed in English. For those who have a strong foundation in English and wish to improve their Chinese, they could first read the English to achieve a greater understanding of the Chinese text. For the non-ethnic Chinese reader, “Lychee Fragrance” will of course open up a window for them to peer into the philosophy and culture of the Chinese community.
For students, teachers and parents alike, “Lychee Fragrance” is well worth reading, or at least a browse.