This talk casts light on the underground Chinese classical-style poetry written in the darkest age of Singapore’s history. During the Japanese occupation, thousands of Singaporean Chinese were slaughtered or persecuted in revenge for the Chinese people’s zealous participation in the resistance movement, and the rest were living in utter misery and dreadful conditions. A group of poets, mostly former journalists, held clandestine gatherings under the guise of appreciating orchids. Using the metaphor of an uprooted orchid painted by a Song dynasty loyalist, they lamented the loss of their national territories in China, deplored their terror by the same invader now in Singapore, and expressed their hope for a day of restoration.
Two poetry collections, titled the Collection of Orchid Flowers and the Collection of Kalpa Ashes, were published after the war. The former contains the group compositions of the concealed gatherings, the latter the poems of Li Xilang, the leader of the group. Both record the traumatic experiences of the Chinese people in wartime Singapore and display the poets’ indebtedness to traditional loyalist poetry, rewritten in a different spatial and historical context. This talk focuses on the work of these poets and their gatherings during the occupation, examining their words and deeds, and how they modelled themselves on ancient loyalists and their writings. Thanks to their perseverance, the seed of classical-style poetry was preserved in Singapore and continued to grow under the most hazardous circumstances.
Dr Lam Lap