Hong Kong pioneer of Chinese children’s literature Huang Ching-yuen dies at 98
Award-winning author explored difficult questions about life during wartime with young readers through ‘Letters to Big Sister Wan’
Respected author and Chinese children’s literature pioneer Huang Ching-yuen has died at the age of 98.
A written message released by her daughter, Chow Mat-mat, said the writer died at Princess Margaret Hospital on Thursday with her children and grandchildren at her bedside. The cause of death was not mentioned, but a family friend said Huang had been ill.
Cheng Ming-yan, a friend of Huang’s daughter and a retired journalist in Hong Kong, said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the news.
“Chow told me her mother’s health had been rather OK, and Huang was still practising calligraphy until recent months,” he said.
“It is a big loss to the literary circle of Hong Kong.”
Cheng said that under her mother’s influence, Huang’s daughter developed an interest in writing when she was little and was now a famous children’s author in her own right.
In 2009, the Hong Kong Arts Development Council selected Huang as one of the winners of the best artist award.
Born in Hong Kong in 1920, Huang, also known as Wong Hing-wan, had a master’s degree from the Teachers College of Columbia University in the United States.
Highly respected as the pioneer of children’s literature in Hong Kong, she founded Modern Children’s Magazine in 1941. The bi-monthly publication was the only Chinese children’s magazine in Hong Kong and China that remained in print during the second world war.
One of its most distinguished features was “Letters to Big Sister Wan”, Huang’s section for correspondence with her young readers. She not only explored difficult questions about life and struggles in wartime with them, but used the section to encourage them to study hard.
She also invited them to become “children correspondents” of the magazine and send in their short stories, poems and drawings. These contributions helped illuminate the lives of children in Hong Kong and China during the war.
The magazine was however shut down in 1948 by the British colonial government because of the editorial board’s alleged links to the Chinese Community Party.
Huang moved to Guangzhou during the 1940s and chose to stay behind after the Communist Party took power. She was the vice-president of the Guangdong Writers Association and vice-chairman of the PEN International Guangzhou Chinese Centre.
“She returned to settle down in Hong Kong in the late 1980s and was still active in the literary circle,” Cheng said. “But in the political circle, she was better known as the mother-in-law of Lo Hoi-sing.”
Lo was a key man in Operation Yellowbird, which sought to get Chinese dissidents out of China after the Tiananmen Square crackdown. He was arrested for this in 1989 and was later freed on parole in 1991.
Lo’s father was late leftist Hong Kong journalist Lo Fu.