South Seas Society, Singapore



The South Seas Society, Singapore (南洋学会; Nanyang Xuehui) is a non-profit scholarly society dedicated to Southeast Asian studies. Founded in 1940, it is the first academic society set up by overseas Chinese based in Southeast Asia focusing on this field.1 The society frequently publishes books and texts, and periodically organises conferences, seminars, public lectures and exhibitions.2 Its flagship publication, Journal of the South Seas Society, which began shortly after its founding, still runs to this date.3

History
On 17 March 1940, the South Seas Society was founded at its first meeting held at the Great Southern Hotel (南天酒楼; Nantian Jiulou) located on Eu Tong Sen Street.4 The society’s original Chinese name was Zhongguo Nanyang Xuehui (中国南洋学会; meaning “China Nanyang Scholarly Society”), and its official English name is South Seas Society, Singapore (henceforth referred to as South Seas Society).5 The term “Nanyang” (南洋), which literally translates to “Southern Ocean” and for which “South Seas” is an English equivalent, generally refers to Southeast Asia.6

The South Seas Society was inaugurated with three objectives: to publish a journal and/or other works; to form a library and a research institute; and to promote the culture of Southeast Asia.7 There were 19 members in the first year of its establishment, including eight co-founders.8

The co-founders were Kwan Chu Poh (关楚璞; Guan Chupu), Yue Daff (郁达夫; more commonly known as Yu Dafu), T. L. Yao (姚楠; Yao Nan), Hsu Yun Tsiao (许云樵; Xu Yunqiao), Chang Lee Chien (张礼千; Zhang Liqian), Lou Shih Mo (刘士木; Liu Shimu), Lee Chan Foo (李长傅; Li Changfu) and Han Wai Toon (韩槐准; Han Huaizhun). Kwan served as the society’s first honorary secretary.9

Kwan, Yue, Yao, Hsu and Chang were employed as editors by the Chinese-language daily newspaper Sin Chew Jit Poh (星洲日报; Xingzhou ribao). Three among the eight – Liu, Lee and Yao – had also previously worked for the Nanyang Cultural and Educational Affairs Bureau (南洋文化教育事业部; Nanyang Wenhua Jiaoyu Shiyebu) at Guangzhou’s Jinan University, an influential pioneer of Nanyang studies in China during the 1920s and 1930s.10

In 1939, the five associated with Sin Chew Jit Poh worked together on the newspaper’s 10th-anniversary commemorative publication Xingzhou ribao shizhou jinian zhuankan (星洲日报十周年纪念专刊), for which they wrote essays and articles related to the culture and history of Nanyang.11 Within Sin Chew Jit Poh, they also ran columns on topics such as the culture, history, geography and economics pertaining to Nanyang.12 As such, the newspaper became a platform for them to publish their Nanyang-related articles.13

Having Nanyang-focused content in a newspaper, however, was deemed to have little commercial value. Kwan, who was editor-in-chief of Sin Chew Jit Poh, therefore endorsed setting up a society and its own publication where the writers could air their views and publish their scholarly work. Hence, the South Seas Society was founded.14

At the time, Nanyang (or Southeast Asian) studies was a field dominated by European-educated scholars such as those at the Royal Asiatic Society or the École Française d’Extrême-Orient (French School of the Far East), as well as by the Chinese in China and scholars in Japan.15 Hence, the South Seas Society became the first Nanyang-based organisation set up by Chinese scholars with a view to expand knowledge about Southeast Asia.16

Japanese Occupation and postwar era
During World War II (1942–1945), the society’s activities were based in Chongqing, China, where Yao and Chang published nine wartime monographs. After the war, it was decided that the society should be located in Nanyang instead of China, since it had been founded there. Hsu, who stayed in Singapore during the Occupation, became the de facto leader of the society following the end of the war, and was the main driving force of the society from the postwar period until 1958.17


In 1958, shortly after historian and businessman Tan Yeok Seong (陈育崧) took over leadership of the society from Hsu,18 the prefix “Zhongguo” (中国; China) in the society’s Chinese name was dropped. The change is symbolic of the shift in the group’s allegiance to Singapore and Malaya instead of China – a response believed to have been linked to local developments such as Singapore’s progress towards self-government, Malayanisation and greater rights accorded to the overseas Chinese in Singapore.19

Headquarters
Due to inadequate funds, the society was initially based out of Yao’s home in Tiong Bahru and subsequently shifted to various locations over the years, without a permanent headquarters. Currently, the society only has a post-office box number.20

Publications
The society published the first issue of its flagship journal, Nanyang Xuebao (南洋学报), or Journal of the South Seas Society, in June 1940 shortly after the society’s founding.21 Hsu was its first editor and oversaw 13 volumes of the journal over 18 years until his resignation, which was announced in the December 1957 issue, after which academic Wang Gungwu took over the reins.22

The journal, which has overseas subscribers, is the first Nanyang-based journal set up by Chinese intellectuals devoted to studies of the region. It is also the first bilingual academic periodical – publishing both Chinese- and English-language articles – although Mandarin is the dominant medium.23 It covers a wide range of topics including history, archaeology, languages, literature, demographics, anthropology, traditions and customs, economics and religious issues.24

From the 1970s onwards, under the auspices of Gwee Yee Hean (魏维贤), who led the society from 1970 to 2002, the society began to publish periodicals featuring only English-language articles – such as the Nanyang Quarterly: A Review of Southeast Asian Studies and the Southeast Asian Journal of Educational Studies – so as to reach out to a wider audience.25

The Review was started in 1971 by academics from the University of Singapore (now National University of Singapore), including Gwee himself, to provide an interdisciplinary platform for social scientists to exchange ideas on Southeast Asian affairs.26 It was discontinued in 1985, when the society decided to focus its resources on its flagship journal.27 The Southeast Asian Journal of Educational Studies, originally known as the Malaysian Journal of Education, was a pioneering academic journal with a focus on education in Southeast Asia started in 1964 by Gwee.28 The journal was renamed Southeast Asian Journal of Educational Studies in 1977 to reflect broader research interests, and was published by the South Seas Society between 1985 and 1991.29

In addition to periodicals, the society also actively publishes monographs in Chinese and English on subjects such as the history, sociology and economics related to the Chinese in Southeast Asia. The society has published more than 50 books since its founding.30

Activities
Besides its academic publishing work, the society also organises talks, lectures, seminars, conferences and exhibitions. Between 1984 and 1990, it co-organised international conferences in Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong as well as the Chinese cities of Xiamen and Shanghai. The conferences were centred on topics such as patterns of overseas Chinese migration, the participation of the overseas Chinese in China’s Xinhai Revolution and their socio-economic developments in different periods of Southeast Asian history.31

In 2010, in conjunction with its 70th anniversary, the society organised a one-day symposium on the overseas Chinese. Held at the National University of Singapore Alumni House, the event featured speakers from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Japan.32

In the immediate postwar years, the society organised field trips for its members. Most notable was the archaeological expedition to Pulau Tekong and Johor Lama in June 1948 led by co-founder Han, which resulted in the discovery of porcelain shards from the Ming dynasty at the latter site.33

The Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU’s) Chinese Heritage Centre previously housed the society’s collection of rare books, which had to be moved in 2001 from the premises of the Hokkien Huay Kuan (Hokkien clan association) on Telok Ayer Street as the building was slated for redevelopment.34 The collection had to be moved again in 2005, this time to the Singapore Buddhist Lodge, when the Chinese Heritage Centre library merged with NTU’s main library.35

Membership
According to a 2010 news report, the society has about 110 members, most of them academics and university students. There are about 70 local members and 40 overseas members. The current president of the society is Tan Eng Chaw (陈荣照), former head of the Chinese-studies department at the National University of Singapore.36



Author
Fiona Tan



References
1. 区如柏 [Qu, R. B.]. (1989, June 4). 年近半百的南洋学会 [Nianjin banbai de Nanyang Xuehui]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Seah, T. L. L. (2007). Historicizing hybridity and globalization: The South Seas Society in Singapore, 1940–2000 [Thesis]. Singapore: National University of Singapore, pp. 39–41. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 SEA)
2. South Seas Society. (n.d.). About us. Retrieved from South Seas Society (Singapore) website: http://www.southseassociety.sg/about.php
3. South Seas Society (Singapore). (n.d.). Publications:Journals. Retrieved from South Seas Society (Singapore) website: http://www.southseassociety.sg/journals.php
4. Seah, T. L. L. (2007). Historicizing hybridity and globalization: The South Seas Society in Singapore, 1940–2000 [Thesis]. Singapore: National University of Singapore, pp. 1, 27, 29. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 SEA); Tan, B. H. (1978, August 1). South Seas Society – where the local Chinese scholars are. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. 陈莺珠 [Chen, Y. Z.]. (1986, July 13). 开拓南洋文化46年 [Kaituo Nanyang wenhua 46 nian]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Zhang, X. (2007). Overview of teaching programmes and curriculum development on Southeast Asia in China. In S.-H. Saw & J. Wong (Eds.). (2007). Southeast Asian studies in China (pp. 75–86). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 77. (Call no.: RSING 959.007051 SOU); Lee, S. K. (2013). Contentious development: Southeast Asian studies in Singapore (pp. 159–190). In S. W. Park & V. T. King (Eds.). The historical construction of Southeast Asian studies. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 166. (Call no.: RSING 959.007105 HIS)
6. Seah, T. L. L. (2007). Historicizing hybridity and globalization: The South Seas Society in Singapore, 1940–2000 [Thesis]. Singapore: National University of Singapore, pp. 22–24. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 SEA)
7. Rules of the South Seas Society, Singapore [Microfilm: NL 13623]. (1940, June). 南洋学报 [Journal of the South Seas Society], 1(1), 1 [English segment].
8. 区如柏 [Qu, R. B.]. (1989, June 4). 年近半百的南洋学会 [Nianjin banbai de Nanyang Xuehui]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. The co-founders’ names were styled differently in various publications. The ones used here are drawn from council listing in the inaugural issue of the Journal of the South Seas Society. Seah, T. L. L. (2007). Historicizing hybridity and globalization: The South Seas Society in Singapore, 1940–2000 [Thesis]. Singapore: National Universty of Singapore, p. 27 (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 SEA); Rules of the South Seas Society, Singapore [Microfilm: NL 13623]. (1940, June). 南洋学报 [Journal of the South Seas Society], 1(1), 3 [English segment].
10. Seah, T. L. L. (2007). Historicizing hybridity and globalization: The South Seas Society in Singapore, 1940–2000 [Thesis]. Singapore: National University of Singapore, pp. 32–34. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 SEA); Seah, T. L. L. (2008). Conceptualizing the Chinese world: Jinan University, Lee Kong Chian, and the Nanyang Connection 1900–1942. BiblioAsia, 4(1), 32. Retrieved from National Library Board website: https://eservice.nlb.gov.sg/opennlbcmscontent.aspx?id=4736e9ec-17c9-4750-8bfa-5ef629c049bd
11. 区如柏 [Qu, R. B.]. (1989, June 4). 年近半百的南洋学会 [Nianjin banbai de Nanyang Xuehui]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Seah, T. L. L. (2007). Historicizing hybridity and globalization: The South Seas Society in Singapore, 1940–2000 [Thesis]. Singapore: National University of Singapore, pp. 27–28. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 SEA)
12. Seah, T. L. L. (2007). Historicizing hybridity and globalization: The South Seas Society in Singapore, 1940–2000 [Thesis]. Singapore: National University of Singapore, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 SEA)
13. 区如柏 [Qu, R. B.]. (1989, June 4). 年近半百的南洋学会 [Nianjin banbai de Nanyang Xuehui]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Seah, T. L. L. (2007). Historicizing hybridity and globalization: The South Seas Society in Singapore, 1940–2000 [Thesis]. Singapore: National University of Singapore, p. 29. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 SEA)
15. Tan, B. H. (1978, August 1). South Seas Society – where the local Chinese scholars are. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lee, S. K. (2013). Contentious development: Southeast Asian studies in Singapore (pp. 159–190). In S. W. Park & V. T. King (Eds.), The historical construction of Southeast Asian studies. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 165–166. (Call no.: RSING 959.007105 HIS); Seah, T. L. L. (2007). Historicizing hybridity and globalization: The South Seas Society in Singapore, 1940–2000 [Thesis]. Singapore: National University of Singapore, p. 40. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 SEA)
16. Tan, B. H. (1978, August 1). South Seas Society – where the local Chinese scholars are. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Seah, T. L. L. (2007). Historicizing hybridity and globalization: The South Seas Society in Singapore, 1940–2000 [Thesis]. Singapore: National University of Singapore, pp. 29–30, 39–41. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 SEA)
17. Seah, T. L. L. (2007). Historicizing hybridity and globalization: The South Seas Society in Singapore, 1940–2000 [Thesis]. Singapore: National University of Singapore, pp. 35–38. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 SEA)
18. Teo, H. W. (1984, April 5). History lives for him. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. South Seas Society. (n.d.). About us. Retrieved from South Seas Society (Singapore) website: http://www.southseassociety.sg/about.php; 陈莺珠 [Chen, Y. Z.]. (1986, July 13). 开拓南洋文化46年 [Kaituo Nanyang wenhua 46 nian]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Seah, T. L. L. (2007). Historicizing hybridity and globalization: The South Seas Society in Singapore, 1940–2000 [Thesis]. Singapore: National University of Singapore, pp. 50–53. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 SEA)
20. Seah, T. L. L. (2007). Historicizing hybridity and globalization: The South Seas Society in Singapore, 1940–2000 [Thesis]. Singapore: National University of Singapore, p. 41. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 SEA); South Seas Society (Singapore). (n.d.). Contact us. Retrieved from South Seas Society (Singapore) website: http://www.southseassociety.sg/contact.php
21. Rules of the South Seas Society, Singapore [Microfilm: NL 13623]. (1940, June). 南洋学报 [Journal of the South Seas Society], 1(1), 3 [English segment].
22. 南洋学会的刊物 [Nanyang Xuehui de kanwu]. (1994, April 10). 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 区如柏 [Qu, R. B.]. (1989, June 4). 年近半百的南洋学会 [Nianjin banbai de Nanyang Xuehui]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Editorial [Microfilm: NL 13624]. (1957, December). Journal of the South Seas Society [English version], 13(2), 1.
23. 区如柏 [Qu, R. B.]. (1989, June 4). 年近半百的南洋学会 [Nianjin banbai de Nanyang Xuehui]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Seah, T. L. L. (2007). Historicizing hybridity and globalization: The South Seas Society in Singapore, 1940–2000 [Thesis]. Singapore: National University of Singapore, pp. 36, 42, 44. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 SEA)
24. 南洋学会的刊物 [Nanyang Xuehui de kanwu]. (1994, April 10). 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. South Seas Society (Singapore). (n.d.). Publications: Journals. Retrieved from South Seas Society (Singapore) website: http://www.southseassociety.sg/journals.php; 区如柏 [Qu, R. B.]. (1989, June 4). 年近半百的南洋学会 [Nianjin banbai de Nanyang Xuehui].联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Seah, T. L. L. (2007). Historicizing hybridity and globalization: The South Seas Society in Singapore, 1940–2000 [Thesis]. Singapore: National University of Singapore, p. 85. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 SEA)
26. Editorial. (1971, March). Nanyang Quarterly: A Review of Southeast Asian Studies, 1(1), 3–4. (Call no.: RSEA 300.5 NQ)
27. 南洋学会一九八五年会务报告 [Nanyang xuehui yijiubawu nian huiwu baogao]. (1987, March). 南洋学报 [Journal of the South Seas Society], 41(1–2), 127. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.005 JSSS)
28. Tan, T. (2001, January 14). Beijing varsity honours eminent S’porean scholar. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. 陈荣照. (主编) [Chen, R. Z. (Ed.)]. (2010). 南洋学会70周年: 本会出版书刊总目 (1940–2010) [Nanyang xuehui 70 zhounian: Ben kuai chuban shukan zong mu (1940–2010)]. 新加坡: 南洋学会 [Xinjiapo: Nanyang xuehui], p. 54. (Call no.: RSING 015.5957 NYX -[LIB])
30. 区如柏 [Qu, R. B.]. (1989, June 4). 年近半百的南洋学会 [Nianjin banbai de Nanyang Xuehui]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; South Seas Society (Singapore). (n.d.). Publications: Books. Retrieved from South Seas Society (Singapore) website: http://www.southseassociety.sg/books.php.
31. 莫美颜 [Mo, M. Y.]. (1994, April 10). 一代才子: 南天酒楼起‘会’ [Yidai caizi: Nantian Jiulou qihui]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Seah, T. L. L. (2007). Historicizing hybridity and globalization: The South Seas Society in Singapore, 1940–2000 [Thesis]. Singapore: National University of Singapore, p. 85. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 SEA)
32. Leong, W. K. (2010, December 19). Young blood helps 70-year-old society thrive. The Sunday Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
33. Hsu, Y.-T. (1948, December). Notes on Malay peninsula in ancient voyages [Microfilm: NL 13623]. 南洋学报 [Journal of the South Seas Society], 5(2), 1.
34. Tan, T. (2001, January 14). Decided: Fate of books. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Annual report of the South Seas Society. (2006, August). 南洋学报 [Journal of the South Seas Society], 60, 117. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.005 JSSS)
36. Leong, W. K. (2010, December 19). Young blood helps 70-year-old society thrive. The Sunday Times. Retrieved from Factiva; 南洋学会历届理事名表 1940–2015 [Nanyang xuehui lijie lishi mingbiao]. (n.d.). Retrieved from South Seas Society website: http://www.southseassociety.sg/documents/sss-committee-list.pdf




Further resources
莫美颜 [Mo, M. Y.] (1994, April 10). 南洋学会发起人之一东南亚研究佼佼者许云樵教授 [Nanyang xuehui faqiren zhiyi dongnanya yanjiu jiaojiaozhe Xu Yunqiao jiaoshou]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

许苏吾 [Xu, S. W.]. (1977). 南洋学会与南洋研究 [South Seas Society and Southeast Asian studies]. 新加坡: 南海编译所 [Xinjiapo: Nanyang bianyi suo]. (Call no.: RCLOS 959 HSW)



The information in this article is valid as at 25 June 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further resources on the topic.

Subject
Politics and Government>>Education
Heritage and Culture
Communications
Ethnic Communities
Education
Commerce and Industry>>Communications
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