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Pan Shou (Dr) (b. 26 January 1911, Quanzhou, Fujian, China - d. 23 February 1999, Singapore), noted Chinese calligrapher and poet who had also served in various positions from newspaper editor to bank vice-president. He is also founding secretary-general and was de facto first vice-chancellor of the Nanyang University, then Nantah University. His calligraphic style is so unique that some have suggested he created his own "Pan style".
Pan was born to a Qing-dynasty scholar during the turbulent year of 1911 when Sun Yat Sen overthrew the Manchu dynasty. Despite ending his education at 18 and lacking a university degree, he had held a position as a tutor at the Westminster school in Quanzhou indicating his early interest in education. He left home for Singapore in 1929 at the age of 19.
In search for a career in journalism before launching into a vocation in education, Pan landed a position as the deputy editor of the literary supplement of the Lat Pau (Lat Po) in 1930. The newspaper was Singapore's first Chinese daily and was published between 1837 - 1932. Barely a year into his job, however, an opening for principal in Chong Zheng Primary School (also known as Chung Cheng School or Chong Cheng Primary then located at Beach Road) caught his eye. Urged by Chinese teacher-friends in Indonesia who sought to teach in Singapore, he went for the interview and caught the eye of a member of the board of governors, Lee Kong Chian. He was a mere 20-year old when he took on the position of principal of Chung Cheng School.
His career in education brought him back to China for a teaching stint in Shanghai in 1931 where again, he witnessed the tensions between the Nationalists and Communists. However, his father's illness brought him to his hometown in Fujian. Upon his father's demise, Pan returned to Singapore to teach Chinese High soon after student protests led to its reorganisation under Lee Kong Chian's chairmanship. In 1934, he became principal of Tao Nan Primary School, nurturing it into a premier institution. During this time he met Tan Kah Kee and a friendship blossomed. In 1940, he began a two-year principalship in Muar, Malaysia before the outbreak of World War II.
The war years saw Pan escaping with his family, travelling first to Bombay then to China. He returned after the war, setting up a business in trading paper and publishing. He worked closely with Tan Kah Kee, Lee Kong Chian and Tan Lark Sye to rebuild the local Chinese community, particularly through the Hokkien Huay Kuan.
As early as 1949, with the University of Malaya's decision to start a Chinese Studies Department, the idea for a Chinese tertiary instution was considered. Tan Lark Sye had put as much as S$500,000 into the University of Malaya project, however, little fruit was borne. So Tan Lark Sye surged ahead with plans for a Chinese University which took the form of the Nanyang University (alias Nantah). The discussions involving Tan Lark Sye, Tan Kah Kee and other prominent Hokkien businessmen invariably drew in Pan. He is credited with designing the three-ringed logo which was originally drawn by his daughter, Xiao Fen. The three rings represent the three races -- the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians with the star in the centre reflecting the University's role in serving the three races. When Nantah's first vice-chancellor, Lin Yutang, resigned suddenly because of differences with the main committee, Pan was asked to become secretary-general and take the mantle as de-facto vice-chancellor. This he did in April 1955, remaining Nantah's Secretary-General until he retired in February 1960. In less than a year, Pan set the foundations of the university, recruiting academics and organising funding, in time for its opening on 15 March 1956. Unfortunately, the University's links with communism made Pan pay a price for his association despite his hard work. His citizenship was retracted in 1958.
1930 : Features editor of Lat Pau (Lat Po), Singapore's earliest Chinese daily.
1931 : Teacher, Quan Zhang High School, Shanghai.
1934 : Teacher, Chinese High School, Singapore.
1935 : Principal, Tao Nan Primary School.
1940 : Principal, Zhong Hua Secondary School, Muar, Malaysia.
1942 : Bank manager, Chongqing, Sichuan Province.
1948 : Moved to Hongkong.
1949 : Returned to Singapore.
1955 : Secretary-general, Nanyang University.
1959 : Resigned from Nantah and went into business.
After retirement, he devoted himself to calligraphy and poetry. This hobby which ultimately became his passion made him world renowned. He had practised calligraphy since he was eight, beginning with kaishu which was the regular script used by the great Tang calligraphers. It was only in his last 25 years that he began to focus on the xingshu script. Influenced by He Shaoji, a noted Qing dynasty scholar and calligrapher Qi Gong, Pan's skills are especially valued because he composed his own poetry which were masterful in their own right.
By the tender age of 12, his gift in Chinese literature was recognised by the scholar Lim Chong He from Quanzhou. Pan has a total of three collections of poetic work:
1970 : Poems from Overseas.
1984 : Poems from Yunnan Garden.
1997 : An Anthology of Poems.
With more than 1300 beautiful verses rich in Chinese literary allusions, covering 60 years - reflecting China's turbulent changes in the 20th century, the Anthology has been hailed as one of the world's most important publications in classical Chinese poetry. In style and content, his poetry has been compared with that of Du Fu , the Poet Saint from the Tang Dynasty
Pan Shou's calligraphic works can be found in prominent places in both Singapore and China:
(1) At the entrance to the Singapore Art Museum is a large Chinese character for lion, shi.
(2) A poem in Tang dynasty-style verse comprising seven-character phrases will adorn one of the walls of the Esplanade--Theatres on the Bay which would open in the year 2000.
(3) MITA's name in Chinese was done by the calligrapher, and used when the Ministry moved to its revamped premises at the old Hill Street Police Station in late 1999.
(4) The Chinese characters for the Chinese Heritage Centre in Jurong.
(5) The Chinese characters on the masthead of the Chinese daily, Lianhe Zaobao.
(6) At the main gate to Nanyang Technological University campus at Yunnan Garden.
His works are also on permanent display in China in such places as the Confucius Temple in Qu Fu, in the Forest of Steles in Sian, on the honorific arch marking the beginning of the ancient Silk Road by the Sea in Quan Zhou, on Huang He Lou in Wuhan and in the museum of the Great Wall of China. Rubbings of his inscription in xingshu style mark the archway to his native hometown in Quanzhou.
A three-volume Collection of Chinese Calligraphy of his works was published in 1982. Two exhibitions were held in his honour in 1984 and in 1991 at the National Museum of Singapore.
Pan had also been the honorary adviser to the Chinese Calligraphy Society of Singapore since 1977.
1928 : Pan at 17 won first prize for his entry in the National Essay Competition, On The Campaign For Anti-Drug Use Movement, probably his earliest awards and most memorable. The selection committee consisted of members such as Cai Yuan Pei, former President of Peking University, and well-known scholar Wu Lian De, a Penang-born medical scientist.
1985 : Gold medal at the Salon Artists Francais, French Government in recognition of his artistic work.
1987 : The Singapore Cultural Medallion, Singapore Government for excellence in calligraphy.
1991 : The French decoration of "Officier des Art et des Lettres", French Government.
1994 : The Meritorious Service Medal, P.J.G., the President, Republic of Singapore for excellence in calligraphy.
1997 : ASEAN Cultural Medal during ASEAN's 30th anniversary, in Jakarta, in recognition of his untiring and outstanding service in promoting art and culture in this region.
Chen Er Fen (b.? Quanzhou, Funan, China - d. 26 June 1937, Singapore), first wife. They were married in 1933 when he was 22 and she was 20 despite objections from his parents, who had had an arranged marriage prepared for him. They had been childhood sweethearts whilst he was studying at the Pei Yuan High School and she at the sister school, Pei Ying High School in their hometown in Quanzhou. She died at age 24 of cancer in 1937, a few months after arriving in Singapore. She bore him two children -- Soo Yeng and Xiao Fen. Pan Shou wrote at least 4 poems about her.
Chen Boon Hwee (b. 1911? -) second wife, is the elder sister of Chen Er Fen. Pan married her at his first wife's request prior to her death to ensure the children would continue to be cared for. Boon Hwee had been a Chinese teacher in Singapore when he married her. She lives in Perth, Australia.
Son: Pan Soo Yeng, a gyneacologist.
Daughter: Pan Xiao Fen, a civil servant and later a businesswoman.
Pan Shou died of pneumonia at Mouth Elizabeth Hospital just weeks after his 88th birthday leaving behind his second wife, two children, four grandchildren and a great-grand child. His funeral was conducted at Trinity Theological College by fellow Nantah graduates, Dr Choong Chee Pang and Dr Lee Chong Kau. His ashes were placed at the columbarium at All Saints Chapel off Upper Serangoon Road.
Bidding Pan Shou a final farewell. (1999, February 27). The Straits Times, Home, p. 40.
The legacy of Pan Shou. (1999, February 25). The Straits Times, p. 30.
Leong, W. K. (1999, February 24). Pan Shou dies of pneumonia. The Straits Times, p. 1.
Leong, W. K. (1999, February 24). Pan Shou celebrated his 88th birthday weeks ago.
The Straits Times, Home, p. 36.
Neo Hui Min. (2002, December 8). Push for a trust to preserve historic homes. The Straits Times, Home, p. 19.
Pan, S. Y. (1999, August 18). Remembering Pan Shou: Poet, philosopher, scholar, gentleman. The Straits Times, Life! pp. 1-3.
Pan Shou's other face. (1994, August 14). The Sunday Times, Sunday Plus, pp. 3-4.
Pang, C. L. (1996, November 28). Pan Shou's pivotal role in University's startup.
The Straits Times, Life, pp. 1-3.
Search for ashes of Pan Shou's first wife. (1999, March 7). The Straits Times, p. 1.
The retrospective exhibition of Pan Shou's calligraphy and poetry. (1995). Singapore: National Arts Council & National Heritage Board
(Call no.: RART 745.619951 RET)
Pan, S. (1991). Pan shou ba shi shi shu [Pan Shou at 80: an exhibition of Pan Shou's calligraphy & poetry]. Singapore: National Museum.
(Call no.: R 745.619951 PS)
Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979 2001 (pp. 182-183). Singapore: National Arts Council.
(Call no.: SING 700.95957 NAR)
Pan Shou: A tribute - hear the voice behind the strokes. (1999, February 27). The Straits Times, Life!, p. 2.
Pan Tian Shou [Computer file]: zhong guo hua da shi. . Bei Jing: Shang wu yin shu guan.
(Call no.: RAV Chinese 759.951 PTS)
The information in this article is valid as at 1999 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.
Pan Shou, 1911-1999