Singapore link in China's first anti-Japanese martyrs list

Literary giant Yu Dafu worked as teacher, newspaper editor here

CHINA'S first list of anti-Japanese martyrs and heroic groups has a Singapore link: the late literary giant Yu Dafu, who taught at Chung Cheng High School and was an editor at the Sin Chew Jit Poh newspaper.

Yu, who lived in Singapore from 1938 to 1942, was described as "Singapore Literary Circle Anti-Japanese Association chairman" in the list issued by the Civil Affairs Ministry on Monday.

Honouring 300 martyrs and groups, the list is part of China's intensifying efforts to remind people of Japan's wartime acts amid strained bilateral ties.

A dispute over islets in the East China Sea - administered by Tokyo as the Senkaku islands but claimed by Beijing as Diaoyu - and disagreement over Japan's wartime aggression in China have roiled bilateral relations since August 2012.

For the first time, China has designated three national memorial days this year, all of which are linked to Japan.

President Xi Jinping and other top leaders are set to attend a national commemoration ceremony today in Beijing to mark Japan's official surrender on Sept 2, 1945.

Martyrs' Day will be on Sept 30, while Dec 13 will commemorate the 1937 Nanjing Massacre, in which Japanese troops killed more than 300,000 Chinese.

Yu, widely recognised as one of China's top contemporary writers, alongside Lu Xun and Guo Moruo, was born in 1896 in coastal Zhejiang province's Fuyang city, according to media reports.

He studied in Japan from 1913, including at the Tokyo Imperial University, where he read economics. His best-known work, Chenlun (Sinking Into Vice), that was published in 1921, made him an icon of the anti-imperialist May Fourth Movement. He left Japan in 1922 and settled in Shanghai.

After the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, Yu moved to Singapore, where he worked as a literary editor in the now-defunct Sin Chew Jit Poh newspaper.

He was a founding member of the South Seas Society, set up in 1940 to promote South-east Asian studies.

When Japan invaded Singapore, he fled to Sumatra. He was forced to act as an interpreter for the Japanese military police but used his role to help many escape death. Soon after the Japanese surrender, Yu was killed by Japanese troops worried that he might testify against them.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg