Xi Xi

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Zhang Yan
Pen nameXi Xi
OccupationNovelist, poet

Xi Xi (Chinese: 西西; pinyin: Xī Xī, born 1938) is the pseudonym of the Chinese author[1] and poet Zhang Yan (Chinese: 張彥; pinyin: Zhāng Yàn). She was born in China and came to Hong Kong at the age of twelve. She was a teacher and now a Hong Kong-based writer. Her works are popular in Taiwan and mainland China. She has become rather well known to secondary school age Hong Kong people these years likewise, though, not owing to her other specific masterpieces but, very likely, "Shops", one of her essays which is adopted as reading materials for the Chinese Language paper of Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination by the Hong Kong Examination Authority. The screenplay for the 2006 film, 2 Become 1 was based on her novel, "Mourn Over the Breasts"(哀悼乳房). The film starred Hong Kong Cantopop singer Miriam Yeung, as a woman living with breast cancer.


Zhang Yan
Traditional Chinese張彥
Xi Xi

Xi Xi's native county is Zhongshan, Guangdong. She was born in Shanghai, where she attended primary school, in 1938. In 1950, she immigrated to Hong Kong with her parents. Her father worked at Kowloon Motor Bus as a ticket checker. In addition, he had been a Division A soccer team trainer and, later, a referee since he was in Shanghai, thus Xi Xi had developed an immense interest in soccer when she was young. Xi Xi has two brothers and two sisters.

Later, Xi Xi attended secondary school at Heep Yunn School, where lessons were taught in Cantonese; she started her English-instructed lessons from Form 4. During her early life in Hong Kong, Xi Xi was living in poverty, and she had to worry about her expenses on textbooks and her school uniform, as well as fees for Home Economics classes. As a junior secondary student, she began to write for the local newspapers and magazines.

Early writing career[edit]

Her first piece, a fourteen-line modern Chinese poem, was published in "Everyone's Literature" (人人文學) in the 1950s. When Xi Xi was studying in Form 3, she won the first prize in the senior section of a writing competition organised by "Learn-mates" (學友) in which the chief editor was Wun Pik-lam (雲碧琳). In 1957, she continued her studies at the Grantham College of Education (later merged with other constitute colleges to form the Hong Kong Institute of Education), and became a teacher at a local governmental primary school after graduation. During her career as a teacher, she was an active member in the campaigns fighting for teachers' rights. Besides poetry, novel, essay, fairy tale and translated literature, Xi Xi attempted to write TV screenplay in the 1960s, like "The Dark Green Age" (黛綠年華) and "The Window" (窗), and numerous movie critics as well, in a refreshing yet vivid style. She was one of the pioneers in the field of experimental films in Hong Kong.

Later, Xi Xi concentrated on the production of novels, as well as columns in various newspapers and magazines:

  • 1960s: A fairy-tale column in “Tin Tin Daily" (天天日報), "Movies and Me" (電影與我) in "Chinese Students' Weekly" (中國學生周報), and "Bull's Eye and Me"《牛眼和我》in "Express Daily" (快報);
  • 1970s: "My Scrawling Room" (scrapbook) (《我之試寫室》剪貼冊) in "Express Daily";
  • 1980s: "Notes on Reading" (閱讀筆記) in "Express Daily", "The Flower Column" in "Sing Tao Daily", "Four Pieces of Jade" (四塊玉) in "United Daily News", "Siu Ming Chow" (小明周), a children's column about paintings, in "Ming Pao Monthly", "Ear-man" (隨耳想), a musical column, in "Sing Tao Daily", and "How Xi Xi Views Soccer" (西西看足球), a featured column for the World Cup, in "Ming Pao".

Moreover, she had been the editor of "Chinese Students' Weekly" poetry section (1960s), as well as of "Thumb Weekly" (大拇指周報) (1975–1977) and "Plain Leaf Literature" (素葉文學) (1981–1984), which were founded by Xi Xi and her friends in 1978. Plain Leaf was a non-profit publisher, with its solemn, high-standard, and non-commercial local publication, which was actually rare in the book market of Hong Kong. Up to 1984, The publishing company had produced books of 22 categories, including "A Loafer Who Burnt His Guitar" (焚琴的浪子), a collection of Ma Lang's (馬朗) poems; "A Tour in Mirrors" (《鏡遊》), a Chinese movie critics collection by Lin Nian-tong (林年同); and "My Resplendence" (我的燦爛), a Zhong Ling-ling's (鍾玲玲) essay and poem collection. Along with different series of readers, Plain Leaf had also published a magazine called "Plain Leaf Literature" for 25 volumes. The publishing company closed down eventually due to a lack of funds, but it re-opened in the 1990s, and Plain Leaf is still in business these days.

In 1979, the number of teachers was over-supplied, and the Education Department promoted an early retirement scheme. Xi Xi tendered her resignation, and subsequently paid more heed to studies and creative writing. However, Hong Kong had fluctuated drastically in social aspects in the 1980s, and the demand for teacher had been skyrocketing. Xi Xi was occasionally invited by her ex-colleagues and worked as a contracted teacher for a year, or even a substitute teacher. In fact, she did not cease her teaching career entirely.

Late writing career[edit]

"Shops" is an essay written by Xi Xi, which has been adopted as reading materials for the Chinese language paper of the HKCEE. This passage illustrates the ageing buildings, squatters, and old-fashioned traditional shops in Central and Western District, particularly in Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun, as well as other human behaviour in this hustling district. She expressed her tinge of nostalgia of her childhood, and of the disappearing old shops due to drastic infrastructural development.

Xi Xi enjoyed travelling, and she had been to Eastern Europe, Turkey, Egypt, Greece, and, most frequently, mainland China. These places had given much inspiration to her writing. In 1983, "United Daily News" re-published Xi Xi's "A Lady Like Me" (《像我這樣的一個女子》) from "Plain Leaf Literature", and it was the first time her works were known to Taiwan people. And that passage won Xi Xi the Recommended Novella Prize, the highest prize in the United Daily News 8th Novel Prize.

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ "Uncertain future for English literature". South China Morning Post. 28 June 1997. Retrieved 6 May 2011.