A former public-school teacher, she wrote poems about animals and children that were often steeped in commentary about wealth disparity and David-and-Goliath power dynamics. In one, “Butterflies Are Lightsome Things,” heartless butterflies flutter freely as kangaroos are weighed down by the worries and concerns collected in their pouches. In another, “The Butterfly and the Crocodile,” a butterfly defeats a crocodile by sealing its eyes shut with “soft, sweet-smelling pollen.”
“She’s like the butterfly,” said Jennifer Feeley, who translated some of Xi Xi’s work, including the poetry collections “Not Written Words” (2016) and “Carnival of Animals” (2022). “She’s really good at showing how things that people might dismiss — that seem very light, sometimes feminine, tender and whimsical — are actually very important and strong.”
Xi Xi was born Cheung Yin in Shanghai in 1937, to parents of Cantonese descent. Her father, Cheung Lok, was a clerk at a British shipping company, Butterfield & Swire, and her mother, Luk Wah Chun, took care of the couple’s five children and their aging parents.
Xi Xi is survived by two brothers, David Cheung Yung and Cheung Yiu.
In 1950 the family moved to Hong Kong, where Mr. Cheung found work as a bus inspector. Money was scarce, and Cheung Yin was always two days late in paying her monthly school fees. While still a student, she began selling poems and essays to newspapers for pocket money.
She trained as a teacher at the Grantham College of Education, now part of the Education University of Hong Kong, from 1957 to 1960, and later taught Chinese, English and mathematics in primary schools for more than two decades.
She wrote widely and prolifically while teaching. She published hundreds of pieces of film criticism under different pen names and, using the pseudonym Hai Lan, wrote scripts for the Hong Kong movie studio Shaw Brothers, including a 1967 adaptation of “Little Women.”