Isle singer, author an icon of Chinese culture


POSTED: Thursday, February 25, 2010

Margaret Young Pang, a cultural icon once called the “;Chinese songbird,”; died Feb. 6—her birthday—in hospice after a brief illness. She was 85.

Named a Living Treasure by the Hawaii Chinese Living Center in 1982, Pang was a kindergarten teacher, an author of songbooks and a Chinese opera performer, among many skills. She became a cultural authority and benefactor of the multicultural Hawaii Heritage Center in Chinatown, said Karen Motosue, vice president of the board of directors.

“;For the whole Chinese community, she was unique,”; Motosue said. “;She was one of a kind. On cultural matters, nobody could beat her. She knew the old way and the new way, and the in-between way (of traditions).”;

Pang taught everything from medicinal herbs to the art of paper cutting and playing the Chinese butterfly harp, eager to pass on her expertise to future generations, Motosue said. Pang could read and write the many different Cantonese dialects, and speak about five of them, as well as a little Mandarin.

She was born in 1925 and grew up in the Palama area, eagerly absorbing everything she could about Chinese culture from age 3, Motosue said. She learned much at the knee of her beloved grandfather, Young Anin, who started Oahu Market in Chinatown in 1904.

Pang earned a master's degree in Asian studies from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She was a teacher for more than 25 years and retired in 1982. While teaching kindergarten at Lincoln Elementary School, Pang taught Chinese culture for 10 years at UH on weekends, in addition to raising children.

She also sang Cantonese opera between 1940 and 1985, achieving fame as the “;Chinese songbird.”;

“;She had a lovely, lovely voice,”; Motosue said. “;Up to the day she died, she was singing.”;

In 1976, she and her late husband, Chinese musician Raymond Pang, were invited to participate at the Smithsonian Institution and National Park Service Festival of American Folk Life in Washington, D.C.

Pang produced three albums for children on Chinese songs and dances, including “;Hawaiian Rainbows.”; It offers island favorites; Japanese, Samoan, Korean and Maori music; and some of her original compositions. She also wrote five books for children.

Since 1989, she had been a volunteer teacher at the Hawaii Heritage Center. The center gave her its “;Keeper of the Past”; award in 2000 after she donated about 1,000 artifacts from China, including the 100-year-old bed on which she was born.

Pang was a member of the Oahu Retired Teachers Association and several Chinese organizations, including the Associated Chinese University Women.

She is survived by three children and several grandchildren.

There will be a celebration of life Sunday from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Hawaii Heritage Center at 1040 Smith St.