Shi Xiangtuo was born into a noble literati family in Zhangzhou of Fujian in 1906. His father was a famous master of calligraphy and seal cutting. In his home town of Longxi (now known as Longhai) in Zhangzhou, the family had a collection of several thousand books. Their study was known as ‘House of Lychee Fragrance’.
During the Japanese war with China, Shi came to Singapore alone in 1938 and was appointed as Principal of Heng A School. 1938 was also the year in which the Nanyang Fine Arts College (currently known as the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, NAFA) was established. Shi joined the staff of NAFA in 1941 and taught Chinese ink and brush paintings during weekends for 36 years. After Singapore fell into Japanese hands, Shi escaped to Sumatra, spending 3 years and 8 months there before returned to Singapore.
He was actively involved in the arts groups. He was a former President of the Singapore Society of Chinese Artists and advisor of Molan Art Association, Siaw-Tao Chinese Seal-Carving Calligraphy & Painting Society, San Yi Finger Painting Society. He also gave talks to schools, art societies and radio talks on art subjects.
Shi passed away on 25 April 1990, at the age of 85.
Shi excelled in calligraphy, painting, seal cutting, poetry and essay writing. In the area of painting, after many years of hard work, he had evolved a new art style with distinctive Nanyang characteristics. In this respect, he can be said to be in a league of his own. Generally, it is commented that he was best in calligraphy, followed by painting and seal cutting.
In calligraphy, Shi advocated the learning of Stone Drum inscription (inscriptions on drum-shaped stone blocks) of Qin and Bronze inscription (inscriptions on ancient bronze objects). The former must be written with Qi (vital spirit) and the latter should contain rhythmic momentum. Shi paid much attention to Qi, and as he was driven by Qi and over a period of time, he had achieved a unique grandeur of his own in calligraphy. He also put emphasis on Clerical script, which he thought was the connecting link between the Seal script and other scripts developed later.
His student Lim Buan Chay (Lin Wanjing) thinks that the style of his calligraphy is imposing and bold, and yet is tinged with an air of simplicity.