Asian Studies Program

Chinese Australia

Chinese Newspapers in Australia from the Turn of the Century


by Liu Weiping [1]

(Translated by Sang Yichuan and John Fitzgerald)

Although the majority of early Chinese immigrants to Australia were labourers who had received little formal education, they were just as nostalgic for the culture of their homeland, and certainly as concerned about developments in China, as better-educated Overseas Chinese are today. As the rate of immigration picked up in the nineteenth century , some reasonably well educated people arrived in Australia as well. All felt very homesick, and many were anxious to learn of news from China. Soon Chinese grocery stores in Melbourne began to sell Chinese books. Shortly afterward, the earliest Chinese newspapers made their appearance.

The first Chinese-owned newspaper to appear in Australia was The Chinese Australian Herald (Guangyi huabao), launched in Sydney on 1 September 1894, after two years of preparation, by Sun Junchen and two Westerners, G.A. Down and J.A. Philip. Why Down and Philip entered into a joint venture with Sun Junchen to publish a Chinese newspaper remains a mystery .Perhaps it was a condition for newspaper registration at that time. The offices of the paper were located on the 3rd floor at 19 Hunter Street in Sydney. The paper was registered at the Sydney General Post Office and carried beneath its masthead the signature of approval: "This newspaper has been approved for circulation under appropriate regulations of the Government of New South Wales, and is to be posted free of additional charges to any post office throughout the territory."

Sun Junchen was born in 1868, and studied at an English language school before entering business in Sydney. It is unclear whether he actually edited the paper, or indeed whether his Chinese language skills were sufficient for the task, but we have to admire his energy and enthusiasm in providing this valued cultural service to his Overseas Chinese compatriots.

The Chinese Australian Herald was printed using neat and careful hand-written stencils over its first few years of publication. The first page was devoted to advertisements, with four big characters spelling out "The Chinese Australian Herald" down the left column, followed by the characters for the date in the Guangxu Reign Period (of the Qing Dynasty) with lunar and solar equivalents printed alongside one another. Subscription rates were given as 20 cents per issue, $4.40 for half a year and $8.00 for an annual subscription including postage within New South Wales (20 cents in Chinese was twopence in the colonial currency, $4.40 meant four shillings and four pence, and $8 was equivalent to eight shillings).

It seems likely that the Chinese Australian Herald enjoyed a good circulation, because in 1897 it adopted new movable-print technology. The equipment for stereotype printing in formal characters was most likely imported from Hong Kong. Its operation would have required skilled labour from Hong Kong as well. The address and the price of the newspaper remained unchanged.

Advertising clients over the early period were exclusively Western companies and business establishments. It was not until some time later that local Chinese stores began advertising to attract custom. Prominent among the western advertisers were the Taigu Shipping Company, the Bank of NSW and Burns Philp. Their involvement suggests that commercial relations between Western companies and Overseas Chinese in Australia dates back at least one hundred years. One sample of an advertisement by the Taigu Shipping Company reads: "Our company has constructed four powerful first - class ships - the Changsha, Chengdu, Taiyuan and Jinan - which will travel regularly between Melbourne and Chinese ports according to our sailing schedule. "Later, a Chinese firm named New Hostel placed advertisements on the first page of The Chinese Australian Herald which read: "We specialise in Tangshan groceries, herbal medications and clothing - all quality merchandise, sold at genuine prices."

The second page of each issue was devoted to "Chinese and Foreign News", and carried a table of contents. Taking the Chinese Australian Herald of 17 September 1897, the Contents read as follows:

  • On War Compensation (regarding compensation forced on China in consequence of the Sino-British and Sino-Japanese wars)
  • Conferences and Shows (noting participation by Overseas Chinese organizations in the Sydney Agricultural and Commercial Products Show)
  • Wedding Congratulations (including a report on a happy wedding ceremony for Fang Jinyi - a Chinese missionary - and a local Australian woman)
  • Astronomical Forecasts
  • Perils of the Sea
  • Birthdays and Obituaries
  • Speeches on Opening a New Mine
  • Juvenile Hens Producing Eggs
  • A Train Accident
  • Train Manufacture
  • Girl's Organizations
  • Primary School Enrolments
  • Developing a New Gold-Mining Area
  • Missing Vehicle
  • A Dangerous War
  • A Surprised White Dove
  • Digging in the Dragon Cave
  • Sailing Schedules
  • Market Situations
  • Miscellaneous news.

There were altogether twenty different items of news. At the bottom of the page was listed this piece of advice: "Boundless beneficence flows from saving paper".

A photograph of Fang Jinyi and his wife that accompanies news of their wedding demonstrate that photo-copperplate technology was already in use in 1897.

The column on Conference and Shows reads as follows:

The Chinese community of the port of Sydney will hold a grand show once again at [? Mabo in Mandarin] on the 29th day of the eighth month, or 25 September on the English calendar. In addition to the usual Dragon Dance there will be other performances using colourful costumes supplied by the people of [? Mala in Mandarin] and other ports. New lions, unicorns and butterflies have been built with the aid of generous donations by Sydney Chinese, as have a number of scenic attractions and splendid garments that are certain to make the show more attractive. In addition, around 700,000 items of fireworks have been purchased with the support of many local Chinese friends. These will add much life to the spectacle on this special occasion. It seems certain that all participants will enjoy the show - exhibiters and performers will all be in high spirits and the crowd of onlookers will enjoy themselves immensely. Proceeds from the show should also raise a substantial sum of money.

This extract suggests that members of the Chinese community were already in the nineteenth century playing an active role as local residents in every kind of activity.

Apart from publishing its daily paper, the newspaper office also managed a bookshop that stocked a range of Chinese publications including A Miscellany of Western Folk Customs, The New Times, Regulations for U.S. Soldiers, The New Diplomacy, Everything You Need to Know about Western Etiquette, Reminiscences of Hong Kong, Infinitesimal Calculus, A Survey of Japanese Shipping, A Chinese-English Business Handbook and other titles. All of the books were printed and published in Hong Kong, and each was classified for sale under one of various headings -politics, economics, law, military affairs, science and so on. Interest in "foreign affairs" and the "new sciences" was gathering pace in China at this particular time, and it seems that it was just as fashionable for Chinese overseas to rush out and buy books on these kinds of topics.

The Chinese Australian Herald was initially a weekly paper with eight pages each issue. At the height of the paper's circulation its long-term subscribers numbered around eight hundred, and it had a total circulation of around one thousand copies. It is said that The Chinese Australian Herald was in print for about 30 years, which if true would have carried the paper into the early 1920's. Today, however, this is difficult to ascertain for certain.

A few years after the launching of The Chinese Australian Herald, The Tung Wah News (Donghua xinbao) made its appearance in June, 1898, in Sydney. This paper was established with an initial capital injection of one thousand pounds subscribed by forty shareholders drawn from the local Chinese community of Sydney. The major shareholder was the manager of the Sydney branch of the Anchang Corporation, Mr Yu Rong, who exercised actual control over the newspaper. At first the paper did not display any strong political inclinations, but it came gradually to favour the Reformist policies of the Guangxu Emperor, and ultimately became a mouthpiece of the Society for Protecting the Emperor.

Circulation of The Tung Wah News reached its height in 1900, when the exiled Chinese reformer, Liang Qichao, paid a visit to Australia. The Society for Protecting the Emperor received a great boost with the arrival of Mr. Liang. He travelled by steamer from Singapore to Perth, before journeying overland by train through South Australia to Melbourne and finally to Sydney. During his stay in Australia, Liang Qichao visited many ports and towns in which Chinese communities had settled and established businesses, some of them quite substantial ones. As a great celebrity and distinguished literary figure from Guangdong province - the home of most Chinese settlers - Mr. Liang was enthusiastically welcomed by his compatriots wherever he went. Liang also took every opportunity to publicise the policies of the Society for Protecting the Emperor and to encourage Chinese living in all the of ports and towns he visited to set up branches of the Society and make donations for the cause. As a key supporter of the Society for Protecting the Emperor, The Tung Wah News gained in popularity for a time and circulated widely as far as New Zealand and other countries. The Sydney managers of the Society for Protecting the Emperor included Yu Rong, Wu Elou and a number of others who exercised considerable influence over the paper. Tang Chaizhi was recruited from China to act as editor-in-chief over this period.

The influence of the Society for Protecting the Emperor gradually faded in Australia after Liang Qichao left Sydney for Japan, in April 1901. Over the following year, The Tung Wah News changed its name to Tung Wah Journal (Donghua bao). The paper still appeared in the old hand-written style, with advertisements taking up most of the front page. Many of these advertisements were placed by local Chinese businesses such as the Wing On Fruit Market, which eventually developed into the one of the four largest retail companies in Shanghai and is well known throughout China as the Wing On Corporation. Even today, the Hong Kong branch of the Wing On Corporation still ranks as one of the largest Chinese firms in existence.

As the activities of the Society for Protecting the Emperor declined following Liang Qichao's departure, the group that had lent its support to the emperor gave way to a generation that fervently advocated revolution. The position of the Tung Wah Journal changed with the political situation. When the Society for Protecting the Emperor was reorganised into the Imperial Constitution Society of Sydney (Xueli diguo xianzhenghui), the Tung Wah Journal carried advertisements calling for membership subscriptions to the new Society. From 1907, the newspaper carried a statement alongside its title to the effect that it was "endorsed by Huang Houchen, consul of the Chinese Embassy in Britain."[2]

Meanwhile in Melbourne, over the last year of the reign of the Guangxu Emperor (1908), a group of Overseas Chinese who were opposed to the Society for the Protection of the Emperor established the Arouse the Orient News (Jingdong xinbao) to challenge the royalists' Tung Wah News. The paper was founded by the New Citizens Enlightenment Society (Xinmin qizhi hui), later known as the Enlightenment Society.[3] The Society employed Arouse the Orient as its propaganda organ, and recruited Liu Dihuan and Huang Yougong to come to Australia and serve as editors-in-chief. Once the Enlightenment Society had extended its organisation and expanded its membership, it changed its name in 1910 to the Young China Society (Shaonian zhongguo hui) and continued to manage the Arouse the Orient News. In time, this society became the Melbourne Branch of the Nationalist Party (Guomindang).

Arouse the Orient News was eventually transferred to the Nationalist Party branch office in Melbourne, where its title was changed to Civic News (Minbao). Civic News appeared once a week, on Saturdays, in a combination of hand-written stencil and type- setting. Its first issue was dated 20 December 1919. The newspaper offices were located at 871 Rathdown Street in North Carlton. The paper announced its aims to be: "Promoting world harmony, advancing humanistic ethics, restoring basic human rights, overthrowing autocracy and suppressors of the people, broadening the knowledge of Overseas Chinese, and rejecting superstition and bad habits." In 1922, the paper was transferred from Melbourne to Sydney, where it remained under Nationalist Party management and continued under the ownership of Nationalist Party shareholders, with Ouyang Nan as manager and Huang Yougong as editor. The first copy to be issued from Sydney appeared on 25 August 1922. Although the paper underwent frequent changes of editor, and occasionally suspended publication, it continued in print until the close of the Second World War.

After the Republican Revolution of 1911, another group of Overseas Chinese in Sydney who supported the Revolution founded the Republican News (Minguo bao). Among its major sponsors were Yu Rong, formerly a major shareholder in Tung Wah Daily, and Guo Biao who was to become a founding partner of the Wing On Corporation. The paper was first published in 1912 with the aim of publicising democratic political ideals. It recruited Wu Hongpei and Zhao Pingming (also known as Zhao Guojun) as chief editors. Wu and Zhao were both members of the Nationalist Party. When Yuan Shikai declared himself emperor, in 1916, Republican News mounted a strong attack against him. The Chinese Consul-General in Australia at the time, who happened to be associated with the Society for Protecting the Emperor, appealed to the Australian government to expel Wu Hongpei from Australia. Zhao Pingming left Australia of his own accord, and moved to New Zealand. Nevertheless The Republican News remained in print for many years.

Another newspaper to appear over the early years of The Tung Wah News was the Melbourne Patriotic News (Aiguo bao). Founded in February, 1902, this paper aimed to encourage patriotism and to raise the political consciousness of the Overseas Chinese. It consistently argued that Chinese should become actively involved in local Australian political activities in order to protect their own interests. By this time, of course, Australian authorities had introduced the White Australia Policy and had placed many rigid restrictions on entry of Overseas Chinese. The paper was highly critical of a number of Australian regulations - including the prohibition on spouses and children accompanying Chinese immigrants to Australia - on the ground that these regulations were inhumane. It also called for unity among the Overseas Chinese of Australia, proposing creation of a single Chinese organisation capable of representing the entire Chinese community and securing the welfare of all Chinese compatriots. These proposals won the sympathy and support of the majority of Overseas Chinese. Published once a week, Patriotic News circulated its 153th issue on 4 January 1905.

Besides these general newspapers a number of other Chinese language magazines were published in Melbourne and Sydney. The Chinese Masonic Association (Zhigongtang), for example, issued a purely commercial magazine known as The Bulletin (Gongbao). Another was called Harmony (Pingbao) and a third Commerce (Shangbao), which was published jointly in English and Chinese. There were in all around five Chinese newspapers published in Australia in the early 1920s. Unfortunately most of them could only maintain a short print run before ceasing publication due to shortages of funds and personnel.

There were a number of reasons why Chinese newspapers should have run into difficulties at this time. One was the decline in the number of Overseas Chinese in Australia, which fell significantly from around the turn of the century. Older members of the community who could read Chinese newspapers either returned to their homeland or died. The younger generation, born and raised in Australia, could not read Chinese characters. These developments had an inevitable impact on the sale of Chinese newspapers. Another reason was the advent of air freight between Australia and Hong Kong which developed rapidly after the Second World War. Once aircraft could take off from Hong Kong in the morning and arrive in Australia on the same evening, Chinese newspapers from Hong Kong could be distributed here the day after their publication. The process of printing local Chinese newspapers was relatively slow. Even the fastest needed around three days to hit the streets, which meant that they could not compete with papers from Hong Kong. So when the Sydney branch of the Nationalist Party launched The Australia-China Times (Aohua shibao) in the early 1950s, after the suspension of the party's Civic News, it did not survive for long. When it ceased publication, the last of the Chinese newspapers disappeared from the Australian continent.

It was not until 1982 that the first of a new generation of Chinese newspapers appeared in Australia. In March of that year, the Hong Kong Singtao Daily launched its first Australian edition, in Sydney, issuing papers six days of the week. Employing satellite communications to transmit news swiftly from Hong Kong, it rapidly established a market for itself in Australia, New Zealand and countries of the South Pacific. The News (Xinbao) and the weekly Huasheng News followed shortly afterward, also in Sydney, marking the start of anew era in the history of Australia's overseas Chinese community newspapers.

NOTES:

[1] Excerpted and translated from Liu Weiping, Aozhou huaqiao shi (History of Overseas Chinese in Australia) (Xingdao chubanshe 1989), Chapter 7, pp.99-105. Liu Weiping taught Chinese language and literature in the Oriental Studies Department of the University of Sydney before launching into a new career as an historian of the Chinese community in Australia.

[2] Links with consular officials suggest that the paper was closely associated with the imperial government over its last decade of constitutional reform (1901-1911).

[3] The phrase "New Citizens" may have been dropped once founding members became aware that the term was coined by their rivals in Liang Qichao's political faction.

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Last Updated: 15 June, 2007