Asian Language Newspapers in the United States: History Revisited

Kuei Chiu
Asian Studies, Humanities and Arts Bibliographer
University of California, Riverside
kchiu@ucrac1.ucr.edu

Abstract:

Newspaper publishing in North America began in Boston, Massachusetts in 1690 when the first English newspaper was published in the Continent. Among the newspapers published in America during the last three centuries, a number of them are in Asian languages. Although they are few in number compared with English language newspapers, they reflect the diversity of American culture and are a colorful component of American journalism. This paper reviews the history of Asian language newspaper publishing from its inception in 1854. It explores how Asian language newspapers have flourished in a country where English is the dominant language. The paper examines the close relationship between immigration and Asian language journalism. It also discusses the present status of Asian language newspapers in the United States and their potential for survival. Since those newspapers have faithfully recorded the lives of people of Asian descent in the United States, they constitute an important resource for scholars conducting multi-cultural research. Unfortunately, due to their ephemeral nature and constant title changes, the bibliographical control of newspapers is inadequate. This presentation describes the current state of bibliographical access to Asian language newspapers and the role played by the United States Newspaper Program.

Newspaper publishing in the United States can be traced back 300 years when the first paper in North America Publick Occurences. Both Foreign and Domestic, was published in Boston, Massachusetts on September 25, 1690. During this period of 300 years, over 300,000 titles have appeared at one time or another. Those newspapers constitute a valuable resource for research in American history, for they have faithfully and vividly recorded the establishment and the growth of a nation. At a time with no modern technology like television and radio to disseminate information, newspapers were the most important source for people to get news and other useful information. Although newspaper publishing has already passed its golden years, its role in American history cannot be underestimated. Since the United States is an English speaking country, English is definitely the predominant language in newspaper publishing. But, there are also titles in foreign languages, including those in Asian languages. Those titles reflect the diversity of American journalism. They are an indispensable source for researchers in ethnic studies, immigration history, social history, and even economic history.

Chinese newspapers

Although there were quite a few newspaper titles published in western languages other than English in the United States in the eighteenth century, newspapers in Asian languages had not been published until the middle of the nineteenth century. It is commonly believed that the first Asian language newspaper is the Chinese weekly Golden Hills' News, published by Howard and Hudson in San Francisco on April 22, 1854. This is a bilingual newspaper with an English editorial on the front page of each issue. In the first issue, the publishers claimed that it "will be published every Saturday, until the Chinese generally adopt it, when it will be published semiweekly." However, the Golden Hills' News only had a life of a few months. Although this paper was short-lived, it marked the beginning of the Asian language journalism in America.

The publication of the Golden Hills' News was not an isolated event. In the mid-nineteenth century, San Francisco was the center of newspaper publishing business on the west coast of the continent. But, the key factor that contributed to the birth of the Asian language journalism was the rapid influx of Chinese immigrants during the Gold Rush. 41,397 Chinese entered the United States from 1851-1860 as compared to only 36 people in the previous decade.1 Since the Gold Rush and the development of California demanded cheap labor, the majority of Chinese were settled down in California, with San Francisco as their primary port of entry. The arrival of new Chinese immigrants, in combination with the flourishing business of newspaper publishing in San Francisco, provided an ideal environment for the commencement of the Chinese journalism.

However, the initial years were extremely difficult for the Chinese press. Most of the papers did not survive more than three years, while the rest were in constant change of ownership. Several factors contributed to this: Although there was a rapid increase of Chinese immigrants, most of the new arrivals were uneducated farmers trying to escape the famine in their homeland. The number of people who could read was relatively small. At the same time, printing with the utilization of modern technology did not come cheap, especially when the Chinese characters were involved. Because of the high operating cost, the subscription fee was fairly expensive in comparison with the wages earned by most Chinese. This resulted in low circulation, which in turn deterred the further growth of Chinese newspapers. In 1882, the enactment of the Exclusion Act drastically reduced the number of Chinese immigrants and unfavorably affected the newly-started Chinese journalism.

Despite the odds, the presence of Chinese journalism in the United States was firmly established. Since few issues of Chinese newspapers from the last century survived, information on some titles is solely based on secondary sources. At least 26 Chinese newspapers were published in eight American cities in the 19th century.2 Among them was the Chinese Daily News of Sacramento in 1856, the first Chinese daily ever published in the world. Chinese journalism (and later on journalism in other Asian languages) started on the west coast of the United States and expanded gradually to the east coast. This is in contrast to journalism in English and other western languages, which originated mostly on the east coast. The first Chinese newspapers did not appear in New York until 1883. This delay was mainly due to the small Chinese population east of the Mississippi River.

Around the turn of the century, China was at the edge of political awareness and underwent a series of political changes. Many of the Chinese modern politicians sojourned in the United States. Compared with the tough censorship in late Qing dynasty and the lack of public forums in which to express their ideas, they found newspapers in America a useful tool to seek sympathy from individuals and special interest groups in Chinese American communities. The most noteworthy figure was Kang Youwei who founded the Chinese Empire Reform Association (Zhongguo Wei Xin Hui). In 1899, the Association took control of the San Francisco Chinese weekly Mon Hing Bo (Wen Xin Bao), changed the title to Sai Gai Yat Po (World Journal), and made it a mouthpiece of the Association. The publication of Sai Gai Yat Po set the precedent for political party affiliated newspapers. Since then, many Chinese newspapers have had a very strong political slant. They were either party organs or financially supported by political groups in China. To name a few: Chinese Vanguard (Xian Feng Bao) in 1927 and later the China Daily News (Meizhou Hua Qiao Ri Bao) by communist sympathizers, China Daily Times, Young China Morning Post (Zhongguo Shao Nian Chen Bao) published by Tong Meng Hui since 1910. In the 1920s, all the major fractions of Guomindang (Chinese nationalist Party) had their own newspapers in the United States.

The Chinese journalism in the United States during the first half of the century mirrored the turbulent social and political changes back in China. Those changes exerted tremendous impact on the Chinese newspapers in America. From a business viewpoint, the political patronage fueled much needed capital into the troubled Chinese newspaper business. Many Chinese newspapers that were struggling for survival were consolidated by those party patrons. Now those newspapers had the capital to purchase new equipment and to adopt new printing technology. Needless to say, such patronage effected political impact on Chinese newspapers. Due to the absence of censorship, the rival political groups found America a better place for political debate than their homeland. To some degree, this in turn influenced the political maneuvers back in China. For the local audience, those papers raised their political awareness and nationalist feelings. There was a steady increase of circulation among all major Chinese newspapers with its peak at the outbreak of WWII when people were eager to know the developments of the War. When the War was over, there was a large outflow of Chinese from the United States who wanted to settle down in their homeland which was now in peace. A sharp decline of Chinese newspapers occurred. Some of them suspended their publications while others were barely surviving and dependent on subsidies from their supporters.

Since the 1960s, with the economic boom in Asia, some major Hong Kong and Taiwanese newspaper groups tried to expand their business in North America by publishing American editions. The forerunner of this wave, Xing Dao Ri Bao, started its American daily publication in 1967. Its circulation reached 20,000 in the late 1970s and became the most popular Chinese newspaper in the United States at that time. However, when many other newspapers followed its trail, Xing Dao Ri Bao met huge competition and was forced out of business in 1987. From 1982 to 1989, several other titles, including Zhong Bao (Centre Daily News), also suffered huge losses and were closed . The most successful newspaper of the same background was Shi Jie Ri Bao (World Journal) that debuted in 1976. This newspaper inherited the name of the famous Chinese newspaper in San Francisco and is the most popular Chinese newspaper in the United States today.

With the open-door policy adopted by the Chinese government in the late 1970s, there has been a rapid increase of cultural and economical exchanges between the United States and China. Since then, immigrants began to arrive not only from Taiwan and Hong Kong but also from mainland China. This new trend changed the demographic picture of the Chinese in America and provided the Chinese newspaper publishing business something they needed desperately: the readers. In the last 20 years, we have witnessed another surge in Chinese journalism, along with a more balanced range of products. In addition to nationwide papers such as Shi Jie Ri Bao (World Journal) and Qiao Bao (China Press), there are papers published in almost all metropolitan areas that have Chinese communities. The main goal of those newspapers is to address local issues and concerns. Digest-type newspapers, for example: Shen Zhou Shi Bao (China Journal), Meizhou Wen Hui Zhou Kan (Sino Times) and Meiguo Shi Bao (Asians Today) have also won wide popularity. Beside news briefs, those newspapers carry special reports and articles covering social and cultural phenomena of the mainstream society and China. Today there are at least nine daily, thirty weekly, four semiweekly, and six monthly Chinese newspapers in the United States.

Japanese Newspapers

Towards the end of the last century when immigration from China suffered a rapid decline due to the enactment of the Exclusion Act of 1882, there was a significant increase of immigrants from Japan. During the 30 year period from 1880 to 1910, the number of Japanese immigrants grew very rapidly.

 

Immigration from China, Japan and Korea
(by Immigration and Naturalization Service of the United States Dept. of Justice)
Fiscal Years 1850-1990, by decades
Decade China Japan Korea
1850 41,397    
1860 64,301 186  
1870 123,201 149  
1880 61,711 2,270  
1890 14,799 25,942  
1900 20,605 129,797 7,697
1910 21,278 83,837 1,049
1920 29,907 33,462 598
1930 4,928 1,948 60
1940 16,709 1,555  
1950 9,657 46,250 6,231
1960 34,764 39,988 34,526
1970 124,326 49,775 271,956
1980 346,747 47,085 338,824

Although most of the early Japanese immigrants were settled in Hawaii, the Japanese journalism, like Chinese, was also born in San Francisco. The first publication entitled Shinonome (Dawn) was issued by Japanese political activists in 1886. In 1887, a mimeographed weekly called Shin Nippon (New Japan) was published in Oakland. In 1892, a daily called Soko Shimbun (San Francisco News) was born in San Francisco. In Hawaii, the first paper, a weekly called Nippon Shuho, appeared in 1892. It later became Nippu Jiji, one of the most important Japanese newspapers in Hawaiian history. In the 1890s, however, the Japanese journalism stood on shaky foundation. All those early papers were targeting the Japanese student-laborers and their circulation rarely exceeded 300. With the huge influx of new immigrants from Japan in the 1910s, the Japanese journalism was finally ready to flourish. The 1920s were the golden age for Japanese newspapers. Newspapers were published not only in places with large Japanese communities like Hawaii and San Francisco, but also in Los Angeles, Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Denver. In Hawaii alone, there were ten Japanese newspapers serving a Japanese population of 130,000. The combined circulation of all those papers was a little above 30,000 copies, with Hawai Hoshi as the most widely read paper in the region.3 Other important titles during this period include Rafu Shimpo (1903-) in Los Angles, Ofu Nippo (1907-1942) in Sacramento, and Shin Sekai (1894-1942) in San Francisco.

Unfortunately, this prosperity didn't last. In the spring of 1924, the United States government enacted a new immigration act. This act virtually terminated the emigration from Asian countries to the United States. The impact of this legislation on Japanese language journalism was significant, since it cut the supply of Issei, the first-generation Japanese immigrants who were the primary audience for those papers. In the 1920s, another change affected the Japanese population in the United States, with the maturation of Nisei, the second-generation Japanese born in the United States. It was estimated that in that decade more than half of the Japanese population were native-born. Most of them grew up in the United States and spoke English as their native tongue. This demographic change brought tremendous challenges to Japanese journalism. Those young Nisei wanted to have channels to voice their concerns and opinions. They became a group of readers that could not be ignored. Since the 1920s, almost all the Japanese newspapers began to add an English language section and later some of those papers were published completely in English. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were labeled enemy aliens. From 1942 to 1946, they were forced to leave their homes and transferred to ten detention camps located in the remote areas of seven western United States states. Many newspapers were suspended. In order to keep the Japanese in those camps informed of the community activities, WRA (War Relocation Authority) published over ten camp papers in tabloid-format. Those papers vividly recorded the life and hardship of the detained Japanese.

After the war, the Japanese journalism continued the trend started before the war by publishing papers catering to the need of the English-speaking Japanese population. Many papers ceased to have a Japanese language section. Today only a few titles still have a Japanese language section, for example, Rafu Shimbun, Hokubei Mainichi, New York Shimbun, Chicago Shimbun. In the past two decades, the satellite editions of newspapers published in Japan further nibbled the market share of Japanese language newspapers. Today, Yomiuri Shimbun, Asahi Shimbun, and Nihon Keizai Shimbun all have satellite editions distributed in the United States. These papers do not have editorial offices in the United States and even their advertisements are for the audience in Japan only.

Newspapers in Korean and Other Asian Languages

Today, Korean Americans are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States. According to the 1990 United States Census, about 800,000 Koreans live in America. In comparison with the Chinese and Japanese, Koreans came to the United States relatively late. Koreans sporadically emigrated to the United States since 1883. Due to the small scale of Korean immigration, there is no evidence of any Korean publication before 1900. The first wave of Korean immigrants came to America between 1903 and 1907. A total of 7,226 Koreans were settled in Hawaii and California. Most of them were exiles and immigrant laborers. Soon after their arrival at various plantations, Koreans began to organize themselves into mutual aid societies. The most powerful organization was Kungmin Hoe (Korean National Association). After Kungmin Hoe was founded, it began to publish in San Francisco its own newspaper called Shinhan Minbo (New Korea) on February 10, 1909. At that time, there were two Korean newspapers published in San Francisco: Konglip Sinbo (Public News or United Korean) started on November 22, 1905 and Taedong Kongbo (Great Unity News) published its first issue on October 3, 1907. Konglip Sinbo was probably the earliest Korean newspaper published in the United States. Shinhan Minbo absorbed both titles and used Nov. 22, 1905 on its masthead as its date of establishment. Shinhan Minbo is definitely the most important title in the history of Korean American journalism, and it is an indispensable resource for research on Korean Americans. Today it is still published monthly in Los Angeles.

The first decade of the century was tragic for Korea. In 1905 Japan occupied Korea and officially annexed it in 1910. Because of that, independence was the predominant theme of Korean newspapers published before the World War II. Due to the limited population of Korean Americans before 1965, there were very few Korean newspapers during this period, and all of them were overshadowed by the presence of Shinhan Minbo. Starting in the 1970s, the rapid growth of the Korean population made it possible for the Korean newspaper publishing business to enjoy a steady prosperity. Today the Korean newspaper publishing market in the United States is dominated by four major dailies: Hanguk Ilbo (The Korea Times), Dong A Ilbo (Oriental Daily), Joong-ang Ilbo (Central Daily), and Segye Ilbo (The Sae Gae Times). The first three papers have their headquarters in South Korea. They started their United States operation during the post-1965 Korean immigration with the establishment of their fully functional branch offices in Los Angeles.4 Due to the location of their United States branches, these three papers are very influential on the west coast of the United States. Segye Ilbo, however, has its main office in New York and is controlled by the Korean Unification Church. In addition to those four dailies, there are also some business and religious newspapers such as: Korean Street Journal and Korean Christian Times.

As a nation of immigrants, the United States has admitted people from all Asian countries. Indians came to this country as early as 1850s, and the Pilipino immigration to the United States can be traced back to the turn of the century. But, there is hardly any evidence of newspapers published in Indian languages, and there is only one small newspaper found so far in Tagalog. This is no surprise, since English is the official language in India and a popular language in the Philippines. Newspapers by those ethnic groups in the United States are in English. In the mid-1970s, the Vietnam War created many refugees in Indochina. Many of them were resettled in the United States. Thus, a wave of immigration from Southeast Asia began. In the past twenty years, the United States has admitted over one million immigrants from Southeast Asia. Among them, the largest group is Vietnamese. A large percentage of them are now living in California. Nguoi Vi&ecirct, a daily started in Westminster in 1978, is one of the major Vietnamese newspapers. Many Vietnamese Americans live in Westminster, California. So the city has the nickname "Little Saigon". Other Vietnamese papers include: Vi&ecirct Nam tu do, Nguoi Vi&ecirct tu do, Mekong Tynan, etc. All of them are published in California. There are very few titles found in other Asian languages. In Los Angeles, there is a Thai weekly called Sereechai. Angkor Borei News in Anaheim, California, is the only Cambodian newspapers in the United States.

Future Perspective of Asian Language Newspapers

Newspaper publishing has never been a lucrative business. Today, under the competition with other news media such as radio and television, even English newspapers are struggling for survival. It is even more difficult for ethnic newspapers, since their ups and downs are correlated to the inflow of new immigrants. The primary readers of those newspapers are first generation immigrants. The newspapers' prosperity depends on new comers. When the first generation is not around any more, the newspapers are either out of business or need an English language section added for those of the second generation. Today, most of the second and later generations are assimilated into the American society. So they are generally not interested in reading ethnic press publications.

Even for the first generation, things have changed drastically in the past century. Unlike immigrants in the past, many newcomers today are well-educated professionals. They have good English language skills. Newspapers in ethnic languages are not so appealing to them just for the language itself. In addition, people are less and less confined to their cultural ghettos. They want to explore the mainstream society. For that purpose, they tend to read more English newspapers. Demographically, unlike old days when people lived in such physical ghettos as Chinatown and Koreatown, today's new immigrants live throughout the country. The newspapers have to be delivered by mail. Consequently, they can be several days late by the time they are received. This makes time-sensitive news obsolete. As a result, some digest-type newspapers have emerged in recent years. Those papers concentrate on special reports and serial novels. Since the information they carry is not time-sensitive, those papers are quite popular among the Asian populations not living in metropolitan areas. Due to the fact that the business of the Asian press is related to new immigration, predicting its future is like predicting the future of Asian immigration to the United States. Unfortunately, considering the political and economical situations on both sides of the Pacific, the future of Asian immigration to the United States is unclear.

Access and Preservation of Newspapers

By definition, newspapers are used as a tool to inform people. Ethnic newspapers, however, have a function even beyond that: they are chronicles of immigration history and carriers of ethnic culture. "The survival of ethnic communities and ethnic life in the United States is largely a result of the continued existence of the ethnic press... The ethnic press maintains the 'ethos', or 'spirit', behind an ethnic way of life."5 For researchers, newspapers are a valuable resource to find information about the past. Once lost, those vivid images of life in the past can never be recovered. Although newspapers are of such important historical and research value, they are very difficult to preserve due to their ephemeral nature and bulky size.

Meanwhile, in terms of bibliographical control, newspapers are also not easy to handle since title changes are so common and they usually have a long publishing history. In order to make newspapers accessible to users, there are three basic principles for bibliographical control:

  1. obtaining access to information about the whole periodical (title, frequency, publisher, and date of first publication);
  2. analysis of the contents of the periodical (subject analysis);
  3. guide to the location of periodical holdings in a particular library.6
But, those principles were not easy to achieve in the past. Before the 1980s, there were sporadic attempts to make Asian newspapers accessible to researchers. For example, Karl Lo and H. M. Lai compiled Chinese newspapers published in North America (1854-1975) into a bibliography with library holdings attached. A good feature of this kind of printed bibliographies is that they can provide alphabetical title listings. But, it is impossible for printed bibliographies to reflect the discoveries of new title information and library holdings, since those bibliographies cannot be updated regularly. At the same time, due to the number of newspaper titles and their dispersed holdings, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for individual bibliographies to cover them.

In 1983, a major effort for cataloging newspapers was launched by the United States Newspaper Program (USNP) under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The goal of the USNP is to locate extant issues of all the newspapers published in the United States and its Trust Territories since colonial times; to enter their bibliographic and holdings information into a machine-readable database; and to selectively microfilm the most important titles for research. In order to obtain the original information, every state project is responsible for canvassing all local libraries, historical societies, and private collectors. All the bibliographic and holdings information of United States newspapers are stored in the database of the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC). The bibliographic records are maintained as a subset of the Cooperative Online Serials Program (CONSER) on OCLC, while the holdings records are kept in the OCLC Union List Subsystem. As of August 1996, all states have either completed a USNP project or have one in process. Among them, 31 states and 2 United States territories (Puerto Rico and United States Virgin Islands) have completed their USNP project, while 19 states and the District of Columbia have yet to complete theirs. The OCLC database now contains approximately 125,000 bibliographic records and 400,000 holdings for the USNP.

As a state with large Asian populations and numerous newspapers in Asian languages, California started its own project at the University of California, Riverside in 1991. Asian language newspapers were found in several locations including the University of Southern California, University of California at Los Angeles, and University of California at Berkeley. Since UC Berkeley is geographically close to San Francisco, it has the most titles. By March 1996, Asian language titles at those places have already been inventoried and cataloged. This is an important milestone for preserving those newspapers. Now researchers can retrieve online bibliographical and holdings information of all the extant copies of Asian language newspapers published in the history of California, and they can make arrangements to borrow them from the holding libraries. A large percentage of those titles have already been microfilmed on 35mm microfilm. Some others are in bound volumes. Eventually, all important titles will be microfilmed.

Once the USNP is completed, researchers all over the world with OCLC access can locate all extant copies of United States newspapers held in the United States. Certainly, many newspaper titles that were not collected in the first place are lost forever. But we sincerely hope that the surviving copies will pass on to our future generations since no text can give them more vivid images of the past than newspapers.

References:

1. U.S. Department of Justice. Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1993.
2, Karl Lo and H. M. Lai. Chinese newspapers published in North America, 1854-1975, (Washington : Center for Chinese Research Materials, 1977).
3. Shunzo Sakamaki. A History of the Japanese Press in Hawaii, (Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii, 1948).
4. Kil-nam Roh, "Issues of Korean American Journalism," Amerasia 10:2 (1983): 89-102.
5. Lubomyr R. Wynar and Anna T. Wynar. Encyclopedic Directory of Ethnic Newspapers and Periodicals in the United States, (Littleton, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, 1976).
6. Donald Davinson. Bibliographic Control, 2nd ed. (London: Clive Bingley, 1981).

 


 

This paper was presented at the "Round Table on Newspapers" of the 62nd IFLA Conference, held in Beijing, China on August 28, 1996.

 


Copyright © 1996 Kuei Chiu.
Submitted to CALA E-J on October 14, 1996.