The Straits Chinese Magazine



The Straits Chinese Magazine was the first English-language periodical owned, edited and published by Malayans. Published between 1897 and 1907, the magazine was founded by prominent members of the Straits Chinese (also known as Peranakan) community, Lim Boon Keng and Song Ong Siang. Largely reflecting the perspectives and aspirations of the Straits Chinese community, the periodical was a forum for the community to debate issues such as social reform, politics, education and culture.1

Background and objectives
The birth of The Straits Chinese Magazine came at a time when the Straits Chinese were growing in wealth and social influence.2 A number of Peranakan luminaries, such as Lim and Song, had been educated overseas at British universities. They were anglophiles and loyal to the British crown, but also concerned about the welfare of the Chinese community and its culture.3


The inaugural issue of the magazine was published in March 1897 by Koh Yew Hean Press and titled The Straits Chinese Magazine: A Quarterly Journal of Oriental and Occidental Culture.4 The first issue included articles on the social position of Straits Chinese women, local participation in colonial governments around the world and a call for a university in Singapore. All 800 copies of the first issue, which cost 50 cents each, were sold. An annual subscription to the magazine was priced at 1.50 Straits dollars.5


According to the editorial in the first issue, the magazine aimed “to promote intellectual activity amongst the Straits-born people, and to guide the present chaotic state of public opinion among them to some definite end”. It also acknowledged that while the magazine was controlled and published by the Straits Chinese, it would “champion the cause of any nationality permanently residing in our midst”. Another stated goal of the magazine was to reintroduce to English-educated Peranakan the culture and history of their forefathers.6

Content and themes
Over its 11 years of existence, the wide-ranging content of The Straits Chinese Magazine included literary works, social and cultural commentaries, political analyses, biographies, articles on the sciences and medicine, opinion pieces and reports on developments in Malaya, Southeast Asia and China.7


Transcripts of talks delivered at literary societies and associations such as the Chinese Philomathic Society, Straits Chinese British Association (the former and latter both founded by Lim), Chinese Christian Association and Selangor Chinese Literary and Debating Society were also reproduced in the magazine.8

While the articles were mainly in English, classical Chinese texts were sometimes published and these were accompanied by English translations.9 Regular features included book reviews and letters from readers; in its later years, the magazine included reports from correspondents in London, Java, Malacca and Penang.10

A consistent theme was the magazine’s advocacy of social, political and cultural reform for the Chinese communities of Malaya and in China itself. Lim, the publication’s editor, authored articles on the ills of opium addiction and the movement to suppress the opium trade, the promotion of education for Chinese women and editorials calling for Chinese men to cut off their queues (also known as towchang), hair worn in a single braid to show loyalty to the Qing monarchy in China.11

The contemporaneous political and social reform movement in China exerted a strong influence on the overseas Chinese.12 A strong supporter of Kang Youwei and other leaders of the reform movement in China, The Straits Chinese Magazine often published articles featuring reformist views and Confucian teachings. The magazine was credited with helping to revive interest in Confucianism not only within the Chinese in Singapore but also in the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia).13 Other articles debated the relevance of Chinese cultural practices such as elaborate funeral rites and Chinese weddings, ancestor worship and superstitions.14

Eminent personalities who contributed to the magazine include Tan Teck Soon,15 H. N. Ridley16 and Tan Keong Saik.17

Circulation and management
The magazine was sold in cities and towns across Malaya, and distributed overseas in cities such as London, Edinburgh, Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Yokohama, Bangkok and Batavia (now Jakarta). It was included in the collections of the Library of Congress in the United States and the École française d’Extrême-Orient (French School of Asian Studies; then headquartered in Hanoi, Vietnam, before moving to Paris, France).18


P. V. S. Locke helped out as an editor for the third volume of the magazine, published in 1899, while Gnoh Lean Tuck (also known as Wu Lien-teh) joined as an editor in 1904. S. C. Yin (also known as Yin Suat Chuan) became an editor in 1906, during the 10th volume. Lim, Song, Gnoh and Locke had all been Queen’s scholars and were highly esteemed in society for their respective achievements and contributions to the Straits Chinese community.19

Lim was a medical doctor, company director and legislative councillor who later became the first president of Amoy (Xiamen) University in China, founded by fellow Malayan Tan Kah Kee.20 Song was a lawyer and author who worked with Lim on a number of ventures, including the founding of the first Malay-language newspaper, Bintang Timor, as well as the establishment of the Chinese Volunteer Corps and Singapore Chinese Girls’ School.21 Gnoh and Yin were Lim’s brothers-in-law and were both medical doctors.22

Closure
By March 1903, the editors had made known that the journal was encountering financial difficulty and hinted at the possibility of closure at the end of that year.23 It persevered for a number of years and eventually folded in December 1907 due to a lack of funds and declining readership. In his book, One Hundred Years’ History of the Chinese in Singapore, Song attributed the closure to a “lack of support and interest from the community it had been intended to benefit”.24



Author

Bonny Tan



References
1. Chen, M. H. (1967). The early Chinese newspapers of Singapore, 1881–1912. Singapore: University of Malaya Press, p. 77. (Call no.: RSING 079.5702 CHE)
2. Rudolph, J. (1998). Reconstructing identities: A social history of the Babas in Singapore. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 305.80095957 RUD)
3. Yong, C. F. (1992). Chinese leadership and power in colonial Singapore. Singapore: Times Academic Press, pp. 111–112. (Call no.: RSING 959.5702 YON-[HIS]); Chen, M. H. (1967). The early Chinese newspapers of Singapore, 1881–1912. Singapore: University of Malaya Press, p. 77. (Call no.: RSING 079.5702 CHE)
4. Tan, B. H. (1987, December 8). Lim Boon Keng: A man for all seasons. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Our programme [Microfilm no.: NL 267]. (1897, April). The Straits Chinese magazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 1(1), 1–2. Singapore: Koh Yew Hean Press; Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 295. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); News and notes [Microfilm no.: NL 267]. (1903, December). The Straits Chinese magazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 7(4), 160. Singapore: Koh Yew Hean Press.
6. Our programme [Microfilm no.: NL 267]. (1897, April). The Straits Chinese magazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 1(1), 1–2. Singapore: Koh Yew Hean Press.
7. Straits Chinese Magazine. (1899, January 10). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Table of contents [Microfilm no.: NL 267]. (1898, March). The Straits Chinese magazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 2(5) ,pp. i–iv. Singapore: Koh Yew Hean Press,
8. Tan, B. (2011, July). The Straits Chinese Magazine: A Malayan voice. BiblioAsia, 7(2), 32. Retrieved from National Library Board website: https://www.nlb.gov.sg/Browse/BiblioAsia.aspx
9. Lim, B. K. (1901, June). Anthology of Chinese literature [Microfilm no.: NL 267]. The Straits Chinese magazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 5(18), 66–68. Singapore: Koh Yew Hean Press; Kung Chi Ch’I’s Protest [Microfilm no.: NL 267]. (1901, June). The Straits Chinese magazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 5(18), 68–79. Singapore: Koh Yew Hean Press.
10. Tan, B. (2011, July). The Straits Chinese Magazine: A Malayan voice. BiblioAsia, 7(2), 32. Retrieved from National Library Board website: https://www.nlb.gov.sg/Browse/BiblioAsia.aspx
11. Ang, S. L. (2007, January). Of towchangs and the ‘Republic Beard’: Dr Lim Boon Keng’s life and achievements. BiblioAsia, 2(4), 7. Retrieved from National Library Board website: https://www.nlb.gov.sg/Browse/BiblioAsia.aspx

12. Frost, M. R. (2005, February). Emporium in imperio: Nanyang networks and the Straits Chinese in Singapore, 1819–1914. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 36(1), 55–56. Singapore: Published for Dept. of History, University of Singapore by McGraw-Hill Far Eastern Publishers. (Call no.: RSEA 959.005 JSA)
13. Frost, M. R. (2005, February). Emporium in imperio: Nanyang networks and the Straits Chinese in Singapore, 1819–1914. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 36(1), 55–56, 58–59. Singapore: Published for Dept. of History, University of Singapore by McGraw-Hill Far Eastern Publishers. (Call no.: RSEA 959.005 JSA); Yen, C.-H. (1976, March). The Confucian revival movement in Singapore and Malaya, 1899–1911. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 7(1), 40. Singapore : Published for Dept. of History, University of Singapore by McGraw-Hill Far Eastern Publishers. (Call no.: RSEA 959.005 JSA)
14. Frost, M. R. (2005, February). Emporium in imperio: Nanyang networks and the Straits Chinese in Singapore, 1819–1914. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 36(1), 56–57. Singapore: Published for Dept. of History, University of Singapore by McGraw-Hill Far Eastern Publishers. (Call no.: RSEA 959.005 JSA)
15. Frost, M. R. (2005, February). Emporium in imperio: Nanyang networks and the Straits Chinese in Singapore, 1819–1914. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 36(1), 53. Singapore: Published for Dept. of History, University of Singapore by McGraw-Hill Far Eastern Publishers. (Call no.: RSEA 959.005 JSA)
16. Ridley, H. N. (1897, June). The struggle for existence in nature among plants [Microfilm no.: NL 267]. The Straits Chinese magazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 1(2), 1–5. Singapore: Koh Yew Hean Press.
17.  Tan, K. S. (1897, December). The proposed Straits gold currency [Microfilm no.: NL 267]. The Straits Chinese magazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 1(4), 144–147. Singapore: Koh Yew Hean Press.
18. Notice [Microfilm no.: NL 267]. (1904, June). The Straits Chinese magazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 8(2), [n.p.]. Singapore: Koh Yew Hean Press; Tan, B. (2011, July). The Straits Chinese Magazine: A Malayan voice. BiblioAsia, 7(2), 33. Retrieved from National Library Board website: https://www.nlb.gov.sg/Browse/BiblioAsia.aspx
19. News and notes [Microfilm no.: NL 267]. (1903, December). The Straits Chinese magazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 7(4), 160. Singapore: Koh Yew Hean Press; Wu, L. (1904. March). The Straits Settlements Queen’s Scholarships [Microfilm no.: NL 267]. The Straits Chinese magazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 8(1), 20. Singapore: Koh Yew Hean Press; Frontispiece [Microfilm no.: NL 267]. (1899, March). The Straits Chinese Magazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 3(1), 1. Singapore: Koh Yew Hean Press.
20. Tan, B. H. (1987, December 8). Lim Boon Keng: A man for all seasons. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Honouring Mr Ong Siang. (1922, March 24). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 12; Babas who did much for education. (1983, November 13). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Tan, B. (2011, July). The Straits Chinese Magazine: A Malayan voice. BiblioAsia, 7(2), 33. Retrieved from National Library Board website: https://www.nlb.gov.sg/Browse/BiblioAsia.aspx
23. Editorial notes [Microfilm no.: NL 267]. (1903, March). The Straits Chinese magazine: A quarterly journal of oriental and occidental culture, 7(1), 31. Singapore: Koh Yew Hean Press.
24. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 235, 296. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])



The information in this article is valid as at 19 October 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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Communications
Ethnic Communities>>Customs and Traditions
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