Nanyang Siang Pau
by Seow, Peck Ngiam
The inaugural issue of Nanyang Siang Pau (南洋商报), known as the Chinese Daily Journal of Commerce in English at founding, was first published on 6 September 1923. It was established by businessman and philanthropist Tan Kah Kee with the aim of promoting commerce and education. Tan also started the printing press so that he could print items such as labels and invoices for his rubber plantation business. At the same time, the newspaper doubled up as an avenue for advertising his rubber products.1 Together with its rival, Sin Chew Jit Poh (星洲日报), founded by Aw Boon Haw in 1929, Nanyang Siang Pau was a leading Chinese-language daily newspaper in Malaya before and after World War II.2 Both papers were eventually merged in 1983 after a restructuring of the newspaper industry.3
The first issue of Nanyang Siang Pau had a free circulation for the first three days by means of a free trial for subscription, but take-up rate for subscription was poor due to a lack of reading culture and the low literacy rate then. The retail price was at 10 cents per issue, and monthly subscription was $2, $11.50 for six months, or $22 for a year. Around 2,200 copies of the inaugural issue were published.4 Just after 23 days in circulation, however, the colonial government ordered the paper to halt publication because of the editor’s pro-China’s stance reflected in its contents. The newspaper resumed publication on 1 February 1924 the following year and its English name was changed to Nanyang Siang Pau Press. Chinese Daily Journal of Commerce.5
In May 1928, the newspaper press became the first in Malaya to use a new printing technology with a printing capacity of 5,000 copies. However, the paper suffered during the Great Depression in the early 1930s, and had to start reducing its price. In order to work on an expanded scale with reduced costs, the newspaper press went through a series of restructuring and relocation, with the editorial team eventually moving from the original site at 28 Robinson Road to 974 North Bridge Road. Two of Tan’s factories were also used as the newspaper’s marketing office.6
With the global economic recession and decline of the rubber industry, Tan’s business empire was in a crisis. As a result, Tan sold the press to his son-in-law, Lee Kong Chian, and the company was hived off from Tan Kah Kee & Co. Ltd. in August 1932. On 19 December 1932, its English title was shortened to Nanyang Siang Pau Press. In 1937, more funds were poured into the press, which was helmed by Lee as the chairman and his brother, George Lee Geok Eng, as the managing director. The paper became a morning and evening daily on 20 November 1937, catering to the informational needs of the Chinese in Singapore.7
In April 1939, a merger was made between Nanyang Siang Pau and another Chinese newspaper, Xin Guo Min Ri Bao (新国民日报), and thus formed Nanyang Press Limited. With the relocation of Xin Guo Min Ri Bao to Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, on 1 January 1941, Nanyang Siang Pau took over Xin Guo Min Ri Bao’s premises at 45 Robinson Road and later expanded to occupy the neighbouring unit at No. 49.8
Between its founding in 1923 and the end of the Japanese Occupation in 1945, the newspaper agency saw 11 different editors-in-chief within 21 years. Hu Yuzhi, a well-known journalist employed by George Lee in 1941, was the last editor-in-chief before the onset of the Japanese Occupation in 1942. Under his watch, the newspaper flourished with high readership through wide coverage and timely reports of anti-Japanese resistance efforts and the Sino-Japanese war in China, advocating unity and support from the overseas Chinese community. The newspaper’s content was enriched with current affairs commentaries, pictorial and literary supplements as well as popular topics such as films and entertainment news to appeal to the masses.9
Nanyang Siang Pau, Sin Chew Jit Poh and other newspaper presses ceased publication a few days before the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942. After the war ended, publication resumed with scarce resources.10
Between 1946 and 1948, sales improved yearly but printing of the newspapers was slow because old printers were used. In 1950, high-speed colour printers were acquired, giving the press an edge as it was now able to publish the latest news within a day.11
On 16 October 1950, the press added an evening daily called Nanfang Wanbao (南方晚报). After more than a decade, on 25 December 1963, the evening daily ceased. Prior to that, the paper had gone through a series of restructuring and had been renamed Nanyang Wanbao (南洋晚报).12
The press offices were moved to a new building, which was known as Nanyang Building, at 63 Robinson Road in early 1957 so as to cater to an increased capacity of operations. On 31 August 1957, the Federation of Malaya gained independence. To cater to the new environment, Nanyang Siang Pau was published in both Singapore and Kuala Lumpur from August 1962, focusing on local news in different parts of Malaya. The two papers were separated in 1972 when the Malaysian office became a publicly listed company.13
After George Lee passed away on 11 October 1965, the role of managing director was taken over by his eldest son, Lee Eu Seng. Under the latter’s leadership, the company expanded to a new building on Alexandra Road, equipped with better facilities and printing technology.14
Readership was on the decline when the editorship was under Sze Chusian from 1961 to 1969,15 who wrote unfavourable stories about the Chinese Cultural Revolution, which were not well received by readers. Based on a survey done by the newspaper, readers felt that the coverage on Chinese affairs was insufficient. On 9 October 1969, Sze resigned and was succeeded by Lien Shih Sheng as editor-in-chief. Lien held the post from 1969 until his retirement in 1971. Lee Eu Seng’s brother, Lee Mau Seng, then became the general manager, and Shamsuddin Tung Tao Chang the managing editor. Ly Sing Ko, a former writer from Sin Chew Jit Poh, who was known for his strong views on Chinese education, also joined the paper.16
On 2 May 1971, it was announced that four top executives of Nanyang Siang Pau had been detained by the Internal Security Department under the Internal Security Act. They were Lee Mau Seng (former managing director of Nanyang Publication Ltd, the publisher of the paper), Shamsuddin Tung (editor-in-chief), Ly Sing Ko (senior editorial writer) and Kerk Loong Sing (public relations officer).17 In response to the arrest, the press published an article in Nanyang Siang Pau on 3 May 1971 titled “Our Protest”, denying the allegations.18 On 22 May, the government announced that the four detainees had confessed that they were “glamorising the communist system” and “working up communal emotions on issues over Chinese language and culture”.19 The paper staged a silent protest the following day with a blank editorial column and held a press conference calling for an open trial.20
In June, however, all four issued affidavits denying their confessions.21 The four were subsequently detained for periods ranging from less than a year to over two years.22 On 28 January 1973, Lee Eu Seng was arrested under the Internal Security Act for using the newspaper to “arouse and incite people against the Government over issues of Chinese language, education and culture”. He was released in 1978 under a restriction order with conditions.23
When the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act was amended in 1977 to “break the monopolistic hold of newspapers by families and individuals”,24 Nanyang Siang Pau came under a public company known as Nanyang Press Singapore (1975) Ltd. The company’s shares were put on public offer from 23 September 1977.25 The entity was renamed Nanyang Siang Pau Singapore Ltd in 1980.26
On 20 May 1982, Nanyang Siang Pau Singapore Ltd and Sin Chew Jit Poh (Singapore) Ltd jointly announced their merger under a new holding company known as Singapore News and Publications Ltd.27 On 16 March 1983, their respective Chinese newspapers, Nanyang Siang Pau and Sin Chew Jit Poh, were also merged to form Nanyang Xingzhou Lianhe Zaobao (南洋星洲联合早报; later shortened to Lianhe Zaobao) and its evening edition, Lianhe Wanbao (联合晚报).28
Two years later on 27 November 1984, the Singapore News and Publications Ltd was merged with The Straits Times Press under a new company called Singapore Press Holdings.29
6 Sep 1923: Founded by Tan Kah Kee, the first issue of Nanyang Siang Pau is published.
1 Feb 1924: Publication resumes after it was ordered to stop by the British colonial government. Its English title was renamed Nanyang Siang Pau Press. Chinese Daily Journal of Commerce.
May 1928: Relocation of the press from 28 Robinson Road to 974 North Bridge Road, and factories of Tan Kah Kee become offices for marketing and promotion.
Aug 1932: The press separates from Tan Kah Kee & Co Ltd and its English name is changed to Nanyang Siang Pau Press.
1937: Lee Kong Chian becomes chairman and his brother George Lee Geok Eng takes on the role of managing director.
1941: Hu Yuzhi resumes role as editor-in-chief.
15 Feb 1942: Singapore falls to the Japanese; publication temporarily ceases a few days before.
8 Sep 1945: Publication resumes.
16 Oct 1950: Evening edition, Nanfang Wanbao, is published (renamed Nanfang Wanbao months later).
Aug 1962: Singapore and Kuala Lumpur editions of Nanyang Siang Pau are published.
25 Dec 1963: Nanfang Wanbao ceases publication.
11 Oct 1965: Lee Eu Seng becomes managing director after the demise of his father, George Lee.
1969: Editorship comes under Lien Shih Sheng.
2 May 1971: Four executives of the paper are detained under the Internal Security Act.
1972: Malaysian branch of Nanyang Siang Pau becomes a public company and the Singapore counterpart separates from it.
28 Jan 1973: Lee Eu Seng is arrested under the Internal Security Act.
15 Feb 1975: Nanyang Siang Pau is registered as public listed company, Nanyang Press Singapore (1975) Ltd.
23 Sept 1977: First public offer of company shares.
1982: Nanyang Siang Pau Singapore Ltd and Sin Chew Jit Poh (Singapore) Ltd are merged under a new entity, Singapore News and Publications Ltd.
16 Mar 1983: As a result of the company merger, their respective newspapers – Nanyang Siang Pau and Sin Chew Jit Poh – are merged to form Nanyang Xingzhou Lianhe Zaobao (later renamed Lianhe Zaobao) and Lianhe Wanbao.
27 Nov 1984: Singapore News and Publications Ltd and The Straits Times Press are merged, forming Singapore Press Holdings.
Seow Peck Ngiam
1. 南洋商报 [Nanyang Siang Pau]. (1984). 《南洋商报六十年, 1923–1983》. 吉隆坡: 南洋报社, p. 13. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 079.595 NYS)
2. 王慷鼎 [Wang, K. D.]. (1989). 《新加坡华文日报社论的沿革》. Singapore: 新加坡国立大学中文系, p. 45. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 070.442095957 WHT)
3. 王慷鼎 [Wang, K. D.]. (1989). 《新加坡华文日报社论的沿革》. Singapore: 新加坡国立大学中文系, p. 21. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 070.442095957 WHT)
4. 谢燕燕 [Xie, Y. Y.]. (2013, October–2014, January). 战前南洋商报编辑部. 《怡和轩会刊》, 21, 36–37. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 369.25957 OPEHHC)
5. 南洋商报 [Nanyang Siang Pau]. (1984). 《南洋商报六十年, 1923–1983》.吉隆坡: 南洋报社, p. 13. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 079.595 NYS)
6. 南洋商报 [Nanyang Siang Pau]. (1984). 《南洋商报六十年, 1923–1983》. 吉隆坡: 南洋报社, p. 14. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 079.595 NYS); 报费价目. (1930, January 13). 《南洋商报》[Nanyang Siang Pau], p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. 南洋商报 [Nanyang Siang Pau]. (1984). 《南洋商报六十年, 1923–1983》. 吉隆坡: 南洋报社, pp. 13–15. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 079.595 NYS)
8. 南洋商报 [Nanyang Siang Pau]. (1984). 《南洋商报六十年, 1923–1983》吉隆坡: 南洋报社, p.15. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 079.595 NYS)
9. 陈伟明 & 何兰娟 [Chen, W. M., & He, L. J.]. (2004). 《联合早报》的历史与现状. 《东南亚研究》, 1, 76. (Call no.: Chinese RSEA 959.005 SAS)
10. 李慧玲 & 黄佩卿 [Li, H. L., & Huang, P. Q.]. (2013). 《我们的90年: 联合早报的前世今生》 [Our 90 years: Lianhe Zaobao’s past and present]. Singapore: Lianhe Zaobao, p. 106. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 079.5957 WMD)
11. 南洋商报 [Nanyang Siang Pau]. (1984). 《南洋商报六十年, 1923–1983》. 吉隆坡: 南洋报社, p. 17. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 079.595 NYS)
12. 南洋商报 [Nanyang Siang Pau]. (1984). 《南洋商报六十年, 1923–1983》. 吉隆坡: 南洋报社, p. 17. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 079.595 NYS)
13. 南洋商报 [Nanyang Siang Pau]. (1984). 《南洋商报六十年, 1923–1983》. 吉隆坡: 南洋报社, pp. 15, 17–19. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 079.595 NYS)
14. 南洋商报 [Nanyang Siang Pau]. (1984). 《南洋商报六十年, 1923–1983》. 吉隆坡: 南洋报社, p. 18. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 079.595 NYS)
15. 南洋商报 [Nanyang Siang Pau]. (1984). 《南洋商报六十年, 1923–1983》. 吉隆坡: 南洋报社, p. 20. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 079.595 NYS)
16. Fernandez, I. (1982, April 22). The history of two rivals. The Straits Times, p.18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. A Nanyang ‘confession’. (1971, May 23). The Straits Times, p. 1; Hwang, T. F. (1971, June 8). ‘Confession’ denial by detained Nanyang executives. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. 区如柏 & 韩山元 [Qu, R. B., & Han, S, Y.] (1998, September 6). 七十年的脚印. 《联合早报》[Lianhe Zaobao], p. 159; 我们的抗议. (1971, May 3). 《南洋商报》[Nanyang Siang Pau], p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. A Nanyang ‘confession’. (1971, May 23). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. [Untitled]. (1971, May 23).《南洋商报》[Nanyang Siang Pau], p. 19; Silent protest of blank column by paper. (1971, May 24). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Hwang, T. F. (1971, June 8). ‘Confession’ denial by detained Nanyang executives. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Detained newspaper executive freed. (1971, December 9). The Straits Times, p. 1; Lee Mau Seng released pending migration. (1973, October 14). The Straits Times, p. 1; Nanyang editors freed. (1973, January 27). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Ministry of Home Affairs. (1978, February 4). Mr Lee Eu Seng released from detrention [Press release]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
24. Chia, P., et al. (1977, June 30). Newsmen will get a free hand pledge by minister. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
25. Quek, P. L. (23 September, 1977). Nanyang shares on offer today. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. It’s Nanyang Siang Pau S’pore Ltd. (1980, March 6). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Holding company for Sin Chew, Nanyang. (1982, June 25). The Business Times, p. 1; Joint announcement. (1982, May 20). The Business Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. 郭思满 & 韩山元 [Guo, S. M., & Han, S. Y.]. (2008, September 6). 我们走过85… 《联合早报》[Lianhe Zaobao], p. 59; New Chinese daily hits the streets today. (1983, March 16). Singapore Monitor, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Chinese papers over the years. (2006, March 11). The Straits Times, p. H7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. 李慧玲 & 黄佩卿 (主编) [Li, H. L., & Huang, P. Q.] (Eds.). (2013). 《我们的90年: 联合早报的前世今生》 [Our 90 years: Lianhe Zaobao’s past and present]. Singapore: 联合早报, pp. 20–23. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 079.5957 WMD)
The information in this article is valid as at 6 January 2017 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.