Sin Chew Jit Poh
Founded by “Tiger Balm King” Aw Boon Haw, the Chinese-language Sin Chew Jit Poh (星洲日报) newspaper was first issued on 15 January 1929. It was one of the leading Chinese dailies in Singapore until its merger with Nanyang Siang Pau (南洋商报) on 15 March 1983 to form Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报) and Lianhe Wanbao (联合晚报).1
Aw started Sin Chew Jit Poh as the advertising channel for his Chinese medicinal products under the Tiger Balm brand. He had originally bought over a tabloid newspaper, Xing Bao (星报), which was later merged with Choon Guan Printing Press run by Teng Lee Seng to publish Sin Chew Jit Poh.2
The masthead of the inaugural issue of Sin Chew Jit Poh was written by Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975. In his inaugural message, Aw proposed three missions for Sin Chew Jit Poh:
(1) To promote the Three People’s Principles3 in seeking national, political and economic equality. The newspaper regards it as its duty to attack anyone who goes against the Kuomintang to mislead China.
(2) To develop the resources of China, promote investment in China by overseas Chinese, and establish all kinds of businesses to lay a strong national foundation.
(3) To promote education as well as communication and exchanges between the East and the West, and to improve the position of overseas Chinese.4
Sin Chew Jit Poh’s office was located at Nos. 118–120 Robinson Road. Its first general manager was Teng Lee Seng and its first chief editor was Tchou Paoyun. Zhou Junyi and Lin Aimin oversaw the editorial department. When it was first launched, the newspaper had a few dozen employees and a daily circulation of 5,000 copies. To promote the newspaper, Sin Chew Jit Poh cut its price to eight cents per copy instead of the market rate of 10 cents. Subscribers of more than six months were given a 20-percent discount, while schools and associations enjoyed a special concession at half the price.5
Aw spared no efforts in recruiting talents for Sin Chew Jit Poh. Some of the best-known writers and journalists in China and Singapore, such as Fu Wumen, Hsu Yun Tsiao and Yu Dafu, were once part of the management and editorial teams of the newspaper. The editorials and fukan (副刊; a supplement attached to a newspaper featuring non-news-related content such as literary works) that these individuals oversaw or wrote were perceptive and informative. For example, Sin Chew Jit Poh published its first supplement, Xing Guang Tu Hua Fu Kan (星光图画副刊), once a week in July 1929. The supplement was distributed free of charge with the newspaper, and was edited by well-known Chinese painter Zhang Ruqi, with famous Shanghainese painter Ye Qianyu, Huang Wennong and Lang Jingshan as reporters.6
Singapore Chinese literature and Nanyang studies
The fukan of prewar Chinese newspapers played an important role in the development of Singapore Chinese literature as they served as a publishing and distribution channel. Sin Chew Jit Poh published a series of literary supplements including Ye Pa (野葩), Fan Xing (繁星), Wen Yi Zhou Kan (文艺周刊), Liu Xing (流星), Wen Yi Gong Chang (文艺工厂), Ken Huang (垦荒), Chen Xing (晨星), Xue Sheng Jie (学生界), Fu Nu Jie (妇女界), You Yi Chang (游艺场), Qing Nian (青年) and others in the 1930s. Ye Pa was the first literary supplement by the newspaper. It was issued weekly from 22 January 1930 to 8 October 1930 for a total of 38 issues. The supplement promoted modern Chinese literature as influenced by the New Culture Movement7 in China and articulated the contempt for feudalism.8
Sin Chew Jit Poh also played an important role in promoting Nanyang (Southeast Asian) studies. In commemoration of its 10th year of founding, the newspaper published a commemorative volume that became a classic work in Nanyang studies. Xingzhou Shi Nian (星洲十年) was written and edited by well-known Nanyang scholars and writers including Yu Dafu, Yao Nan, Zhang Liqian and Hsu Yun Tsiao. They also edited a series of supplements focusing on Nanyang studies in the 1940s including Nanyang Shi Di (南洋史地), Nanyang Jing Ji (南洋经济) and Nanyang Wen Hua (南洋文化) for the newspaper.9
Expansion and the war years
With substantial financial backing and the availability of experienced staff, the newspaper grew into one of the leading dailies in Singapore. The company invested money in infrastructure – modern printing machines were purchased in 1930 to increase printing efficiency. The office relocated to 59 Robinson Road in 1932, and later to 128 Robinson Road in 1936 to accommodate the expansion. On top of that, local correspondents were engaged in Shanghai, Xiamen and Hong Kong, who sent their news articles via cable to deliver prompt and factual coverage to readers.10
To increase readership, the newspaper engaged in innovative ideas. Sin Chew Jit Poh broke the prevailing practice among Chinese newspapers in Southeast Asia of publishing the dailies only at 1 pm. The paper advanced its publication time to 6 am in August 1932 to offer the “freshest” news to readers in the morning and published an additional evening edition at 6 pm for the news of the day.11
However, the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in February 1942 put a halt to further developments. During the Japanese Occupation, all local newspapers were taken over by the Japanese Propaganda Department and later by the Domei News Agency, the official news agency of the Empire of Japan. The Sin Chew Jit Poh facilities were seized and its office at Robinson Road was used to print the Chinese newspaper Zhaonan Ribao (昭南日报), a wartime propaganda channel for the Japanese government.12
Following the surrender of the Japanese on 2 September 1945, Sin Chew Jit Poh resumed publication on 8 September. The readership and market of the newspaper continued to expand after the war, with the company first buying vehicles and, later, aeroplanes to deliver their newspapers to regional subscribers in the northern and central parts of peninsular Malaya.13
In 1966, Sin Chew Jit Poh established a printing factory in Kuala Lumpur which printed the local edition of Sin Chew Jit Poh known as Sin Chew Daily. The following year saw the establishment of a complete newsroom – including news desk, editorial, production and circulation – in Malaysia to handle the production of Sin Chew Daily. Sin Chew Jit Poh also moved with the times, adopting the usage of simplified Chinese characters in 1970, horizontal typesetting format in 1979 and computerisation of its workflows in the 1980s.14
A milestone in the postwar developments of the newspaper industry in Singapore was the enactment of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act in 1974. The legislation required all local newspaper companies to be converted into public companies. Thereafter, Sin Chew Jit Poh was reorganised into a public company under the name of Sin Chew Jit Poh (Singapore) Limited. The Act also required the companies to issue both ordinary shares and management shares. On 21 October 1977, Sin Chew Jit Poh offered to the public 5.32 million shares. The share issue was oversubscribed by 22 times. In that year, the weekday circulation for Sin Chew Jit Poh was 97,000 copies per day and 111,000 copies on Sundays.15
Another major event that structured the newspaper industry into what it is today was the mergers of the dailies in 1983. Foreseeing that Chinese readership would fall as the younger generations were educated in English, with Mandarin as the second language, the two Chinese dailies – Nanyang Siang Pau and Sin Chew Jit Poh – decided to pool their resources. The merger gave birth to the Chinese-language dailies Lianhe Zaobao and Lianhe Wanbao, as well as the company, Singapore News and Publications Limited. This was followed by the merger of the three newspaper companies in Singapore – Singapore News and Publications Limited, The Straits Times Press Limited and Times Publishing Berhad – in 1984. It led to the formation of Singapore Press Holdings Limited, which today manages all newspapers in Singapore.16
1. Lim Jim Koon, ed., Our 70 Years: History of Leading Chinese Newspapers in Singapore (Singapore: Chinese Newspapers Division, Singapore Press Holdings, 1993), 86, 89. (Call no. RSING 079.5957 OUR)
2. Lim, Our 70 Years, 86.
3. The Three People’s Principles is a political philosophy developed by Sun Yat-sen to make China a free, prosperous and powerful state. This philosophy became the cornerstone of the Republic of China’s policy as carried out by the Kuomintang. The Three Principles are nationalism, democracy and socialism.
4. Peng Weibu 彭伟步, "Xing zhou ri bao" yan jiu 《星洲日报》硏究 [A Study of Sin Chew Jit Poh] (Shanghai 上海: Fu dan da xue chu ban she 复旦大学出版社, 2008), 5. (Call no. Chinese RSEA 079.595 PWB); Lim, Our 70 Years, 86.
5. Lim, Our 70 Years, 86, 109.
6. Lim, Our 70 Years, 86; Peng Weibu, "Xing zhou ri bao" yan jiu, 107, 109.
7. The New Culture Movement, which took place from 1910s to 1920s in China, articulated the contempt for traditional Chinese culture. Chinese intellectuals blamed the dramatic and rapid fall of China into a subordinate international position on traditional culture. They believed that traditional values prevented China from matching the industry and military development of the West, and that the way out of China’s problem was to adopt Western notions of science and democracy. These notions became the focus in their new writings. At the same time, there was a push for vernacular literature to replace classical literature, which had become obsolete and unintelligible to the masses.
8. Peng Weibu, "Xing zhou ri bao" yan jiu, 104–105.
9. Peng Weibu, "Xing zhou ri bao" yan jiu, 15, 106–107, 109.
10. Lim, Our 70 Years, 86–87.
11. Lim, Our 70 Years, 87.
12. Chua Kian Aik, oral history interview by Lim Lai Hwa, 20 March 2006, transcript and MP4 audio, 43:35, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 0030330), 14; Lee Geok Boi, The Syonan Years: Singapore under Japanese rule 1942–1945 (Singapore: National Archives of Singapore and Epigram, 2005), 114–115. (Call no. RSING q940.53957 LEE-[WAR])
13. Lim, Our 70 Years, 87–89, 131; Peng Weibu, "Xing zhou ri bao" yan jiu, 32.
14. Lim, Our 70 Years, 87–89, 131; Peng Weibu, "Xing zhou ri bao" yan jiu, 32. The Aw family sold Sin Chew Daily to Datuk Lim Kheng Kim in 1982.
15. Lim, Our 70 Years, 88; Cherian George, Freedom from the Press: Journalism and State Power in Singapore (Singapore: NUS Press, 2012), 30–31. (Call no. RSING 079.5957 GEO)
16. Cherian, Freedom from the Press, 127; Cui Guiqiang 崔贵强, Dong nan Ya hua wen ri bao xian zhuang zhi yan jiu 东南亚华文日报现状之研究 [A study of the current Chinese dailies in Southeast Asia] (Xinjiapo 新加坡: Hua yi guan 华裔馆), 15. (Call no. Chinese RSING 079.59 CGQ)
Mazelan Anuar and Faridah Ibrahim, “The News Gallery: Beyond Headlines,” BiblioAsia 16, no. 1 (2020).
Lee Chor Lin, “Chinese Graphic Artists in Pre-war Singapore,” BiblioAsia 17, no. 2 (2021).
The information in this article is valid as at October 2020 and correct as far as we can 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.