Lat Pau (Le Bao)
Lat Pau (Le Bao), the longest running Chinese daily in pre-war Singapore, was incepted in December 1881 by See Ewe Lay.1 The Lat Pau continued for 52 years before folding in March 1932.2
The Lat Pau gained its name from the Hokkien and Cantonese reference of Singapore, Se-lat-po. The Malays in Malacca would often point to Singapore as the “straits” or selat. Thus, immigrant Chinese came to know Singapore as Se-lat-po.3
See Ewe Lay, a wealthy Straits Chinese, was probably motivated by patriotism rather than profit when setting up the paper.4 He recruited Yeh Chi-Yun, a journalist from Hong Kong to help establish the Lat Pau.5 While See concentrated on the business end of running the paper, Yeh focused on developing the writing capabilities of the staff, helming the editorship for forty years.6 Under See’s management and Yeh’s editorship, the paper began to show a profit.7
Yeh added the Lat Pau Supplement in 1906, and expanded the size and length of the paper in 1910.8 However, after Yeh’s death in 1921, the daily failed to stand up to competition with other newly-established Chinese newspapers such as the Nanyang Siang Pau and Sin Chew Jit Poh, particularly as there was no competent writer-cum-editor to replace Yeh. The poorly-staffed Lat Pau, therefore, succumbed to rivalry, and folded in March 1932.9
The Lat Pau carried general local and foreign news. The single sheet paper mostly modelled itself after Chinese newspapers rather than the Western press. It did however feature a leading article, more common in Western presses than the Chinese ones.10 Its source of news ranged from reproductions of feature articles from the newspapers in Hong Kong, Shanghai and other major cities of China, and translations from the local English press to its own reports.11
Being the first Chinese daily in the Nanyang region, the Lat Pau not only carried Straits Settlements government notices, but also those of the Dutch government. The notices of the Dutch government were, as a rule, advertisements of revenue farms all over the Dutch East Indies particularly at nearby places such as the Riau Archipelago or Sumatra, while those of the Straits Settlements included announcements made by the Chinese Protectorate and the Municipality.12
It was distributed as a morning paper until 1898, when Lat Pau became an afternoon paper.13 The Lat Pau was not available on Sundays, public holidays, almost every significant Chinese festival day, and for 15 days at the end of the year.14 Copies of the initial issues are not available.15 The earliest versions available are microfilm copies dated 19 August 1887, and can be accessed at the Chinese Library of the National University of Singapore.16
The press engaged a few carriers who would deliver the papers to subscribers.17 However, circulation rates did not seem to go beyond 600 from 1891 to 1900, partly due to the low literacy rates among the immigrant Chinese.18 Despite this, the paper was able to survive through other sources of revenue including advertisements, and serving as both a bookseller and printing press.19
Bonny Muliani Tan
1. “Lat Pau,” National University of Singapore Libraries, accessed 24 June 2003; Chew Mong Hock, The Early Chinese Newspapers of Singapore, 1881–1912 (Singapore: University of Malaya Press, 1967), 24. (Call no. RSING 079.5702 CHE)
2. National University of Singapore Libraries, “Lau Pat.”
3. Chew, Early Chinese Newspapers of Singapore, 24–53.
4. Tan Yew Soon and Soh Yew Peng, The Development of Singapore's Modern Media Industry (Singapore: Times Academic Press, 1994), 1, 8–9. (Call no. RSING 338.4730223 TAN)
5. Chen, Early Chinese Newspapers of Singapore, 31.
6. Chen, Early Chinese Newspapers of Singapore, 31.
7. Chen, Early Chinese Newspapers of Singapore, 52.
8. Chen, Early Chinese Newspapers of Singapore, 50–52.
9. Tan and Soh, Singapore's Modern Media Industry, 1, 8–9.
10. Chen, Early Chinese Newspapers of Singapore, 32–33.
11. Chen, Early Chinese Newspapers of Singapore, 35.
12. Chen, Early Chinese Newspapers of Singapore, 39.
13. Tan and Soh, Singapore's Modern Media Industry, 1, 8–9.
14. Chen, Early Chinese Newspapers of Singapore, 33.
15. Chen, Early Chinese Newspapers of Singapore, 33.
16. National University of Singapore Libraries, “Lau Pat.”
17. Chen, Early Chinese Newspapers of Singapore, 40.
18. Chen, Early Chinese Newspapers of Singapore, 39–40.
19. Chen, Early Chinese Newspapers of Singapore, 41.
Lim Jim Koon, ed., Our 70 Years 1923-1993: History of Leading Chinese Newspaper in Singapore (Singapore: Chinese Newspaper Division, Singapore Press Holdings, 1993). (Call no. R CO 079.5957 OUR)
The information in this article is valid as at September 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.