The Voices from the Gold Mountain - Chinese-Language Publications in America

By Yin, Xiao-huang | The World and I, February 2003 | Go to article overview

The Voices from the Gold Mountain - Chinese-Language Publications in America


Yin, Xiao-huang, The World and I


Xiao-huang Yin, a professor at Occidental College, is the author of Chinese American Literature Since the 1850s (University of Illinois Press, 2000).

With ethnic American publications receiving greater recognition in recent years, interest in Chinese-American writing has also risen significantly. This is clearly seen in the enthusiastic reception from the reading public and critics to works by Maxine Hong Kingston, Ha Jin, Frank Chin, Amy Tan, Gish Jen, Lisa See, and many other established or emerging authors. The fact that their works are brought out by major commercial publishers and are well reviewed indicates that Chinese-American literature has become a distinctive part of the literary mainstream.

While Chinese-American writing in English has gained deserved recognition, its counterpart in Chinese so far has received little attention. Although it remains largely unknown to the general public, its impact on the Chinese-American community cannot be underestimated. Chinese-language writing provides social stability for new immigrants and enjoys enormous popularity among average Chinese Americans. The many volumes of Chinese-language publications on display in Chinatown bookstores throughout North America are clear evidence of their powerful influence in the community.

AN IDENTITY TOOL

The history of Chinese-language publications in the United States is as long as that of Chinese settlement in North America. On April 22, 1854, San Francisco saw the publication of Jingshan Xinwenlu (Golden Hill News), the first Chinese-language newspaper to appear in North America. During the following decades, Chinese newspapers and periodicals sprang up in major Chinatowns throughout the United States. As early as 1902, the prosperity of Chinese-language publications impressed Ednah Robinson, a journalist in San Francisco, so much that she wrote: "The land of liberty and free speech seemed to offer advantages to the Chinese who would be a journalist, and who would say what he would say. In San Francisco there are four Chinese dailies, besides several weeklies."

Furthermore, although they varied in quality and scope, most Chinese- language newspapers contained some form of literary work as a means of promoting circulation. The Chung Sai Yat Pao (China-West Daily), founded in 1900 by Ng Poon Chew, an eminent Chinese journalist, and Mon Hing Yat Bo (Chinese World), favored by Sui Sin Far (Edith Maude Eaton, 1865--1914), the first Chinese-American woman writer, were especially known for their dedication to literary endeavors and had significant influence on the Chinese-American community.

The efflorescence of Chinese-language publications in the New World is a combination of many factors. Throughout the history of Chinese settlement in the United States, they have provided a bridge between the Chinese community and the larger society, furnishing an interpretive prism through which most immigrants receive information and share experiences about their adopted country. Chinese immigrants who are unable to understand English must rely on them for knowledge about American society. Even those highly proficient in English find Chinese-language publications a significant and convenient vehicle to communicate their feelings about American life.

Another critical element leads to the popularity of Chinese-language publications in America: They provide new arrivals with a sense of community and ethnic unity. The Chinese in North America are a highly diverse population, made up of Cantonese, Hakka, Fujianese, northerners, and others coming from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and elsewhere. Spoken Chinese is composed of a variety of mutually incomprehensible dialects; written Chinese, however, is read across linguistic lines and recognized as a common heritage by all Chinese. Thus, Chinese-language publications reinforce the ethnic consciousness and solidarity of Chinese immigrants and function as an identity tool that unites them in a new and strange land. …

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