Saturday, May 25, 2024

Digitized San Francisco Newspapers Printed in Chinese

Chan Ching reading a Chinese newspaper. Image courtesy of the SFPL History Center Digital Collections

In mid to late 19th century San Francisco, people starting up newspaper businesses weren't limited to English language text. There were a handful of papers printed in Chinese in the burgeoning city as well. Printing in Chinese with moveable metal type presented challenges of practicality due to the language's thousands of characters. In the early days, printers got around this by using lithography as a printing method, which uses grease pencils on special stones to print instead of individual pieces of type composited in the press bed. Later, foundries with Chinese characters cast in metal type were established and the type was used by local newspapers, as we can see in the SF History Center images Man working in a Chinatown newspaper room with single metal slugs and Three men working in a Chinese newspaper room with single metal slugs.  

Like so many historic newspapers, especially those from the 19th century, these papers have largely been lost to the sands of time in terms of libraries or archives being able to offer comprehensive access to a collection (physical or digital) of such newspapers. At San Francisco Public Library, for example, we have scattershot coverage of some historic papers printed in Chinese in San Francisco in our print holdings. Furthermore, we are unable to offer a database or single digital collection that brings these Chinese newspapers together under one digital roof.

While there is no one-stop shop we are able to offer our patrons, we recently looked into the issue and were able to compile a list of Chinese newspapers printed in San Francisco that have been digitized, but they are scattered around libraries and archives across the country. 

The bibliography of digitally available newspapers follows. If you have more to add, please leave a comment to let us know!

The Oriental (Tung-Ngai San-Luk)

This is the first paper printed in Chinese in San Francisco, starting in January of 1855 and folding by February of 1857. A few issues are digitized and available in a digital exhibit called The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865 by the American Antiquarian Society. The paper was printed in Chinese three times a week and in English once a week in its early days (it was published less frequently and more sporadically as time went on), the project of Rev. William Speer who had been a missionary in China and knew the language. Lee Kan, of Chinese descent, was Speer's associate and the editor of the paper. Above is an issue from April 28, 1855 demonstrating its bilingual nature. There is also an August 1855 issue available on the AAS website. 

San Francisco China News

San Francisco China News Access Link: Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum

A complete issue of this paper from Dec. 26, 1874 is available on the website of the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum with some useful annotations about its contents (although when they say it was handwritten, they mean it was handwritten on a lithography stone which was then used to print from; every issue was not handwritten). While the website for the museum was painstakingly populated with useful leads in regard to Chinese newspapers in the past, it has experienced a significant amount of link rot. It's still worth a visit

The Oriental (Tang fan gong bao)

One complete issue from May 13, 1876 is available on the digital delivery website of the Center for Research Libraries (CRL). Check their catalog record for descriptive information about this newspaper. 

Chung Sai Yat Po

Coming later, at the dawn of the 20th century, the Chung Sai Yat Po enjoyed a long run from 1900-1950 and most copies are surviving today. The digital images of almost 1,500 issues were created from the microfilm of the newspaper, which is part of the UC Berkeley's Ethnic Studies Library. It is so incredibly nice to be able to consult the digital surrogates of this paper's backfile without trekking to UC Berkeley to slog through dozens of microfilm reels. 
For an academic study of the newspaper's impact on Chinese culture in San Francisco in its first two decades, consult Violet Johnson's chapter in Print culture in a diverse America (1998), "San Francisco's Chung Sai Yat Po and the transformation of Chinese consciousness, 1900-1920."

East/West (Dong xi bao 東西報) Newspaper

Moving into the relative recent past, we are proud to announce the San Francisco History Center just this week finished digitizing over twenty years worth of the bilingual Chinese newspaper East/West 東西報. We have over 1,200 issues from 1967-1989 available for you, a (near) complete run of the paper. 
The paper was founded by Gordon Lew, editor and publisher, and run out of San Francisco's Chinatown. Lew also was a professor at City College. The newspaper covers Asian American diaspora issues centered in San Francisco, but also covered national and international news.  
Group of men standing outside of a Chinese newspaper office reading the latest news in Chinatown. Image courtesy of the SFPL History Center Digital Collections


Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Strange de Jim and the Thrill of the Obituary Hunt

Herb Caen is the namesake of the Magazines and Newspapers Center here on the 5th floor of the Main Library. But where would Herb Caen be without the quipster-tipster Strange de Jim? According to de Jim, "I Made Herb Caen & I Can Break Him." At least that was the title of his 1978 34 page pamphlet that amassed about 100 contributions he made to Caen's column up till that point. For Caen's part, he said of de Jim: 

“I hope we never meet. Ours is the perfect relationship,” Caen wrote [in the introduction to de Jim's book of Strangeisms]. “Strange favors me with his wit, and I favor him with my print. Come to think of it, he could even be a girl, for all I know. The whole thing is strange, isn’t it.”

Our unique San Francisco personality and legend Strange de Jim died on May 1, 2024. On May 17, Sam Whiting's obituary for him was published on the SF Chronicle website. Later, on May 19, the obituary ran in the print Sunday Chronicle, in the obituaries section. 


Screen capture of the obituary that ran on the SF Chronicle website on May 17. Click to access.


Screen capture of the obituary that ran in the SF Chronicle Sunday paper on May 19, 2024. Click to access (SFPL card required)


Not to take the spotlight from de Jim, but this is an important lesson in the thrill of the obituary hunt. 

  • Obituaries often appear in print much later than the date of the deceased's passing 
  • Obituaries and other content will often be published first on the Chronicle's website, and subsequently appear in print (sometimes a week or more later)
  • An obituary is usually submitted by friends or family and runs in the Life Tributes section of the Chronicle. Due to the fact that survivors are mourning, these obituaries can appear much, much later than the death of the individual, especially if they are not announcing a funeral
  • However, obituaries for famous people, like Strange de Jim, are news pieces written by the newspapers journalists, and this is no exception 
  • News piece obituaries appear in a variety of ways in print, but often appear in the Sunday edition of a paper--this is true for the SF Chronicle and the New York Times, to name a couple 

All this to say, obituaries can be tricky to locate if you are doing genealogy research but the librarians at the Magazines and Newspapers Center remain at your service. 

Feeling nostalgic or curious about Strange de Jim? Keep his memory alive by reading one of his books held at SFPL, or do a search in the SF Chronicle historic backfile to see all the mentions of Strange de Jim in Herb Caen's column.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The Close of National Poetry Month at the Magazines and Newspapers Center



National Poetry Month 2024 

To celebrate National Poetry Month this April, and give a nod to SWANA and Earth Day, also themes of the month, the Magazines and Newspapers Center has curated a selection of Bay Area poetry magazines and newsletters. Ask for more information about these publications at the 5th floor Magazines and Newspapers Center 


  1. GAS: High Octane Poetry, number 1, Winter 1990. GAS was the New College of California Review and reflects the aesthetics of the poetics program at the now-defunct school. (New College operated in San Francisco from 1971-2008.) This issue was edited by Kevin Opstedal and Charlie Ross with help from Tom Clark. The work displayed here is a lecture in verse form called “Green Economics” by Ed Sanders  


  1. KOSMOS: A Journal of Poetry, number 4, Autumn-Winter 1978 (special translation issue). Edited by Kosrof Chantikian and published in San Francisco, “KOSMOS is reborn twice yearly and welcomes your Inventive Work.” Works displayed here are two poems by Algerian author Mohammed Dib, translated from the French by Anne Reiner: “The Powers #12,” and “The Powers #29.” 


  1. Berkeley Poets Co-Operative, number 2, 1971. Cover design by Anne Hawkins. This magazine “represents the best work to come out of an informal workshop in which all contributors participated.” According to the publication information inside the front cover, “The Berkeley Poets Co-Operative has no editor, or, if you like, each of us is the editor.”  


  1. Berkeley Poets Co-Operative, number 3, Fall 1971. Works displayed are an untitled poem by Susan K. Levin that begins, “the crowds crowded closer,” and a playscript by Ted Fleischman entitled “Party for Alex.” The do-it-yourself materiality of the magazine is apparent in this spread. By the 1980s, the magazine had adopted glossy covers, a full-blown editorial staff, and professionally type-set printing.  


  1. Poetry USA, back page of vol. 4, number 16, Fall 1989 and front page of vol. 4, number 17, Winter Solstice 1989. This quarterly poetry tabloid was published by the National Poetry Association, Inc., a nonprofit corporation dedicated to reaching a wider audience for poets and poetry, which was located in Fort Mason, San Francisco. Issues regularly ran poetry written by children, incarcerated people, and people experiencing homelessness in addition to the bigger names you may recognize.  

Monday, April 29, 2024

What We're Reading: April 2024

Food, obits, and longform journalism comprise the articles we've been reading at the Magazines and Newspapers Center this April. So, just a normal month round these parts. Leave a comment to let us know what you think, especially if you ever listened to the Huberman Lab podcast. 

We Need to Talk About Trader Joe’s

Taste, April 1, 2024 

We found this article really disturbing but fascinating. We love TJ's but this is shady business! 

Taste is an online magazine devoted to cooking and you shouldn't encounter a paywall when clicking through to this free article. 


Kate Coleman, Who Documented the Bay Area Counterculture, Dies at 81 [web version]

New York Times, April 6, 2024

Published before Cal students started an encampment at Sproul Plaza to protest UC's investment in Israel this month, this obituary of Kate Coleman does well in laying the historical groundwork that sets up today's student activists for success. As the obituary points out, Ms. Coleman was among hundreds of students arrested in 1964 for occupying Sproul Hall. Later, after she graduated and spent three years in New York working for Newsweek, she returned to the Bay Area and wrote for local publications the Berkeley Barb and Ramparts. If you want to revisit Ms. Coleman's work in these publications, the Magazines and Newspapers Center has you covered. We have the Berkeley Barb available on microfilm from 1965-1980 in the Underground Newspaper Microfilm Collection and we have Ramparts in print and on microfilm from 1962-1975. 


Consumer Reports Asks USDA to Remove Lunchables From School's Lunch Menus 

KQED, April 10, 2024 

If you heard we've got some Consumer Reports buffs around the Magazines and Newspapers Center, it'll be no surprise we closely follow the nonprofit watchdog's moves. On April 9, CR published a press release outlining the lead and cadmium contamination they found after testing the Kraft Heinz product Lunchables. KQED, reporting on the story the following day, included statements from other parties involved, like the USDA and Kraft Heinz. Knowing all this, would you dare eat a Lunchable nowadays?


Andrew Huberman’s Mechanisms of Control

New York, Mar 25-Apr 7, 2024  

New York magazine's cover story from the beginning of the month is a blockbuster of investigative and longform journalism. Building suspense by cultivating a healthy amount of skepticism about Dr. Huberman, a podcast celebrity and Stanford professor, the piece ends in a grand explosion of former lovers and girlfriends speaking out against Huberman. All of the women had become friends after uncovering Huberman's cheating ways and agreed to go on record due to the presumable trust author Kerry Howley instilled in them. In the comments to the article published in the April 8-21, 2024 issue of New York, some readers point out that his personal choices in regard to his sexual partners have no bearing on his acumen as a scientist. However, it is hard to trust a "dopamine regulatory specialist" that clearly has trouble regulating his own dopamine addiction in regard to sex. What do you think?

Saturday, April 27, 2024

The Sunday Call, October 16, 1892

Have you heard of the newspaper that predated the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner? It's known as the San Francisco Call, although it had a handful of name variations over its fifty-plus year lifespan. 

Today we're talking about the Morning Call, the iteration of the paper from 1878-1895. The Sunday special edition of the paper during this time was called the Sunday Call. 

Read More about the Morning Call

Most of the issues are not lost to the sands of time: at SFPL, the Magazines and Newspapers Center has this newspaper available in our microfilm collection; in fact, the newspaper is almost fully digitized on the Library of Congress' Chronicling America database and the California Newspaper Digital Collection (CNDC). That's a big win for historians and researchers looking into 19th century and early 20th century California.

However, one stubborn issue was elusive: the October 16, 1892 Sunday Call is nowhere to be found in these digital repositories or in our microfilm. 

Calendar view of digitized issues of the Morning Call from the CNDC with a red circle around the missing October 19, 1892 issue.

Box housing the microfilm roll of the September and October issues of the 1892 Morning Call. The box has been annotated to indicate the October 16 issue is missing.

Last week the Magazines and Newspapers Center got an incredible opportunity to address this elision when a representative from the Los Angeles Public Library delivered a bound volume of the Morning Call containing issues from the last four months of 1892, September, October, November, and December. A patron had donated it to them, and it being in bad condition and outside of their geographic interest, they reached out to SFPL to see if we wanted it. After some quick research, our team of amazing library assistants and library technicians was able to identify that this missing issue could be part of the bound volume on offer. We agreed to accept the very large tome measuring 20" x 25" even though this breaks with our typical practice of not accepting donations. (We leave that up to the SF History Center, and even they didn't want it!) Upon carefully unwrapping the tome and opening up, one Magazines and Newspapers Center librarian said, "Seeing the issue was so exciting! I felt like Indiana Jones, like we were the only people on earth to see it after all these years! Like a lost monument hidden in the desert."

LAPL had warned us: it's in bad condition, and they were right. That's to be expected on almost anything printed on paper in the second half of the 19th century, when paper was manufactured from wood pulp high in lignin content and was therefore acidic, quickly becoming brittle. That's why we don't have print copies of historic newspapers at the Magazines and Newspapers Center, instead offering the newspapers on the more stable format of microfilm. Due to the extremely brittle nature of the Morning Call in the bound volume, this object will not be available to the public. 

But, we carefully digitized the elusive October 16, 1892 issue of the Sunday Call for posterity. While we are still working out a permanent way to make this digitized issue more accessible, we present to you now a sneak peak. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Panel: SF Asian American Journalists Go Live


Panel: SF Asian American Journalists Go Live

Wed., May 8, 2024

6-7:30 p.m. 

Koret Auditorium 

Main Library

Immerse yourself into the world of local journalism and see how reporters cover the Asian American news beat in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Four members of the Asian American Journalist Association (AAJA) who cover the Asian American and Pacific Islander news beat will discuss how authentic local reporting happens, important stories they’ve reported recently and how having reporters dedicated to the beat impacts the AAPI community. Moderated by the interim president of the AAJA-S.F. Bay Area Chapter, Harry Mok, the panel will feature Ko Lyn Cheang from the San Francisco Chronicle, Han Li from the San Francisco Standard and Ravi Kapur, CEO of Diya TV. 

aaja logoThe Asian American Journalist Association is a 501(c)3 nonprofit educational and professional organization with more than 1,500 members across the United States and Asia. Since its founding in 1981, AAJA has been at the forefront of change in the journalism industry.

photo of Harry MokHarry Mok is an assistant editor in the opinion section of The San Francisco Chronicle. Previously, he was a copy editor at The Chronicle. Harry has also worked as an online producer for the Bay Area News Group, as an editor at Newsday in New York and is a former editor in chief of Hyphen magazine. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from San Jose State University and a master’s degree from UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Ko Lyn Cheang photoKo Lyn Cheang joined the San Francisco Chronicle in 2024 to cover Asian American and Pacific Islander communities from the Indianapolis Star, where she had covered city government and housing since 2021. She got her start at The New Haven Independent covering criminal justice and the pandemic and has reported for the Jakarta Post and VICE News. Her work on the Indiana jail deaths crisis, evictions, substandard housing conditions and other reporting has been recognized by the IRE Awards, Goldsmith Prize, and the Connecticut and Indiana Societies for Professional Journalists. She graduated from Yale College as a Yale Journalism Initiative scholar with a philosophy major.

Han Li photoHan Li is a reporter for The Standard covering the city’s diverse Asian American communities. Born and raised in China, Han is fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin. He graduated from Sun Yat-sen University with a degree in journalism and holds a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California. Previously, Han wrote for the World Journal, a national Chinese-language newspaper. He brings his bilingual reporting skills to The Standard. When not reporting, you can find Han checking out the Bay Area’s regional Chinese cuisine and immersing himself in Chinese American history and politics.

ravi kapur photoRavi Kapur, who you probably recognize from his time at KGO-7, is an award-winning journalist and the founder and CEO of Diya TV, which provides programming geared toward South Asian Americans. Diya TV is now the largest South Asian broadcast television network in the nation, providing relevant news, information and entertainment to the diaspora’s next generation. It can be watched for free with an antenna on San Francisco channel 30.1. 



The Asian American Journalists Association – Website | Asian American Journalists Association – Instagram | Asian American Journalists Association – Twitter | Asian American Journalists Association – Facebook | Asian American Journalists Association – LinkedIn 

Harry Mok – San Francisco Chronicle | Harry Mok – Twitter | Harry Mok – Instagram

Ko Lyn Cheang – San Francisco Chronicle | Ko Lyn Cheang – LinkedIn | Ko Lyn Cheang – Twitter 

Han Li – San Francisco Standard | Han Li – Twitter | Han Li – LinkedIn 

Ravi Kapur – Diya TV | Ravi Kapur – Twitter   


See event listing on the SFPL master calendar.

View other Magazines and Newspapers Center programs on the SFPL event calendar under the What's News heading