The Straits Chinese Magazine: A Quarterly Journal of Oriental and Occidental Culture

The Straits Chinese Magazine: A Quarterly Journal of Oriental and Occidental Culture (Thereafter, The SCM) was first published in March 1897 by the Koh Yew Hean Press in Singapore. One of its goals was to “promote intellectual activity amongst the Straits-born people”. The two main editors of The SCM were prominent members of Straits Chinese (also known as Peranakan) Lim Boon Keng and Song Ong Siang, who were Queen’s Scholars in the late 1880s. It was the first English-language periodical established by the community’s English-educated elites. The SCM was a vehicle for them to express, debate, and negotiate a collective identity. Through The SCM, a Straits Chinese identity was created, mediated between the West and China to determine their unique place in colonial Singapore. The authors of The SCM move between local and global arenas, highlighting their global consciousness. Largely reflecting the perspectives and aspirations of the Straits Chinese community, this periodical was a forum for the community to debate issues such as social reform, politics, education, and culture. Therefore, The SCM offered a rich collection of political discourse, biographical and social commentaries, and some of the earliest published local literary works by the Straits Chinese.

The first issue included articles on the social position of Straits Chinese women, local participation in colonial governments around the world, and a call for a university in Singapore. All eight hundred copies of the first issue of the magazine were sold out. Subscriptions were at $1.50 per annum and, by the turn of the twentieth century, the magazine enjoyed a wide circulation, both in Singapore and Malaya as well as in different parts of the globe.

While the articles were mainly in English, classical Chinese texts were sometimes published and these were accompanied by English translations. Regular features included book reviews and letters from readers; in its later years, the magazine included reports from correspondents in London, Java, Malacca, and Penang. Transcripts of talks delivered at local and regional literary societies and associations such as the Chinese Philomathic Society, Straits Chinese British Association, Chinese Christian Association, and Selangor Chinese Literary and Debating Society were also reproduced in the magazine.

After eleven years of existence and publication of eleven volumes and forty-four issues, The SCM faced closure in December 1907, due to a lack of funds and declining readership.

All issues of The SCM can be found online at Digital Gems.

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