China, with its population of four hundred and forty million, is thought to be the country with the highest percentage of illiteracy. However, since the establishment of the Republic a lot has been done to teach the majority of the population. In Macau, most of the younger generation of Chinese know how to read.
Prior to the end of the Sino-Japanese conflict, when three or four coppers were enough to buy a newspaper, rickshaw coolies the lowest class in Chinese society. - would stand reading the latest news while waiting for clients.
Many writers argue that the first newspaper published in China was the Keng-Pou or Keng-Tch'au (the "Peking Gazette").
Works by the poet Sou-Tong-P'o (1101) and T'ong-Si (Tang Dynasty Poetry, 618-907) refer to this publication, but it was far from being a newspaper like the ones with which we are familiar today. It was nothing but an 'official gazette' with ten to twelve pages strung together with pieces of rolled paper, between yellow covers and printed with wooden movable type. It measured 18 x 10cm and each page was divided into seven columns with red lines. Fourteen characters were printed in each column. The text was a record of official ceremonies held at the Chinese court, imperial decrees and decisions, promotions and sentences. As these subjects were of prime importance for those who needed to know the imperial decisions, many people earned their living making abridged copies of the Gazette for those who could not afford to buy the original or full edition. Anyway, these handwritten short copies (sé-pun) were sold before the official edition was actually released and were therefore much in demand.
Even viceroys printed private gazettes, the un-mun-pìu, in their own provinces.
The only periodical to be published in China prior to modern times was the "Peking Gazette". The first real newspaper, A Abelha da China, published in Portuguese, was launched in 1822 in Macau. In 1827 the first English newspaper, The Canton Register, was published in Canton. As for the Chinese language, the first newspaper (San-Pou) was only published in 1870 in Shanghai. However this was merely a scrap of paper which was later replaced by the Shen Pau owned and managed by the British. In Macau, the first Chinese paper was published only in the twenty-third year of Kuong-Soi (1898) and was called Tchi-San-Pou. Its editorial committee was located at Number 4 of a place known to the Chinese as Tai-tcheang, near the Public Works Department building. That area adopted that name because there used to be a big well (the meaning of taitcheang).
Currently, thanks to the simplification of Chinese writing advocated primarily by the philosopher U-Sek, author of the renowned Tchong-Kuok Tchit-Hok-Si Tai-Kong ("Sketches of the History of Chinese Philosophy", of which only the first volume has been published), people with low levels of education are able to read and understand the written language with greater ease. U-Sek, a former Chinese Ambassador to Washington, limited written Chinese to some four thousand characters which is enough to read and understand any fairly general text. In addition, the syntax of the spoken language has been generally accepted because it is more concise than the highly complex style used in traditional writing.
As a result, all Chinese cities have several newspapers and some of the newspapers published in Shanghai have a daily circulation of one hundred thousand copies.
Besides, as Chinese taste has become more Westernized, there is a market for a plethora of scientific, philosophical, literary, artistic and theatrical magazines which are beautifully illustrated and well printed. There are also translations of all sorts of scientific books and masterpieces by modern writers from the United Kingdom, America, Germany, France, Russia, Hungary, Poland, and so forth. A wide variety of literature focussing on an extensive range of different ideas has been made available to the Chinese over a short period of time and must undoubtedly have caused considerable intellectual turmoil in the brains of younger Chinese.
In China, the pleasure of reading has become so widespread that even in a small town like Macau there are four periodicals: Ua-K'iu-Iat-Pou which has the widest circulation; Sai-Kai-lat-Pou, Tcheng-Va-Pou and Tai-Tchong-Pou.
All these newspapers publish local and international news which occupy the whole of the front page, the tcheng-hon. The remaining pages, fu-hon, include short stories or serials, police stories, social columns and so on. The Ua-K'iu-Iat-Pou publishes two and a quarter pages of advertisements.
In general, prior to the Sino-Japanese conflict, the Chinese press in big cities, except those newspapers with a wider circulation, was noted for publishing lies, malicious or tasteless articles which was very dangerous because they exerted great influence on public opinion.
Many of these papers, especially the smaller ones (with a format a quarter of the normal page size) which the British called "mosquito" papers, had to resort to blackmail to survive. These cheap rags managed to extort huge amounts of money from well known people because of their slanderous articles on people's obscure dealings. Sometimes, the newspapers went as far as intentionally disrupting the private lives of the people they wanted to blackmail.
Others used newspapers to take advantage of innocent readers. An example of this was an advertisement placed in the major newspapers in Canton, Kong-Peng-Pou, Ut-Ua-Pou and Kuok-Ut-Pou, seeking employees for a factory recently established in Shanghai. To start operating this factory needed three hundred technicians, manual workers and office staff.
Those who thought they met the requirements were to send their applications to the factory's general office together with a two-avo stamp for the reply.
It is obvious that the person behind this idea soon received thousands of letters with the stamps inside. He made twenty patacas out of one thousand letters. In the end, he made approximately one thousand patacas because over fifty thousand people were cheated.
Replies were never sent to the applicants and as the matter was not very important, nobody paid any attention to it.
But, as the same advertisement appeared every two months, the matter became very suspicious. The Canton authorities then asked their Shanghai counterparts to look into the advertisement and soon the swindler was caught. Since then, in order to put an end to this type of cheating through newspapers, newspaper editors have been made liable for the advertisements they publish. ·
* Researcher and historian of the history of Macau; writer and sinologist (11th July, 1907-1976). This text is an off-print of Notícias de Macau, published as Chinesices in 1952.
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