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Chinese Language : Newspaper Wars--the Battles Rage

October 11, 1985|DAVID HOLLEY and MARK ARAX | Times Staff Writers

At the approach of midnight in Taiwan, a transmitter at the Taipei branch of the Chinese Daily News flashes a single facsimile page to the newspaper's Monterey Park office, where it is quickly incorporated into an edition that hits the streets of Chinatown in time for the lunch crowd.

This late-morning edition, carrying news that readers in Taiwan have yet to see, is an important plus for the paper in its fierce competition with two other major Chinese-language dailies published in the United States--the International Daily News and the Centre Daily News.

The three papers--which all run major Southland operations out of offices along a three-block stretch of Monterey Pass Road in Monterey Park--are engaged in a free-for-all reminiscent of bygone days in American journalism when newspapers divided along fiercely partisan lines.

Rapid Growth

Since 1980, the number of Chinese-language newspapers published in Los Angeles has grown from two weeklies to about a dozen dailies and weeklies.

Technology such as satellite transmission of page facsimiles brings a Space Age touch to the major Chinese-language dailies' competition, while China's unfinished civil war infuses it with political intrigue.

The seriousness of the business--and the risks involved--is illustrated by the recent arrest in Taiwan of the publisher of the International Daily News, Lee Ya-ping, on charges of printing and distributing Communist Chinese propaganda. A Taiwan citizen with immigrant status in the United States who maintains a San Marino residence, Lee was released late last month on a form of probation after protests from the U.S. State Department.

Useful to Immigrants

For tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles and throughout the United States, these papers provide vital information about American society, national politics and world events. They are central to the life of Chinese communities in the United States and serve as important weapons in the political rivalry between Taipei and Peking.

Many editors also believe that by providing information that contributes to assimilation, their newspapers serve as important bridges between the newcomers and established communities.

"We tell our readers not to have the notion of staying here temporarily," said Anthony Yuen, editor-in-chief of the International Daily News. "We tell them if you like this country, join its social and political activities and stop considering yourself an outsider."

The Chinese-language print media in the United States is dominated by the three big national dailies. But the typical newsstand in Chinatown or Monterey Park offers more than a dozen daily or weekly U.S.-based Chinese-language papers, plus another half-dozen Hong Kong-based dailies printed in San Francisco. Depending on the political stance of the newsstand owner, the overseas edition of China's official People's Daily also may be found.

At least six Chinese-language magazines published in the United States--several of them providing important outlets for dissident views banned in Taiwan or the People's Republic of China--are also available.

"All Chinese newspapers are very strongly political," commented Him Mark Lai, a prominent figure in San Francisco's Chinese community who has studied the workings of the Chinese-language press. "They lean one way or the other. To really understand what's going on, you have to pick up all of them."

Despite their political biases, the newspapers benefit from American press freedoms, the use of Western wire service reports and the absence of direct government controls on size and content that are prevalent in Taiwan and China.

"Many readers believe the papers in the United States are of better quality than their counterparts in Taiwan and Hong Kong," said Daisy C. L. Tseng, a reporter at one of the Chinese-language television stations that provide Los Angeles with several hours of broadcasting each week.

Began in 1854

The history of Chinese-language publications in the United States dates back to 1854 when American evangelists began producing a newspaper aimed at winning converts among gold mine laborers. Two years later a paper owned by Chinese was founded in San Francisco.

This paper provided immigrants with news of China together with information helpful in adjusting to a new land, said Tseng, who wrote a master's thesis at the University of Pennsylvania on the Chinese-language press in America.

The dramatic growth of Chinese-language publishing over the last decade is largely the result of increased Chinese immigration to the United States that dates from the 1965 elimination of racially discriminatory features in U.S. immigration law. The 1980 U.S. Census counted 812,178 ethnic Chinese in the United States--63% of them foreign-born.

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