Ng Poon Chew
Ng Poon Chew was born on March 14, 1866 in Sinning District, Kwangtung Province, China. His father, Ng Yip, and mother, Wong Shu Hok died in his infancy and he was raised by his grandmother. Chew attended a traditional village school which taught a curriculum based on Confucian principles and became an assistant in a Taoist Temple. In 1879 his uncle returned to their village with $800 which he had obtained by mining gold in California. This modest fortune permitted him to retire to a life of leisure in the village.
Chew, then thirteen, quickly decided that he wanted to try his hand at the gold fields in California. In 1881 Chew accompanied a cousin who was returning to California after a short visit with his family in Kwangtung. They traveled down the Pearl River to Hong Kong by junk and across the Pacific by steamer arriving in San Francisco at the height of the debate over the exclusionary laws against Chinese entry into the United States. The cousin went back to work in his old job in a fruit orchard in San Jose and Chew went to work as a houseboy on a nearby ranch.
While working on the ranch Chew sometimes ran errands into San Jose. There he first ran into anti-Chinese feelings when young Anglo-European residents bullied and harassed him. During one encounter between Chew and the local street toughs, Mrs. Carey, a local Sunday School teacher, befriended Chew and introduced him to her school where she taught several other young Chinese men. A short time later the school burned down and arson was suspected. Mrs. Carey never fully recovered from the trauma of losing her school, but Chew continued to study with her and progressed rapidly in learning English. They became lifelong friends. Chew converted to Christianity in 1883 and remained in the San Jose area working in low paying domestic jobs until 1884. While in San Jose he cut off his queue and adopted Western dress.
In October 1884 Chew traveled to San Francisco with a letter of introduction from Mrs. Carey to Reverend Augustus Loomis of the San Francisco Presbyterian Church. Chew expressed the desire to study for the ministry and Reverend Loomis accepted him. Chew's living expenses were subsidized by an anonymous patron and he attended the church day school (operated by the Women's Occidental Board of the Presbyterian Church) full time. Chew progressed rapidly in his studies and in 1888, a year before he was to graduate, he was assigned to travel among the Chinese fishermen of the Bay Area to introduce them to the Bible and learn of their needs. He handled this mission well and was selected to attend the San Francisco Theological Seminary following his graduation.
Reverend Loomis died in 1891 and was succeeded by Reverend Ira Condit. In May 1892, Chew married Chun Fah, graduated from the Seminary, and was ordained as America's first Chinese Presbyterian Minister on the Pacific Coast. He was assigned to the church on Sacramento and Stockton Streets as Reverend Condit's assistant. Chew served in the San Francisco assignment for a year before being transferred to Los Angeles to head the church there in 1894. Chew worked hard and managed to keep the church membership stable but he was unable to make it grow. In 1898 a fire destroyed the Los Angeles Mission building and the Presbyterian Church decided that it would not support any domestic missions in California except the one in San Francisco. Chew and Chun Fah had four children by then and no income.
After much soul searching Chew decided that he could be of more value to his fellow Chinese in America if he started a Chinese language daily newspaper than if he attempted to continue in the church. Chew worked at a Japanese language newspaper in Los Angeles for two months to gain some experience with the mechanics of newspaper publishing, borrowed money from his congregation to purchase a small press and type, and hired two of his relatives to help him. They set up shop in a poor neighborhood in Los Angeles and on May 12, 1899, printed the first copy of the weekly Hua Mei Sun Bo (Chinese American Morning Paper). Chew sent copies of his paper to his friends in San Francisco and explained that he hoped to move it there and to transform it into a daily publication.
Toward the end of 1899 Chew managed to raise $6,000 to finance the move to San Francisco and the purchase of a new larger press with more type. It is not clear, but part of this money probably came from the Pao-huang Hui (Protect the Emperor), a Chinese political reform group, critical of the current Ching dynasty rulers, that was advocating the modernization of China. In any case Chew's new daily newspaper, Chung Sai Yat Pao (Chinese American Daily Paper) early on supported that group in its editorial policy. The first issue of the Chung Sai Yat Pao was published on February 16, 1900. It was the first Chinese language daily to be printed outside China. It advocated a modern strong China and equal rights for Chinese in America. The paper also covered the trials and tribulations of daily life for the Chinese living in America and spoke out against clan feuding and illegal activities within Chinatown.