Season 2 Episode 4: Sun Johnson - The linguist, educator and media mogul


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Sun Johnson and the front page of the Chinese Australian Herald
Images: State Library of NSW

Sun Johnson was the editor of Australia’s first national Chinese newspaper, which started publication in 1894. He was born in Hong Kong and educated in London, before moving to Australia as a young man.

Sun used his linguistic skills to create a Chinese-Australian dictionary, aimed primarily at helping Chinese people deal with Australian merchants.

A page from The Self Educator, a Chinese-English phrase book written by Sun Johnson. This second edition uses typeface instead of being handwritten.
Image: State Library of NSW

The Chinese Australian Herald, which was actually established by two European men, was launched at a time when the Chinese population of Sydney was changing. Migrants were moving away from the goldfields and bushland and into the city. They were setting up market gardens and import businesses. Many of them didn’t speak English, but they could read Chinese.

Over the next few decades, the Herald - helmed by Sun Johnson - would provide this small community with news from abroad and across Australia. Sun and the paper were also instrumental in helping the Chinese community engage with events within the European community, most importantly Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

For a time, Sun Johnson was one of the most influential people in Sydney’s Chinese community. 

Proprietors of the Chinese Australian Herald with seamen, 1895. Sun Johnson is third from right in the back row. On either side of him are Philp and Down.
Chinese Australian Herald - Sketches of the Diamond Jubilee Charity Carnival 1897
Chinese Australian Herald - front page of first typeset issue 1896
Sun Johnson marriage notice - The Age, Thursday 16 February 1899
Review of Chinese Australian Herald in The Week, Friday 21 September 1894, page 7
Chinese Australian Herald - handy Chinese storekeepers' order list
Sun Johnson's The Self-educator - National Library of Australia
Sun Johnson's The Self-Educator cover
Sun Johnson's The Self-Educator title page
Sun Johnson's The Self-Educator
Sun Johnson's The Self-Educator


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