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Chu, Van Hop (1947–1995)

by Hai Hong Nguyen

This article was published online in 2020

Chu Van Hop (1946–1995), newspaper proprietor and businessman, was born on 18 July 1947 at Hai Phong in Vietnam’s north, son of Chu Van Hoa and Nguyen Thi Vy, but migrated with his family to the south when he was a young boy. He went to primary and high school in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), before moving to Philadelphia, United States of America, to study chemical engineering at Drexel Institute of Technology. Back in Saigon in 1973, he became an executive for Shell Vietnam. After Saigon fell to the northern troops in 1975, he was among many sent to labour in an agricultural re-education centre. On 10 April 1976 at Saigon he married Le Thi Kiem. Some time later the couple, with their baby son, boarded a boat fleeing from Vietnam, and reached Darwin as refugees in May 1978. They lived for a while in Perth, and then moved to Sydney to explore business opportunities.

Before 1975 there were fewer than seven hundred Vietnamese-born people in Australia; many of those had come to study, as orphans, or as wives of Australian servicemen who served in the Vietnam War. The refugee resettlement programs established by the Fraser government brought the Vietnamese population in Australia up to more than fifty thousand. Within the Vietnamese diaspora across Australia there was a strong need for Vietnamese-language print media. In 1978 several bulletins, magazines, and newsletters were published, including Quê Hương, Quê Mẹ, and Đất Mẹ. However, these publications were aimed only at satisfying aspirations for cultural maintenance, and did not fill the needs of the Vietnamese community as it grew, with a mixture of arrivals from different backgrounds. In response to the desire for information, Chu decided to publish Australia’s first Vietnamese-language newspaper.

With a good mind for business, Chu could imagine what a newspaper should look like. As a careful and thoughtful man, he met and discussed his plans with different people to understand the actual needs of readers. A title of significance not only for the newspaper but also for the Vietnamese community was also canvassed. Finally Chu and his team chose Chuông Sài Gòn (Bell of Saigon). This name had two significant elements: Chuông, or Bell, aimed to declare support for freedom of belief for Vietnamese of different religious backgrounds, Christian or Buddhist, while Saigon had been Vietnam’s capital from 1949, as well as of South Vietnam between 1954 and 1975. Begun in 1979, the newspaper was initially published every two weeks, but then became weekly.

The Bell carried creative contents, such as short stories and poetry, as well as news. Chu and his team also made the newspaper a forum for people from different backgrounds to share their life stories. The newspaper was warmly welcomed by readers from its first edition, even though its appearance and design did not look professional because none of the editorial board members—including Chu as the editor-in-chief—had training in journalism. However, the Bell was just Chu’s first business venture. In 1982 he sold the newspaper, which was never financially successful. He and his wife had become Australian citizens in 1981.

In 1982 Chu became a clerk in the New South Wales regional office of the Federal Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. Three years later he was promoted to director of the office’s ethnic affairs section, becoming responsible for a number of programs for migrants. In 1987 he became special adviser on community affairs to the premier of New South Wales, Barrie Unsworth. The following year he re-entered business, embarking on several other ventures, including a remittance business for Vietnamese people in Australia and the United States who wanted to send money to families in Vietnam. In 1989 he was appointed to the National Consultative Council for the International Literacy Year. He also ran Vietnam Business Specialists, a consultancy focusing on investment in his homeland, and in 1991 he published a Guide to Doing Business in Vietnam. Together with his son, he died in a canoeing accident on 5 June 1995 in Oklahoma, United States; his wife and their daughter survived him. He was buried in the Catholic section of Rookwood cemetery.

Colleagues, friends, and business partners recalled Chu as a talented man, a good listener, an excellent communicator, a dynamic businessman, a dedicated public servant, and a knowledgeable adviser. In an obituary, he was described as ‘a great Australian,’ and a ‘champion of the boat people’ (Easson 1995, 15). He is best remembered for Chuông Sài Gòn/The Bell of Saigon, which was ‘an incubator’ (Quang 2015) for the Vietnamese press in Australia. By 1994 ten Vietnamese newspapers were being published in Sydney.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Commonwealth of Australia. Department of Immigration and Citizenship. ‘Community Information Summary: Vietnam-born.’ Accessed 20 July 2019. https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/02_2014/vietnam.pdf. Copy held on ADB file
  • Easson, Michael. ‘Refugee Became Champion of the Boat People.’ Australian, 14 August 1995, 15
  • Herald Sun (Melbourne). ‘Champion of Vietnamese Boat People.’ 15 August 1995, 55
  • Jacklin, Michael. ‘Vietnamese-Australian Life Writing and Integration: The Magazine for Multicultural and Vietnamese Issues.’ In Migrant Nation: Australian Culture, Society and Identity, edited by Paul Longley Arthur, 200–214. London and New York: Anthem Press, 2018
  • National Archives of Australia. C321, N1979/207803
  • Nguyen, Huu. ‘Tương lai báo chí Việt Ngữ tại Úc (The Future of Vietnamese Language Media in Australia).’ Saigon Times, 29 July 2016. Accessed 21 July 2019. https://saigontimes.org/2016/07/29/1161/. Copy held on ADB file
  • Noel Butlin Archives Centre, Australian National University. Z514, Michael Easson collection
  • Quang, Luu Tuong. ‘Kỷ niệm 40 năm định cư người Việt Truyền thông Việt ngữ tại Úc Châu.’ [‘40th Anniversary of Vietnamese Settlement: Vietnamese Language Media in Australia.’] In VCA/NSW, 40th Anniversary of the Resettlement of the Vietnamese Community in Australia 1975–2015, 7 October 2015, Sydney. Accessed 27 July 2018. https://quangduc.com/a58056/ky-niem-40-nam-dinh-cu-nguoi-viet-truyen-thong-viet-ngu-tai-uc-chau. Copy held on ADB file
  • Sutton, Candace. ‘Shy Refugee Is Voice of the Immigrants.’ Sunday Telegraph (Sydney), 25 January 1987, 28–29

Additional Resources

Citation details

Hai Hong Nguyen, 'Chu, Van Hop (1947–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chu-van-hop-29917/text37037, published online 2020, accessed online 5 March 2021.

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