Crow’s Newspaper Directories (S1-E2): Periodicity and Language


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Cécile Armand

Postdoctoral researcher Aix-Marseille Université
Published on 09.02.2021 - Updated on 25.02.2021

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This essay is part of the "Crow's Newspaper Directory" Series. It aims at analyzing the periodicity and language of periodicals.


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This essay is part of the "Crow's Newspaper Directory" Series. It aims at analyzing the periodicity and language of periodicals.

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This is the third instalment of our series devoted to Carl Crow's Newspaper Directory of China (1931-5). In the previous essay, we analyzed the temporal and spatial distribution of periodicals. In this one, we will explore in greater detail the nature of the periodicals, their language and the periodicity of publication.

Periodicity (overview)

Three major categories of periodicals dominated the press in 1930s China (Fig.1). Daily newspapers alone represented two-thirds of the market, whereas weekly periodicals amounted  to 12% and monthlies to 11%.

- Frequency of publication (1931-5)

Moreover, the number of dailies doubled between 1931 and 1935 (from 246 in 1931 to 495 in 1935). Weeklies rose from 57 (15%) to 76 (10%) and monthlies from 46 (12,5%) to 80 (10,7%). Although these conventional media increased in number, they declined in proportion because new, competing types of periodicals appeared during the same period. Their numerical growth was not sufficient to compensate the emergence of  these periodicals with intermediate frequency of publication (semi- and bi- weekly and monthly).

Tabloids experienced the most dramatic growth, from just 2 in 1931 to 47 (6,3%) in 1935. This, however, may reflect a change in the classification used by the editor between the two editions. In fact, tabloids did not differ substantially from dailies in terms of periodicity and format. Comparing the two directories reveals that eight titles classified as "dailies" in 1931 appeared under the "tabloid" category in 1935, as shown in the table below.

Strong Group Press, Chun Chiang Pao 羣強報Beijing
Truth, The, Sha Pao 實報Beijing
Pepper, The, Hu Chiao Po 胡椒報Hong Kong
Press of The People, Min Sun Pao 民生報Nanjing
Petty News, Shao Jih Pao 小日報Shanghai
Peace Daily News, Wu Ping Jih Pao 和平日報Shanghai
Shanghai Press, Shanghai Pao 上海報Shanghai
Social Daily News, Zao Wei Jih Pao 社會日報Shanghai
- List of periodicals classified as "dailies" in 1931 but reclassified as "tabloids" in 1935, with their place of publication.

Meanwhile, daily newspapers experienced a process of material reduction (we will elaborate this point in a future essay). Small-size dailies represented just 15% in 1931 but 25% in 1935. Conversely, 34% of the so-called "tabloids" gradually adopted the broadsheet format (dabao) usually associated with "serious" dailies. These reverse trends further blur the boundary between dailies and tabloids. As He Qiliang has pointed out, we shall beware of equating too hastily daily newspapers with dabao - i.e. large-size providers of "serious" news targeting an elite readership - vs. xiaobao as small-size papers containing only entertaining contents appealing to a mass audience. These observations shall incline us to take with caution the categories coined by historical actors and contemporary historians alike.

In addition, the 1935 directory listed genuinely new types of periodicals with intermediate frequency of publication - semi-weeklies (16, 2%), semi-monthlies (12, 1,6%) and bimonthlies (1). Quarterlies (8 titles in 1935), biweeklies (from 5 in 1931 to 7 in 1935) and annuals (from 3 to 4) represented less than 2% each. These categories were numerically stable but declined in proportion.

Periodicity over time

Note: The following analyses are based on the periodization we established in the previous essay. The figures refer to the number of new periodicals established, not the total number of periodicals in existence during the period under consideration. The graphs propose two alternative visualizations based on the age of periodicals and their year of establishment.

During the first period (1829-1903), daily newspapers represented the majority (53% in 1931, 60% in 1935), followed by weeklies (24% in 1931, 27% in 1935), monthlies (18% in 1931, 13% in 1935) and annual (only one in 1931, none in 1935).

The second phase (1904-1916) saw the exponential growth of dailies, which rose from 53% before 1904 to 91% after 1904 (based on the 1931 directory) or from 60% to 85% (based on the 1935 edition). Few weekly periodicals were established during this period (one in 1931, 2 in 1935) but the first quarterly appeared during the first year of the Republic (The Nursing Journal Of China, founded in Nanjing in 1912).

During the third phase (1917-1927), dailies continued to grow in number (92 in 1931, 119 in 1935) but they declined in proportion (78% in 1931, 77% in 1935, compared to 91% and 85%, respectively, during the previous period), due to the development of weekly periodicals. From 8 to 13 (10%) new weeklies were created during this decade (5% and 10%, respectively, of all new periodicals), according to the 1935 and the 1931 directory, respectively.

In the early years of the Nanjing decade (1928-1935), weeklies continued to progress (31 new titles, 21% in 1931, 52 titles, 11% in 1935). The number of newly established dailies tripled from 91 in 1931 to 300 in 1935, but this could not reverse their decline in proportion since 1917 (62%-63% of all creations). Monthly periodicals also experienced a significant growth. Compared to the previous period, the number of newly established monthlies had doubled (from 11 to 21, 9% to 14%) and quadrupled (from 12 to 51, 8% to 11%) according to the 1931 and 1935 edition, respectively. As we already pointed out, tabloids also began to appear during this period.

- Periodicity and Year of establishment (1931-5)
- Age and frequency of publication (1931-5)

To wrap up, five main profiles emerge from this periodization:

  1. Dailies showed an early, meteoritic but short growth, followed by a relative slowdown, even though they dominated during the entire period;
  2. Monthliesand weekliesexperienced an unstable development;
  3. A group of intermediate periodicals (bimonthly, biweekly, semi-monthly, semi-weekly) appeared later and remained a minority (less than 2% each, 5% altogether);
  4. Despite their late emergence, tabloids came to represent a significant proportion of the press market in a short time (from nothing in 1931 to almost 10% in 1935);
  5. Less frequent periodicals (annuals, quarterlies) appeared relatively early but remained marginal, catering to a highly-segmented niche market.

Periodicity across space

The following graphs show a generally positive correlation between the number and the variety of periodicals available in each city, yet with few exceptions.

- Number and Diversity of periodicals, by city (1931-5)

In 1931, Hongkong offered the richest choice of periodicals, with 28 titles falling under 6 distinct categories: thirteen dailies, six weeklies, three monthlies, two annuals, two biweeklies, and two quarterlies. Shanghai ranked second, with 101 periodicals distributed across five distinct categories: 41 weeklies, 34 monthlies, 22 dailies, three quarterlies, one annual. While the number of periodicals in Shanghai was five times more important than in Hongkong, the latter nonetheless superseded the former in terms of variety. Compared to Hongkong and most other cities, however, weekly and monthly periodicals prevailed over the daily press in Shanghai. This contributed to the distinctly unique profile of this major publishing center at the time.

- Diversity of Periodicals, by city (1931)
- Diversity of Periodicals, by city (1935)

The next group includes two cities in Jiangsu (Shenyang, Nanjing) that offered four different types of periodicals: seven and six dailies, three and two monthlies, one and two weeklies respectively, one biweekly (Shengyang) and one quarterly (Nanjing). Hangzhou came next with three distinct categories (five dailies, two weeklies and one monthly). The next ten cities provided two types of periodicals each. Daily was their common denominator. This shared category was associated with either tabloids (Chongqing), weeklies (Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Tianjin, Wuhan), biweeklies (Changzhou, Zhangzhou), monthlies (Chengdu, Harbin), or quarterlies (Beijing). The remaining cities published only dailies.

- Frequency of publication, by city (1931-5)

In sum, the daily press was the recurring pattern. Daily newspapers were to be found everywhere in 1930s China - in every town that was sufficiently significant to justify and afford the luxury of producing its own paper. Each locality distinguished itself by its particular combination of daily with non-daily periodicals, which may vary in number and diversity depending on its economic, social and cultural position in the urban hierarchy.

- Distribution of dailies (1935)
- Distribution of tabloids (1935)
- Distribution of weeklies (1935)
- Distribution of intermediate periodicals (1935)
- Distribution of Monthlies (1935)
- Distribution of Quarterlies and Annuals (1935)

Note: The maps above are based on the 1935 edition of the directory

Language (overview)

Chinese periodicals dominated in the two directories and progressed significantly from 1931 to 1935. They more than doubled, rising from 299 (80%) in 1931 to 659 (almost 90%) in 1935 (85% on average).

- Language of Periodicals (1931-5)

English-language periodicals came next, amounting to 11% on average. Although they grew in number (from 52 to 74), their share decreased from 14% to 10% between 1931 and 1935. Their modest progress was not sufficient to compete with the exponential growth of the Chinese-language press.

Other (non-English) foreign languages remained a minority, with Japanese and German periodicals topping the list. While Japanese dailies stabilized around six titles, Russian periodicals experienced a dramatic decline (from six in 1931 to only two in 1935). The French and the German press amounted for less than 1% each. While there was just one German daily available in 1931, however, German readers had access to three distinct titles in 1935.

We found two bilingual (Chinese-English) periodicals in 1931, but only one (The Nursing Journal of China) remained in 1935 (in the meantime, the National Medical Journal had disappeared). Both were professional journals targeting a highly-specialized class of medical experts. Like other multilingual scientific journals that are not listed in the directories, such as Science (Kexue), or the Geological Bulletin (Dizhi huibao), these two periodicals aimed to fulfil the dual goal of building a domestic scientific community in China while communicating with a broader international audience, in order to disseminate Chinese science abroad and to connect Chinese scientists with the global scientific community.

Language and Periodicity

- Language and Frequency of publication (1931-5)

The Chinese-language press naturally presented the widest range of periodicals in terms of the frequency of publication. All categories of periodicals was available in the Chinese language.

- Periodicity of Chinese Periodicals (1931-5)

The English-language press offered a narrower range of choice. Compared with the Chinese press dominated by dailies and tabloids, weekly and monthly periodicals represented a larger and growing proportion of the English press. There were 11 monthlies (21%) in 1931 and 24 (32%) in 1935, while weeklies represented 16 titles in 1931 and 23 in 1935 (31%). By contrast, the number of English dailies stabilized around 18 titles and their share regressed from 35% to 24%. There were no English-language tabloids in the directories. This supports He’s thesis that xiaobao in the 1930s constituted a specifically Chinese genre. They shall not be confused with English (American and American-influenced British) tabloids nor with early Republican literary xiabao, often abusively considered as their predecessors.

Other foreign language periodicals consisted exclusively in daily newspapers.

- Periodicity of foreign-language periodicals (1931-5)

Language over time

Chinese periodicals largely contributed to the general periodization we defined in the previous essay. Foreign periodicals followed their own temporal pattern.

Based on the 1931 directory, the English press enjoyed a continuous, sustained growth. The number of creations was evenly distributed between the four periods, with slightly less publications established between 1904 and 1916 (18%) and slightly more between 1917 and 1927 (30%). Based on the 1935 directory, the growth accelerated during the last period (the early years of the Nanjing decade) (1928-1935), which represented 54% of English-language periodicals. While most periodicals founded prior to WWI were of British origin (Hongkong Daily Press, Hongkong Herald, Royal Asiatic Society (Sowerby), Tientsin Press, Journal of the British Chamber of Commerce), the latest publications were more often established by American journalists and newspapermen (Millard, Newspaper Enterprise). The remaining English-language publications were published by American-educated Chinese journalists (China Press) or Chinese institutions modeled after American standards, such as Yenching University Department of Journalism, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), the China Medical Association, and the Bureau of Foreign Trade (largely staffed with American returned students). All persisted during the entire period.

- Language and Year of Establishment (1931-5)

The directories provide comparatively little information on the history of other foreign periodicals, especially French ones. Crow did not even mention the fact that Le Journal de Shanghai was founded in 1926 (it ceased publication in 1940).

The German press consisted in relatively recent publications, established during the last phase (1928-35). We assume that they represented a new generation of German journalism, disconnected from the prewar press.

Most Japanese periodicals were founded prior to WWI. Three of them were established before the founding of the Republic in 1912 (3) and one in 1918. Information is missing for the Dairen Shimbun (1907) and the Seito Shimpo (prior to 1919).

All Russian periodicals were of recent creation (1928-29). Information is missing for three of them, including the Roopor or Rupor (established in 1921).

Bilingual publications emerged during the late Qing-early Republican years (between 1904 and 1916).

- Age and Language of periodicals (1931-5)

Language across space

While the Chinese press spread all over the country, the availability of foreign periodicals depended on the local presence of foreign communities.

- Language of periodicals, by city (1931-5)

English-language periodicals were published in Hongkong (a British colony), in the former national capital Beijing (which hosted the British and other foreign embassies) and eight treaty ports with a strong British or American presence (Dalian, Guangzhou, Hankou, Harbin, Qingdao, Shanghai, Tianjin, Zhifu). Shanghai emerged as the center of the English-language press in China, with 52% of all publications in 1931 and 64% in 1935, before Hongkong (25% in 1931 and 15% in 1935).

The only French periodical listed in the directories was Le Journal de Shanghai, which catered primarily to the French residents of the French Concession. Although the French press remained marginal in China, Crow nonetheless failed to mention a few significant titles. While L’Echo de Chine had ceased publication in 1919, La Politique de Pékin continued to appear in the 1930s, but it was not even mentioned in the first edition of the directory.

The directories listed two German periodicals in Tianjin (1931, 1935) (Deutsch-Chinesische Nachrichten, Deutsche Shanghai Zeitung) and one in Shanghai (Nasha Zaria) (1935). These two treaty ports maintained a significant German presence, reminiscent of the German concessions that existed before WWI. While most prewar publications had disappeared, two new periodicals were founded between 1931 and 1935, one in Shanghai and one in Tianjin.

The Japanese press included three periodicals in Shanghai (Shanghai Ningpo Sha, Shanghai Nichi Nichi Shimbun, Shanghai Mainichi Shimbun), two in Dalian (Manchu Nippon, Dairen Shimbun) and two in Qingdao (Seito Shimpo). The Japanese press was strongly established in North-Eastern China, especially after the invasion of Manchuria and the establishement of Manchukuo (September 1931), and in Shanghai, due to the importance of the Japanese community living in the district of Hongkou (Hongkew), north of the International Settlement.

Russian periodicals were available in Harbin (3), Shanghai (2) and Tianjin (1). Harbin was a major station on the Chinese Eastern Railway, which thousands of Russian émigrés or refugees had established as their temporary or permanent residence. Russian readers in this city had the choice between three periodicals (Roopor, the Kung Pao and the Zaria). Shanghai also hosted an important Russian community that could tap two distinct periodicals - the Shanghai Zaria and the Slovo), while the residents of the Russian Concession in Tianjin could read the Nasha Zaria.

Bilingual publications were issued universities or research institutes in Beijing (1931) and Nanjing (1931 and 1935) and targeted a highly educated readership of scientists or medical professionals.

Concluding remarks

While daily newspapers clearly dominated the press industry in 1930s China, the directories also reflect the development of alternative categories of periodicals - tabloids, weeklies, monthlies - that began to appear in the late 1920s. The latter largely accounted  for the growth of the press in the following decade.

Chronologically, three major waves emerged. The first periodicals established in China from the mid-19th century were essentially weeklies and specialized journals. The production of dailies took off in the late years of the Qing empire (from 1903 onwards), while monthly periodicals (including an increasing number of illustrated "popular" magazines) appeared in the late 1920s and blossomed during the Nanjing Decade (1927-37). Professional  and commercial journals constituted a distinct category that catered to a narrower readership. Altogether, they contributed to the increasing diversification and segmentation of the press market during the Republican of China.

The diversification process was not evenly distributed across the country, however.  The production of non-daily periodicals was concentrated in large coastal centers with massive and diversified readerships, whereas readers living in smaller localities in interior China had access to a much more limited range of publications (often just one daily). A few second-tier publishing centers, however, also offered magazines and specialized journals.

In terms of language, the most striking fact is the growth of the Chinese-language press that offered the widest range of periodicals across the country. English prevailed among foreign languages.

Other foreign languages were represented in treaty ports and foreign-occupied territories, depending on the local strength of the foreign communities to which they catered. Outside Shanghai, the Japanese and the Russian press principally appeared in North-Eastern territories (Manchuria). There were very few German and French publications, which reflected the comparatively limited presence of German and French residents in China. Bilingual periodicals remained a minority and they only combined Chinese and English.

The Chinese and the English-language press naturally offered a wider range of periodicals than linguistic minorities, which often contended with one single daily. As for periodicity, the linguistic diversity of periodicals locally depended on the economic standing of the city and the social profile of its population. Naturally, it was in transnational metropolises like Shanghai and Hongkong that multilingual readers could find the largest range of choices.

The next essay will focus on more material, often neglected aspects of periodicals, namely the number and the dimensions of pages and columns, in relation with their language and periodicity.