Towards a material history of the press in modern China: Crow’s Newspaper Directory Series (4)

This is a continuation of my series devoted to Crow’s Newspaper Directory of China. The next three episodes analyze the length, the format and the layout of periodicals. Our objective is to understand how these material features related to the language, the frequency and the place of publication. Ultimately, this trilogy will lay the foundations for a material history of the press in modern China.

Note: An enriched version of this essay is available online. Conceived as an R Mardown document, it contains not only the data but also the replicable code used to produce the visualizations, and other multimedia contents that could not be reproduced in this blogpost.

For this research, we will rely on the following information:

Object Information Label Description Process
Volume Number of pages Page_nbr_min Minimum number of pages Given
Page_nbr_max Maximum number of pages Given
Page_nbr_variation Whether the number of pages was fixed or vary between issues Produced
Page_nbr_avrg Average number of pages Produced
Format Size of page Page_x Page first dimension (horizontal) (inches) Given
Page_y Page second dimension (horizontal) (inches) Given
Page_ratio_x_y Ratio between page dimensions Produced
Page_surface Page surface (square inches) Produced
Layout Number of columns Col_nbr_min Minimum number of columns Given
Col_nbr_max Maximum number of columns Given
Col_nbr_variation Whether the number of columns was fixed or vary between issues Produced
Col_nbr_avrg Average number of columns Produced
Size of column Col_x_min Minimum width of column (inches) Given
Col_x_max Maximum width of column  (inches) Given
Col_x_variation Whether the width of column was fixed or vary between issues Produced
Col_x_avrg Average width of column (inches) Produced
Col_y_min Minimum height of column (inches or ems) Given
Col_y_max Maximum height of column (inches or ems) Given
Col_y_variation Whether the height of column was fixed or vary between issues Produced
Col_y_avrg Average height of column (inches or ems) Produced

While most information consists in “raw” data drawn directly from the directories, some have been produced to facilitate historical analyses. In the above table, the first column indicates the chief object of inquiry (volume, format, layout). The three next columns label and describe the related information. The last column specifies where they come from and how they were produced.

Let’s start with one of the most palpable features – the volume of periodicals, chiefly defined by the number of pages.

Volume (general)

The histograms reveal huge discrepancies between periodicals. The number of pages ranges from 2 to 1000 in 1931, and from 2 to 1200 in 1935, with a slightly decreasing average of 31 in 1931, and 27 in 1937. Information is missing for three periodicals in 1931 (two quarterlies and one weekly) and two in 1935 (two weeklies).

There was a clear reverse correlation between the number of pages and the number of periodicals. The larger the number of pages, the fewer the periodicals. Periodicals with less than 10 pages represent a clear majority in the two directories – 60% in 1931 (213) and 67% in 1935 (467). The next group with 10 to 25 pages amounted to 19% (66) in 1931 and 14% (97) in 1935. Periodicals containing from 25 to 50 pages represented less than 10% –  8% (29) in 1931, and 9% (63) in 1935. Those that included 50 to 100 pages were even fewer and declined between the two editions, even though they increased in number – from 26 (7%) in 1931, to 34 (5%) in 1935. More voluminous publications that contained 100 to 500 pages maintained their position (5%).

The directories listed just four periodicals with more than 500 pages. In 1931, they included two annuals – one in English, the Hongkong-based Directory and Chronicle of China, Japan, Straits, Philippines, etc. (1200p), the other in Chinese, the Commercial Directory of Shanghai 上海商業名錄 (Shanghai shangye minglu) (780p) – and two Chinese-language monthly journals – Current Events 時事月報 (Shishi yuebao) and Public Education Monthly 民衆敎育月刊 (Minzhong jiaoyu yuekan) with 600 pages each. In 1935, there were just annuals and only the Commercial Directory of Shanghai remained. The three new giants were three reference directories in contemporary business circles: The Credit Men’s Business Directory of China 徵信工商行名錄 (Zhengxin gongshanghang minglu) (1200p), the Shanghai Dollar directory (900p) and the China Hong List (880p).

To sum up, small-volume periodicals, with the smallest number of pages, represented the majority and were rapidly growing in the early 1930s, at the expenses of intermediate volumes (especially those between 10 to 25 pages), while more voluminous publications enjoyed greater stability.  We suspect that the growing small-volume periodicals refer to the most frequent ones – the dailies, tabloids and weeklies of which we have shown the growth in the previous essay – whereas more voluminous, stable publications, correspond to periodicals with less frequent periodicity. The next section will examine this hypothesis more closely. 

Volume and periodicity

How did the number of pages relate to frequency of publication?

As the histograms suggest, more frequent periodical contained fewer pages than less frequent ones, especially annuals. In order to analyze this relation in a more systematic way, we performed a basic linear regression analysis (lm) using the number of pages as the outcome variable (y) and the periodicity as the explanatory variable, setting daily as the reference category. The model reveals a strong correlation in the two directories (p value <2e-16). Volume was clearly a factor of differentiation between periodicals with different periodicity. The most frequently published (dailies, tabloids, weeklies) contained fewer pages than monthlies, quarterlies and annuals. The prevalence of small-volume periodicals essentially reflects the domination and growth of the daily press in early 1930s China, as we have seen in a previous essay.

In 1931, all categories, except tabloids, contained a larger number of pages than daily newspapers. The difference with the least frequent periodicals was particularly huge. Annuals, monthlies and quarterlies generally contained 609, 108 and 90 more pages than dailies, respectively. Biweeklies and weeklies had 14 and 11 more pages than dailies, respectively. Note: The figures for biweeklies, tabloids and weeklies, however, should be taken with caution, given that the p-value for these categories is superior to 0.05.

The gap had widened by 1935. Annuals now exceeded dailies by 932 pages, quarterlies by 139, bimonthlies by 102, monthlies by 85 and semi-monthlies, by 60. Weeklies had 16 more pages than dailies, but biweeklies, only 2. Tabloids and semi-weeklies were the only two categories that generally contained fewer pages than dailies – 3 and 2, respectively. Note: The figures for semi-weeklies, biweeklies and tabloids should be taken with caution, given that the p-value for these categories is superior to 0.05.

The boxplots reveal important variations in the volume of periodicals across and within categories. Annuals contained the largest number of pages in the two directories but the range decreased between the two editions. On the opposite, tabloids contained the fewest number of pages. Dailies, weeklies and intermediate periodicals (bi/semi-weeklies) also contained few pages but there may be huge variations within each category, especially weeklies. Monthlies, semi-monthlies and quarterlies stood in between.

Let’s take a closer look at each category.

Dailies: their volume range from 2 to 26 in 1931, and 2 to 32 in 1935, with an average of 8 in 1931,  in 1935. The most voluminous in 1931 include the Hong-kong based South China Morning Post, the Russian Kung Pao in Harbin, and the Chinese Xinwenbao in Shanghai (26 pages each). In 1935,  two Shanghai giants Shenbao 申報 and Xinwenbao 新聞報 competed with 32 pages each. Next we found the German Deutsch-Chinesische Nachrichten in Tianjin and three major English-language newspapers – China Press 大陸報 (Dalubao) (29p), North-China Daily News (25p) and South China Morning Post (22p).

Tabloids presented greater uniformity. Their volume ranged from 2 to 16 pages, with a median of 4. The only 16-page tabloid was the Nanjing-based Press of the People 民生報 (Mingshengbao). There were fifteen two-page tabloids, scattered across four different cities – Shanghai, Zhenjiang, Wuxi, Chongqing. The three most voluminous tabloids (over 10 pages) were all based in Nanjing.

Biweeklies (twice a week): their volume varied from 2 to 80 pages in 1931, 4 to 28 in 1935, with a median of 4. The Changzhou-based Steel Press 鋼報 (Tiebao) was the only two-page biweekly listed in the 1931 directory. Although its volume had doubled by 1935, it still belonged to the least voluminous periodicals in this category, along with the two other four-page biweeklies, the Foochow People’s Press 建甌民報 (Jian’ou minbao) and Singling People’s Press 新寧民報 (Xinning minbao). The two most voluminous biweeklies included the Liaoning Educational Journal 遼甯敎育公報 (Liaoning jiaoyu gongbao) in Shenyang (80p) and The China Truth (English) in Guangzhou (28p).

Note that the figure given for the Liaoning Educational Journal  seems abnormally high for a biweekly publication. The editor may have mistaken “eighty” for “eighteen”.1 As we will see later, however, some weeklies may contain up to 80 pages as well. Unfortunately, the periodical had disappeared by 1935, so it is impossible to cross-reference the information with the later edition.

The volume of weeklies volume span from 2 to 80 pages. Moreover, the median considerably increased (from 4 to 21) between the two editions. The smallest weeklies (less than 5 pages) consisted mostly in illustrated periodicals. The Sin Wen Pao Pictorial 新聞報畫報 (Xinwenbao huabao) was the only two-page weekly listed in the 1931 directory. Seven weeklies exceeded fifty pages. The three most voluminous – Mongolia and Thibetan Weekly 蒙藏週刊 (Mengzang zhoukan) in Nanjing, Bankers’ Weekly 銀行週報 (Yinhang zhoubao) in Shanghai, and National News Weekly 國聞週報 (Guowen zhoubao) in Tianjin – even gained five pages between 1931 and 1935 (rising from 75 to 80 pages).

As for monthlies, their volume ranged from 4 to 600 pages in 1931, 4 to 300 in 1935, with an median of 100 pages in 1931, 80 in 1935. They represent the only category that shows a decrease in the maximum (and median) number of pages. The two Nanjing-based Public Education Monthly 民衆敎育月刊 (Minzhong jiaoyu yuekan) and Current Events 時事月報 (Shishi yuebao) were the two densest monthlies in 1931 (600 pages each). Only the former remained in 1935, with half its initial volume (300 pages). The Chinese-language Public Welfare Monthly 公義月報 (Gongyi yuebao) published in Shanghai since 1931 was the only four-page monthly listed in the two directories.

Semi-monthlies may contain from 22 to 130 pages, with a median of 54. The slightest one was the Chinese women’s magazine Women’s Voice Semi-Monthly 女聲半月刊 (Nüsheng banyuekan) (22p) and the National-Defense Forum 國防論壇 (Guofang luntan) (24p) both published in Shanghai since 1932 and 1934, respectively. The most substantial semi-monthly was the pioneering Eastern Miscellany 東方雜誌 (Dongfang zazhi), established in 1903 (130p), followed by the Semi-Monthly Economic Journal 工商半月刊 (Gongshang banyuekan) (120p) – the Chinese-language counterpart to the Chinese Economic Journal/Bulletin – and the Children’s World 兒童世界 (Ertong shijie) magazine (110p), all based in Shanghai. Such variety reveals that the length of periodicals was not determined by their content or readership. Publications for children could be as copious as technical and intellectual ones. Conversely, women’s magazines were not shorter than patriotic publications.

The length of quarterlies varied from 75 to 170, with a median of 85 in 1931, and from 50 to 400 pages (median: 110) in 1935. The three most substantial were highly specialized periodicals published by academic institutions – Chinese Journal of Physiology (400p), Quarterly Journal of Economics 經濟學季刊 (Jingjixue jikan) published by the Chinese Economic Society (210p) and Agriculture Science (170p) – published by the College of Agriculture at National Central University in Nanjing (170p). Hongkong Naturalist, The Caduceus and The Nursing Journal of China were the three least substantial quarterlies. Moreover, their volume decreased between 1931 and 1935. They all contained 75 pages in 1931. In 1935, Hongkong Naturalist was twenty-five pages slighter, while The Caduceus and The Nursing Journal of China had lost thirteen and eleven pages, respectively. More generally, the copious size of quarterlies was strongly related to their low frequency of publication, their readers’ high level of education, and the highly specialized nature of their content.

Annuals were the mot substantial of all periodicals. Their volume varied between 75 to 1000 pages in 1931, and from 780 to 1200 in 1935 (median: 780 in 1931, 890 in 1935). The two thousand-page annuals were two reference directories that catered to a large readership of English and Chinese businessmen scattered across China and the Pacific – the enduring Directory and Chronicle of China, Japan, etc. – established in 1862 (1000p), and the more recent Credit Men’s Business Directory of China 徵信工商行名錄 (Zhengxin gongshanghang minglu) first published in 1933 (1200p). The Hongkong University Union Magazine was the only 75-page annual in 1931, weighting less than ten percent of the Commercial Directory of Shanghai 上海商業名錄 (780p) that came immediately after. The huge gap between the two annuals reflects the varying size of their respective readership. The former addressed a narrow readership of English-speaking students in Hongkong, whereas the latter catered to the large and growing business community in Shanghai – the booming business center of the country.2

Other categories of periodicals were not statistically important and their volume did not vary significantly.

Volume and language

How did the language impact of the volume of periodicals?

Due to their statistical importance, the distribution of Chinese-language periodicals reflects the general trend, foreign-language periodicals presented a more complex picture:

In order to modelize the relation between the volume and the language of publication, we performed a basic linear regression analysis (lm) with the number of pages as the outcome variable (y) and the language as the explanatory variable, setting “Chinese” as the reference language category. We observe a strong correlation in 1935 (p value 5.184e-07) but not in 1931 (p-value: 0.3319), which suggests that the number of pages gradually emerged as a factor of differentiation between languages in the early 1930s.

English and bilingual periodicals contained a larger number of pages than Chinese-language ones (63 and 43 more on average, respectively). On the opposite, Japanese, Russian, French and German periodicals had fewer pages than Chinese ones (8, 7.6, 6.3 and 1 less, respectively). These figures should be taken with caution, however, given the high p-value associated with individual languages, except English.


The boxplots show important variations in the number of pages across and within languages. English periodicals reached the maximum number of pages, but the Chinese press offered the widest range. Other languages presented little variation and were not statistically significant.

Let’s focus first on the two dominant languages, Chinese and English.

The volume of Chinese periodicals ranged from 2 to 780, with a median of 8 in 1931, 7 in 1935. The most voluminous (over 500 pages) were the annual and monthlies we presented in the previous section.  The least substantial consisted essentially in daily newspapers and tabloids and a handful of weeklies, bi- and semi-weeklies, i.e. periodicals with higher frequency of publication.

English periodicals included from 6 to 1,000 pages in 1931, from 7 to 1,200 in 1935, with a median of 30 in 1931, 34 in 1935. The most substantial were the two annuals we presented earlier – the Directory and Chronicle of China, Japan, Straits, Philippines, etc. in 1931 and the Credit Men’s Business Directory of China (Including Hongkong) in 1935. On the opposite, the least substantial (less than 10 pages) were all daily newspapers based outside of Shanghai and Hongkong.

Minor languages presented greater uniformity. Japanese periodicals may contain from 10 to 14 pages, German from 8 to 30 pages (1935), Russian from 12 to 26.

The two most substantial Japanese newspapers were the Shanghai Mainichi Shimbun and Shanghai Nichi Nichi Shimbun (14 pages each). Those published in Northern China contained fewer pages. The Seito Shimpo in Qingdao was the least substantial. The Dairen Shimbun in Shenyang (Manchuria) stood in between. The length of Japanese periodicals did not change between the two editions.

Among Russian dailies, the most copious was the Russian Kung Pao published in Harbin (26 pages). They did not change between the two editions, except for the Shanghai-based daily The Slovo that gained two pages (12 to 14).

While the French Le Journal De Shanghai remained stable (14 pages), its German counterpart Deutsch-Chinesische Nachvichten almost doubled in volume between 1931 and 1935 (from 18 to 30 pages).

To conclude this section, the differences between languages largely reflected more structural differences based on periodicity. As we observed in the previous essay, non-daily – i.e. more copious – periodicals prevailed in the English-language press, whereas daily newspapers with fewer pages dominated in the Chinese and other foreign-language presses.

Variation in volume

For some periodicals, the number of pages may vary from one issue to the other. Such variability reflected the editors’ propensity publish occasional supplements, special pages or editions. It also highlighted the growing importance of advertising contents. Some periodicals devoted more than half of their volume to advertising. The China Medical Journal, for instance, included 100 pages of reading matter against 60 pages of advertisements in 1935.3 Variation in volume may also reflect editorial changes and variability in the quantity and quality of information available in each edition.

Such variability, however, tended to decrease over time, reinforcing the standardization process we observed earlier:

Directory 1931 1935
Number of pages Number of periodicals % Number of periodicals %
Fixed 257  72% 637 91%
Varying 101 28% 63 9%


In the 1931 edition of the directory, we found 101 periodicals (28%) with varying volume, whereas in 1935, there represented less than 10% (63, 9%), which reveals that Chinese periodicals in the erarly 1930s became increasingly standardized and enjoyed greater stability in their format. This largely reflects the growth of the daily press that had to be printed in emergency, leaving little room for change from one day to the next.

The scatterplots visualize in more detail the relation between the minimum (x axis) and the maximum (y axis) number of pages. Dots that stick to the line present small variation, whereas those that diverged from the line show the greatest variability:

Moreover, periodicity was a strong determining factor in volume variability:


The greatest variability was to be found among monthly journals. The number of pages in Public Education Monthly and Current Events was multiplied by a factor of five (from 200 to 1000 pages). It doubled for several other monthlies, such as Child Education 兒童教育 (100 to 200), St. John’s Review (50 to 100) or Chop Sticks (20 to 40).

Weeklies also displayed significant variation. Some of them may double their content, such as the Mongolia And Thibetan Weekly (50 to 100p), Walla Walla (32 to 76), the Hongkong Weekly Press & China Overland Trade Review (20 to 40) or the Hongkong Sunday Herald (12 to 14).

Volume and surface

How did the number of pages relate to their size? Did lengthy periodicals compensate for their smaller format?

The scatterplots below visualize the correlation between the number of pages (y) and their average surface (x), measured in square inches:

The plots suggest some relation between the number of pages and their size. Small-size publications (dots above the line) tended to contain a larger number of pages than large-size periodicals (dots below the line, especially those in the right-hand corner). The former group included mostly annuals and quarterlies, whereas the latter consisted mostly in daily and weekly periodicals. Monthly journals and intermediate periodicals lied in-between:


In order to modelize the relation, we run a simple linear regression analysis (lm), setting the surface of the page as the outcome variable (y) and the number of pages as the explanatory variable (x). The relation proved statistically significant and negative in the two directories (p value: 2.429e-14 in 1931, < 2.2e-16 in 1935), which means that periodicals became less substantial as their page expanded, or put the other way, their volume augmented as their pages shrank. More precisely, they gained one page when their surface decreased by 0.4 square inches in 1931 and 0.6 in 1935.

In the next essay, we will explore in greater depth these issues of format and page dimensions.

Concluding remarks

To conclude this essay, we observed that large-size periodicals with few pages dominated and even progressed in the early 1930s. This reflects the general growth of the daily press in Republican China, as we have shown in a previous essay.

The length of periodicals was mostly determined by their frequency, their content and their readers’ profile. The least frequent and most specialized publications were usually the most substantial. On the opposite, daily newspapers devoted to general or local news – i.e. constantly changing content that had to printed in emergency – included fewer pages. Variation in volume reflected the editors’ propensity to issue supplements and special editions, and the tremendous growth of advertisements as a major source of revenue for newspapers.

Ultimately, this research reveals that the Chinese press was engaged in a general process of material stabilization and standardization during the Republic, as evidenced by the decreasing variability in the length of periodicals.

The two next episodes will examine more closely the size and the layout of their pages.

To be continued… 


  1. Crow, 1931, p.19 []
  2. Marie-Claire Bergère, L’Âge d’or de la bourgeoisie chinoise, Paris, Flammarion, 1986. []
  3. Crow, 1935, p.144 []

Cécile Armand

Ancienne élève de l'Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon (2006), agrégée d'histoire (2009), docteure en histoire (2017), mes travaux portent sur la publicité, l'histoire urbaine, les migrations intellectuelles entre la Chine et les Etats-Unis et les méthodes computationnelles appliquées à la recherche historique. Mes recherches ont reçu le soutien des fondations Chiang Ching-kuo, Coca-Cola, Andrew Mellon (Program DHAsia, Stanford), de l'Agence Nationale de la Recherche (Access ERC, ENS-Lyon) et du Conseil Européen de la Recherche (projet ENP-China, Aix-Marseille).

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:

Cécile Armand

Ancienne élève de l'Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon (2006), agrégée d'histoire (2009), docteure en histoire (2017), mes travaux portent sur la publicité, l'histoire urbaine, les migrations intellectuelles entre la Chine et les Etats-Unis et les méthodes computationnelles appliquées à la recherche historique. Mes recherches ont reçu le soutien des fondations Chiang Ching-kuo, Coca-Cola, Andrew Mellon (Program DHAsia, Stanford), de l'Agence Nationale de la Recherche (Access ERC, ENS-Lyon) et du Conseil Européen de la Recherche (projet ENP-China, Aix-Marseille).

Vous aimerez aussi...

Laisser un commentaire

Votre adresse e-mail ne sera pas publiée. Les champs obligatoires sont indiqués avec *

Ce site utilise Akismet pour réduire les indésirables. En savoir plus sur comment les données de vos commentaires sont utilisées.

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search