Downsizing the Press? Crow’s Newspaper Directory Series (5)

This is the second installment in our series aimed at a material history of the Chinese press based on Crows’ Newspaper Directory of China (1931-35). In the previous post, we analyzed the number of pages and showed how the length of periodicals depended on their periodicity and language. In this episode, we will examine the size of the page. Did periodicals become more compact in the early 1930s? How did the size of periodicals relate to the frequency, the language and the place of publication?

Note: As a reminder, 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.


In the “advertising manual” that followed the preface in the last edition of the directory (1937), Crow emphasized that the size of newspapers was not uniform in early 1930s China. It varied from place to place depending of the type of press used in each city. Moreover, different presses could be used in the same city, especially in large urban centers such as Shanghai. As Crow explained:

The size of a Chinese newspapers is not uniform, as in every city there is a difference due to the type of presses in use. Big cities like Shanghai, Tientsin and Canton, where papers are printed on high speed rotary presses, the paper size also does not give the same measurement. For example, the Shun Pao [Shenbao] is 15 1/4 x 20 for a full page or 305 square inches, while the Sin Wan Pao [Xinwenbao] measures 16 X 20 or 320 square inches. Province and local papers which use common platen presses have page sizes ranging from 12 x 19 inches to 15 x 20 inches.1

How large were the pages of periodicals in early 1930s China? How did their format evolve over time? Do we observe a reduction in the size of pages, for practical (readers’ mobility) or economical (cost of ink and paper) reasons? Did the directories confirm the rise of compact periodicals at the expense of larger “broadsheets” – as demonstrated in previous scholarship (Chin, 2014, Wang, 2004, Yeh, 2005, Yu, 2007)? How did the size of pages relate to the language, the frequency and the place of publication?

Average surface

Let’s start with a broad overview of the distribution of periodicals based on the average surface of the page:

The histograms reveal huge discrepancies between periodicals. The average surface may vary from 24 to 462 square inches in 1931, from 19 to 388 in 1935. While the largest periodicals in 1931 had not increased (and even decreased) by 1935, the smallest, one the opposite, became smaller. The mean had fallen from 201 to 192, and the median from 258 to 240, which points to a general process of reduction in the early 1930s. Information is missing for six periodicals – three in 1931 (one Chinese weekly and two English quarterlies) and three in 1935 (one Chinese weekly and two English annuals).

The histograms delineate three major groups. The largest periodicals with pages measuring around 300 sq.inch constituted the largest group. Small-size periodicals with pages measuring less than 100 sq.inch. represented a minority. Medium-size periodicals (100-150 sq. inches) stood in between. As we will see later, these groups largely reflect the frequency of publication, especially the prevalence of large-size daily newspapers (cf. our previous essay).


Based on the page surface distribution, we defined three major categories to facilitate further analysis:

Format Surface (sq inches)
Octavo 0 to 100
Compact 100 to 200
Broadsheet 200 to 400

Our classification borrows from international standards, while adapting them to the reality of the press in Republican China. For instance, the largest Chinese newspapers in the 1930s were smaller than British broadsheets at the same period. The largest broadsheets listed in the directories measured 17 X 22 inches (388 square inches), whereas British broadsheets typically measured 29.5 by 23.5 in (749 by 597 mm). Moreover, the vertical dimension of Chinese newspapers was usually larger than their width, whereas British broadsheets often adopted a horizontal format. Chinese broadsheets were more akin to their counterparts in the United States, which usually measured 15 inches wide (381 mm) by 22.57 inches long (578 mm). We will examine in greater detail the dimensions of pages in the next sections.

The histograms confirm the domination of large-size broadsheets and the rise of small-size periodicals, especially “compact” periodicals:


Detailed statistics:

Directory 1931 1935
Format Number % Number %
Broadsheet 203 57% 372 53%
Compact 72 20% 164 23%
Octavo 79 22% 163 23%


Broadsheets increased in number but decreased in proportion (57% to 53%), even though they remained the majority. Compact periodicals (100-200 sq.inch) experienced the most remarkable growth, rising from 72 (20%) to 164 (23%). Although they stagnated around 22-23%, book-modeled (octavo) formats (under 100 sq.inch) more than doubled in number (79 to 163). To sum up, small-size periodicals clearly progressed between the two editions.


The barplots below provide a quick visual confirmation that the smallest periodicals were also the least frequently published, whereas the largest corresponded to the most frequent ones, especially daily newspapers:

This preliminary observation, however, deserves closer analysis.

In order to modelize the relation between the size of periodicals and the frequency of publication, we run a simple linear regression analysis (lm), with the average surface of the page as the outcome variable (y) and periodicity as the explanatory variable, setting “daily” as the reference category.

The model did show a strong correlation in the two directories (p value <2e-16). The size was clearly a factor of differentiation between periodicals with different periodicity. Daily newspapers contained larger pages than less frequent periodicals. Moreover, the less frequent the periodicity, the largest the difference with dailies.

The pages of annuals, for instance, were smaller by 218 square inches in 1931, 197 in 1935. For quarterlies, the difference was also significant (222 in 1931, 195 in 1935). Biweeklies, weeklies and tabloids, which were closer in frequency, had their pages smaller by just 111, 134 and 135 square inches, respectively. In between, the pages of monthlies differed from dailies by 203 square inches.

The relation did not change in 1935, except for the fact that the difference between with tabloids had decreased (their pages were just 66 square inches smaller than those of dailies). Intermediate periodicity complicated the picture, but their pages were also smaller than those of dailies, and the difference was inversely proportionate to their frequency.

Moreover, the boxplots reveal important variations in the size of periodicals across and within categories:

Dailies, weeklies, biweeklies and tabloids presented the widest scope. Variability, however, tended to decrease between the two directories (except for tabloids that were not statistically significant in the first edition).

Let’s examine each category in greater detail.

Weeklies presented the widest spectrum in terms of format. Their size may vary from 24 to 362 in 1931, 19 to 336 in 1935, with a decreasing median from 117 and 70. The smallest weeklies included youth publications such as Children’s World 兒童世界 (Ertong shijie) and New Schoolmate 新同學 (Xintongxue), as if the size of periodicals should be proportionate to the body of their expected readers. On the opposite, the largest weeklies were mostly English and Hongkong-based well established periodicals devoted to general news, such as South China Sunday News 南華星期報 (Nanhua xingqibao), Hongkong Sunday Herald and Shanghai Sunday Times.

Dailies also displayed great variety in their format. Their size ranged from 48 to 388 in 1931, 75 to 388 sq. inches in 1935. The smallest ones (under 100 sq. inches) were all Chinese newspapers published outside of Shanghai. Among the largest dailies (over 300 sq. inches), English newspapers surpassed all other languages. The pioneer North-China Daily News 字林報 (Zilinbao) held the record (388 sq. inches). The largest Chinese newspapers were published outside of Shanghai, especially in Guangzhou, Hongkong, Shantou and Yangzhou. The list also includes the French Journal de Shanghai (361 sq. inches.).

As they multiplied between 1931 and 1935, tabloids also diversified their format. Their size may vary from 48 to 333 sq. inches in 1935 (median: 137). Clearly, we shall beware of automatically associating tabloids with “compact” periodicals, as previous scholarship had been inclined to (Chin, 2014). The smallest tabloid (48 sq. inches) was the Strong Group Press 羣强報 (Qunqiangbao) published in Beijing (classified as a “daily” in the 1931 edition). The list also includes several Shanghai-based movie magazines, such as Movie Life 電影生活 (Dianying shenguo), Camera News 開麥拉 (Kaimaila) and Radio Film Daily News 電影日報 (Dianying ribao). Portability seemed to be a specific feature of leisure periodicals. Among the largest tabloids (over 300 sq. inches), we found three dailies devoted to general or local news, such as Eastern Daily News 東方日報 (Dongfang ribao) and New Shanghai 新上海 (Xin Shanghai).

The pages of biweeklies measured between 37 and 265 sq. inch. in 1931, between 76 and 265 in 1935 (with a median decreasing from 137 to 110).

The pages of monthlies ranged from 24 and 126 sq. inch. in 1931, between 24 and 153 in 1935 (with a median decreasing from 43 to 40). Monthlies were among the rare periodicals whose maximum size increased between the two directories.

The size of semi-monthlies may vary from 24 to 93 sq. inches in 1935 (median: 58). As for weeklies, the smallest include publications for children but also more “serious” periodicals, such as the Semi-Monthly Economic Journal 工商半月刊 (Gongshang banyuekan).

Quarterlies measured from 28 to 78 (median: 38). The smallest was the bilingual medical journal Nursing Journal Of China published in Nanjing, whereas the largest ones consisted in more popular and patriotic publications, such as the Young Companion 良友 (Liangyou) (93.5 sq.inches) and the National-Defence Forum 國防論壇 (Guofang luntan) (82.5).

Other categories were not statistically significant. As suggested earlier, annuals were among the smallest periodicals. This reflects their publishers’ origin and their proximity with the book industry, which a future essay will explore in more depth.


While the distribution of Chinese-language periodicals based on their format reflects the general distribution, foreign-language periodicals presented a more complex picture:

English-language periodicals were represented in all categories, but were generally of smaller size than other foreign languages. This reflects the greater variety within the English-language press (in terms of frequency), compared to other foreign languages, which consisted mostly of daily newspapers.

In order to analyze more systematically the relation between the size of periodicals and their language, we run a simple linear regression analysis (lm), with the average page surface as the outcome variable (y) and the language as the explanatory variable (x), setting “Chinese” as the reference category.

The difference proved significant in the two directories (p value: 2.931e-05 in 1931, 1.224e-07 in 1935). The size was clearly a factor of differentiation between periodicals published in different languages.

Chinese periodicals were generally larger than German, English and bilingual ones, by 5, 53 and 153 square inches, respectively. The gradation in difference mostly reflects the decreasing periodicity associated with each of these languages. Russian, Japanese and French periodicals were larger by 92, 95 and 155 square inches, respectively. These figures, however, should be taken with caution, since the p-value was superior to 0.05.

Except for German periodicals, which now surpassed Chinese ones by 11 square inches, the relation remained the same in 1935. The gap with English, Japanese and French periodicals had widened (from 53 to 64, 95 to 103, from 155 to 164, respectively). The difference with Russian newspapers remained stable. The figures for bilingual, French and Russian periodicals, however, are not statistically reliable.

Moreover, the boxplots reveal important variations in the size of periodicals across and within languages:

The Chinese and English-language press offered the greatest variety. The size of Chinese periodicals varied between 24 to 362 sq. inches in 1931, 19 to 377 in 1935 (median: 260 in 1931, 243 in 1935). English periodicals measured from 31 to 388 sq. inches in 1931, 25 to 388 in 1935 (median: 76 in 1931, 74 in 1935). Japanese, Russian and German newspapers presented greater uniformity, with pages ranging 295 to 312-317 (median: 300), from 275 to 344 in 1931 (290), and from 168 to 250 in 1935 (median: 209), respectively.

Among the smallest English-language periodicals in 1931, we found the annual Hongkong University Union Magazine (31.5), the monthly China Journal in Shanghai, and three medical or scientific journals based in Hongkong – Caduceus and Hongkong Naturalist – and Shanghai – China Medical Journal. In 1935, the list included mostly monthly journals, such as the China Highways , The Shanghailander , and Cathay Magazine (all measuring 25 sq.inches). We also found technical publications such as the Chinese Economic Journal 中國經濟月刊 (Zhongguo jingji yuekan) published by the Bureau of Foreign Trade, which suggests that bureaucrats, scientists and businessmen favored portable formats they could take with them during their professional trips. The largest English periodicals were essentially dailies and weeklies published in Shanghai and Hongkong. Moreover, the Shanghai Times increased by 50 and square inches between 1931 and 1935, whereas the China Mail , the Hongkong Sunday Herald and the Hongkong Telegraph were reduced by 16, 16 and 10 square inches, respectively.

The largest Japanese newspaper was the Shanghai Mainichi Shimbun 上海每日新聞社 (Shanghai Meiri xinwenshe), which, however, lost 5 square inches between 1931 and 1935. The smallest were the Shanghai Nichi Nichi Shimbun and the Seito Shimpo published in Qindbao. Except for the Shanghai Mainichi Shimbun , the size of Japanese newspapers did not change between the two editions.

The largest Russian newspaper was the Harbin Zaria in 1931 (344 and the Nasha Zaria published in Tianjin in 1935. The smallest was the Harbin-based Russian Kung Pao (275) in 1931, and the Shanghai-based Slovo and Shanghai Zaria in Shanghai in 1935 (both measuring 290 sq. inches).

The smallest German newspaper was the Tianjin-based Deutsch-Chinesische Nachrichten whose size even decreased (from 200 to 168) between 1931 and 1935. The largest was the Deutsche Shanghai Zeitung published in Shanghai.

Place of publication

Were compact formats more likely to develop in large cities with modern transportation system and mobile readers? In order to test the hypothesis, we performed a linear regression analysis, setting the average surface of the page as the outcome variable (y) and the city of publication as the explanatory variable (x), setting “Shanghai” as the reference city.

The difference is quite significant in the two directories (p value: 2.474e-06 in 1931, < 2.2e-16 in 1935). The development of portable periodicals was seemingly related to the importance of the city and the social, economic profile of its population. Except for a handful of smaller towns in interior provinces (such as Baotou, Chaoxian, Nantongzhou, Pinghu, Xiaoshan, which moreover, were not statistically significant), periodicals in Shanghai were generally smaller than in those published in other cities.

In order to refine our model, we classified the cities using the following categories:

Geographic Location
Code Description
CT Central
NNE North-Northeast
NW Northwest
SE Southeast (including Hongkong/Macao)
SW Southwest


City profile
Code Description
0 Treaty port and metropolis of international dimension
1 Other large urban center, provincial or national capital
2 Smaller or interior town

Based on this classification, we performed a linear regression analysis again using the two new predicting variables separately and using an additive or interaction model. We set “0” as the reference profile, and “SE” as the reference location.

The difference based on the city profile was indeed statistically significant, especially in 1935 (p value: 0.0002762 in 1931, 1.917e-08 in 1935). Periodicals published in treaty ports and metropolises with a strong international profile were generally more portable than periodicals published elsewhere in China. Those published in non treaty port but major cities were 26 and 45 sq. inches larger in 1931 and 1935, respectively. Those published in smaller interior towns were 54 sq. inches larger in 1931, but the gap had decreased by 1935 (43 sq.inches in 1935), which suggests that smaller towns tended to aligned on modern standards at a faster pace than other urban centers.

Similarly, there was a statistically significant difference in size depending on the geographic situation, though not as important as the city profile (p value: 0.0009293 in 1931, 0.001328 in 1935). Periodicals published in Southeastern cities were clearly more compact than those published in other regions. The stronger difference in 1931 referred to central (88 sq. inches more), then northwestern (+50), northeastern (+44) and finally, southwestern provinces (+27). Interestingly, rural provinces in the Southwest were closer to treaty port standards than one would expect. Further research is needed to unveil the processes underlying these patterns of similarity.

By 1935, the gap with northwestern and southwestern provinces had deepened (+64 and + 31 sq. inches, respectively), whereas central (+36) and most importantly, northeastern periodicals (+28) had become closer to the standards established in Southeastern cities. Compact periodicals developed at a faster rate in Northeastern China than anywhere else.

Furthermore, there were important variations in size across and within cities:


Page dimensions

As the scatterplots reveal, most periodicals presented an elongated format. The vertical dimension (y) usually exceeded the width (x) (dots above the line):

A handful of periodicals, however, adopted a horizontal format. Their width was superior to their length (dots below the line). The few dots that are very close to the line refer to periodicals with an almost square format (their width almost equaling their length). The Chin Chin Movie Monthly in 1935 even had a perfectly square format (see the dot located exactly on the line).

If we take into account the frequency of publication:

Taking language into account:

The scatterplots show no clear relation between the dimensions of the page, the frequency and the language of publication. Among vertical periodicals, dailies usually presented the most elongated pages, whereas the least frequent periodicals (monthlies, semi-monthlies, quarterlies) appeared shorter, with a corresponding smaller width. Weekly and intermediate frequency stood in between.

Horizontal pages (ratio < 1) referred to a variety of periodicals, including the German daily Deutsche Shanghai Zeitung, the English medical quarterly Caduceus and a variety of Chinese periodicals wity varying frequency.

Among the few publications with a squared or almost squared format, we found three periodicals devoted to cinema, including the illustrated magazine Chin Chin Movie Monthly (Chin Chin Dien Yin Yu Kan) 青青電影畫報月刊 (Qingqing dianying huabao yuekan) and three tabloids – Radio Film Daily News (Dien Yin Jih Pao) 電影日報 (Dianying ribao), Radio Movie Daily News (Dien Shun Jih Pao) 電聲日報 (Diansheng ribao) and Camera News (Ka Ma La) 開麥拉 (Kaimaila) – all established between 1932 and 1934. Square-page movie magazines appeared to be specific to Shanghai, which was the center of the emerging movie industry in the 1930s (Kerlan, 2015, Zhang, 2015).

Page and columns

How did the size of pages relate to the number of columns they displayed?

The scatterplots correlate the number of columns (y) and the surface of the page (x), measured in square inches. It seems that the number of columns increased with the surface of the page:

In order to modelize the relation, we conducted a simple linear regression analysis (lm), setting the surface of the page as the outcome variable (y) and the number of columns as the explanatory variable (x).

The relation proved statistically significant and positive in the two directories (p value: < 2.2e-16 in 1931, 1.459e-11 in 1935), which means that columns did multiply as the page expanded. More precisely, when the page increased by 20-21 square inches, it gained one additional column.

The next essay we will examine in greater detail the layout of periodicals, defined by the number and the dimensions of columns displayed on their pages.

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 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 resulted from the editors’ propensity to issue supplements and special editions, and the tremendous growth of advertisements as a major source of revenue for newspapers.

The size of periodicals depended on their periodicity and their language. The most frequently published (daily) were the largest, whereas less frequent periodicals were of smaller size. Foreign-language periodicals, especially Japanese, French, Russian and German, were larger than their Chinese and English counterparts. The pages of Chinese newspapers adopted a more elongated shape than British broadsheets. Square-page movie magazines emerged as a specific “genre” in Shanghai.

Although large-size broadsheets remained the majority, compact and book-modeled periodicals experienced a dramatic growth in the early 1930s. Instead of a linear process of miniaturization (Chin, 2014), however, we observed a more complex pattern. The numerical growth of broadsheets did not compensate their decline in proportion, as compact periodicals with intermediate periodicity (bi- or semi-weekly, tabloids) developed at a higher pace during the same period. Moreover, while some periodicals did shrink, others increased in size between the two editions. Further research is needed to determine whether this process of reduction was a response to the shortage of ink and paper and the rising costs of production during the economic depression; whether it expressed editors’ concerns for accommodating changing reading practices and urban dwellers’ preference for more portable formats; or whether it reflected more profound changes in the press industry and the production of newspapers. As we will see in a future essay, we observe a greater proximity between news editors and book publishers in the Republican period. It remains to be established whether such convergence was just of process of imitation or whether it relied on the concrete exchange of materials, personnel and equipment.


Chin, Sei Jeong. “Print Capitalism, War, and the Remaking of the Mass Media in 1930s China.” Modern China 40, no. 4 (2014): 393–425.

Hong Yu 洪煜. Jindai Shanghai xiaobao Yu shimin wenhua yanjiu 近代上海小报与市民文化研究: 1897-1937 (A Study on Small format Newspapers and Citizens’ Culture in Modern Shanghai). Shanghai: Shanghai shudian chuban she, 2007.

Kerlan-Stephens, Anne, and Christian Delage. Hollywood à Shanghai: l’épopée des studios Lianhua, 1930-1948. Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2015.

Wang, Juan. “The Weight of Frivolous Matters: Shanghai Tabloid Culture, 1897-1911,” Ph.D. dissertation, History, Stanford University, 2004.

Yeh, Catherine Vance. “Shanghai Leisure, Print Entertainment and the Tabloids Xiaobao 小報.” In Joining the Global Public: Word, Image and City in Early Chinese Newspapers, 1870-1910, edited by Rudolf Wagner, 201–34. State University of New York Press, 2005.

Zhang, Zhen. An Amorous History of the Silver Screen: Shanghai Cinema, 1896-1937. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2005.

Xie Guoxing 謝國興, ed. Wanxiang xiaobao jindai Zhongguo chengshi de wenhua shehui yu zhengzhi 萬象小報:近代中國城市的文化、社會與政治 (All-Seeing Tabloid Newspapers: Modern Chinese Urban Culture, Society and Politics). 台北 Taipei: 中央研究院近代史研究所 Institute of Modern History, 2013.

Citer ce billet
Cécile Armand (2021, 3 mai). Downsizing the Press? Crow’s Newspaper Directory Series (5). ADVERTISING HISTORY. Consulté le 12 juin 2024, à l’adresse

  1. Carl Crow, Inc. “Newspaper Mechanical Requirements.” In Newspaper Directory of China (Including Hongkong) & Advertising Manual, 1937: An Annual Data Book and Technical Record for All Newspapers and Periodicals in China, Shanghai: Carl Crow, Inc., 1937, p.1. []

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).

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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).

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