Mapping pages in Crow’s Newspaper Directory of China (6)

This is the third 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 essay, we analyzed how the size of periodicals depended both on their periodicity and language. We showed that although large-size broadsheets remained the majority, compact periodicals grew significantly in the early 1930s. This new episode aimed at mapping their page layout and try to understand how the number and dimensions of columns related to the frequency and the language of publication.

Note: An enriched version is available as a R Markdown document (enriched with the data and lines of code for replicating the visualizations).


In the preface of the 1937 directory, Crow explained that:

The column of a Chinese paper is worked out by the height of the line, as Chinese types run from top to bottom vertical. Big Shanghai papers have their standardised columns at 5 inches for main editions and 2 1/2 inches for local edition supplements. Each line in a column has 40 Chinese characters of the No.5 type, or 8 characters make a depth of one inch. All advertisements in the main editions of the larger papers must be five inches deep, or a multiple of five inches. This requirement need not to be observed in the case of the smaller provincial papers which will accommodate almost any size of advertisement. The most common sizes are 6X9 inches (quarter page) or 4X6 inches (one eighth page).1

How did the pages of periodicals look like? How many columns, of what size, did they include? Can we detect  specific patterns in their layout? How did this relate to their periodicity, language and contents? How did the layout evolve over time? Did it become more standardized, or more diversified?

Number of columns

The histograms reveal significant discrepancies between periodicals. The number of columns they displayed may range from 1 to 13 in 1931, from 2 to 13 in 1935, with a slightly decreasing average from 8 in 1931 to 7 in 1935. The comparison between the two histograms also suggest a reduction in the number of columns between 1931 and 1935. While periodicals with eight to ten columns were the most frequent in 1931, those with five to ten columns clearly dominated in 1935. In parallel, we observe a remarkable growth of two-column periodicals. Although they did not really increased in number, they proportionally eclipsed their multicolumn counterparts:

Given the scarcity of information, however, these figures should be taken with caution. The information is missing for 63 periodicals in 1931 (58%) and 622 in 1935 (94%). The huge gap between the two editions prevents us from drawing sound conclusions about changes in layout over time.

Based on the histograms, we devised five categories to facilitate further analyses:

Thresholds (number of columns) 1931 1935
Number of periodicals % Number of periodicals %
0-3 20 7% 16 20%
3-5 32 11% 9 11%
5-8 149 51% 38 48%
8-10 75 25% 2 2%
10-13 19 6% 15 19%

The table confirms the growth of periodicals with fewer columns (less than 3) at the expense of those with more than eight columns (from 31% to 21%). Two-column periodicals grew from 7 to 20%. Periodicals with three to five columns stagnated around 11%. Those between five and eight columns maintained a short those declining majority (from 51% to 48%).

Japanese dailies in Manchuria (Manchu Nippon, Dairen Shimbun) and Shanghai (Shanghai Mainichi Shimbun, Shanghai Nichi Nichi Shimbun, Shanghai Nippo Sha) featured the largest number of columns (13). The Japanese model seems to influence Chinese dailies in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, such as *North Eastern Public Press* 東北民衆報 (Dongbei minzhong bao) in Shenyang and *Manchu News* 滿洲報 (Manzhoubao) in Dalian, which displayed twelve columns. The list also includes a handful of Chinese dailies, mostly in Northern cities (Qingdao, Tianjin, Harbin), and the Hongkong-based weekly *South China Sunday News* 南華星期報 (Nanhua xingqibao). While Japanese periodicals still topped the list in 1935, an increasing number of Chinese dailies based in Shanghai adopted the 12-column layout.

In the two directories, the periodicals with fewer columns were mostly English-language weeklies. The only periodical with a single column in 1931 was the English medical quarterly The Caduceus based in Hongkong. The majority of two-page periodicals consists in English-language weeklies based in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hongkong. The only exception in 1931 was the Chinese daily Strong Group Press 羣强報 (Qunqiangbao) published in Beijing.

These observations suggest some relation between the layout, the language and the frequency of publication. Periodicals with shorter periodicity (especially daily newspapers) seem to feature a larger number of column than less frequent publications. Moreover, Japanese multicolumn newspapers contrasted with English weeklies with very few columns.

To what extent did the periodicity and the language of periodicals impact on their layout? The next two sections aim to analyze in a more systematic way this seemingly triangular relation.


How did the frequency of publication impact on the layout of periodicals?

In the two directories, dailies generally contained more columns than less frequent periodicals. This largely reflects the proportionate size of the page. As we have seen earlier, daily newspapers generally contained larger pages than less frequent periodicals, which were more inclined to adopt compact formats.

In addition, dailies showed greater greater variability in their layout than other periodicals. In 1931, the number of columns in daily newspapers could vary from 2 to 13 pages, compared to 2 to 12 for weeklies and 2 to 4 for monthlies. This largely reflect the variety of language, as we will see later. Moreover, variability tended to decrease over time. In 1935, the possible number of columns in dailies ranged from 4 to 13, from 2 to 8 for weeklies. It remained stable for monthlies. Notwithstanding the gap in information, this confirms the standardization process which we highlighted earlier.

In order to systematize the analysis, we applied a linear regression model (lm) with the number of columns as the outcome variable (y) and periodicity as the explanatory variable, setting daily newspapers as the reference category.

We observe a strong correlation in the two directories (p value <2e-16 in 1931, 1.358e-08). The layout was clearly a factor of differentiation between periodicals with different periodicity. Daily newspapers clearly contained a larger number of columns than less frequently published periodicals.

In 1931, all categories featured fewer columns on their page than daily newspapers. The difference was particularly huge with quarterlies (- 7 columns), annuals (- 6), monthlies (- 5) and weeklies (-2.9) The difference was less significant with more frequent periodicals, namely tabloids (-1.1) and biweeklies (-1.4). Note: The figures for biweeklies and tabloids, however, should be taken with caution, given that the p-value for these categories is superior to 0.05.

The gap persisted in 1935 but the relation was not as linear as in 1931. The stronger difference was now between dailies and biweeklies, which contained six columns less. Monhtlies and annuals included five columns less and weeklies, four. The lack of information in this edition, however, may disturb the relation we observed in the first directory. Overall, there was a clear, almost perfectly linear relation between the number of pages and the frequency of publication. The more frequent the periodical, the larger the number of columns it contained.

How did language impact on the layout of periodicals?


The histograms suggest that Japanese newspapers featured the larger number of columns, whereas English periodicals contained fewer columns. Chinese periodicals presented the largest spectrum. Other foreign languages stood in between:

Moreover, while Japanese newspapers held the record number of columns, English periodicals displayed the greatest variability in their layout

The number of columns in English periodicals may vary from one to eight in 1931, between two and eight in 1935. Due to their statistical importance, Chinese periodicals came second (from two to twelve, four to twelve), though their variability decreased between the two editions.

In 1931, Russian newspapers included between five – Russian Kung Pao (Harbin) – to eight columns – The Zaria (Harbin). German newspapers in 1935 contained between four – Deutsche Shanghai Zeitung (Shanghai) – and six columns – Deutsch-Chinesische Nachvichten (Tianjin). The French Journal de Shanghai 法文上海日報 (Fawen Shanghai ribao) contained eight pages.

In order to modelize the relation, we performed a linear regression analysis setting the number of columns as the response variable (y) and language as the predictor variable (x), setting “Chinese” as the reference language category.

The difference was highly significant in the two directories (p value: 1.055e-15 in 1931, 2.617e-09 in 1935). The layout was clearly a factor of differentiation between languages.

To sum up, Chinese periodicals generally contained more columns than their foreign counterparts, except for Japanese newspapers that featured 5 columns more in 1931, 4.7 in 1935. The difference with French periodicals remained tiny (between 0.17 and -0.6 in 1935), which suggests that French newspapers included more columns than other languages. The French press in China, however, was not statistically important (p value: 0.938 in 1931, 0.9798 in 1935). The strongest negative difference was with English (-2.9 in 1931, -3.22 in 1935), and less significantly, German periodicals (-1.8 in 1931, -3 in 1935).


The layout was usually stable from one issue to the other. The number of column varied in nine periodicals, all Chinese-language daily newspapers:

Column variation  1931 1935
Number of periodicals % Number of periodicals %
Fixed 286 97% 79 99%
Varying  9 3% 1 1%

The scatter plots below visualize in greater detail the deviation between the minimum and the maximum number of columns:

The number of columns doubled in three periodicals, from three to six – Moukden Times 盛京時報 (Shengjing shibao), Red Sun News 旭日報 (Xuribao) – or four to eight – Kaoyu Daily Press 高郵日報 (Gaoyou ribao). Three others gained two columns, increasing from four to six – Fearless Press 大無畏報 (Dawu weibao), Social News 社會新報 (Shehui xinbao) – or six to eight – New National Prosperity News 新國華報 (Xinguo huabao), an illustrated newspaper in Guangzhou. Two others – Industrial And Commercial Daily Press 工商日報 (Gongshang ribao) in Hongkong and Tientsin Press 庸報 (Yongbao) in Tianjin – may include four more columns (from eight to twelve). The Public Critic Press 公評報 (Gongpingbao) in Guangzhou held the record with ten additional columns (from six to sixteen):

It appeared that Chinese editors were more likely to change the layout than their foreign colleagues:

The dots that deviate from the line all referred to Chinese daily newspapers.

Among periodicals with unstable layout, a significant proportion was published in smaller towns in interior provinces (Gaoyou, Zhenhai, Kunming) where standardization was not necessarily the rule, due to limited access to modern printing technology and shortage of human skills. Six of them, however, were based in major coastal cities (Guangzhou, Hongkong, Shenyang, Tianjin). Variability in layout, therefore, reflected editorial choices as much as technical constraints. Further research is needed to illuminate such important changes in the daily making of newspapers.

Dimensions of columns

As shown on the graphs below, the majority of periodicals featured vertical columns – their length y exceeding their width x (dots above the line) – but some of them displayed horizontal columns (dots above the line).

Average width and length:

In order to better interpret the difference, we computed the ratio x/y (width/height, or horizontal/vertical dimension). The larger the ratio, the more elongated the column:

The histograms reveal huge discrepancies between periodicals, especially in 1931. The ratio ranged from 0.0014 to 75. Most periodicals showed a ratio between 0.5 and 1.

Except for the English monthly Hexagon based in Shanghai, the most elongated columns were to be found in Chinese daily newspapers. Most of them were based in Hongkong, which suggests that newspaper men in the British colony developed a specific model layout for Chinese newspapers in this city. Further research is needed to understand the social and technical reasons for this specificity. On the opposite, the ten periodicals with horizontally striped pages (ratio < 0.086) include mostly Chinese newspapers based in Nanjing and less prominent urban centers, such as Zhenhai, Xiaoshan or Yingkou.


Among the periodicals with horizontal columns, we found a majority of dailies or tabloids, a few monthlies and one weekly. The majority of periodicals, however, are very close to the line, which means that the difference was barely significant and rendered into to square-like columns. Weeklies displayed columns with the most balanced dimensions. A handful of monthlies and dailies presented a more clearly horizontal layout (bottom right-hand corner).


The scatterplots below suggest a much more significant correlation between the language of periodicals and their layout. German and Japanese periodicals favored the horizontal layout, whereas vertical columns appeared more fitted to Chinese characters (top left hand corner). English periodicals stood in between and were the closest to the line, which suggests their preference for square columns.


The dimensions of columns varied in thirteen periodicals. In most cases, only the width varied, while the length remained constant. The North-China Daily News was the only periodical to display columns with fixed width but varying length. In its Sunday edition, the North-China Sunday News – both the width and the length varied. From these observations, it appeared that variation in the dimensions of columns was associated with weekly and other special editions.

In order to better examine the periodicals in question, we computed the ratio x min/x max and we select those whose ratio was different from 1. The list includes only Chinese daily newspapers, except for the English weekly North-China Sunday News. 

The language did not influence variation:

The scatterplots suggest that the variability decreased between 1931 and 1935. In 1935, there were fewer dots that deviated from the line. Notwithstanding the gap in information between the two editions, this confirms the standardization process we observed earlier.

Concluding remarks

As for the size of pages, their layout also depended on the periodicity and the language. Less frequent publications (annuals, quarterlies monthlies) usually contained fewer columns than dailies and more frequent periodicals. It should be noted than Japanese newspapers displayed more columns than any other languages. The dimensions of columns also varied across languages, which suggests that foreign editors relied on their own imported materials and printing technology to replicate the model layout that was standard in their country of origin. In contrast to the length, the layout of periodicals rarely varied between issues. It was obviously easier to augment or reduce the volume of pages than reshaping their very face. Any change in the number and dimensions of columns would have meant deep changes in technical equipment or editorial choices.

Ultimately, this research points to a general process of material stabilization and standardization in the Chinese press during the Republic, as evidenced by the decreasing variability in the length (number of pages), the format (dimensions of pages) and the layout (number and dimensions of columns) of periodicals between 1931 and 1935.

In order to better understand their physical and material characteristics, the next essay will investigate the production and circulation of periodicals.

Citer ce billet
Cécile Armand (2021, 17 mai). Mapping pages in Crow’s Newspaper Directory of China (6). ADVERTISING HISTORY. Consulté le 29 mai 2024, à l’adresse

  1. Carl Crow, Inc. “Newspaper Mechanical Requirements.” []

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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