Making the news in Republican China: A study of publishers in Crow’s Newspaper Directory of China (1931-5)

This is the continuation of our series devoted to Carl Crow’s Newspaper Directory of China. In the last episode we examined the circulation of periodicals. This new instalment focuses on their publishers and addresses the following questions : Who were the publishers of periodicals in the Republic of China? Where did they come from? What sector did they represent? What was the relative importance of Chinese/foreign publishers? How did the national origin relate to the language of publication? How did the publishing industry evolve in the early 1930s?

NB. As for the previous ones, an enriched version of this essay, with the data and the code used for producing the visualizations, is available as a R Markdown document here.


Crow indicated the publisher for 108 periodicals in 1931 and 135 in 1935. The publisher remained unidentified for the majority of periodicals (70% in 1931 and 31% in 1935)1.

Based on the information readily available in the directories, we compiled the publisher’s name and their nationality. In order to facilitate interpretation, we devised a two-level classification to describe their profile, i.e. the sector of activity they represented.

Let’s start with examining their profile at the broader level.


In a preliminary step, we define a basic six-class categorization:

  1. Professional: professional publishers specialized in the news industry and the selling of cultural products (books, periodicals) as their main source of profit.
  2. Business: periodicals published by individual entrepreneurs or private companies outside of the publishing sphere.
  3. Organization: voluntary or professional associations that published their own bulletin or journal in order to inform the public on their activities or to review the state of the art in their field of expertise.
  4. Academic (universities and research institutes): academic publishers concerned with the production and circulation of a highly specialized knowledge catering a niche readership.
  5. Official: administrative and propaganda literature from political parties (mostly the Guomindang) and the central or local administration (mostly Chinese, but also Japanese in northern China).
  6. Other: church and missionary institutions, hospitals…
Class Number %
Professional 118 49%
Organization 50 21%
Private 33 14%
Official 21 9%
Academic 14 6%
Other 7 3%

This basic classification highlights the heavy weight of professional publishers (49%). If we compare the two directories, however, we observe in parallel the remarkable growth of organizational (from 19% to 22%) and official publications (from 5% to 12%), which reflected the development of the “civil society” and the Party-state apparatus during the Nanjing decade (Eastman, 1974, Kirby, 2004, Strauss, 1998, Wang, 2014):

Class 1931 1935
Number % Number %
Professional 58 54% 60 44%
Organization 20 19% 30 22%
Official 5 5% 16 12%
Private 17 16% 16 12%
Academic 5 5% 9 7%
Other 3 3% 4 3%

We then broke down the initial classification into ten categories to get a finer view of the publishers’ profile. The table shows the new distribution:

Class Number %
Publishing house 55 23%
Newsgroup 42 17%
Association 32 13%
Person 22 9%
Newspaper 21 9%
Business organization 18 7%
University 14 6%
Administration 12 5%
Company 11 5%
Political party 9 4%
Church 4 2%
Army 2 1%
Hospital 1 0%

Among professional publishers, publishing houses and newgroups topped the list (23% and 17% respectively). Newsgroups differed from independent newspapers in that they produced more than one periodicals. Such newsgroups included for instance the North-China Daily News & Herald, Ltd. in Shanghai (British), the Hongkong Daily Press, Ltd. (British), the Newspaper Enterprise, Ltd. (American), Reuters (British), and the Shenbao and Xinwenbao on the Chinese side. Voluntary associations ranked third (13%). Other publishers represented less than 10%. Individual entrepreneurs and newspapers represented 9%. Next, by decreasing importance, we find business organizations (mostly chambers of commerce, 7%), universities (6%), administration (5%), private companies (5%), political parties (4%) and miscellaneous publishers (3%).

Let’s compare the new distribution between the two directories:

In 1931, independent newspapers (21, 20%) and newsgroups (17, 16%) represented the largest share (38, 36% in total). Publishing houses came next (19, 18%). The remaining categories represented a minority (less than 10% each). In other words, professional publishers in the publishing and press industry clearly prevailed in the early 1930s (54%).

The distribution had changed significantly by 1935. Publishing houses now topped the list (31, 23%). Associations had considerably progressed and now ranked second (20, 15%). Newsgroups and independent newspapers came next (16, 12% and 13, 10%, respectively). Other categories remained a minority (less than 10% each).


How did the publishers’ profile relate to the periodicity of periodicals?

One may assume that newsgroups and newspapers essentially issued dailies and the most frequent periodicals (weeklies, bi and semi weekly), while publishing houses would more likely specialize in less frequent publications, especially annuals. We might also expect non-professional publishers from the civil society (associations, universities, administration, church) to produce the largest share of monthlies and quarterlies (academic and professional journals).

Did the directories validate these hypotheses?

Among professional publishers, independent newspapers effectively published a majority of dailies in 1931. They also issued a few weeklies and monthlies. In 1935, they continued to focus on dailies but now also included tabloids. They still published a few monthlies but weeklies had disappeared from their production.

Newsgroups presented a more diversified spectrum than independent newspapers. As early as 1931, they were involved in five different categories of periodicals, mostly dailies, weeklies, and to a lesser extent, monthlies, quarterlies, and annuals. The distribution remained the same in 1935, the only difference being the general decrease in the total production.

Publishing houses (e.g. Commercial Press, Chung Hwa Book Co., Ltd., Millard Publishing, Modern Book Store, Modern Publications, Ltd., ) were a major driving force in the diversification of the press market through their contribution to new, intermediate categories of periodicals. In 1931, they focused on monthlies, weeklies, and to a lesser extent, annuals. By 1935, however, they had considerably broadened their production, now offering seven distinct categories of periodicals. Monthlies and weeklies still dominated, and annuals remained a minority, but we now found a handful of semi-monthlies, bi-weeklies and quarterlies.

Outside of the press / publishing industry, non-professional publishers from the civil society included associations, business organizations, private companies, individual entrepreneurs, and academic institutions (universities and research institutes) that increasingly engaged in the production of periodicals.

Associations (e.g. China Medical Association) involved in four main categories of periodicals. The majority consisted in monthlies (China Medical Association, National Good Roads Association, Red Cross Association) and quarterlies (Nurses’ Association of China, Chinese Physiological Society). Two of them issued weekly (Shanghai Chinese Y.M.C.A.) or daily periodicals (Storage Association). The landscape remained unchanged in 1935, the only difference being the general increase in the total production.

Individuals entrepreneurs focused on three types of equally distributed periodicals: dailies, weeklies and monthlies. The situation did not change between 1931 and 1935.

In 1931, private companies published three types of almost equally distributed periodicals: dailies, monthlies and quarterlies. They continued to emphasize monthlies in 1935 but the share of dailies had considerably shrunk. Quarterlies had totally disappeared from their production which now included one annual – the Shanghai Dollar Directory.

Business organizations focused on dailies and monthlies. Their production also included one tabloid in 1931 – Chungking Evening Post (重慶晚報 Chongqing Wanbao) published by the Wine Guild – and one annual in 1935 – Credit Men’s Business Directory Of China (徵信工商行名錄 Chengshen gongshanghang minglu) by the Bankers’ Co-operative Credit Service.

Academic institutions engaged in three main types of publications in 1931, mostly quarterlies, plus one monthly – the German-language Chinesische Zeitschrift Medizin (民國醫學雜誌 Minguo yixue zazhi) by the Manchu Medical College in Shenyang, Liaoning – and one annual – the Hongkong University Union Magazine. By 1935, the academic world had significantly diversified its output, now including six distinct categories of periodicals. In addition to quarterlies and monthlies, some institutions also issued a daily (such as the English-language Yenching Gazette by the Department of Journalism at Yenching University), tabloid (such as Party Army Daily News 黨軍日報 (Dangjun ribao) by the Central Military School), weekly (Children’s Bell 童鐘 Tongzhong, or Dong Chun) by the Provincial Model High School in Taiyuan, Shanxi) and bi-monthly periodicals – such as the Journal of Electrical Engineering (電工 Diangong) by Chekiang University in Hangzhou (Zhejiang).

In 1931, the administrative press consisted mostly in monthlies and biweeklies. By 1935, the administration had considerably broadened its media of communication, which now included five different categories. Monthlies still prevailed and the biweekly – Liaoning Educational Journal (遼甯敎育公報 Liaoning jiaoyu gongbao) by the Educational Bureau of Liaoning – had disappeared. Some administrative bodies engaged in intermediate periodicals (semi-monthlies, semi-weeklies) or tabloids, such as Tzeshing People’s Press (資興民刊 Zixing minkan) by the Zixing Bureau of Finance (Hunan), Semi-Monthly Economic Journal (工商半月刊 Gongshang banyuekan) by the (Bureau of Foreign Trade), and *Hot Blood* (熱血報 Rexuenbao) by the Anti-Japanese Publicity Bureau of Wusih (Wuxi).

The Guomindang (GMD) was the only political party listed in the directories, which reflected the development of the Party-state regime during the Nanjing decade. Officially, the party published only two dailies in 1931 – two local editions of the Republican Daily News (民國日報 Minguo ribao) in Shanghai and Xiaoshan (Zhejiang). In 1935, GMD publications included six dailies in six different cities and one biweekly – Singling People’s Press (新寧民報 Xining minbao) published in Xinning, Hunan. The latter and the New Nantung Daily News 新南通日報 Xin Nantong ribao) had been established prior to 1931 (in 1925 and 1928, respectively), though they were not listed in the first edition of the directory.

Among the miscellaneous remaining publishers, the Church was represented by two Hongkong-based organizations – Irish Jesuit Fathers and St. John’s Cathedral – both specialized in monthly periodicals. The American Marine Corps Expeditionary Forces (Fourth Marines) published one weekly – Walla Walla – in Shanghai. The Life Hospital also based in Shanghai issued the eponym monthly magazine Life Monthly (生活月刊 Shenghuo yuekan).

To conclude, three main categories of publishers contributed to enriching the press market through the invention of intermediate periodicals: publishing houses, administrative agencies and academic institutions. Besides their general decline, independent newspapers (the nature of their production) did not show any significant change in their profile. Despite their general progress, associations did not change either. Meanwhile, private companies declined on the daily market. They stopped publishing quarterlies and were barely able to maintain their monthlies. No structural change affected the miscellaneous publishers (army, church, hospitals, individual entrepreneurs). The backbone of their production basically remained the same. Some of them began to include new categories they did not offer in 1931. Business organizations, for instance, maintained a strong basis of dailies and monthlies, simply shifting from tabloid to annual. Political parties maintained their emphasis on dailies and added one biweekly.


How far did the publishers’ nationality determine the language of periodicals?

The origin of 76% publishers in 1931 and 83% in 1935 remains undetermined. In some cases, such as the Mercury Press Co. (American) or the China Critic Publishing Co. (Chinese), Crow explicitly mentioned their nationality. In most cases, however, their was no such indication. The proper identification of these undocumented cases would require further investigation and remain open to interpretation. The very notion of “nationality” should be taken with caution. Even when publishers’ nationality is explicitly stated, the basis for such attribution remains unclear. Did it refer to the ownership of the company, its editorship, the provenance of its capital or the makeup of its staff? The process of attributing a national origin to collective entities such as private companies, business organizations and transnational associations, remains highly questionable. How far and on what conditions can we attribute a “national origin” to such collective, often multinational entities involving multiple actors and sources of funding (Goodman, 2004)?

Keeping these precautions in mind, let’s examine the facade identity of the best known publishers based on the information provided in the directories.

Quite expectedly, Chinese-language periodicals represented the overwhelming share of Chinese publishers’ activity. Their production also included a smaller but growing proportion of English-language periodicals and a few bilingual publications. Except for American and Japanese, all foreign publishers specialized in their native language – British and Irish publishers in English, German, Russian and French publishers in German, Russian and French, respectively. American and Japanese were the only foreign publishers to issue Chinese periodicals along with their own native language.

Five Chinese publishers issued English-language periodicals in 1931. They included three publishing houses – China Critic Publishing Company, China Truth Publishing Company, Chinese Nation Publishing Company – that each published their eponym weekly – China Critic, The Truth and The Chinese Nation. In addition, two professional associations – China Medical Association and Chinese Physiological Society – published their own professional journals in English – the monthly China Medical Journal in Shanghai and the quarterly Chinese Journal Of Physiology.

In 1935, two more publishing houses joined the list, in addition to three already active 1931, The China Publications, Ltd and The Union Press Company. Both specialized in popular magazines. The former issued the China Health Pictorial and the latter the weekly Shanghai Cinema Guide. The two previously mentioned associations remained active publishers in 1935. In addition to Shanghai, the China Medical Association now circulated a second edition of its China Medical Journal in Beijing as well. Largely staffed with foreign-trained Chinese, administrative bodies and business organizations also began to disseminate information in English. The Bureau of Foreign Trade issued two English-language periodicals – the weekly Chinese Economic Bulletin and the monthly Chinese Economic Journal. The Bankers’ Co-operative Credit Service published its annual Credit Men’s Business Directory and the radio company China Broadcast published the weekly Shanghai Calling.

The newsgroup Post-Mercury Company was the only American publisher to issue a Chinese-language periodical, namely the daily Great American Evening Newspaper or Ta Mei Wen Pao (大美晚報 Damei wanbao).

The Manchu Medical College in Shenyang (Liaoning), was the only Japanese institution to issue a Chinese-language periodical – the monthly Min Kuo E Sho Za Tze (民國醫學雜誌 Minguo yixue zazhi), even though the journal also bore a German title *Chinesische Zeitschrift Medizin*.

Two Chinese institutions – one university and one professional association – published two bilingual (Chinese-English) quarterly journals devoted to medical subject – the National Medical Journal by the Peiping (Peking) Union Medical College in Beijing and the Nursing Journal Of China by the the Nurses’ Association of China in Nanjing.

Finally, the directories listed two bi-national (Chinese-American) academic institutions that published either in Chinese or in English. The Medical College of Peiping (Beijing) University was the published of the monthly journal The Living Medical Journal (唯生醫學 Weisheng yixue) in Chinese, while the students of the Department of Journalism at Yenching University (Beijing) were in charge of the Yenching Gazette – an English-language daily.


Did  the publishers’ profile predetermine their location? Did some cities attract publishers with a specific profile? Put another way, did we observe a geographical specialization of publishers in early 1930s China?

As one may expect, treaty ports and cities with a strong foreign presence presented the wider range of publishers. Shanghai hosted almost all possible categories (except for religious institutions). Publishing houses and associations dominated the market, followed by newsgroups, independent newspapers and individual entrepreneurs. Hongkong ranked second with eight distinct categories. Newsgroups and newspapers represented the largest share, followed by religious and academic institutions. Tianjin comprised three main categories, mostly newsgroups, individual entrepreneurs and less importantly, independent newspapers. Universities and associations stood at par in Beijing.


As the plots show, newsgroups and independent newspapers presented the greatest dispersion. They were scattered across four distinct cities. Except for Chengdu, they were all based in treaty ports (Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangzhou) or colonial territories (Hongkong). Universities and individual entrepreneurs were disseminated in three different cities. Publishing universities were located in three cultural centers – Beijing, Shanghai and Hongkong – whereas individual publishers were located in three treaty ports – Shanghai, Tianjin and Harbin. Administrative bodies, business organizations and associations presented a pattern of higher concentration in two main places – Shanghai/ Shenyang, Shanghai/Chongqing, and Shanghai/ Beijing, respectively. Finally, private companies concentrated in Shanghai and religious institutions in Hongkong.

Concluding remarks

In conclusion, the directories reveal the prevalence of professional publishers (newspapers, newsgroups, publishing houses) but also the growing importance of non-professional publishers representing the “civil society” and the party-state that developed simultaneously during the Nanjing decade.

The publishing industry apparently experienced a process of business integration and expansion, as evidenced by the formation of large press and publishing corporations able to produce a wide range of publications. Yet we shall not underestimate the importance of smaller, free lance newspaper publishers that remained under-documented in the directories.

Publishing houses were the primary driving force in the diversification of the press market. They accounted for most of the intermediate, irregular periodicals that emerged in the early 1930s (bi/semi). While individual newspaper enterprise and newsgroups focused on dailies and tabloids, other publishers emphasized less frequent periodicals. Monthlies and quarterlies were the primary outlet for non-profit associations and academic institutions.

The publishers’ national origin largely determined the language of their publication. Except for one American entreprise (Post-Mercury Company) and the Japanese-led Manchu Medical College in Shenyang (Liaoning), all Chinese-language periodicals came from Chinese publishers. Minority groups (French, German, Russian) focused on their native language. A few Chinese publishers staffed with English-speaking contributors and translators also published in English. Some academic institutions and professional associations, especially in the medical field, even issued bilingual publications.

We’re now approaching the end of our statistical odyssey. The next essay will attempt to synthetize the previous findings through a multiple correspondence analysis (MCA) of the data compiled from the directories.

...To be continued…


Eastman, Lloyd E, The Abortive Revolution: China under Nationalist Rule, 1927-1937. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1974.

Goodman, Bryna. “Semi-Colonialism, Transnational Networks and News Flows in Early Republican Shanghai.” China Review 4, no. 1 (2004): 55–88.

Huang, Philip C.C. “‘Public Sphere “/”Civil Society’ in China? The Third Realm between State and Society.” Modern China Modern China 19, no. 2 (1993): 216–40.

Kirby, William C. Realms of Freedom in Modern China. Stanford, Calif: Stanford Univ. Press, 2004.

Strauss, Julia C., Strong Institutions in Weak Polities: State Building in Republican China, 1927-1940. Clarendon Press, 1998.

Wagner, Rudolf G, ed. Joining the Global Public: Word, Image, and City in Early Chinese Newspapers, 1870-1910. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2007.

Wakeman, Frederic J. R. “The Civil Society and Public Sphere Debate: Western Reflections on Chinese Political Culture.” Modern China, August 17, 2016. 

Wang, Chen-Cheng. “Intellectuals and the One-Party State in Nationalist China: The Case of the Central Politics School (1927–1947).” Modern Asian Studies 48, no. 6 (2014): 1769–1807.

Citer ce billet
Cécile Armand (2021, 31 mai). Making the news in Republican China: A study of publishers in Crow’s Newspaper Directory of China (1931-5). ADVERTISING HISTORY. Consulté le 12 juin 2024, à l’adresse

  1. The dataset can be downloaded for inspection on Zenodo and explored in greater depth in the R Markdown document. []

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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