Digging up the Chinese Economic Journal

In this post, I want to introduce an invaluable – yet unknown – journal that I discovered while I was seeking new materials on Chinese history during my postdoc at Stanford: the Chinese Economic Journal/Bulletin (CEJ/CEB) – 經濟討論處 (jingjitaolunchu) or 中國經濟月刊 (zhongguo jingji yuekan).
This journal is unique by its temporal and spatial scope, and by the range of topics it covers. Under varying titles, it was published continuously from 1921 to 1937 by the Chinese government, alternatively by its Bureau of Economic Information (BEI), Beijing (1921-34) and by the Bureau of Foreign Trade in Shanghai (1923-37) – two government agencies devoted to the production and dissemination of economic information in Republican China. The BEI defined itself as a non political organization which proposes to provide economic, commercial, financial and industrial information relating to the Republic of China). 
First issue of the Chinese Economic Journal and Bulletin, January 1936
As for its readership, the CEJ/CEB addressed Chinese and foreign business and political actors in Republican China and beyond (potentially to anyone interested in socio-economic conditions in China) – commercial enterprises, businessmen and market professionals; engineers, politicians, diplomats and decision-makers; engineers and economic experts; economists, sociologists and other scholars). In 1929, the subscription rate in China was $5.00 a year, and $3.00 for six months. Single copies may be obtained at 30 cents. For foreign countries, 10 cents was charged for postage. 
In fact, there were three distinct publications, published in different languages and following different  tempo:
  • The Chinese Economic Bulletin (1921-1923): a weekly published in English;  
  • The Semi-Monthly Economic Journal 工商半月刊 (Guoshang banyuekan): a bi-monthly published in Chinese from 1929 to 1936; 
  • The Chinese Economic Monthly (1923-1927), then Journal (1927-1935), and finally Journal and Bulletin (after merging the Journal and Bulletin in 1935): a monthly published in English 
While the weekly bulletin provided factual information, the monthly  offered more in-depth analysis and selective information. In addition, the Bureau issued special series and publications (statistical series, pamphlets and booklets). It also answered specific inquiries and furnished raw materials upon request (statistical data, maps and charts, for instance). Subscribers to the Bulletin or Journal were entitled to this service. 
The journal provides incredibly rich information on a great variety of topics, ranging from social surveys (sample surveys and budget enquiries on working-class families, farmers or rickshaws coolies); price and cost of living index; market reports; biographies of commodities; scientific articles on health, nutrition and other social issues; analysis of official reports and regulation, customs notifications and other political measures that impacted the economy. The authors were Chinese and foreign experts from various backgrounds – economists, sociologists, journalists, engineers, government officials, diplomats, commercial attaches. Articles included not only texts but also visual devices (statistics, maps, charts, photos) that proved crucial tools in the making and legitimation of market expertise in the early 20th century. 
The journal also contained advertisements not only for the Bureau’s special publications, but  also newspapers, publishing companies and even cigarettes. Their increase in number and space and the turn to big commercial enterprises like tobacco companies suggests that advertising revenues had become of critical importance for the journal’s survival in the 1930s. 
This journal represents such an invaluable source for economic and social historians of modern China that I can’t figure out why it has been neglected until today. It is available in print and microforms in several university libraries in the United States (Stanford, Berkeley, Michigan). Although it has been entirely digitized, HathiTrust offered but a limited view (search only) due to copyright restrictions  (Orphan law). Such restrictions are not only nonsense (since the journals is available in print and can be digitized by anyone) but  highly detrimental to academic research and knowledge production  today – particularly for historians willing to apply up-to-date techniques of data mining and automatic extraction. In this respect, the resources provided by the HathiTrust Research Center are far from satisfactory. It’s a shame that such stupid barriers remain even in so-called democratic countries. 

Cécile Armand

Ancienne élève de l'Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) de Lyon (2006), agrégée d'histoire (2009), docteure en histoire (2017), postdoctorante à Stanford University (2017-8) puis Aix-Marseille Université dans le cadre du projet ERC “Elites, Networks and Power in modern China” (2018-). Ma thèse soutenue à l’ENS Lyon en juin 2017 proposait une histoire spatiale de la publicité à Shanghai (1905-1949). Mon nouveau projet porte sur l’invention du consommateur et de l’expertise sur le marché en Chine républicaine. Au-delà, mes centres d'intérêt couvrent l'histoire urbaine, spatiale et sociale, les outils et méthodes numériques en sciences sociales, l'historiographie et l'épistémologie en général.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me: