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date: 26 April 2019

Understanding China’s News Media in Historical Perspective

Summary and Keywords

The Chinese media has been discussed either as a challenge to the authoritarian regime or as an instrument to consolidate state power in the recent debates concerning the impact of the Internet and the expansion of social media on China’s authoritarian rule. Both views have adopted the framework that was developed out of the liberal model of media in the West. In the liberal model, the news media should go through full-flown commercialization to achieve autonomy and independence from the state. The independence of the news media from the state is the precondition for the news media’s role as watchdog of the state and check on the government. However, the liberal model does not fit the actual historical experiences of the news media in China. Throughout the 20th century, state control of the media expanded in the context of state-building, war, and revolution. The Chinese media did not go through full-flown commercialization to the extent that the media would achieve complete independence from the state. Rather, in the context of state expansion, the media and the state became interdependent rather than antagonistic. In the state-dominated environment, the media did not necessarily seek independence from the state. Nevertheless, even without independence, the media can still play a significant political role within the limits and boundaries set by the state. This has important implications for understanding the resilience of the contemporary Chinese government.

Keywords: media, political press, commercialization, nationalization of newspapers, media reform

Diverging Views on the Chinese News Media

The development of the Internet and the recent emergence of new social media in China has reignited the debates on the political implications of the digital age in China, and more broadly on the role of the media in China’s authoritarian regime. Contrasting images of the Chinese media, namely, of online activism and Internet censorship, served to trigger even more fierce debates. On the one hand, lively and vibrant public discussions on public affairs appearing on blogs and microblogs seem to have become powerful enough to generate public opinion pressure on the government. On the other hand, China’s authoritarian government still imposes strict censorship on the Internet and social media through the Great Firewall and censors. Intriguingly, while the mobilizing power of social media and the Internet played a significant role in the Arab Spring, the role of the Social Network Services (SNS) in the Chinese Jasmine Revolution remained limited. Nevertheless, with the expansion of social media, the Internet is becoming an important public space for political contention in China.

How can we understand the contrasting images of the Internet and social media in China? There are diverging views on the political implications of the expansion of the Internet and social media in China. Optimists argue that their expansion may have a liberalizing effect on Chinese politics. They see the Internet as a new venue in which to express individual opinions with less interference from the state and as a new means to promote political transparency and accountability. In other words, they see the Internet as empowering the citizens and civil society and having the potential to increase freedom and facilitate democracy. Thus, according to this argument, the Internet will contribute to the erosion of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s ideological and political control and its political legitimacy.1 Scholars with more skeptical views would argue that the Chinese state’s continuing Internet censorship and skillful use of the Internet will allow it to consolidate power despite the change.2 Thus, the Chinese media can be viewed either as a challenge to the authoritarian regime or as an instrument to consolidate state power.

Notably, both views have adopted the framework that was developed out of the liberal model of the media in the West. This framework insists on the normative ideal of the media as a neutral independent watchdog and perceives the liberal model as the most “modern.”3 In the liberal model, the news media should go through full-flown commercialization to achieve autonomy and independence from the state. Finally, the independence of the news media from the state is the precondition for the news media’s role as a watchdog of the state and as a check on the government. Based on the liberal model of the media, scholars such as Habermas came up with the concept of the “public sphere.” Habermas argued that the bourgeois public sphere emerged in 17th- and 18th-century France as a realm for the free discussion of public affairs that was autonomous from the state, located in institutions such as the press, salons, and coffee houses. If the public sphere were to play a critical role, institutions of the public sphere such as the media should also maintain independence from the state.4 Further, the framework assumes that the relationship between the state and the media is antagonistic. In this narrative, the media continually resists and seeks independence from the state in order to play its role as a watchdog of the government.

For a long time, based on this framework, scholars of the Chinese media searched for a historical period in which the media had maintained independence from the state, without much success.5 The problem is that the Chinese media has never gone through full-flown commercialization to the extent that it has achieved complete independence from the state. Further, based on this framework, skeptics often assume that the Chinese media cannot play its role as a check on the government due to its lack of independence and autonomy from the state. Optimistic scholars predict that the Chinese media will achieve independence someday in the future if it goes through advanced commercialization. Thus, none of these views fully explain the contrasting images of the Chinese media.

The history of the Chinese media shows that the liberal model does not fit the actual experiences of China. The historical trajectory of media development in the context of the tumultuous dynamics of politics in modern China can provide a new perspective that goes beyond the liberal model to understand the relations between the Chinese state and the media and the media’s role in Chinese politics and society.

The Late Qing and Republican Period

The Arrival of the Western Press

Before the arrival of the Western press, the Peking Gazettes (Jingbao) constituted an important source of news in China. The Peking Gazettes reprinted edicts and memorials, which were approved by the government, and rarely published commentaries. The paper was published mainly for provincial officials to acquaint them with political events taking place outside their jurisdiction, but it was also circulated among the general public. The Peking Gazettes were often published by private publishers for profit.6 Because the Peking Gazettes were the only source of news on government affairs, the Qing court was in a favorable position to monopolize control of and to construct the news on government affairs. Popular news sheets, which published sensational news, were available but were issued irregularly.7 China also had its traditional concept of public opinion, yulun, which refers to elite opinion within the bureaucracy that was critical of government policies, rather than popular opinion. The concept of “pure discussion” (qingyi) was a righteous elite opinion that opposed corrupt government practices, which could be considered equivalent to the concept of the “watchdog” of the government.8 However, “pure discussion” was rarely published in the Peking Gazettes.

The arrival of the Western media in China from about the 1850s brought about a significant change in the country, as the state gradually lost its monopoly over the news on political affairs. From the 1860s, commercial newspapers catering to the business community in the treaty ports appeared in Shanghai and Hong Kong, and became important means of political communication. These papers enjoyed autonomy from Qing jurisdiction and had broad readership that included literati and merchants. In particular, the Shenbao, which was founded by the British merchant Ernest Major in 1872 and was mainly published for profit, is known to have played a significant role in the Chinese public sphere. Because officials also read these papers and were aware of the commentaries and news they published, the papers could influence government policymaking.9 However, the Shenbao as a commercial newspaper remained politically neutral and maintained moderate stances on political issues for the purpose of securing wider circulation.10

The Rise of the Political Press, 1890s–1900s

It was only after China’s defeat in the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 that newspapers became much more politicized and radicalized. The sense of fear in the face of national crisis generated greater demand for news and political discussion.11 Between 1895 and 1905, 198 newspapers and magazines were established.12 In particular, the rise of the political press became a distinctive feature of this period. The political press differed from the commercial press in that they were affiliated with and subsidized by particular political factions, did not seek to make a profit, and were used as propaganda tools to promote certain political ideas. In contrast, commercial newspapers and magazines were published mostly for profit. The flourishing of the political press has to do with the rise of reformists and revolutionaries in the Chinese political landscape. The Qing court, reformists, and revolutionaries all recognized the importance of the press in modern politics. Reformist papers included Qiangxuebao (1896), Shiwubao (1896), and Xiangbao.13 Liang Qichao, a reformer, was at the forefront of establishing the new journalism. By the period 1903–1904, the revolutionaries were actively using pamphlets, journals, and newspapers to promote anti-Manchu sentiments. In the beginning, revolutionary papers were published in Japan, or in Hong Kong, but they soon appeared in Shanghai and were quickly distributed nationwide, facilitating the radicalization of political discourse. Reformists and revolutionaries debated with each other through the press, while the Qing government also attempted to unify the Chinese press scene under governmental patronage by establishing governmental papers, or guanbao. These governmental papers, such as Beiyang guanbao and Hubei guanbao, established by Yuan Shikai and Zhang Zhidong, competed with other commercial papers for readership in the market. The government provided these papers with political patronage as well as financial subsidies.14 With the emergence of the political press, the Qing court had to compete with the reformist and revolutionary press in constructing public opinion and news of its policies. The Qing court, the reformers, and the revolutionaries all competed to appeal to the public and to claim the judgment of “public opinion” on their behalf.15 This competition was unprecedented in the history of the Qing dynasty. The political press had much smaller circulation numbers than the commercial newspapers, but the multiplicity of voices of the competing political groups mediated through the political press transformed the public realm and the mode of political communication, and gradually had the effect of undermining the authority of the Qing court.

Because both the reformers and the revolutionaries saw it as imperative to enlighten the people, they also sought to expand their readership. In the new reform agenda, commoners were considered an important part of state-building. “The reformers believed that people had to be educated and transformed with new ideas and new sets of values. Especially, after the Boxer uprising, how to enlighten the people became the new discourse of the intellectuals. The term kai minzhi became one of the most commonly used catchwords in the 1900s.”16 Thus, reformers established literacy schools to offer quick and cheap literacy education to the illiterate. Numerous newspapers and pamphlets were published in vernacular Chinese in order to reach a broader readership. In addition, the reformers also relied on oral transmission, presenting news readings, traditional lectures (xuanjiang), and modern speeches on the streets and in teahouses, theaters, and temples. The Revolutionary Alliance and the New Army also used speeches and baihua pamphlets, modeled after the form of traditional storytelling, to promote revolutionary thoughts. Regional and reformed operas were also widely employed by sympathizers and members of the revolutionary party.17

Commercialization in the 1910s and 1920s

In the 1910s and 1920s, the commercialization of newspapers was accelerated in the context of the economic boom that occurred during World War I. Commercial newspapers gradually became mainstream newspapers and displaced the political press, which began to decline after the 1911 Revolution. The decline of foreign competition during World War I provided Chinese entrepreneurs with the opportunity to expand their businesses. Between 1912 and 1920, Chinese industry achieved an annual growth rate of 13.9%. National industries, such as cotton mills, flour mills, cigarette factories, and modern Chinese banks, flourished at the time.18 This economic boom also provided the newspaper industry with the opportunity to increase revenues from both circulation and advertisements. Xinwenbao’s daily circulation number, which in 1912 was around 20,000, increased to 140,000 by 1926.19 Shenbao’s daily circulation in 1912 was 7,000, increasing to around 140,000 in 1926.20 Revenues from advertisements increased during this time as well, alongside the development of China’s national industries. By the mid-1930s, more than 70 percent of the revenue of Shenbao and Xinwenbao was from advertisements.21 During this time, commercial newspapers such as Shenbao became financially much more secure by accumulating capital through successful investments. For example, Shi Liangcai, who took over Shenbao in 1912 along with a few other Chinese, managed to accumulate capital by successfully investing in the dispensary and banking industries.

The adoption of advanced printing technology also facilitated commercialization. For example, Shenbao purchased an American rotary press in 1918 and was able to print 10,000 copies of a twelve-sheet paper per hour. By 1928, Shenbao’s new American rotary press could publish 36,000 copies of a four-sheet paper per hour.22 Further, newspapers also enjoyed the privilege of low rates for telegrams, which was approved by the state in the Republican period.

The weakening of the central government during the warlord period (1916–1927) also facilitated the development of commercial newspapers. Although the Beiyang government (1912–1928) enforced a strict press law, commercial newspapers mostly published in the concessions in the treaty ports, such as Shanghai and Tianjin, and enjoyed relative autonomy from state control during this period, and thus began to dominate the newspaper market. Nevertheless, the decentralized political system did not guarantee a stable environment for national circulation.

Despite accelerated commercialization, the circulation numbers show that the newspaper industry was not fully commercialized in comparison with those of Japan and Britain at the time. In Japan, circulation of the leading newspapers, the Osaka Asahi Shinbun and the Osaka Mainichi Shinbun, reached more than one million by 1927.23 The Northcliffe Daily Mirror sold 1.2 million copies a day by 1914 in Britain, while the Mail’s circulation reached 1.85 million by 1930.24 Thus, Shenbao’s circulation of 140,000 in 1926 was not comparable to that of the equivalent commercial newspapers in Japan or the United Kingdom.

The Media and State-Building in the Nationalist Government, 1927–1937

By 1927, commercial newspapers were faced with a dramatic political change, namely the rise of the authoritarian party-state, the Nationalist government (1927–1949). The Nationalist government as a party-state strove to establish one-party rule dominated by the Nationalist Party. The Nationalist government was able to establish Chinese courts in the concession areas in Shanghai in 1930 and 1931 after the abolition of the Mixed Court in 1927, and thus the Chinese press in these areas no longer enjoyed legal autonomy from the Chinese authorities.25 The Nationalist government enforced strict press laws and censorship as a part of state-building. In addition, Nationalist government officials made efforts to gain direct control over the commercial newspapers by buying shares in them and even by establishing new newspapers. Further, the Nationalist government established a party organ, the Minbao. However, these party newspapers were not competitive with the commercial newspapers in terms of circulation numbers and political influence in the 1930s.

The commercial newspapers with the largest national circulation numbers, such as Shenbao and Xinwenbao, were still owned and managed by the powerful Shanghai capitalists and financiers in the 1930s. Despite the Nationalist Party’s efforts to establish party papers, privately owned commercial newspapers still dominated the newspaper market. Circulation numbers for Shenbao and Xinwenbao were 150,000 a day in the 1930s, and Dagongbao and Yishibao, published in Tianjin, sold 55,000 and 35,000 copies a day in 1934 respectively.26 In contrast, the circulation numbers for the Minbao, the party organ of the Nationalist party, were 9,540 in 1935.27

The national crisis posed by the Manchurian Incident in 1931 and the Shanghai Incident in 1932 triggered an outright confrontation between the Nationalist government and commercial newspapers. In particular, major Shanghai newspapers owned and managed by the Shanghai capitalists and financiers became politicized in opposition to the Nationalist government’s appeasement policy toward Japan. Shanghai elites mobilized public support for the resistance policy, and Shi Liangcai, a proprietor of Shenbao, played a pivotal role. When Shenbao published editorials criticizing the appeasement policy in 1932, the Nationalist government imposed a postal ban to prevent newspaper offices form using the postal service to distribute newspapers nationwide. Further, the Nationalist government established a centralized censorship system to enforce strict censorship more effectively in the midst of the confrontation and national crisis.28 This tension culminated in the assassination of Shi Liangcai, allegedly ordered by Chiang Kai-shek.

Ironically, however, in the context of the state-building and national crisis, relations between the Nationalist government and the commercial newspapers gradually became interdependent. Because major commercial newspapers were still privately owned, the officials in charge of enforcing censorship were urgently in need of voluntary cooperation from the newspaper offices. Publishers of the commercial newspapers also cultivated friendly relations with officials in charge of controlling the media in order to get past the censors and the postal ban in their daily operations. Thus, due to their interdependent relations, the state, the elites, and the media still had some space to negotiate in constructing public opinion in the media, which still exerted significant influence on policymaking, despite the expansion of state control over the media during the Nationalist period.29

War and the Media: From the Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) to the Civil War (1946–1949)

The period of the Sino-Japanese War from 1937 to 1945 was a critical juncture in the history of the news media. It was at this time that fundamental changes occurred in the newspaper industry, especially in terms of its relations with the state. Treaty ports such as Tianjin and Shanghai, in which most of the largest newspapers were published, were occupied by the Japanese military after the outbreak of the war. After the Pacific War began in 1941, the Japanese military occupied the whole of Shanghai, including the International Settlements where the newspaper offices were located, and confiscated most of the Shanghai newspapers in the concession area. As a result, a considerable number of Shanghai capitalists lost control over their newspapers, and most of the privately owned commercial newspapers that had previously dominated the Shanghai newspaper market were closed down. Further, newspapers under the direct control of the political authorities, either the Japanese military or collaborationist Wang Jingwei factions, began to dominate the Shanghai newspaper industry. Interestingly, it was the Japanese military, not the Chinese state, that was able to confiscate commercial newspapers in the context of the military occupation.30

Even after the war ended, the state continued to exert direct control over the major newspapers. When the Nationalist government returned to Nanjing in 1945, it was easily able to confiscate the major newspapers, such as Shenbao and Xinwenbao, on the grounds that these newspapers had collaborated with the Japanese and the Wang Jingwei regime. Further, the Nationalist Party established its own party organs, while also allowing the publication of non-partisan newspapers such as Wenhuibao. Consequently, the expansion of state power influenced by the institutional changes that occurred during wartime was accelerated in the postwar period. One can see the continuing augmentation of state power over time in the context of state-building and war in the early 20th century.

The Media in the Mao Period (1949–1976)

The expansion of state power culminated in the 1950s. When the CCP unified China, it was easily able to confiscate newspapers by claiming that those papers were controlled by the Nationalist party, the CCP’s political enemy. By late 1952, the CCP had nationalized most of the newspapers as well as radio stations. This means that the media is owned and managed by the state. Non-party newspapers, such as Wenhuibao and Guangming ribao, were still allowed to be published in China with the cause of the United Front strategies to cooperate with other political forces than the CCP. However, these non-party papers also went through nationalization by late 1952.31 In the process, journalists working for non-party newspapers had to go undergo Thought Reform.32

The CCP formulated a coherent media theory based on socialist ideology, unlike the Nationalist Party. The socialist media system was presented as an alternative to the capitalist media system, which represented the interests of the big capitalists and was often manipulated by them. Firstly, the media was supposed to be a mouthpiece of the party, and should function as an instrument of the party. Because the party proclaims itself to be the vanguard of the proletariat representing the interests of the people, the media should serve as the mouthpiece of the party, and more broadly serve as the mouthpiece of the people.33 The CCP upheld the “party principle,” and thus the media must accept the party’s guiding ideology, propagate the party’s programs, policies, and directives, and accept the party’s leadership. Lenin’s notion that the party newspaper should be the party’s collective propagandist, agitator, and organizer was also instrumental in shaping the Chinese Communist Party’s journalism policy.34

Secondly, the media was a critical tool to implement the mass line, the central part of Mao Zedong Thought or Maoism, which emphasizes mass mobilization in the socialist revolution. In order to implement the mass line, party cadres need to learn from the masses, reflect this learning in policymaking, and then educate the masses about party policies. The catchphrase “from the masses to the masses” was often used. With the high illiteracy rate in China, the CCP even organized newspaper reading groups for the illiterate population. The newspapers should not only enlighten the masses, but also channel the voices of the masses to the party for policymaking.

Intriguingly, the CCP emphasized the media as a means to supervise the government and the party, and promoted the publication of “criticism and self-criticism” in the newspapers. Citizens were encouraged to express their criticisms of party officials through newspapers. This was probably a gesture by the CCP to implement “democracy” within the party and the government. During the New Anti-Three Campaign in 1953, Mao declared in the People’s Daily that “people who are suppressing criticism, are the enemy of the party.”35 The problem was that most of the media under the control of the party committee at the local level was reluctant to criticize the party. This idea, in the reform period, was re-emphasized by promoting the concept of “public opinion supervision,” in which the media is supposed to play a supervisory role over the party and the government. In this context, the CCP, both in the Mao and post-Mao eras, allowed public exposure of the abuse of power by the local officials through the media.

Finally, the CCP also promoted “press freedom” based on the constitution, and stipulated that press freedom could be enjoyed only by the people, not by the enemy of the people, which is different from press freedom in the liberal sense. Thus, if someone is defined as an enemy of the people, then this person is deprived of press freedom.

The Media in the Post-Mao Period (1976–Present)

In the post-Mao period, the CCP undertook media reform without completely liberalizing the media in the context of economic reform. The media reform can be also understood as part of the political reform. Unlike Eastern Europe, China carried out economic reform without political liberalization. Nevertheless, Deng Xiaoping and the CCP leaders learned their lesson from the Mao period and carried out limited political reform. The focus of the CCP policy in the post-Mao period shifted from the class struggle to economic reform. First of all, the CCP facilitated the commercialization of the media. Until the beginning of the economic reform in 1978, the media in China was completely subsidized by the state. The Chinese government adopted a policy of gradually cutting subsidies and encouraging commercialized financing. Some newspapers lost all subsidies in the early 1980s. Production materials such as newsprint and ink, which had been allocated by the government, were gradually left to the invisible hand of the market. Advertisements, which were not allowed in the Mao era, were readopted so that the media could rely on them for financing. Consequently, although the media were still owned by the state, their economic base shifted from complete reliance on state subsidies to increasing dependence on commercial revenue from advertising, sponsorship, and business operations in other areas. Further, commercialized media sought to cater to the interests and tastes of their readership. Secondly, the Chinese government also carried out the decentralization of media ownership and management. During the Mao period, the CCP controlled the media directly from the center. The central government transferred ownership and management rights to the lower level of government, so the media structure in the post-Mao period is now much more decentralized than in the Mao period.

The government continued to enforce strict censorship and media control, and still emphasized the “party principle,” although the media was no longer viewed as a tool of class struggle. The CCP’s power to hire and fire party leaders in charge of the media industry and top managers constitutes an important mechanism of media control. The Central Propaganda Department plays an important role in monitoring media personnel and controlling the content of TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and film.36 The CCP is now tightening its control over the Internet through the Great Firewall, keyword filtering, Internet monitors, and Internet police. Nevertheless, the purpose of the censorship program is not necessarily to suppress criticism of the state or the Communist Party. A recent study by Gary King on media censorship in contemporary China demonstrates how Chinese online censorship is not necessarily geared toward silencing criticism of the government, but rather is more focused on censoring content that could instigate collective action.37 Thus, the purpose of the censorship program is to reduce the probability of collective action by severing social ties whenever any collective movements are expected to occur.38 In fact, some actual cases of online activism demonstrate that even when the media is tightly controlled by the state, the media or the Internet can publicize criticism of local officials and pressure the state to respond to public opinion. Overall, we can see that while the state continues to enforce effective control over the media, the Internet, and social media, despite these limits they also play an important role as watchdog of local government, if not of the central government. There is a set boundary within which the media is allowed to function, and this boundary has been broadened in the post-Mao period compared with the Mao period.


Throughout the 20th century, state power over the media expanded in the context of the state-building, war, and revolution. Over time, the state became the dominant actor in the field of media. We can see that the Chinese media did not go through full-flown commercialization to the extent that it achieved complete independence from the state. Rather, in the context of state expansion the media and the state became interdependent, and not necessarily antagonistic. In the state-dominated environment, the media did not necessarily seek independence from the state and did not have a strong incentive to resist the state’s power. The media’s strategy was different from that in the West. Media sources sought to connect with the state in order to gain access to financial resources or to obtain interviews with government officials. This is quite different from the Western historical experience. Even when the media published critical voices, it tended to expand the boundaries by establishing connections with government officials. Thus, without independence, the media could still play a critical role within the limits and boundaries set by the state. Notably, within those boundaries, the media could criticize local government and local officials, but not central leaders or central government, which constitutes significant continuities with the late Qing to the post-Mao period.

What is the implication of the history of the media in China for understanding China’s Internet?

How does the Internet play the role of watchdog without independence from the state? When assessing the impact of the Internet on politics, we should not assume that the Internet in China, as a media institution, is constantly struggling to gain independence from the state and resisting state interference. Microblog companies thrive by forging close relations with the state and cooperating with the state in censorship. The Internet and social media still play the role of watchdog without autonomy from the state, even if it is limited. Thus it is not useful to discuss whether this phenomenon will lead to political liberalization or regime consolidation. It will be more fruitful to examine the actual role of the Internet in specific circumstances in China.

Discussion of the Literature

Western scholarly interest in the Chinese media emerged in the context of the Cold War. Under the influence of the Cold War perception of China as totalitarian state, scholars in the West viewed the Chinese media as effective in persuading or even “brainwashing” the Chinese public.39 From the mid-1960s, however, scholars began to recognize the limited effect of the media in Communist China.40 Because the view of the Chinese media as a tightly controlled instrument of political indoctrination and mass mobilization still prevails, the media’s role as a watchdog or check against the state has often been overlooked.

The Tian’anmen Incident and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 reignited the scholarly debates on the Chinese media and more broadly on civil society and the public sphere in the 1990s. The study of the media focused on searching for a historical period in which the media maintained independence from the state. Other scholars concluded that the predominance of state power had not allowed for the emergence of a public sphere and civil society in Chinese history.41 These scholarly debates still adopted the liberal model of media in examining the Chinese media, and often overlooked the political role of the media as a watchdog.

Primary Sources

The Shanghai Municipal Archives (SMA) houses archives of various Shanghai newspaper offices, including Shenbao and Xinwenbao in the Republican period, and archives of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) newspaper offices, including Jiefang ribao and Wenhuibao. Further, the SMA holds the documents of various party and government institutions that were in charge of controlling the media in both the Republic period and the PRC. Nanjing Number Two archives also holds documents of the GMD Propaganda Department and other institutions that were in charge of controlling the media. Academia Historica (Guoshiguan) in Taiwan also houses the documents of the Nationalist Party on its media policy. Further, the various newspapers of the Republic period and the PRC are available on microfilm, online databases, CD-ROM or in print in numerous libraries in China as well as the university libraries in Hong Kong, the United States and around the world. Shenbao, Xinwenbao, Wenhuibao, and various other newspapers from both the Republican period and the PRC are available on microfilm at the Harvard-Yenching Library.

Published sources in collected volumes of the government documents on media policy both in the Republican period and the PRC are available as follows. (1) Republican period (1911–1949): Zhongguo di’er lishi dang’anguan, Zhonghua minguoshi dang’an ziliao huibian. Jiangsu guji chubanshe, 1994. (Series 3 (Wenhua), Series 5. Vol. 1 (Wenhua), Series 5. Vol. 3 (Wenhua)); (2) CCP (1921–1949) and the PRC (1949–1956): Zhongguo shehui kexueyuan xinwen yanjiusuo, Zhongguo gongchandang xinwen gongzuo wenjian huibian. Vol. 1–3. Beijing: Xinhua chubanshe. 1980.

Digital Materials

Many universities around the world subscribe to the Shenbao online database and the People’s Daily (renmin ribao) online database.

The Shanghai Library, Quanguo baokan suoyin 全国报刊索引‎ (National periodicals index). Shanghai: Shanghai tushuguan, 2006–

Further Reading

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

Fang Hanqi, Zhongguo xinwen shiye tongshi. Vols. 1–3. Beijing: Zhongguo renmin daxue chubanshe, 1996.Find this resource:

Goodman, Bryna. “Networks of News: Power, Language and Transnational Dimensions of the Chinese Press, 1850–1949.” The China Review 4, no. 1 (2004): 1–10.Find this resource:

Goodman, Bryna. “The New Woman Commits Suicide: The Press, Cultural Memory and the New Republic.” Journal of Asian Studies 64 (February 2005): 67–101.Find this resource:

Goodman, Bryna. “Appealing to the Public: Newspaper Presentation and Adjudication of Emotion.” Twentieth-Century China 31, no. 2 (2006): 32–69.Find this resource:

Harrison, Henrietta. “Newspapers and Nationalism in Rural China 1890–1929.” Past and Present 166 (February 2000): 181–204.Find this resource:

Judge, Joan. “Public Opinion and the New Politics of Contestation in the Late Qing, 1904–1911.” Modern China 20, no. 1 (January 1994).Find this resource:

Judge, Joan. Print and Politics: “Shibao” and the Culture of the Reform in Late Qing China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Lean, Eugenia. Public Passions: The Trial of Shi Jianqiao and the Rise of Popular Sympathy in Republican China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Lee-hsia Hsu Ting. Government Control of the Press, 1900–1949. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974.Find this resource:

Liebman, Benjamin. “Watchdog or Demagogue? The Media in the Chinese Legal System.” Columbia Law Review 105, no. 1 (January 2015): 1–157.Find this resource:

Ma Guangren. Shanghai xinwenshi. Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe, 1996.Find this resource:

Ma Guangren. Shanghai dangdai xinwenshi. Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe, 2001.Find this resource:

Mackinnon, Stephen. “Toward a History of the Chinese Press in the Republican Period.” Modern China 23, no. 1 (January 1997): 3–32.Find this resource:

Mittler, Barbara. A Newspaper for China? Power, Identity, and Change in Shanghai’s News Media, 1872–1912. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2004.Find this resource:

Reed, Christopher. Gutenberg in Shanghai: Chinese Print Capitalism, 1876–1937. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Stockmann, Daniela. Media Commercialization and Authoritarian Rule in China. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Vittinghoff, Natascha. “Unity vs. Uniformity: Liang Qichao and the Invention of a ‘New Journalism’ for China.” Late Imperial China 23, no. 1 (June 2002): 91–143.Find this resource:

Wagner, Rudolf G. “The Role of the Foreign Community in the Chinese Public Sphere.” The China Quarterly 142 (June 1995): 423–443.Find this resource:

Wang Juan. “Officialdom Unmasked: Shanghai Tabloid Press, 1897–1911.” Late Imperial China 28, no. 1 (December 2007): 81–128.Find this resource:

Zhao Yuezhi. Media, Market, and Democracy in China: Between the Party Line and the Bottom Line. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998.Find this resource:


(1.) Guobin Yang, The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011); Ashley Esary and Xiao Qiang, “Political Expression in the Chinese Blogosphere,” Asian Survey 48, no. 5 (September/October 2008): 752–772; and Yangqi Tong and Shaohua Lei, “War of Position and Microblogging in China,” Journal of Contemporary China 22, no. 80 (March 2013): 292–311.

(2.) James Leibold, “Blogging Alone: China, the Internet, and the Democratic illusion?” The Journal of Asian Studies 70, no. 4 (November 2011): 1023–1041.

(3.) Daniel Hallin and Paolo Mancini, Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics (Cambridge, UK, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 13, 76.

(4.) Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry Into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989).

(5.) L. Sophia Wang, “The Independence Press and Authoritarian Regimes: The Case of the Dagong Bao in Republican China,” Pacific Affairs 67, no. 2 (Summer 1994): 216–241; there is a well-known debate on China’s public sphere. See William T. Rowe, “The Public Sphere in Modern China,” Modern China 16, no. 3 (July 1990); William T. Rowe, Hankow: Conflict and Community in a Chinese City, 1796–1895 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989); and Frederick Wakeman, “The Civil Society and Public Sphere Debate,” Modern China 19, no. 2 (1993): 108–138.

(6.) Barbara Mittler, A Newspaper for China? Power, Identity, and Change in Shanghai’s News Media, 1872–1912 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2004), 173–242; and W. K. Cheng, “Contending Publicity: The State and the Press in Late Qing China,” Asian Thought and Society 23, no. 69 (September–December 1998): 173–179.

(7.) Leo Ou-fan Lee and Andrew Nathan, “The Beginnings of Mass Culture: Journalism and Fiction in the Late Ch’ing and Beyond,” in Popular Culture in Late Imperial China, eds. David Johson, Andrew Nathan, Evelyn Rawski, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 360–398, 362.

(8.) Joan Judge, “Public Opinion and the New Politics in Contestation in the Late Qing, 1904–1911,” Modern China 20, no. 1 (January 1994): 64–91; and Mary Backus Rankin, “‘Public Opinion’ and Political Power: Qingyi in Late Nineteenth Century China,” The Journal of Asian Studies 41, no. 3 (May 1982): 453–484.

(9.) William Alford, “Of Arsenic and Old Laws: Looking Anew at Criminal Justice in Late Imperial China,” California Law Review 72 (1984): 1180–1256.

(10.) Mittler, A Newspaper for China?, 361–421.

(11.) Leo and Nathan, “The Beginnings of Mass Culture,” 363–364.

(13.) Vittinghoff, “Unity vs. Uniformity,” 96–99.

(14.) Vittinghoff, “Unity vs. Uniformity,” 99–104.

(15.) Keith Baker, “Public Opinion as Political Invention,” in Inventing the French Revolution: Essays on French Political Culture in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Keith Baker (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 167–199, 172.

(16.) Li Hsiao-t’i, “Making a Name and a Culture for the Masses in Modern China,” Position (Spring 2001): 33–34.

(17.) Li Hsiao-t’i, “Making a Name and a Culture for the Masses in Modern China,” 36.

(18.) Marie-Claire Bergere, The Golden Age of the Chinese Bourgeoisie, 1911–1937, trans. Janet Lloyd (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 70–83.

(19.) Hu Daojing, “xinwenbao sishinianshi,” Baoxue zazhi 1, no. 2 (1948).

(20.) Hu Daojing, Xinwenshi shang de xin shidai, Shijie shuji, 1946 (Reprint in Hu Daojing wenji: Shanghai lishi yanjiu, Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 2011), 541.

(21.) Xu Zhucheng, Jiuwen zayi (Shenyang: Liaoning jiaoyu chubanshe, 2000), 179.

(22.) Shebaoguan, Shenbao gaikuang (Shanghai: Shenbao, 1935).

(23.) Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998): 60–61.

(24.) Graham Murdock and Peter Golding, “The Structure, Ownership and Control of the Press, 1914–1976,” in Newspaper History from the 17th Century to the Present Day, ed. George Boyce, James Curran, and Pauline Wingate (London: SAGE, 1978), 130–131, 130–148.

(25.) Sei Jeong Chin, “The Politics of the Shanghai Courts: The State, Local Elites, and Social Networks in Nationalist China, 1927–1937,” Journal of Modern Chinese History 11, no. 1 (2017): 29–49.

(26.) H. G. W. Woodhead ed., The China Year Book (Shanghai: The North China Daily News & Herald, 1934), 658–659.

(27.) Shanghai shi nianjian, 1936, T60.

(28.) Sei Jeong Chin, “Politics of Trials, the News Media, and Social Networks in Nationalist China: The New Life Weekly Case, 1935,” in At the Crossroads of Empires: Middlemen, Social Networks, and State-building in Republican Shanghai, eds. Nara Dillon and Jean Oi, 131–152 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008).

(29.) Chin, “Politics of Trials, the News Media, and Social Networks in Nationalist China,” 131–152.

(30.) Sei Jeong Chin, “The Historical Origins of the Nationalization of the Newspaper Industry in Modern China: A Case Study of the Shanghai Newspaper Industry, 1937–1953,” China Review 13, no. 2 (Fall 2013): 1–34.

(31.) Chin, “The Historical Origins of the Nationalization of the Newspaper Industry in Modern China.”

(32.) Zhang Jishun, “Thought Reform and Press Nationalization in Shanghai: The Wenhui Newspaper in the Early 1950s,” Twentieth-Century China 35, no. 2 (April 2010): 52–80.

(34.) Zhao Yuzhi, Media, Market, and Democracy in China, 19.

(35.) People’s Daily, January 23, 1953.

(36.) Ashley Esarey, “Speak No Evil: Mass Media Control in Contemporary China,” a Freedom House Special Report (February 2006), 1–11.

(37.) Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret Roberts, “How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression,” American Political Science Review 107, no. 2 (May 2013): 326–343.

(38.) King, Pan, and Roberts, “How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression.”

(39.) Franklin Houn, To Change a Nation: Propaganda and Indoctrination in Communist China (East Lansing: Michigan State University, 1961); and Frederick Yu, Mass Persuasion in Communist China (London: Pall Mall Press, 1964).

(40.) Matthew Johnson, “Beneath the Propaganda State: Official and Unofficial Cultural Landscapes in Shanghai, 1949–1965,” in Maoism at the Grassroots: Everyday Life in China’s Era of High Socialism, ed. Jeremy Brown and Matthew Johnson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015), 199–229.

(41.) Rowe, “The Public Sphere in Modern China”; Rowe, Hankow: Conflict and Community in a Chinese City, 1796–1895; and Wakeman, “The Civil Society and Public Sphere Debate.”