Crow’s Newspaper Directories of China

In 1931, Carl Crow published the first Newspaper Directory of China1. It was the first of a series of four successive editions of what was to become a reference book in professional circles. The directory aimed to fill a gap which was well-acknowledged by professionals at the time, namely the lack of reliable and consistent information on the press in modern China. Although it was initially designed as a guide for advertisers looking for the best advertising medium to place their products, its impact reached far beyond business circles. It became a standard directory not only in the principal advertising agencies but also in the libraries of many universities all over the world.

In the directories, newspapers are arranged alphabetically by city, language and type of publication (periodicity). Each city entry is preceded by a short description of the city, its population and geographical situation. For each newspaper, the directory provides the following information:

  • Original name (in Chinese or other language) and its transliteration in English;
  • Year of establishment;
  • Type of publication (daily, weekly, monthly, etc);
  • Language (Chinese, English, Japanese, Russian, French, German, bilingual);
  • The name and address of the editor or publisher;
  • The number and dimensions of pages;
  • The number and size of columns ;
  • Circulation (number of copies printed or distributed);
  • And for some of them, the price and additional, special features (illustrated supplements, profile of readers…).
It remains difficult to assess how Crow collected the information. The production of such data was probably part of the routine work of his advertising agency (Carl Crow, Inc.). It is likely that Crow relied on three major sources of information:
  • Editors: Most data were supplied by the editors or publishers of newspapers themselves. Although there might be some exaggeration in the circulation figures, however, altogether they provide a fairly accurate picture of the newspaper industry in the 1930s.
  • Post Office: Most subscribed newspapers were distributed by the Chinese Post Office that kept detailed records of its service. However, these data did not include the newspapers delivered locally by coolies, especially in large urban centers like Shanghai.
  • Advertising returns – the coupons that readers sent back to the newspaper or to the advertising agency in exchange of a free sample, or to participate in commercial contests – that Crow collected over several years.

The first edition was regularly updated (every two years) from 1931 to 1937. Thus there were four successive editions: 1931, 1933, 1935, 1937. While the directories focused on China and Hong Kong, they also included a list of newspapers and periodicals published in Japan and Southeast Asia (Malay States, Singapore, Java, Siam, Sumatra, Borneo, Siam). The 1937 edition was enriched by a folded map of China and it was preceded by an advertising manual that offered a brief introduction to newspaper mechanical requirements and alternative advertising medias (direct mail, outdoor and radio advertising). In contrast to the previous editions, the last one also stands out by the substantial number of advertisements for newspapers and periodicals it contains. They not only indicate how far the book had become a reference but also served to support financially the production of the directory.

We must acknowledge the biases resulting from the editorial choices. In addition to the errors and omissions that are inevitable in such large-scale compilations, the directories recorded only the existing periodicals that were active at the time of publication. The editor chose not to include the newspapers that had ceased to exist or that had been temporarily suspended for political reasons. In other words, the directories are just a snapshot of the press landscape at the time of their publication, or more accurately, at the very moment when Crow collected the data.

Despite these flaws, Crow’s directories nonetheless offered the most complete picture of the Chinese press in the 1930s that we have been able to draw to date. Moreover, the serial analysis of the successive directories allows us to trace the tremendous and rapid changes that the Chinese press experienced in the 1930s, due to political instability and economic depression. As we shall elaborate in later posts, the comparative study of the 1931-1933 and 1935-1937 editions points to the deep impact of the Sino-Japanese war on the press industry, especially in Manchuria after the Japanese invasion in 1931, and in Shanghai after the destruction of the premises of the Commercial Press in 1932.

Further analysis is needed, but even at this stage, the most striking feature that emerges from the directories is the formidable growth of the press since the establishment of the Republic in 1912. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of newspapers published and also a remarkable geographical expansion outside the port cities – especially Shanghai and Hong Kong, the cradle the newspaper industry in the second half of the 19th century.

To conclude, this collection of directories will considerably enrich our current knowledge of the Chinese press during a critical period in the history of China in general and of the newspaper industry in particular. It contains information that is hard to find in other sources, such as the number and dimensions of pages and columns. This provides inestimable grounds for a long-awaited material and social history of the press in modern China.

We have been able to identify the four editions in various American university libraries2. We are now processing the four books through Freizo – an interactive tool for annotating and extracting data based on these annotations based on III-F standards. At this stage, we have already processed the 1931 and 1935 editions3. We will soon publish our preliminary analyses of these two editions. In the meantime, we will process the editions of 1933 and 1937 in order to provide a more complete and continuous picture. In the long-term, we plan to build a database of the press in Republican China and to provide access to the data as well as to the digitized copies of the books from which they were extracted.


Cite this blog post
Cécile Armand (2020, November 10). Crow’s Newspaper Directories of China. Elites, Networks and Power in modern China. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from

  1. Carl Crow (1883-1945) was an American, Missouri-trained journalist and pioneering advertising agent in Shanghai. He contributed with Millard – another prominent American journalist – to the creation of the China Press (Dalubao) and other American newspapers. He also headed the Committee of Public Information (ComPub) that served the U.S. government propaganda during WWI. In 1918, Crow founded the first news agency – Chun Mei News Agency – and the first American-style advertising agency – Carl Crow, Inc. For a detailed biographical account of Crow’s life and career as an advertising professional in China, please refer to my PhD dissertation: Cécile Armand, “‘Placing the History of Advertising’: A Spatial History of Advertising in Shanghai (1905-1949)” (Ph.D. in History, ENS de Lyon, Lyon, France, 2017), 216–24, 266–74. []
  2. In this respect, we are particularly grateful to Mitch Fraas and Eric Dillalogue (University of Pennsylvania Libraries) who generously provided us with a digitized copy of the 1933  edition []
  3. It was more complicated to process the 1931 edition due to the two-column layout of the pages. []

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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