SHAO Peiren and Wendell ANDERSON

In a country with a long history of printing, it is somewhat surprising that magazines in China have been around for only slightly more than a hundred years. The development of magazines was slow during most of the twentieth century. But since the 1980s, magazines, like other mass media in China, have been growing to meet people’s demands.

Newspapers have a long history and deep influence in China. Magazines, on the other hand, are a more recent medium. The publication and distribution of magazines—including consumer publications, trade periodicals, and academic journals—has progressed slowly since the late nineteenth century. Not until the 1980s had China begun to develop what might be called a magazine industry to complement the overall growth of mass media in the country. Magazines—both print and electronic—written in Chinese languages and published in the People’s Republic of China for Chinese readers are more diverse and popular than ever.

First Titles

The first Chinese-language magazine, in the modern sense of the word, was launched on 15 August 1815 when British missionary William Milne (1785–1822) founded Chinese Monthly Magazine in Malac. The publication ran from 1815 to 1822 and focused mainly on missionary affairs and ethical issues. In Guangzhou in 1833, Karl Friedrich August Gutzlaff (1803–1851), a German missionary, published Eastern Western Monthly Magazine, considered the first Chinese-language magazine published inside China.

Attempts to create magazines by Chinese publishers began in the 1880s. Even then, publishing was a risky business. It was not until the late 1890s, during the so-called Hundred Days Reform—a failed attempt at political, cultural, and educational reform in the Qing dynasty (1644–1912)—that periodicals arose. One of the most influential periodicals of the time was the Contemporary News Journal (Shiwu Bao, ???) founded in Shanghai. Liang Qichao was the chief editor. He is known for his 70,000-word article calling for reforms that ran in twenty-one consecutive issues of the magazine. In 1904 Oriental Magazine was launched by a commercial print company. A general-interest publication, Oriental Magazine had the longest run of any Chinese magazine before the creation of the People’s Republic of China.

Twentieth Century

Politics was the prime subject matter for periodicals in the first half of the twentieth century. The first magazine issued by the Central Committee of Chinese Communist Party was Guidance Weekly, which came out in 1922, only one year after the formation of the party. In the 1930s and 1940s, such titles as the Liberation Weekly, Military and Politics in No. 8 Route Army, China Youth, China Worker, and the Illustrated Journal in Jin-Cha-Ji Area appeared.

Several cultural journals also appeared during this period, including Life Magazine managed by Zou Taofen (1895–1944), a Chinese correspondent, political commentator, and publisher, and The Observer organized by Chu Anping (1909–1966?), a Chinese scholar, intellectual, and noted liberal journalist. Chu went on in the 1950s to edit the Guangming Daily (Guangming Ribao), a newspaper still being published.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the publishing industry underwent an overhaul resulting in the creation of many new publications. By 1956 the number of known periodicals had reached 790, most covering political ideology and Chinese culture. Some of the most influential periodicals in the 1950s and early 1960s were the political news magazine Study, the popular mass media magazine China Youth, and the academic journal Philosophy Research.

Magazine publishing—along with many other political, cultural, and educational enterprises—came to a crashing halt during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). In 1970 only about twenty-one magazines were still being published.

New Issues

The all-important Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party in December 1978—a turning point in Chinese history that led to the opening of China—called for not only economic reform but also intellectual and educational reform. The search for truth to support Marxist ideology shifted from pragmatism, such as professors working on farms with the peasants, to a more modern scientific approach. These types of ideas helped the magazine industry to revive, retool, and remain strong up to the present.

By 1978 some 930 magazines were being published; by 1988, more than 6,000. The industry enjoyed a growth spurt in the early 2000s. By 2007 there were 9,468 magazines generating about 17 billion yuan ($2.5 billion) a year. Advertising sales in magazines have continued to grow as well. In 2007 revenues reached 3 billion yuan ($439 million).

Magazine Genres

The types of magazines in China, as in the United States, are quite diverse. And, as in the United States, the number of e-zines is on the rise and taking their place alongside traditional printed periodicals. The Chinese State Press and Publication Administration classifies magazines published in China into seven major categories although there are a number of subcategories as well. In American publishing these are known as consumer, or popular, magazines. Following are the major categories along with some representative titles: general interest (City Weekend), social science (Global Weekly), science and technology (Newton: Science Online), culture and education (EduBridge), art and literature (Sounds of Rain), children’s (Comics World), fashion (Rayli), and pictorial (People’s Photography). These consumer magazines are for the general public, with a few exceptions. They focus on information, entertainment, and readability, and usually include photos or illustrations and advertising. Their circulation is high and their price low.

In addition, China’s magazine industry includes three categories of specialty publications. Vocational journals (known as trade publications in the United States), such as Electronic Products China, report on the latest markets, products, and business management practices for a specific industry or profession. Most of their revenue comes from ads and sponsorship. Their circulation and price are comparatively low. Academic journals, such as Progress in Natural Science, are mainly academic papers and research reports. They focus on certain fields and specific readers. They have a small circulation, higher price, and few, if any, ads. Even more specialized are digests and catalogues that offer concise and updated information, literature citations, abstracts, and indexes based on the editing of vast databases. Their subscribers are largely organizations, companies, and libraries. Compared with the other specialty publications, their circulation is small and their price high.

Industry Challenges

Having achieved some success, the magazine industry has become aware of the need for industrial development. The industry faces a number of challenges if it wants to build and maintain readership.

Most domestic magazines still fail to operate under the principles of a market economy and have not established a modern enterprise system. Some magazines rely heavily on local administrative power, and their circulation is largely limited to the administrative system or grassroots units. Many are more or less institutional organizations without an entrepreneurial approach. They stay far away from the market,
thus hindering the development of a competitive market mechanism and depriving themselves of economic returns.

In addition, there is a lack of authoritative statistics concerning circulation and advertising revenue and an inadequate system of archiving and record keeping. It is difficult for a new magazine to obtain serial numbers from regulators, which hinders its development. Furthermore, even though there may be a large number of magazines on the market, material is limited. Magazines of a similar genre cover the same content. And only a few magazines have risen above the others to influence thought, culture, or the market. Finally, a scarcity of knowledgeable publishers and business managers and talented editors and writers prevents the industry from achieving higher status.

Positive Prospects

But in response to the steady development of China’s economy and the rise of disposal income for the average Chinese citizen, the central government has attached great importance to cultural development and prosperity; thus periodicals—print and electronic—have a promising future. The government has established regulations for the periodical market in order to be fully prepared for international challenges. A government-sponsored program gives priority to those influential periodicals enjoying favorable sales and good reputation.

The market for magazines, and all other mass media, in China is expanding. The market is China’s growing numbers of readers and Internet users with time and money who are demanding more illuminating, meaningful, and personalized material from their mass media providers. If the magazine industry adopts a market-driven strategy, it is bound to prosper.

Further Reading

Li Pin. (2005). The blue book of domestic periodicals: The no. 1 industrial development report on domestic periodical industry. Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press.

Shao Peiren & Hai Huo. (2005). A general introduction to mass media. Zhejiang University Press.

Song Yingli (2000). The development of domestic periodicals. Henan University Press.

Zhang Bohai & Tian Shengli. (2007). The almanac of domestic periodicals (2006 & 2007). Beijing: Encyclopedia of China Publishing House.

Source: Shao, Peiren, & Anderson, Wendell. (2009). Magazines. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1372–1374. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

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