ENTERTAINMENT NEWSPAPERS AND THE RISE OF MASS CULTURE
Entertainment newspapers and pictorials appeared in China first at the end of the nineteenth century. These publications were part of the rise of an urban mass culture and became one of the most significant developments in the twentieth century. Their interest lies in the fact that they are a mixture of what was considered fascinating new imports from the West with traditional and familiar cultural norms. Furthermore, the entertainment press was one of the core components in the development of China's public sphere in the late nineteenth century. When during the twentieth century, mass culture began to evolve into one of the major commercially driven cultural phenomena, the entertainment press again played a central role. The impact of these papers is due to their close link to the popular market, which made them a key component in the formation of public opinions not so much on national affairs but on modern urban lifestyle, social values, and worldview.
Their relentless quest for the acquisition of ever-newer technologies in print and visual imaging such as lithography, copper engraving, and photography from the late nineteenth century onwards was primarily driven by market forces. As a result, this sector of the entertainment industry played as much a leading role in introducing, promoting and developing new technologies as other more traditional manufacturing industries. This resulted later in the introduction of the radio and the motion picture in the 1920s and 30s. In these respects the entertainment papers became one of the most inventive, and sometimes even subversive forces in modern China, while at the same time they were subtly unifying social values around a new core.
The focus of this website and database is on the entertainment newspapers known as xiaobao and illustrated journals known as huabao of the time period between the 1880s and the 1930s. They are all Shanghai-based because this city had become the entertainment and media capital of China. This was facilitated by its economic muscle as a hub of trade and, increasingly, manufacturing, and the fact that as "foreign settlement" it offered to both foreigner and Chinese substantial freedoms by being outside of the censorship control of the Qing court and later of the Republican government. Other cities in China had little or none of such papers even after the fall of the Qing dynasty. However, Shanghai entertainment papers were available throughout the country through a dense distribution network.
The Institute of Chinese Studies of the University of Heidelberg has in the past decade amassed a unique collection of Chinese entertainment papers mostly in the form of microfilm. This collection has been the basis of our Web-project.
Classification of entertainment papers: Under the general heading of entertainment press, there are many varieties with a great deal of overlapping. At the same time, each of these publications tried to acquire a distinct profile. Some may be considered literary xiaobao, publishing novels and stories and offering a vast field of play to the writers of the "popular literature" of the time; others mainly focused on entertainment news with courtesan and actors as their main subject; political xiaobao and illustrated magazines especially sprang up at times of national crisis; and finally there are xiaobao with special focus such as pornography, or medicine. A considerable number of the xiaobao and huabao specialized in one of the entertainment-related businesses or industries such as courtesan entertainment, amusement parks (youxichang), theatre, film, radio, or particular types of local operas such as quanqu.
The main themes covered by this website: (1) Basic data on xiaobao and huabao. This includes title, publisher, page size, prices, and frequency of publication. (2) Data on contributors to these publication including writers, editors, columnists, cartoonists, and theatre critics. (3) Summary of main features of the publication in terms of its designed function (for example, created for the entertainment halls, or for the theatre); main events covered by the paper. (4) Literary works published in the paper including serialized novels, short stories and essays. (5) A selection of illustrations and different issues of the paper. (6) A classification of advertisements in the paper.
The aim of the database: As important as xiaobao is in terms of being a cultural and social force, entertainment culture and the entertainment press in China have not yet been widely studied. This in part is due to ideological concerns of this not being a "high art" or "high culture" topic while being shunned by economic historians all together with all other entertainment as being only "cultural." It is by now well-known that most major cities do not live off their industries or service sectors alone, but in fact draw much or most of their attraction and livelihood from their entertainment. This scholarly neglect is also due to the diffuse nature of newspapers altogether and the large amount of diverse materials of this genre as well as the difficulty in accessing this particular genre as most have never been reprinted. This forms the motivation for creating the database so to make this rich body of materials available to a wider circle of students and scholars of cultural, literary, political and economic history of modern China.
This database hopes to initiate and facilitate, furthermore, the study of the different forms and formats of the entertainment press from a material culture perspective. For example, (1) the size of the papers, the type and quality of paper, their layout, their visual quality, and their treatment and conservation by readers have a lot to tell about shifts in taste of the reading public at different times. (2) To study the rise of the visual as the core direction which this entertainment print culture took. This involves the close examination of the whole production process from drawing to layout to print. Specifically, the art of illustrations in these journals, the techniques applied for printing, and the relationship between the visual and the textual elements. (3) To examine and discuss possible traditional textual and visual forms, which had an impact on these new media products. In the textual realm, in particular, one may study how traditional literary forms of poetry, fiction and essay mix with news reporting and reportage literature and how the format of the entertainment papers helped transform traditional forms of writing. In the case of visual material, the impact of the traditional new-years prints, commercial drawing of the 19th century, and literati paintings of the Jiangnan region on the imagery printed in the entertainment press is of interest.
Scholarship on entertainment press: We have included in this database information gathered from different scholarly works. The periodization is based on the pioneering work of Zhu Junzhou. Some of the content analysis is based on entries in Zhongguo wenxue da cidian (Ma Liangchun ed., Tianjin renmin chubanshe, 1991). We have also included works by Western scholars where applicable.
The xiaobao are part of a worldwide diffusion of media genres. As pointed out by the various founders of Chinese entertainment newspapers and huabao, these forms of publications were inspired by western models. Entertainment newspapers (also known as "tabloids") and pictorial magazines were very much the fashion in Europe and the United States during the 19th century. In centers of entertainment such as Paris and London, there were specialized papers for the theatre, the literary scene and tourist guides, like for example Le Journal Amusant (Paris, 1860s). Centers for image production developed such as Epinal in Alsace, France which was specializing in lithography prints. The most important illustrated journals in the world which offered important models for the Chinese were magazines such as the [London] Illustrated News, The Graphic, Le Monde Illustré, Harpers, and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Paper as well as the Illustrierte Zeitung (Leipzig), all of which started in the 19th century, and Life Magazine of the early 20th century. Japanese woodblock prints might have also had an impact on some of the drawing techniques of the Chinese illustrated magazines.
Catherine V. YEH