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1— The Rise of Modern Popular Culture
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The New Press and New Journalists

As has been mentioned, the rise of Chinese cartoons was tied closely to the emergence of the modern press. Chinese resistance intellectuals, convinced that the press was an efficient form of communication and that the printed word carried enormous weight, regarded newspapers as a weapon of immense value in spreading patriotic messages and politicizing public opinion.[129] The growing recognition in the 1920s of journalism as a respectable profession also contributed to its rising influence. To understand the effectiveness of the Chinese wartime press and the growing stature of journalists, we must briefly examine the earlier history of Chinese journalism.

The modern press in China had its origins in the Manchu court's humiliating defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War of 1895. From 1895 to the 1911 revolution, the Chinese press experienced a "Golden Period,"


with numerous new political magazines and daily papers clamoring for political and social changes.[130] This phenomenon was important not only in bringing pressure to bear upon the conservative, recalcitrant government officials, but also in helping usher in a new era of mass culture.[131]

The number of newspapers grew by leaps and bounds in the ensuing years. According to Rudolf Löwenthal, a professor of journalism at Yanjing University, there were 19 dailies nationwide in 1895; by 1912, the number had soared to 500; and by 1926, there were 628 daily newspapers.[132] Among major cities in 1926, Beijing topped the list with 125, followed by Hankou with 36, Guangzhou with 29, Tianjin with 28, and Shanghai with 23. The total number of dailies increased to 1,031 in April 1937. As with spoken dramas and cartoons in the same period, Shanghai had taken over as the center of newspaper publishing with a total of 50 newspapers; Beijing had 44, Tianjin 29, and Nanjing and Hankou each had 21.[133] While other cities would be proud to have one or two respectable newspapers, Shanghai had dozens, among them the Shanghai News (Shen bao), the News (Xinwen bao), and the Eastern Times (Shi bao). In 1933 both Shen bao (founded in 1872) and Xinwen bao (founded in 1893) had a daily circulation of 150,000, the largest in the country; two Tianjin newspapers—Dagong bao (L'Impartial, founded in 1902) and Social Welfare (Yishi bao, founded in 1915), a Catholic-sponsored journal—trailed distantly at 35,000 each.[134] The rise of Shen bao and Xinwen bao as the circulation giants of modern Chinese journalism reaffirmed the growing importance of Shanghai as the financial and cultural center of China.

Predictably, newspapers had a distinct flavor depending on their place of publication. While Beijing's newspapers excelled in political reportage and many were closely associated with particular political groups, Shanghai's gave the most comprehensive coverage on economic affairs. Furthermore, since many of Shanghai newspapers (including Shen bao and Xinwen bao) were located in the foreign concessions, they, unlike their Beijing and later Nanjing counterparts, enjoyed a large degree of political freedom.

In the 1920s, Shanghai's newspapers were diversified in content and not dominated by political affairs, unlike the traditional Beijing gazettes, which reported official news and served as a mouthpiece for the government. The new urban papers' commitment to news and adoption of the language of commercialism reflected a changing society where information was a valuable commodity in its own right and


consumerism was increasingly seen to hold the keys to the national economy. News became a source of excitement and imagination. Although international events were covered with facts supplied by foreign news agencies like Reuters, it was local news that held center stage. In the case of Shen bao, for instance, news coverage in 1922 was 96 percent domestic and only 4 percent foreign.[135] Indeed, among Shanghai's established papers Shen bao was noted for its commitment to covering local events. The paper began to issue a special "local supplement" in February 1924, hiring staff reporters to cover local affairs and part-time correspondents in other major cities to file special stories. The supplement garnered much attention and became so popular that other major presses soon followed suit.[136] In sharp contrast to the traditional press, which faithfully transmitted official views, the urban newspapers were a public medium closely intertwined with the people. Not only did they fashion a new popular culture, but they also helped shape a shared universe in which the public sphere took on a new significance.

To draw more readers and increase its profitability, the modern press also instituted a number of new devices—special features, for example (such as educational news and financial reports)—to improve its contents.[137] The press also took a critical look at its distribution methods. Shanghai's major periodical publishers relied largely on the gradually improving postal system and railway networks to distribute their papers to other major cities.[138] In the mid-1930s, Shen bao took the step of acquiring its own delivery vehicles, which allowed papers to be sent to nearby cities such as Suzhou within hours after they came off the press.[139] This practice, however, was limited to Shanghai's vicinity. The great interior remained largely inaccessible, an impediment that proved a major challenge for the resisters when the war broke out.

Modern Chinese newspapers mirrored and reinforced the kaleidoscope of changing urban society. In general, the trend was toward more entertainment as the growth of illustrated material and entertainment news indicates. Shen bao issued a special "Pictorial Weekly" in May 1930. Xinwen bao, Shen bao's chief rival, countered shortly thereafter with its own "News Pictures."[140] The public's thirst for more entertainment news and demand for stories of romance and martial arts also gave rise to a plethora of "mosquito newspapers" (xiaobao) in Shanghai, including Crystal (Jing bao) and Diamond (Jingan zuan).[ 141] Unlike newspaper giants such as Shen bao, which printed two to six big sheets (eight to twenty-four pages) per issue and


was priced usually at 4 fen, mosquito newspapers issued one small sheet, or four pages, and cost only 1 fen. Catering to the general public, they contained serialized fiction and a mosaic of gossip and anecdotes. The publishers, embracing the notion that entertainment and sensationalism meant money, prided themselves not on accuracy but on diversity and amusement. In this they were certainly shrewd businessmen; as the journalist Zhao Junhao put it, they had a solid understanding of "mass psychology."[142] They watched changing tastes and moods with a keen eye and successfully exploited them. Besides mosquito newspapers, Shanghainese were also drawn toward the more visual, even titillating, medium of the pictorial publications such as Good Companion Pictorial (Liangyou huabao) and China Pictorial (Zhongguo huabao), which made their appearance in the 1920s in Shanghai. With current news photos and beautiful movie star portraits gracing their pages, they won a quick following in the booming publication industry.[143]

The modern Chinese press clearly had an influence on the intellectual ferment of China. This was particularly evident in the literary supplements (fukan) issued by major newspapers. Shen bao's "Unfettered Talk," which began in August 1911, was one of the oldest and most prestigious of these supplements. Its preeminence as a bastion of new literature, however, did not actually begin until December 1932, when Li Liewen (1904–1972), a returned student from France, took the helm as editor from Zhou Shoujuan (1894–1968), a writer of the "Mandarin Duck-and-Butterfly School" known for producing romantic and sentimental entertainment fiction. Li's "Unfettered Talk" followed quite faithfully the distinguished tradition established earlier in the 1910s by the literary supplements of the Beijing Morning News (Chen bao) and Shanghai's China Times (Shishi xinbao).[144] Nonetheless, Li's supplement was unique in a number of ways. It was launched at a time when Shanghai was replacing Beijing as China's most exciting cultural center. In that period, too, the GMD was clamping down hard on dissension, which meant that left-leaning contributors such as Lu Xun and Mao Dun had to write under a wide variety of pen names to conceal their identities. As for Li Liewen, he was a liberal (he died in Taiwan in 1972) who strongly believed that different views should be aired and that ideas could thrive only in an uninhibited atmosphere. Thus he turned his literary supplement into one of the most exciting forums of the early 1930s for all men of letters, left and right alike.[145]

Predictably, the increasing popularity of the new medium and its growing circulation caught the eye of advertisers, and revenues from


advertising soon became a major source of income for the press. Most newspaper advertisements were business-related (commercial transactions, finance, medical affairs). In the 1920s, for example, 51 percent of Shen bao's pages were given over to business advertisements; Tianjin's Yishi bao was even higher, at 84 percent.[146]Shen bao's chief rival, Shanghai's Xinwen bao, which was aimed specifically at businessmen, issued a special section on "economic news" to underscore its unique qualification to speak on that subject.[147] Though a relatively novel concept in Chinese journalism, advertising turned out to be a crucial factor in determining a newspaper's overall financial health, including such giants as Shen bao, Xinwen bao, and Yishi bao.[148] Still, there seemed to be few guidelines for what could be advertised. Newspapers were willing to print anything as long as the advertiser could pay. For instance, Shen bao's "medical advertisements," which constituted the largest portion of business-related advertisements, abounded with quack doctors' unabashed claims of their ability to cure every conceivable venereal disease. Similar to the mass journalism of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst in late-nineteenth-century America, the 1930s Shanghai press was marked by an increasing commercialization, which was strongly reflected in the plethora of advertising.

For Chinese intellectuals, the unbalanced mix of commercialism and news was a cause for major concern. To them, the practice of selling advertising space on an indiscriminate, profit-only basis represented a lowering of the quality and even dignity of a newspaper. The press could easily lose its dedication to "transmit basic information," a purpose described by the journalism professor Xu Baohuang (1894–1930) as fundamental.[149] An even more alarming sign indicating the ascendancy of business interests over news reporting was the taking over of the front page by advertisers.

Commercial advertisement notwithstanding, the Chinese press drew a huge number of readers who considered newspapers a credible source of information and an inexpensive avenue of entertainment. This rising popularity of the press also coincided with the growing stature of the journalists, who, while trying to establish their own identity, became increasingly uncomfortable with what they considered the wrong direction of the modern Chinese press.

In the past, despite the potential influence of their occupation, journalists, or "kings without crowns" (wumian huangdi), enjoyed little social esteem.[150] In fact, journalism was generally condemned as "the miserable end of a literatus,"[151] and journalists, most of whom were


unsalaried, were considered men without principles, whose views could be easily swayed. They parroted official policies, using journalism as a mere tool, a stepping stone on the path to officialdom. They were, in short, a loose group whose identity was ambiguous at best.[152] To improve this lowly image, many journalists in the 1920s and 1930s argued that a new identity had to be found. "We must try to establish the sacred, esteemed status of the Chinese reporter, so that when people utter the name 'reporter' [xinwen jizhe ], they will do so with a sense of sincere admiration and great respect," Fan Changjiang (1909–1970), a noted reporter of Dagong bao, urged.[153]

To enhance their social status and engender respect for their craft, Chinese journalists in the 1920s and 1930s began to call for greater independence in their work and more objectivity in their reportage. Terms such as zhiyehua (professionalization), zhuanmenhua (specialization), and keguan (objectivity) began to take on new meaning, becoming synonymous with good journalistic practice.[154] Professionalization and specialization meant more than financial security; they meant a clear division of labor—news reporter, columnist, editor, and publisher: a far cry from old-style journalism, where generalists with broad but superficial knowledge of a variety of subjects reigned.[155] Objectivity meant reportage that was accurate, balanced, detached, and dispassionate.[156] These ideas of the new journalism stemmed in part from the increasing popularity and influence of newspapers as an information and entertainment medium, but also from the journalists' growing awareness of their craft as "a special occupation."[157]

The establishment of journalistic institutions was a major step toward professionalization. Inspired by the ideas of Walter Williams, dean of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and Joseph Pulitzer, the American publisher whose $2 million endowment helped to build a journalism school at Columbia University in 1903,[158] journalism education officially began in China in 1918, when National Beijing University set up the Institute of Journalism (Xinwenxue yanjiuhui). Shao Piaoping (1884–1926), editor of the Beijing News (Jing bao), was hired as an instructor—among whose many students was a young man named Mao Zedong.[159] In 1920, the first department of journalism in China was founded at Shanghai's St. John's University. Yanjing University (1924) and Fudan University (1929) followed suit.[160] Yanjing University also hired foreign faculty, many recruited from Williams's program at Missouri. Vernon Nash, the head of the department at Yanjing, was an example. Other foreign experts included the journalist Edgar Snow and Rudolf Löwenthal, a German


who specialized in comparative journalism.[161] Several newspapers also started their own training programs. The Beiping School of Journalism (Beiping xinwen zhuanke xuexiao), founded in 1933 by Cheng Shewo (1898–1991), then editor of Beijing's World Daily News (Shijie ribao) and Nanjing's People's Livelihood News (Minsheng bao), is perhaps the most notable example. Similar to a professional school, this institute provided workshop experience for young aspirants.[162] The inclusion of journalism in university curricula was important in at least two ways: it provided a regular setting for neophytes to learn the ropes, and, more important, it was a long-awaited sign of approval by the intelligentsia, who finally recognized this ignored field as a legitimate, worthy endeavor.[163]

The launching of professional associations and journals, which provided reporters with a common language and a certain esprit de corps, further elevated their social status and strengthened their new identity. One of the earliest reporters' associations was the Shanghai Reporters Club (Shanghai xinwen jizhe lianhuanhui), founded in late 1921.[164] By the 1930s, similar organizations had sprung up in almost every major city in China.[165] Along with the sprouting of professional associations came the proliferation of professional journals. Notable among them were Journalism (Xinwen xuekan, issued by the Beijing Journalism Association [Beijing xinwen xuehui]) in the mid-1920s and Journalism Quarterly (Baoxue jikan, the journal of the Shenshi News Agency in Shanghai) in the 1930s.

To further cement group solidarity and to win widespread social recognition, in August 1934 the Hangzhou Reporters Association (Hangzhou jizhe gonghui) proposed that September 1 be designated "Journalists' Day" (Jizhe jie), an idea that was enthusiastically embraced.[166] Fan Changjiang helped to launch the Chinese Young Journalists Society (Zhongguo qingnian xinwen jizhe xuehui) in Hankou in March 1938 and a "Reporters' Hostel" (Jizhe zhi jia) shortly thereafter. With these innovations he not only strengthened reporters' identity by giving them a place to gather and exchange ideas, but he also placed them at the forefront of the resistance movement against the Japanese—a position that would have a profoundly paradoxical impact on their professional role.[167] The society also launched an influential journal, The Reporter (Xinwen jizhe), in early April.[168]

Young journalists, in an effort to enhance their social role, also took great pains to distinguish between news (xinwen) and commentary (pinglun). "In our country," one journalist lamented, "the news is often a mixture of news and commentary…. Worse still, there is


often a brief reporter's remark attached to the end of each piece. Such a piece can easily turn into a sensational statement."[169] Under the old tradition of "literati discussing politics" (wenren lunzheng), of which Liang Qichao and Huang Yuansheng (1885–1915) were two of the best-known practitioners, it had indeed been common practice to intermingle news reporting and commentary.[170] In this, both Liang and Huang closely resembled their counterparts in eighteenth-century Europe, where journalism was very much an adjunct of politics.[171] These men's semiclassical and semicolloquial style, however, was comprehensible only to the literate few.

News and commentary were not alike, young journalists insisted. Blending them confused the different function of each. Whereas news could be defined as "a most recent, accurately reported event that sparks the interest of readers," political or social commentary expressed nothing more than one's personal opinion.[172] News stories were detached and balanced records of facts; commentaries involved subjective attitudes and views.[173] "To gain the respect of our readers," one insisted, "we must make a clear distinction between the two."[174] In the face of national crisis, however, that goal grew ever dimmer; as China plunged into war and as reporters assumed the role of patriots, the line between objectivity and subjectivity blurred almost to the point of meaninglessness.

New journalists also repeatedly called for the independence of the press. When Zhang Jiluan (1888–1941), Hu Lin (Hu Zhengzhi, 1893–1949), and Wu Dingchang (1884–1950) took over the faltering Tianjin-based Dagong bao in September 1926, they issued a new editorial manifesto for the paper: "No partisanship, no dependence on outside commercial or political subsidies, no advancement of private interests through the newspaper, and no conformity at the expense of truth" (bu dang, bu mai, bu si, bu mang). These unorthodox ideals ushered in a new era of independent Chinese journalism.[175] For Zhang Jiluan and his associates, a newspaper was not an official party publication, and a reporter had little in common with the politician. Only independence of the press could guarantee nonpartisanship and an absence of ideological and political favoritism. Partiality was incompatible with honest journalism. The rapid rise of Dagong bao as a formidable force in journalism in the late 1920s was testimony to the public's acceptance of the newspaper as an unbiased medium of communication.

Increasingly, young journalists became more outspoken in their criticism of old-style Chinese newspapers. The new guard challenged


established rules and proposed new formats, and in so doing breathed new life into what they regarded as the moribund journalistic tradition. Although Shanghai was the center of Chinese journalism, the new journalists charged that its newspapers and magazines exhibited some of the worst features of old-style journalism: elitism, sensationalism, and unreliability. The curt and detached narrative style of the old journalism, they argued, produced dull and superficial reports, which only alienated the people. By the same token, the old journalists' highbrow approach prevented them from understanding the everyday tribulations of the people, and it certainly was not conducive to fair and objective coverage. The so-called news, one critic pointed out, was nothing more than the daily accounts of politicians or profiles of movie stars and parvenus.[176] Gossip columns abounded, while hard news was neglected. Newspapers were filled with stories about sex and violent crime, accompanied by distasteful graphic descriptions, observed another critic.[177] Even Shanghai's influential Shen bao, Lin Yutang charged, printed irresponsible advertisements at the expense of important news.[178] Newspapers failed to inform the public and had become part of the daily entertainment of society, publishing only trivia to garner increasing profits. For many independent-minded journalists, such compromises were intolerable. To them, quality, integrity, and credibility had to be a paper's most valuable assets. It was imperative to find a new direction and establish a clear distinction between news and sensationalism.

As the reputation of journalism began to rise in the 1920s, journalists developed an ever greater awareness of the importance of their craft. Although both the Jeffersonian belief that the press should be valued above the government and the vast power of the modern American press ("In America the President reigns for four years, but journalism rules forever and ever," remarked Oscar Wilde)[179] were certainly foreign to Chinese journalists, they nonetheless began to realize that their work carried enormous influence. Compared to less public means of communication, the press was extremely effective in disseminating information to a wide audience, shaping their minds and swaying their emotions. It was a powerful instrument for spearheading social change and raising public consciousness. The "king" might still wear no "crown," but he now understood the power of his sword. Gradually journalism became something important: it brought excitement and promised its practitioners high visibility; it provided a frontrow seat at important events and offered an avenue to power and prestige. The new journalists, however, were determined to do something


quite different from their counterparts in the past. Not only were they interested in unlocking the corridors of political power and intrigue in Nanjing, but they also paid more attention to the larger social and economic forces that shaped the lives of most Chinese. In brief, they insisted that the press must be more responsive to public needs.

To establish a truly responsible and responsive press, new journalists argued, reporters must show concern for the general public and ground their stories in reality. Instead of using semiclassical language, they should address the mass audience by means of a new, simple, direct, personal style that relied heavily on eyewitness accounts and on-site investigations. "We must abandon obsolete journalistic practices," Fan Changjiang wrote. "We must do our best to experiment with new methods and to create new things."[180] "Let's educate the masses, guide the masses, and report about the masses," one journalist appealed.[181] In this way, young journalists redefined the role of a reporter. The new down-to-earth approach proved critical not only for gaining a better understanding of the life of the people, but also for inspiring support of the resistance cause. It is with this in mind that we now turn to a more focused discussion of the influence that spoken dramas (chapter 2), cartoons (chapter 3), and newspapers (chapter 4) had during the war.


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1— The Rise of Modern Popular Culture
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