The Chinese writing system was also vital for communication withinthe sprawling empire. Officials used writing to communicate with each other over longdistances, and agencies in the capital would copy important documents and distributethem to the provinces. However, the central ministries, provincial governments, and evenlocal authorities used an additional one-to-many communications medium: “Gazettes,”which published edicts, memorials to the throne, and other information that officialsthought important, such as the announcement of appointments and the court diary. Theintended audience of the gazettes was other officials, but some of the informationcontained in the gazettes was further spread by writing and word of mouth to the Chinese population. According to one source, at the village level “government policy wasannounced by posters and notices read aloud to the illiterate.”
Many of theseannouncements were doubtlessly gleaned from the pages of gazettes.The English-language literature on gazettes gives varying accounts of their history. Henrietta Harrison stated they were started in at least the 15
century, and werecreated daily in the capital for distribution across the empire. She adds that provincialauthorities published abridged versions for local distribution.
Joan Judge said the publications were at first called
(“metropolitan gazettes”) and were started in theTang dynasty, and possibly as early as the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E. – 220 A.D.). Theterm used to describe these publications by the end of the Qing dynasty was
John King Fairbank,
China: A New History
(Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of HarvardUniversity Press, 1992), 84.
Leo Ou-fan Lee and Andrew J. Nathan, “The Beginnings of Mass Culture: Journalism andFiction in the Late Ch'ing and Beyond.” In David Johnson, Andrew J. and Nathan, Evelyn S. Rawski (eds.),
Popular Culture in Late Imperial China
(Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985), 362.
Henrietta Harrison, China: Inventing the Nation (London: Arnold, 2001), 112.