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The Rise of the Press in Late Imperial China

The Rise of the Press in Late Imperial China

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Published by ilamont
The Rise of the Press in Late Imperial China. A graduate research paper for HUMA E-105: Survey of Publishing, from Text to Hypertext (Harvard Extension School, Prof. Matthew Battles.) By Ian Lamont, Harvard Extension School, ALM '08. http://harvardextended.com
The Rise of the Press in Late Imperial China. A graduate research paper for HUMA E-105: Survey of Publishing, from Text to Hypertext (Harvard Extension School, Prof. Matthew Battles.) By Ian Lamont, Harvard Extension School, ALM '08. http://harvardextended.com

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Published by: ilamont on Aug 25, 2008
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07/19/2012

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The Rise of the Press in Late Imperial China
By Ian Lamont(For graduate credit)HUMA E-105: Survey of Publishing, from Text to HypertextHarvard University Extension SchoolNovember 27, 2007
 
The Chinese newspaper industry was born in the last half of the 19th century. Inforeign colonies and concessions along the coast, missionaries and entrepreneurslaunched dozens of newspapers to spread religion and commercial news. Just before theturn of the century, the press received a spectacular boost from reform-minded Chinese,who launched hundreds of periodicals that not only introduced new styles of journalism but also agitated for reforming the imperial system of government under the Qingdynasty (1644-1911).Many sources point to Western influences — printing technologies, writing styles, business models and political ideologies — as explaining the rapid rise of newspapers inChina. The literature also gives passing acknowledgement to an older, domestic systemof distributing news throughout the empire — the official “gazettes” that central, provincial, and local agencies used to inform and instruct their subordinates, and byextension, all imperial subjects. This paper will give an overview of the emergingChinese-language newspaper industry during the late 1800s, and explain how theimperial government attempted — and ultimately failed — to offset the influence of reformist periodicals through press controls and the expansion of the gazettes.Written communications were the glue that maintained China’s imperial systemof rule for millennia. The Confucian values that dictated government policy, law, andsocial conduct were spread through a collection of ancient classics, many of them datingfrom the Zhou dynasty (1122 – 256 B.C.E.). In order to become a scholar-official — theelite members of society who ran the extensive imperial bureaucracy — men had to passwritten civil service examinations based on understanding of these classic works. Thisexam system started in the Sui dynasty (581-618), and was firmly established in the Tang
 
dynasty (618-907).
1
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.”
2
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
th
century, and werecreated daily in the capital for distribution across the empire. She adds that provincialauthorities published abridged versions for local distribution.
3
Joan Judge said the publications were at first called
dibao
(“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
 
1
John King Fairbank,
China: A New History
(Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of HarvardUniversity Press, 1992), 84.
2
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.
3
Henrietta Harrison, China: Inventing the Nation (London: Arnold, 2001), 112.

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