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    China’s First News and Publication Museum Opens in Shanghai

    The new museum chronicles the earliest and most influential publications in China’s modern history.
    Jul 04, 2023#media#history

    The first news and publication museum in China opened to the public Friday, chronicling the beginning of China’s modern publishing industry and the role of Shanghai in birthing some of the country’s first and most influential publications.

    The Museum of China Press and Publication in Shanghai’s Yangpu District features over 766 artifacts including archived originals of several pioneering publications from the late-imperial and early Republican periods. Covering an area of 10,000 square meters, the museum has been 20 years in the making. 

    China’s modern publishing industry was started by foreign merchants and missionaries in the late 19th century. One of the most influential publications was the monthly Wanguo Gongbao, or the “Review of the Times,” founded by foreign missionaries such as Young John Allen in Shanghai in 1868. 

    The museum displays the fourth issue of Wanguo Gongbao. The issue’s catalog illustrates the publication’s shift away from its Christian evangelical focus in its early days toward more secular content discussing current affairs, from natural sciences to politics, later on. Titles in the fourth issue include an introduction to electricity and advice on how to deal with famine. 

    The publication was widely read by Chinese literati and influenced many with the ideas of universal education and women’s rights promoted in its pages. Dedicated readers included Kang Youwei, the late Qing reformer. 

    The publication’s broad social, cultural, and political concerns had a major impact on the development of elite journalism and publication in China in subsequent decades. One of the newspapers it inspired was Shiwu Bao, or “The Chinese Progress,” which was edited by Kang and his protégé Liang Qichao, another influential reformer. 

    Launched in 1896 in Shanghai, the newspaper was hugely influential during the Hundred Day Reform Movement in 1898 and was distributed widely across China and even overseas to Japan and Singapore. Liang published the article “On the Benefits of Newspapers to State Affairs” in the newspaper’s inaugural issue, which later became a classic work in the study of Chinese journalism history.

    The museum displays original issues of the newspaper, showing the wide breadth of topics it tackled, including history, political science, and geography.  

    Moving on to the Republican era, the museum has on display the first issue of “New Youth,” the legendary literary magazine founded in 1915 in Shanghai by revolutionary communist Chen Duxiu, who established the Communist Party of China with Li Dazhao six years later. The magazine was influential in importing and spreading Marxist ideas in China and played an important role in the May Fourth Movement. 

    It was also in the Republican period that Shanghai became the established center of China’s publishing industry. According to the exhibition, over 80% of publishers were located in Shanghai between 1912 and 1949. 

    With New Youth being a major proponent of vernacular Chinese, the museum also covers the central role of the press in China’s vernacular movement, one of the central pillars of the country’s modernizing efforts in the 20th century. 

    Lu Xun, one of New Youth’s most famous contributors and considered the founder of modern baihua, or Chinese vernacular, literature, has several of his works on display, including “Hot Wind,” an early collection of his essays published between 1918 and 1924.  The museum also displays an original manuscript of the “Chinese Vernacular Newspaper,” launched in Shanghai in 1903, the first publication of its kind targeting a peasant readership.

    In China, students typically learn about the early history of the country’s news and publication industry in high school. Recently, the status of journalism in China has been subject to debate following a high-profile online spat between an education influencer and a journalism professor about the merits of studying journalism.

    Editor: Vincent Chow. 

    (Header image: A view inside The Museum of China Press and Publication. Courtesy of the museum)