The 二十世纪上海报刊娱乐版广告数据库 (Twentieth Century Shanghai newspapers entertainment advertisements) database (hereafter SHBKYL) has been many years in the making. It all started from an amazing reference book idea by Prof. JIANG Jin at East China Normal University (see infra). But now the content of this unique resource is available in a fully searchable database. (to access the database, just click on “Sign in as guest”).
The point of origin
SHBKYL is the online version of the four volumes edited by Jiang Jin (姜进) published as 二十世纪上海报刊娱乐版广告资料长编 : 1907-1966 Ershi shiji shanghai baokan yuleban guanggao ziliao changbian (Compendium of advertising materials for entertainment in 20th-century Shanghai newspapers) by Shanghai wenhua chubanshe in 上海文化出版社 in 2015.
Commercial entertainment (opera, cinema, dancing, etc.) constitutes a major facet of urban life. In the late imperial and republican eras, Shanghai played a central role in the rise of modern forms of entertainment and their diffusion to the whole country. The city was the cradle of Chinese cinema, spoken drama, symphonic music, but also of a bewildering range of regional operas and music styles. Entertainment facilities multiplied and relentlessly rejuvenated leisure through an ever expanding array of entertainment genres.
SHBKYL documents the evolution of entertainment in Shanghai through advertisements in newspapers over six decades. It is based on the constitution of a unique database that traces tens of thousands of shows and performances, day and night, throughout the city and its entertainment facilities. This approach supports the view of marching toward a new form of data-rich cultural history.
This is a unique and invaluable resource for the study of leisure, entertainment, and popular culture in Shanghai between 1907 and 1966. The data was collected from four major newspapers: Shenbao (申報, 1907-1949), Xinwenbao (新聞報, 1907-1949, Xinwen ribao (新聞日報, 1949-1959, and Jiefang ribao (解放日報, 1960-1966). Jiang Jin directed the collection, compilation, and curation of the data that eventually translated into four print volumes.
The database is currently entirely in Chinese. There is a plan to add pinyin for the name of the performing sites, actors, and title of performed items. This will not happen in the short term.
Challenges and biases
The initial challenge: how to deal with the sheer volume of entertainment advertisements in Shanghai newspapers? The collection of information was based on the method of sampling. The rule was to take for each newspaper the first day of the month, plus the issue of the new Year (中西), Duanwan festival 端午, Mid-autumn festival 中秋, National holiday 国庆节 (only for the Shenbao), and other commemorative days. Even with this method, the volume of information remained considerable. It was impossible to record all the information available in the advertisements. The choice was made to focus on major items of information: location, program, ticket price, date, facility, genre (based on original indication in the source), actors, advertising label, and page .
The difficulties: one of the main difficulties was the lack of access to the original newspapers. Microfilms were used for processing the Xinwenbao 新闻报 and for the Shenbao 申报 the source was the reprint collection published in the smaller format in the 1980s. There were recurring problems of blurry texts as well as missing pages (Jiefang ribao 解放日报, Xinwen ribao 新闻日报). There were cases where the advertising texts themselves were unclear, at least for a the historian-reader of today. There were indeed erroneous characters in the advertisements. And last, one of the main curses was the use of short names for the entertainment facilities, which created ambiguities when two different facilities used the same short name (e.g. 新华 for 新华电影院).
The biases: In the database, the visual dimension of advertisements is fully lost. This is especially true of the differences in size and place of advertisements in the newspapers. This is the price to pay for having a fully searchable database. No attempt was made to collect the original images due to sheer impossibility with the support of the sources used. Another possible bias lies in the fact that the database only includes entertainment activities for which the performing sites published advertisements. While it is quite clear that there was a better chance of attracting spectators through advertizing, the database probably misses a number of entertainment activities that did happen, but were not advertized or that were advertized on different dates from the selected samples.
Advertisements in time: the number of advertisements published in the newspapers depended on several factors: number of facilities, growth of entertainment practices, marketing decisions, etc. The table below provides the distribution of the number of advertisements published in each decade between 1907 and 1966.
|Period||Number of advertisements|
From print to database
When the project was initially designed, it was conceived as a book project, not a database. The information was collected on MS Word files, in the form of tables. Yet, none of these tables could be automatically transposed or exported to tabular data. In 2014, Jiang Jin and Christian Henriot started a conversation about establishing a database, in the last phase of editing the published volumes. Christian Henriot proposed to create the database as a Filemaker database for which he involved Jean-Pierre Dedieu, a programming historian (modern Spain) who had a deep knowledge of the resources of Filemaker. The transformation proceeded in two steps: in the first stage, students copied the basic blocks on information from the Word file into a basic database template so as to minimize the risk of errors. This stage served to process the data internally through automatic routines to split up the data that could be separated and to design the final template for collecting the data. In the second phase, the students copied/pasted the remaining unsplit data from the Word file to the final database template.
SHBKYL inevitably contains mistakes and typos. There is still some undistributed data. And there are occasional font size issues. We welcome any suggestions for corrections at enpmuc[at]gmail.com.
What’s in there?
As a result of the transformation process, SHBKYL developed into a database with 139,655 performed items and 80,554 shows. Each entry represents a unique Performed item which may be part of a Show. The shows took place in 818 different performing sites, almost all of which have been located in the city (756 facilities). Only a small number of 978 performances took place in unknown/undetermined locations. The role and importance of entertainment facilities varied greatly. The Great World was a powerful entertainment engine. With a total of 14,991 shows, it represented almost 10 percent of all the shows for the whole period. The table below lists the 18 facilities that offered more than 1,000 shows during the whole period. There was clearly a hierarchy of entertainment facilities in Shanghai.
|Facility||No. of shows||Facility||No. of shows||Facility||No. of shows|
Shows took place mostly in the evening, but this varied greatly according to genre. Beijing opera was played almost at par in daytime (53%) or in the evening (47%), but for movie cinema, women’s Beijing opera, Shanghai opera (沪剧) or circus (杂技), most shows (on average 80%) happened during daytime. These are of course average numbers for the entire period and actual practices must have evolved over time.
SHBKYL records the name of 13,700 unique actors, with a very uneven distribution in terms of number of mentions. For instance, 8,376 actors were mentioned only once and 2,265 actors only twice. A more limited group of 1,125 actors were mentioned more than five times and a narrow group of 255 actors were mentioned more than twenty times. Within the latter group, the celebrities amounted to only 40 individuals with more than fifty mentions.
There was a bewildering range of 589 genres, even if some items were more like a specific attraction than a genre per se (e.g. 飞车 (Flying car) or a type of sport. In fact, various terms can be grouped together to refine and trim down the number of genres and produce more significant statistical results, but SHBKYL records genre as they appeared in the source.
The spatial dimension of entertainment and its evolution is one of the most fascinating aspects that can be explored with the SHBKYL records. This is not something that can be presented in this introduction to the database, but the Virtual Shanghai platforms will provide a whole collection of maps on the distribution of performing sites in the city.
The current version of the public search interface allows only simple queries. Yet we plan to have a more advance search interface in place soon.