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A Glimpse of China’s Media History

A glance through the earliest radios and TVs that graced living rooms in China


Quick question… what is this thing?


[Panda Radio Type-1502/here]

This is Panda Radio Type-1502 (熊猫牌1502型收音机) made in 1959. This was the China’s first multifunctional radio capable of receiving a broadcast band, tape-recoding, and playing records. I doubt you would buy it now, though.

Radio itself has a long, fascinating history of usage in China. The radio Corporation of China, a.k.a. the Osborn Radio Station, opened in Shanghai as the first wireless radio station in China in 1923. Approximately 500 wireless radio sets were said to have received the first broadcast, which was a collection of various types of music. The company itself did not last long, falling aside as more outlets proliferated, but radio remained a key means of communication in China, especially during times of political turbulence, such as during WW2, when radio became the central plank of mass media and both it and newspapers came under heavier censorship and prohibition.

The Communist Party of China first used radio broadcasts n 1940, as they were fighting a civil war against the Kuomintang. “New Chinese Radio” began broadcasting from Yanan, and continued broadcasting throughout the war, and its English services starting in 1947. With the victory of the communists, the name of the English service was changed to Radio Peking on April 10, 1950, before changing name again to radio Beijing in 1983, before becoming China’s international broadcaster, CRI, in 1993.

Today, China has over 3,000 radio stations, and CRI, has over 30 bureaus overseas and broadcasts thousands of hours of programming each day.

Ok, so that was a radio – so this one ought to be pretty easy to guess.


[China’s First Screen/here]

This is China’s First Screen (华夏第一屏), the first black-and-white TV to be made in China, in 1958. This was also the year of China’s first national broadcasts and the launch of Beijing Television, which in 1978 became known as China Central Television, since 1978.
Televisions first spread throughout Europe in the US, but after WW2, the rest of the world, including China, began to catch up. When the PRC was founded in 1949, the state of television infrastructure was fairly dire in China, the first national broadcasts not beginning until 1958, but Beijing broadcasts had been occurring since 1952. During the period between these dates, a number of regional stations proliferated, but in the late 50s growth stagnated amid social and political upheaval,  but by 1965 there were 12 stations in China, one of which was national. It wasn’t until the 1980s that growth really boomed, with around 350 million Chinese by 1982, then skyrocketing upwards to around two thirds of China’s population.


Not a particularly impressive screen-to-size ratio

They are now on display at the Media Museum at the Communications University of China.

At present, the museum holds more than 12,000 items, ranging from physical items through to documents and audio pieces.

Reportedly, the vice president of the university has also been involved in gathering items himself, for academic research. Many of the other items on display were provided by donors.


Pictured, the author (right) kind of on TV

Movies, too, have dramatically leaped onto the stage — or cinema, rather — as a key part of Chinese history. In 1974 China made only 17 films while Japan and India both made more than 400 films. This is quite a stark contrast to 40 years later – in 2014, China opened 23,500 cinemas, a feat that ought to be included among the Seven Wonders of the World. Films are now one of the key planks in the government’s soft-power plans, though in many cases films have struggled to compete against their high-powered Hollywood counterparts.


Cover image courtesy of CUC

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