In the midst of the current outbreak of Covid-19 in Shaanxi, the province’s Chinese Business News (华商报), a leading commercial daily in the locked-down capital city of Xi’an, has drawn national attention for its colorful and creative front page designs – and prompted some nostalgia for the fading era of print media in China.

In a tribute posted on Thursday to its WeChat account, the Media Observer (传媒大观察), a media-related publication run by the state-owned Xinhua Daily Press Group, likened recent pages at Chinese Business News to “a light in the darkness, lighting the way for people in their fight against the epidemic.”

“While paper media are weak, particularly under the serious situation of the epidemic,” the tribute read, “we still see this paper coming out daily with heart and soul.”

The city of Xi’an, with more than 13 million residents, was placed under lockdown in late December following a spike in Covid cases. Within 10 days, the strain on human lives caused by China’s zero-Covid strategy was evident, with residents complaining of inadequate food and other essentials.

But according to the Media Observer, the Chinese Business News has continued to provide inspiration in the midst of desperation.

The post through the Media Observer‘s official WeChat account, “Media Observer Think Tank” (观媒智库), has an undeniable sense of the sentimental about it, focusing on the “positive energy” aspects of the Covid-19 story in Xi’an. Nevertheless, it provides an interesting view of the role of the local newspaper in an era of growing digital dominance.

Here are several of the front-page designs published recently by the Chinese Business News, and singled out for praise by the Media Observer.

HEADLINE: My City, My Xi’an
DATE: December 23, 2020

HEADLINE: Peacefully Waiting in Chang’an
DATE: December 24, 2020

HEADLINE: Lifting the Vegetable Basket
DATE: December 24, 2020

HEADLINE: Hope to Open Hope
DATE: December 27, 2020

DATE: December 30, 2020

HEADLINE: Life is Looking Up!
DATE: January 8, 2022

HEADLINE: We Protect Xi’an Together
DATE: January 10, 2022

HEADLINE: Healing is the Best Form of Healing
DATE: January 12, 2022

The Chinese Business News was launched in 1995, at the start of the heyday of modern metropolitan newspapers (都市类报) in China, which saw the creation of hundreds of new magazines and newspapers catering to a rising middle class.

The paper was originally started in Hong Kong in April 1941 by a trio of journalists and political activists including Hu Zhongchi (胡仲特), the famous editor of Shen Bao (申报) and grandfather of Caixin editor-in-chief Hu Shuli, Zou Taofen (邹韬奋), editor of the celebrated Life Magazine (生活周刊,  and Fan Changjiang (范长江), the Ta Kung Pao stringer and later founder of China’s national journalist’s association for whom the country’s official journalism prizes are now named (and who would also become the chief editor of Xinhua News Agency).

In recent years, print media in China have undergone a dramatic contraction as the industry faces a profound transformation brought about by the dominance of new digital platforms. The closure or transformation of traditional newspapers has itself become regular news. In December 2020, just ahead of the new year, 30 publications announced that they would shut down.  

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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