Seeking News, Making China
Information, Technology, and the Emergence of Mass Society
John Alekna



The Question of the Sparrows

On April 19, 1958, the alleyways and courtyards of Beijing stirred far earlier than usual. Shuffling and whispers disturbed the predawn darkness as people lumbered toward their combat posts—awake but in near silence. Weapons lay at the ready: a housewife with her pots, an auntie with her washbasin. Groggy students emerged from their dormitories with gongs and bugles and horns, flags and bamboo poles. At 4:30 a.m., the stage was set. Standing at the municipal radio station, Wang Kunlun, acting as chairman of the Encircle and Suppress Sparrows Headquarters Committee, gave the signal to attack. Two hundred ninety wired broadcast networks, spread like a web across the capital, shouted as one, bringing Wang’s instructions to key junctions of the city, each garrisoned by speakers. “Attack!” they barked. Three million Beijingers began to shake the sky with a thunderous clatter.

The biology of a small bird, the common sparrow, lay at the root of this curious event. These birds startle instinctually at noise or when faced with brightly colored objects, and so it was with streamers and sound, poison and shot, that a vast enterprise mobilized to kill them. Noise washed over the birds from all directions. For four hours that morning, they were kept in the air by sound, flying about without a place of refuge in the vast city. Loud speakers urged on the hunt, reporting success stories from all corners of the metropolis. Hunters pursued the prey so diligently that they remembered, decades later, having no time to eat. People chased the birds across gray-tiled rooftops and up park trees, through temples and down winding lanes. The sparrows flew over a city alive with racket until, at last, their tiny hearts gave out. They fell from the sky by the hundreds and thousands, dead. Smiling young soldiers shoveled their carcasses onto trucks and strung dozens of birds into garlands, talismans of the people’s organized power, to decorate the sides of the flatbed. A loudspeaker hanging on the tailgate broadcast news of the day’s victories, attracting a cortege of bicyclists to pedal alongside.1

Coordination carried this campaign to eliminate pests to a successful conclusion. The people, mobilized in unison, could achieve great leaps forward in production, development, and sanitation. The people, mobilized in unison, could wipe out the birds that, it was said, stole ripe grain from the fields and from the bellies of China’s millions and ranked among the worst threats to public health. Twice a day, at dawn and dusk, the broadcast network led the people in a campaign to eradicate the animals. Even after the evening noisemaking ended, it urged brigades of Beijingers to collect the avian dead, brush away nests, clean houses, and sweep the streets. For three days and three nights, commands passed through the radio to awaken a mighty din across the capital. In the end, a broadcaster announced the margin of victory: 401,160 sparrows dead.2

Such statistics echoed across the country as provinces and districts organized similar campaigns. In Shandong, the sparrow war began when six hundred thousand people sprang into action at the command of the Jinan radio station on May 11 at 4:30 a.m. Old residents remember how the sound of hundreds of thousands of people shouting at once rent the sky with deafening noise.3 A national mass education campaign had been preparing the way for the sanitation movement since the previous December. In Shanxi Province, programs on the dangers of sparrows and the other “Four Pests” (rats, flies, mosquitos) blared from more than seven hundred thousand loudspeakers and more than ten thousand radios in sixty counties and cities. Close to a million civilians and cadres listened in.4 A People’s Daily editorial, transmitted from the Beijing radio station, urged the mass sanitation drive forward, pressing the people to overturn that old imperialist label “the sick man of Asia.” Petty officials across the country transcribed the editorial as it was broadcast. They copied it onto village blackboards, pasted it on news walls, and distributed it in mimeographed newspapers.5 Spurred by the arrival of this propaganda and these commands, rural counties throughout China replicated the experience of Beijing. In Hunan Province, Lingling County established an Eliminate Sparrows Headquarters and Committee, as did every village, town, and cooperative in its jurisdiction. On the evening of June 29, the county chairman, speaking from the broadcast post, instructed the village and cooperative farm committees to prepare for battle. On the cooperatives, production team leaders dutifully divided residents into sparrow-capturing brigades. Then, at 5:30 a.m. the next day, a party official, communicating through the dozens of miles of wire strung across the county, through the loudspeakers set up in village squares, communal dormitories, cafeterias, and streets, ordered the attack. That morning, 384,693 Lingling residents spread out to hunt sparrows over the fields and through the mountains. The sound of horns, guns, and hoarse voices chased the birds all day. After dusk, farmers lit lamps so that the villagers could continue the chase, as loudspeakers urged them on.6

The War against the Sparrows is remembered as a lesson in the folly of human interventions against nature. Sparrows eat insects. Eradicating the birds, therefore, increased the number of destructive locust-like pests. The war thus contributed to a vast famine that killed more people than any peacetime disaster in human history. Nevertheless, the persecution of the sparrows was not a wholly irrational action. In fact, many societies have carried out misguided eradication campaigns to refashion the environment into a more utilitarian form; think, for instance, of the extinct American carrier pigeon or long-suffering plains bison. What made the War against the Sparrows seem outlandish and memorable to contemporaries was its synchronicity and scale—the fact that tens of millions of people could be mobilized at once toward a common task.7 The question posed by the sparrow campaign, therefore, is not necessarily why it happened but rather how it happened. How did a small clique of men at the top of the Communist Party—Mao Zedong and a rotating cast of adjutants—gain mastery of the birds of the air and the pests of the ground? How did they compel tens of millions of Chinese to go out, before dawn, on a spring day in 1958, and shout into the sky?

To ask the question of the sparrows is to ask how a mass society emerged. Only a mass society, with the expectation of universal connection, consumption, and participation, could carry out such a feat. Until now, attempts to answer this question have centered on the strength of party organization, the persuasive power of propaganda, and the pervasive militarization of society. The nested hierarchies of Leninist organization, almost infinitely replicable both vertically and horizontally, administered and organized action from Beijing to the smallest village. Responsible committees like the Sparrow Elimination Headquarters could be set up at all levels of government across the entire nation. Propaganda, like that of the People’s Daily editorial, convinced people of the policy’s necessity by striking themes like national pride (overturn those foreign imperialists’ idea of China as a “sick man”!) and hope (ridding ourselves of pests will improve harvests), bestirring the “affective revolution.”8 Finally, a society militarized by decades of war was conditioned to accept the call to “battle stations,” to hunt in “brigades,” in the “war” on the sparrows.9 Though essentially correct, these explanations do not stand on their own, missing as they do the fundamental connective tissue that ties them together—that is, the communication infrastructures and practices that allowed the War against the Sparrows to succeed. Overlooking the ways that news flowed, they miss the dynamic power of information, how it can illuminate the relationship between urban and rural, elite and nonelite, literate and illiterate. In short, the rise of mass political action in China cannot be understood as arising through war, nationalism, and the introduction of party organization alone. It must also be understood through the package of techniques, processes, and behaviors we call technology.

At every stage of the sparrow campaign, broadcasting played a central role, pacing and encouraging the fight, carrying propaganda and instructions from Beijing to the provinces, from the provinces to the counties, from the counties to every resident. Broadcasting was the technological infrastructure through which the decision-makers at the top of the Communist Party enacted their agenda. Yet this book is not just a story about radio or the Communist Party. Broadcasting was just one technological practice within a larger communications ecosystem, which I call the newsscape. This newsscape, which eventually allowed a small group of men to mobilize an entire nation, developed largely outside the party. They merely deployed and extended it toward its logical conclusion. Consequently, this book seeks the origins of the infrastructural substratum of Chinese mass society across a fifty-year span of history, integrating actors and spaces not often considered in the usual Communist-Nationalist duality. Indeed, using a technological lens to understand the organization and mobilization of Chinese politics after decades of internal decay throws into relief the complicated evolution and politically problematic inheritances of modern China.10 The dream of Chinese radio originated in semicolonial Shanghai but was pioneered in warlord Manchuria. Japanese-collaborationist regimes promoted the idea of communication’s centrality to the nation-state and built much of China’s broadcasting and listening infrastructure. The Nationalist government invented a system to bring news, information, and administration into the countryside through radio, but the Communists carried out the scheme. This book is a story about the technological construction of a Chinese mass society that evolved through many iterations and contained many possible expressions. It is a polyphonic story, where the Chinese Communist Party plays but one part. In fact, this book highlights the ways in which a mass society was constructed outside of any single government, nation, or ideology, through the reordering of everyday news practices. Though states intentionally developed the infrastructures that reorganized quotidian experience, the individual and collective desire for information also drove what I call the technopolitical process.

The Technopolitical Process

Most people who have lived through the first decades of the twenty-first century will understand that new communications technologies can dramatically transform society, producing shifts in both large-scale phenomena, like national politics, and intimate, microscale experiences, like personal relationships and daily behaviors. New ways to send, receive, and interact with information have overturned key aspects of our political system, reshaped our media landscape, and sent large segments of society marching in different directions. Yet as we contemplate the social and political phenomena that shifts in communications technology have enabled in our lifetimes, we would do well to remember that the contemporary West is hardly the first society to experience such upheavals. Other people have been here before. Interwoven technological, informational, and political revolutions have occurred many times in the past, most famously in the rise of newspapers and mass politics in the modern period—the subject of a vast literature encapsulated by Anderson’s Imagined Communities.11 But as this book will show, the story of newspapers (and other print media) and the creation of nineteenth-century mass politics is hardly a universal one. Other types of information revolution have occurred and, indeed, are still possible. Studying the many ways these transformations have unfolded, appreciating how contemporaries understood them, and recognizing their varied outcomes will do much to illuminate the present, shedding light on both our own experiences and the historical evolution of this technopolitical moment. This book therefore aims to explore the way that individuals, especially the nonelite, experienced one such interlocked technological, informational, and political upheaval in the twentieth century.

After the First World War, most of humanity was still marginally literate, living in rural areas where news arrived slowly, unreliably, and usually by word of mouth. China was no exception. Like other agrarian societies, its people desired technologies and social formations that could promise greater information flows. At the same time, they faced an existential crisis intimately connected to the old information order—namely, the challenge of responding to the era of mass politics that had emerged in the previous decades of imperialism and war.12 In fact, around the world, a reorientation toward universal consumption (of politics, goods, and culture) was coming to redefine or challenge most aspects of society—“mass” was the calling card of the age. Michel Foucault has argued that a certain set of conditions, which he calls an episteme, defines the possibilities of knowledge and organization in a given period.13 Drawing from this thought, we might say that a mass orientation—this insistence on production for universal consumption—was the political, technological, and philosophical episteme of the epoch. In Europe and North America, which the Chinese of the early twentieth century called the West, mass media practices designed for consumption by a theoretical everyman had already emerged. Point-to-point communication made room for the diffuse transmission of information. Thus newspapers displaced personal letters as the primary source of news. Soon, broadcasting would displace (though not replace) wireless telegrams.14 Similarly, mass politics, which held out the possibility of universal participation, was fast displacing other forms of social organization. Though the mass episteme was invisible to most people who lived in it, it defined the bounds of intellectual legitimacy, of economic, political, and sometimes even physical survival.

Chinese history shows just how imperative adjusting to this new environment became. In 1895, Imperial Chinese forces were defeated in a decisive if contingent campaign by a Japanese military reorganized under a new mass-political and mass-media system. The mass societies of Western Europe and North America, developed over the course of the nineteenth century through what Eric Hobsbawm calls the “dual revolutions” and hardened by the recent experience of total war, pressured China from their treaty port bases in the East.15 As recently as 1900, they had invaded and soundly swept aside Chinese armies. And now a new form of mass organization had arisen in the former Russian Empire to threaten from the north. Still, the Bolshevik Revolution and its Leninist mass-membership revolutionary party pointed toward new ways of responding to the challenge of mass organization, especially for what their stadial Marxist theory termed underdeveloped nations.

Mass politics could be created through war, revolution, and political parties, but widespread political mobilization also required technological infrastructures to coordinate geographically and socially disparate bodies—provincial and local governments, civil organizations, and individuals. In fact, mass politics and the technologies of mass media should not be imagined as two distinct phenomena. They are, instead, facets of the same process; one is prerequisite of the other. A mass-political state or party can only be sustained if there is mass communication, existing insofar as they can transmit information. The reverse is also true. Mass communication can only exist in a society with a large-scale production-and-distribution infrastructure maintained and protected by a universal (though not necessarily strong) state. Thus, I argue, mass politics and mass media are two aspects of a single technopolitical process that advance and grow together, interwoven so deeply that they are largely indistinguishable. This idea will not sound completely foreign to scholars in the field of science, technology, and society (STS). I see this technopolitical process as a particular facet of the concept of coproduction developed by scholars of that field over the last half-century. Coproduction argues, in the words of Sheila Jasanoff, that “we gain explanatory power by thinking of natural and social orders as being produced together.”16 The concept of the technopolitical process takes aspects of this framework (selecting technologies from within the wider scope of “the natural” and politics from within the all-encompassing frame of “the social”) and demonstrates how these coproduced phenomena change over time.

Exploring China’s technopolitical process from 1919 to 1968, this book joins many classic and contemporary works that examine infrastructural technology’s relationship to the political, economic, and social construction of society. Research has shown, for instance, how the development of the United States Post Office shaped the new republic—with some scholars going so far as to argue that its network, along with improved transportation, resulted in an explosion of newspapers and allowed for the emergence of Jacksonian democracy.17 The study of the role of pamphlets, books, newspapers, and rumor (that is, print technologies and their associated behaviors) in the French Revolution is now several decades old and nearly a field unto itself.18 More recently, scholars have begun to address how technology, energy, and politics are coproduced.19 Just as relevant to our study, scholars have demonstrated that “domestic” technologies shape everyday life, culture, and social relations—even our ideas of gender.20 Adding to this significant body, this book argues that news and its associated technologies were just as important as coal, railroads, or the home in coproducing the experience of twentieth-century life.

The Newsscape

Like the integral technopolitical process, technologies themselves elude discrete identification. They are rarely, if ever, one thing. “Radio” is not a single reified entity. Rather it is a set of practices, a bundle of techniques, which interacts with other “technologies” like the web of human relations (called “culture” or “society”), the human body (especially its labor and its voice), as well as the natural and built environments. Interpreting China’s twentieth century through the technopolitical process, through techniques of power and information, this study seeks to understand how a mass media and mass political society emerged and to convey how people experienced these enormous shifts. Such an understanding requires a holistic heuristic that encompasses interlocking technological practices and social patterns, natural geography and built infrastructure, that can comprehend all aspects of the way information moves through a social and physical landscape. This is what I call the newsscape.

Developed in the next chapter and expanded on throughout the rest of the book, the concept of newsscape identifies technology as merely one aspect of an ecosystem of news-bearing social behaviors. By integrating space and society, information and culture, the newsscape reflects the state of the technopolitical process at a certain point in time, making it legible to historians. The newsscape’s dynamic evolution over the fifty-odd years between 1919 and 1968 will illustrate not only the social, geographical, and infrastructural context of news in China but also the many, sometimes hidden, ways that news influences all human experience.

The act of coining new terminology like newsscape cannot be taken lightly. It must be demonstrably useful, rooted first in the unsuitability of other terms like media landscape, communication ecosystem, or soundscape. Though scholars know media as any intermediary form, practice, or substance, contemporary usage reifies media as discrete corporate entities like Fox News, Twitter, or the Washington Post. The phrase “media landscape” often refers to this constellation of large, urban corporations.21 The newsscape does not refer to a series of institutions that control information or even to how a few forms of media interact. It encompasses the patterns and structures of behavior in a geographical and social landscape. Religion, wealth, literacy, gender (all markers of identity) influenced how news traveled, as did economic structures like market days, and physical constructions like teahouses and crossroads. Daily circulation through the natural and built environment mattered more than corporate media. Even when understood in a scholarly way, the word media can emphasize discrete substances and materials, whereas I wish to contextualize objects and underline social practice.

Similarly, an ecosystem usually refers to a closed system of functionalities, sometimes but not necessarily across different media forms. For instance, a media-, communications-, or information-ecosystem might signify the interaction of Facebook and the New York Times digital platform, or it may refer to the fact that Wechat embraces different functionalities (text, call, payment, social media) hosted within a single network.22 Sometimes an ecosystem means a political echo chamber—a self-enclosed, self-referential information bubble.23 This sense that an information ecosystem is closed (though organic and holistic) contradicts my intended meaning of newsscape. Even when scholars use ecosystem to signify a collection of media forms, they do not necessarily notice the dynamic interaction of those forms.24 In contrast, this book highlights how information moves through multiple forms, thus placing news and its experience at the center.

The various permutations of the word communication offer a different set of challenges for scholars. In his classic essay “Mass Communication and Cultural Studies,” James Carey addresses critics of communications who believe that “the term generally overlooks the fact that communication is first of all a set of practices, conventions, and forms.” These critics point out that it is usually conceived as isolated “from the expressive and ritual forms of everyday life.”25 Carey answers by embracing a totalizing, cultural definition of communication (taking after Clifford Geertz) and by arguing that communication is “the maintenance of a society in time . . . not the act of imparting information or influence but the creation, representation, and celebration of shared even if illusory beliefs.”26 While I welcome Carey’s contention that information and ritual practice combine to construct the form of society, I still find the early critiques of the use of communications to label this phenomenon valid. In contemporary discourse, communications too frequently means infrastructure and systems, not the comprehensive cultural definition for which Carey so eloquently argued. Indeed, Carey himself encounters this problem in his influential essay on the telegraph. In it, he demonstrates that technology and ideology are profoundly linked, but at the same time his usage partially reproduces the definition of communications as an infrastructural (and not cultural) system. Like Carey, I also problematize communication, echoing his observation of its bifurcation into two meanings (transmission and transportation). But unlike him, I continue to use the word primarily to refer to general systems and the act of transmission, without the time-specificity of news or the experiential focus of the newsscape.

Turning from communications studies, the concept of newsscape draws on the pioneering theory of soundscape, which interprets sound as a social phenomenon within the built and natural environments.27 I try to make a similar jump, understanding the concept of news as a social practice, with socially constructed meanings, but inscribed within the built and natural environments. As my work makes clear, no single mode of reception (whether listening or reading) was ever dominant or even distinct. Therefore, a focus on the experience of sound, or the use of the term soundscape, is inadequate to holistically describe the circulation of news.

Still, the heuristic derived from it, newsscape, has positive value. Rooted in news, it is by definition intangible, dynamic, and ephemeral. While news can color the physical world, its hues quickly fade. While news can shake society, the patterns of its movement are quickly forgotten. It is fleeting, in contrast to the greater permanence of the organizations and materials. So, though I sometimes emphasize materiality, the function of information (its forms, movement, and social significance) matters more. Placing news at the heart of our story decenters objects and institutions, while foregrounding experience. This emphasis encourages new perspectives on change, helping remove the tyranny of certain narratives about the nation, infrastructure, or broadcasting.28 Tracing patterns of behavior outside of all these established categories, newsscape analysis shows us not a teleology of the rise of the state, or even the rise of a set of technologies that we call radio, but rather the rise of a mass society through a reorganization of social practices motivated by the desire for information. This “mass society” can allow for the emergence of nationalism or an intensely administered state, but it is not necessarily the same as either. You can have a mass society with multiple nationalisms or one with a barely functioning central government. Reifying and cohering the experience of news into a legible form, the newsscape therefore confirms information practices as a fundamental axis of change in the modern period outside of these more familiar concepts.

In addition, the idea of the newsscape allows this study to move across political regimes, geographical regions, and the rural-urban divide so prevalent in studies of what were once called “peasant societies.” Moving between the village and the city, to take one example of the heuristic’s analytical power, allows this book to address the issue of space. All agrarian societies transitioning into a mass orientation through the technopolitical process faced the challenge of collapsing space into manageable units, of finding a way to effectively control territory. Reviel Netz has written eloquently about how nineteenth-century American farmers, ranchers, and railroads confronted this problem using an agricultural technology—barbed wire.29 Stringing it up across the prairies, they lay claim to the landscape of a continent. Those seeking to administer China faced a similar conundrum. What technological practices could lay claim to the vast area formerly administered by the loosely governed Qing Empire? Certainly, railroads and steamships were one method. But as Elizabeth Köll has shown, the railroads faced serious political headwinds before the 1950s and, at the time of the advent of radio broadcasting, were immensely inadequate to the task of integrating the country.30 Riverine shipping could only do so much in the face of unnavigable rapids and shallow headwaters.31 Wireless broadcasting, by contrast, connected previously isolated districts to urban centers, increasing the speed and volume of information. When understood within wider social practices of news—as a newsscape—such changes in communications seem revolutionary. Indeed, by bringing central government movements and directives to rural areas where 90 percent of the population lived, I show that radio technology quickly and inexpensively reordered the political geography of China, creating the space for (but not the certainty of) a reorganized and powerful Chinese state in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Similarly, the newsscape’s holistic analysis allows us to move across sensory experience (whether auditory or visual) and social class. Taking up Lydia Liu’s proposition, the newsscape views writing as a technology, thus allowing us to break down the distinctions between sound reproduction, orality, and script.32 I demonstrate the frequency with which the written word became speech and sound became transcript. This is far from a mere theoretical intervention. Historically, the vast majority of people in China were illiterate, so the complicated and ill-defined boundary between sound and script is immensely important for the history of information—and thus all sociopolitical history. The shifts in the newsscape that loudspeakers made possible incorporated large numbers of illiterate individuals into the mass information age for the first time. The advent of sound media thus began to destabilize the privilege of the written word, even while information continued to weave in and out of both forms of being.

Lastly, the newsscape also breaks down the barriers of what is considered “news.” In this book, news is simply defined as time-sensitive information. Indeed, there is no fixed way to delineate news, information, propaganda, or—as I will show—government orders and state administration. “We have begun a campaign against the sparrows” or “the Soviets have launched the first satellite” arrived through the same channels, intermediaries, and practices as “arrest these men for treason,” “rebuild that school,” or “register all the young men for the draft.” Orders and directives are just as time sensitive as the range of information categories we in the contemporary West consider “news.” Thus, this book uses news, despite its anachronism and foreign-ness, to subsume the multiple vocabularies Chinese people used to refer to the practice of the transmission of information—that is, the practices variously called news (xinwen), information (xiaoxi), education (jiaoyu), and communications (jiaotong, tongxun, chuanbo). The most commonly used term for news or information in the period of study, xuanchuan (propaganda or, as a verb, to propagandize), is so freighted with derogatory connotations in English that its use often distorts the original meaning. In Chinese, as in other languages, the term is neutral. The word demonstrates, however, just how intertwined news and governance were—how, as the works of many historians have implied, the reach of news is coextensive with the reach of the state.33

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the history of news has been the subject of much fruitful academic work in recent years. Heidi Tworek has elucidated the political significance of news in twentieth-century Germany, placing its wireless network and news agencies in geopolitical context. Arthur Asseraf has delivered a groundbreaking opus on the political and social behaviors of news in colonial Algeria. Julia Guarneri has described the newsscape avant la lettre in her work on the newspapers of the nineteenth-and twentieth-century United States, analyzing in productive detail the buildings, squares, regional networks, and social behaviors associated with news in the cities of that period.34 All these studies have, to greater and lesser extents, highlighted the intermediality of news—that is, the movement of information across media like memory, print, song, telegraph, and letter—a fact that the newsscape heuristic used in this book only highlights further. In China, for instance, a medium like radio was consumed through sound but also through newspapers and public blackboards that contained transcribed broadcasts. Following this pervasive thread of intermediality allows this study to provide a corrective to a Chinese media historiography still largely focused on print, urban areas, and intellectuals while emphasizing how deeply technologies are bound in contextual practice.


1. “Guangbo ye ceng Dayuejin,” in Dangdai Beijing guangbo shihua (Beijing: Dangdai Zhongguo Chubanshe, 2013); “Shoudu 300 wan ren weijiao maque,” in Tu wen gongheguo nianlun 1949–1959, ed. Zhang Shujun (Shijiazhuang: Hebei Renmin Chubanshe, 2009); “Beijing shi maque weijiao zhan,” in 1958 nian de gushi, ed. Wang Xinghua (Beijing: Zhongguo Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 2001); “Fangbing baoliang, yifengyisu: shoudu chu sihai jiang weisheng tujizhou kaishi,” Renmin Ribao, Dec. 23, 1957; Spiegel Politik, “Der große Sprung nach vorn,” video documentary, August 4, 2008,

2. “Shoudu 300 wan ren weijiao maque,” 550.

3. “Bukanhuishou mie maque,” in Jinan Xiaoqinghe lishi wenhua congshued. Zhang Jiping (Jinan: Jinan Chubanshe, 2008).

4. “Shanxi sheng zhengqu weisheng yundong da yue jin,” Renmin Ribao, Jan. 5, 1958; Gu Ye, “Shanxi chu si hai jiang weisheng yundong xiang shen guang fazhan,” Renmin Ribao, Jan. 14, 1958.

5. Foreign Broadcast Information Service (hereafter FBIS), “Daily Urges All-Out Sanitation Drive,” Jan. 24, 1958.

6. Lingling xian aiguo weisheng yundong weiyuanhui, “Lingling xian weijian maque de chu bu zongjie,” July 1, 1958, in Hunan sheng aiguo weisheng yundong weiyuanhui bangongshi, Hunan sheng chu si hai jiang weisheng yundong ziliao huibian (1958).

7. For contemporary coverage of the event in the West, see Time magazine, “Death to Sparrows,” May 5, 1958; and New York Times, “Peiping vs. Pests,” Feb. 15, 1959.

8. Dayton Lekner, “Echolocating the Social: Silence, Voice, and Affect in China’s Hundred Flowers and Anti-Rightist Campaigns, 1956–58,” Journal of Asian Studies 80, no. 4 (2021); Elizabeth Perry, “Moving the Masses: Emotion Work in the Chinese Revolution,” Mobilization 7, no. 2 (2002).

9. For a discussion of the militarization of society, see Frank Dikotter, Mao’s Great Famine (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), 45–51.

10. China fell into civil strife after the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911, but problems with infrastructural collapse, internal disorder, and international depredation can be traced back further, certainly to the First Sino-Japanese War of 1895. See Benjamin A. Elman, “Naval Warfare and the Refraction of China’s Self-Strengthening Reforms into Scientific and Technological Failure, 1865–1895,” Modern Asian Studies 38, no. 2 (2004).

11. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983).

12. Stephen Kotkin, Stalin, vol. 1, Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928 (New York: Penguin, 2014), 4–5.

13. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Routledge, 2002), xxii.

14. As Michael Stamm shows, however, broadcast news and newspapers complemented one another in the first sixty years of radio. The replacement model that journalists feared would not come to pass until another communications revolution at the end of the century. See Michael Stamm, “Broadcasting News in the Interwar Period,” in Making News: The Political Economy of Journalism in Britain and America from the Glorious Revolution to the Internet, ed. Richard John and Jonathan Silberstein-Loeb (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 133–63.

15. The dual revolutions were the (initially British) industrial revolution and the (initially French) political revolution. Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution: 1789–1848 (New York: Vintage, 1996).

16. Sheila Jasanoff, “The Idiom of Co-production,” in States of Knowledge: The Co-production of Science and Social Order, ed. Sheila Jasanoff (London: Routledge, 2004), 1–12, 2.

17. See Richard R. John, Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995); and Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

18. Robert Darnton, The Literary Underground of the Old Regime (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982); Robert Darnton, Poetry and the Police: Communications Networks in Eighteenth-Century Paris (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).

19. Edward Anthony Wrigley, Energy and the English Industrial Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Victor Seow, Carbon Technocracy: Energy Regimes in Modern East Asia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021); Shellen Xiao Wu, Empires of Coal: Fueling China’s Entry into the Modern World Order, 1860–1920 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015).

20. Francesca Bray, Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); Jordan Sand, House and Home in Modern Japan: Architecture, Domestic Space, and Bourgeois Culture, 1880–1930 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003).

21. Anne Wilson, Victoria Parker, and Matthew Feinberg, “Polarization in the Contemporary Political and Media Landscape,” Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 34 (2020).

22. Ann Blair, Paul Duguid, Anja-Silvia Goeing, and Anthony Grafton, eds., Information: A Historical Companion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2021), 272.

23. Blair et al., 501.

24. Blair et al., 130.

25. James Carey, Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2009), 32.

26. Carey, 33.

27. Emily Thompson, The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900–1933 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Alain Corbin, Village Bells: Sound and Meaning in the 19th-Century French Countryside (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998); R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (Rochester, VT: Destiny, 1977).

28. This echoes a long tradition in the field. See Prasenjit Duara, Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

29. Reviel Netz, Barbed Wire: An Ecology of Modernity (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004).

30. Elizabeth Köll, Railroads and the Transformation of China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019).

31. For a history of shipping in China, see Anne Reinhardt, Navigating Semi-colonialism: Shipping, Sovereignty, and Nation-Building in China, 1860–1937 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018).

32. Lydia Liu, “Scripts in Motion: Writing as Imperial Technology,” Past and Present 140, no. 2 (March 2015).

33. Hal Langfur, Adrift on an Inland Sea: Misinformation and the Limits of Empire in the Brazilian Backlands (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2023); Christopher Bayly, Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Harold Innis, Empire and Communications (Oxford: Clarendon, 1950); Daniel Headrick, Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981); Daniel Headrick, The Tentacles of Progress: Technology Transfer in the Age of Imperialism, 1850–1940 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988); Daqing Yang, Technology of Empire: Telecommunications and Japanese Expansion in Asia, 1883–1945 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).

34. Heidi Tworek, News from Germany: The Competition to Control World Communications, 1900–1945 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019); Arthur Asseraf, Electric News in Colonial Algeria (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019); Julia Guarneri, Newsprint Metropolis: City Papers and the Making of Modern Americans (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017).