So you want to start a new magazine in China. By all accounts, a publication license, or kanhao
(刊号), can be notoriously difficult to obtain, especially for subjects that would attract a decent reading audience. What do you do?
Option one is to do without a license, or publish under a fake number. You may last for a while, but sooner or later you'll be forced out of the market - especially if you prove popular. Option two is to somehow obtain a genuine publication license from someone who's not using theirs. Dealing in publication numbers is frowned upon, so you'll probably end up paying to rent the license and title for use as a wrapper around your own content. And you'll have to worry about branding issues when your urban lifestyle magazine is published as Gansu Geology Review.
A third option is to partner with an existing publication and bring out your new magazine under their license, as a sort of "sister publication" arrangement. However, the "one number, two publications" (一号二刊) system is also officially frowned upon, and it could create a nasty backlash if the original publication has a devoted following. In 2004, for example, the directors of Sanlian Bookstore thought it would be a good idea to bring out a new magazine - China Public Servant (中国公务员) - under the same registration as their Dushu (读书), one of the most respected literary journals in the country. The scandal that ensued is not something any publisher would welcome.
Yet when there are no other ways to publish legally, publishers will turn to these methods - they'll attempt to create an independent brand while doing their best to disguise their magazine's real identity. In an article for Prospect in which he recounts battles against the regulators to create the that's family of magazines, Mark Kitto writes:
The next partnership, with the official title of "China Light Industry" across the foot of our cover in almost invisible grey letters, lasted another three months. But we kept the name that's on the top.
Even something as simple as how a name appears on the cover can cause problems if the authorities are after your magazine - the premiere issue of the Chinese Rolling Stone (actually issue 240 of 音像世界), for example, was faulted for the prominence of the Rolling Stone name on the cover, among other things. The magazine lives on, minus the English-language branding. But it's not just foreign joint ventures and expat rags that perform the name charade - a wide variety of domestic magazines publish under similar arrangements.
Take a look at Danwei's gallery of newspaper and magazine covers: Who Was That Masked Magazine? Use and abuse of the kanhao system. These publications have disguised themselves - can you pick out their true names?
(Note: The layout of the gallery was tested in several popular browsers. Please let us know of any problems you may encounter - if you can, send a screenshot of the error to joel at danwei. Thanks.)
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