CIRCA:The Ephemera Project


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The Ephemera Project at Rice University’s Chao Center for Asian Studies is sponsored by a Luce Foundation grant from 2010-2014. Along with two Fondren library based sub-projects, the Chinese Commercial Advertisements Archive and the “Subway Project”, three ephemera-focused large-scale workshops and three invited lectures on questions in the Digital Humanities, seeking to explore conceptual and technical possibilities in new media. Working with Principle Investigators and the Luce Postdoctoral Fellow the Chao Center fulfilled the conditions of the Luce Grant in February, 2015.

From 2014, the Chinese Commercial Advertisement Archive started to extend its collaboration to other universities, such as University of Washington, Seattle and Nanjing University and digitized and annotated more than 120,000 advertisements. The new website has been released and officially hosted by Nanjing University since 2019.



According to the Ephemera Society of America, “Ephemera include paper materials such as advertisements, airsickness bags, baseball cards, currency, board and card games, greeting cards, invitations, labels, menus, paper dolls, postcards, posters, puzzles and puzzle cards, stock certificates, tickets, timetables, trade cards, valentines, watch papers, and wrappers”, the ephemera archive focuses on collecting, digitalization and archiving such materials, especially those that can be used as historical evidence for a specific period, society and culture.

The most difficult to preserve and perhaps the most crucial ephemera in our time consist of international brand advertising and internationally shaped civics campaigns also known as propaganda. Indeed, few archives exist where the most generic ephemera in the modern world-commodity advertisement for internationally branded products can be accessed and studied.

Purpose and Audience

Ephemera are considered as “embedded media” here and collected in order to illustrate how environment conditions historical activities. Social, historical and cultural studies are transformed by these old and new media providing alternate ways for humanities and social science scholars to rethink our assumptions and critical methodology.

Because ephemera holds immanent within it a key to the past, future researchers will use this material embodiment of human affairs to analyze everyday life, patterns of economic behavior, social attitudes, political assumptions, intimate lives, social exchanges.


Chinese Commercial Advertisement Archive consists of ads for international brands published in leading newspapers selected from representative cities in China during the period of semi-colonization.

The rationale for choosing these specific newspapers for our initial database is given below.

  1. Shen Bao, formerly transliterated as Shun Pao or Shen-pao (Chinese: 申報; Pinyin: Shēn Bào), known in English as Shanghai News, established by John Major, it published 256,000 issues beginning on April 30, 1872 and ending May 27, 1949. Famously it is the longest running and the most influential newspaper in modern China.
  2. Dagong Bao, formerly transliterated as Ta Kung Pao (simplified Chinese: 大公报; pinyin: Dàgōng Bào), founded by Ying Lianzhi, in Tientsin, China (now Tianjin) on 17 June 1902, is the oldest active Chinese language newspaper in China. In 1941, Dagong Bao received the University of Missouri School of Journalism Award.
  3. Hankou Zhongxi Bao, originally Hankow Times (simplified Chinese: 汉口中西报; pinyin: Hànkōu Zhōngxī Bào), was formerly Zhongxi Bao and founded by a German businessman in 1904 in Wuhan and was renamed as Hankou Zhongxi Bao two years later. Before being closed in 1937, Hankou Zhongxi Bao had published more than 10,000 issues and competed for Internationale Presse-Ausstellung (1928) in Cologne.
  4. Yuehua Bao, formerly Yuet Wa Po (simplified Chinese:越华报; pinyin: Yùehuā Bào) founded on July 27, 1926, sold 50,000 copies daily by 1931, the highest daily circulation of any business newspaper in the commercial capital city of Guangzhou.
  5. Shengjing Shibao, formerly Sheng-ching Shih-pao (simplified Chinese: 盛京时报; pinyin: Shènjīng Shíbào) founded by Japanese Nakajima Naoin, 1906, was the first Chinese language newspaper founded by Japanese in the Northeast of China . As the longest published, Japanese owned newspaper, Shengjing Shibao had a 35 year run. It’s daily circulation reached 180,000 soon after the Lugou Bridge Incident(卢沟桥事变), July 1937.



More than 60,000 images of newspaper are collected including the international brands from Da Gong Bao at University of Washington, Seattle from 2014-2015. All images are converted from the microfilms to digital images through the microfilm reader machine at UW, Seattle.

Crowdsourcing Annotation

CCAA collaborated with the Data Tang company to recruit more people involved in the annotation process. Data Tang customized an online platform for CCAA after a testing with the Yue Hua Bao and officially launched the platform in 2013. Data Tang (ISO9001 QMS certified) now has more than 5,000 experienced annotators, who have an average of 90 days of training and more than 3 years of data labeling experience. The platform is capable of specialized data annotation services.

Three rounds of checking of the annotation contents was conducted to ensure the accuracy of metadata, especially the transcript of full texts in the ads.


Creating metadata is the first objective of CCAA, after gathering the advertisements, their historical material, they describe each one and sort them into information categories that are natural or immanent in the ad image themselves.

There are four kinds of metadata for each ad:

  1. The first kind of metadata is descriptive metadata that describe the textual and iconic elements of each ad image.
  2. The second kind of metadata consists of contextual information about the commodity and the advertising industry that produced and disseminated the images.
  3. The third kind of metadata provide core situational information about the advertisements.
  4. The fourth kind of metadata describes the procedural work of digitization and archiving.

Related Researches

Barlow, Tani E. "What Is a Poem?: The Event of Women and the Modern Girl as Problems in Global or World History", Immanuel Wallerstein and the Problem of the World: System, Scale, Culture. Ed. David Palumbo-Liu, Bruce Robbins, Nirvana Tanoukhi. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011.


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