Starting Period before 1978

China’s development of television technology started in the end of 1950s (Sina Tech 2009), which is about three decades’ later than western countries. Unlike many western countries, whose television development is mostly stimulated by personal or commercial forces, the start of China’s television industry was mostly driven by the government and for the government.

Mechanical Disk

Western scientists and inventors started to explore television technology in the 1920s, and in the early days of exploration, there were mainly two paths, mechanical and electronic.Mechanical television relies on rotating mechanical disks to scan scenes and generate signals. Mechanical television was made possible by the invention of Nipkow disk in 1884 (Mary Bellis, 2017), which provided the concept of chopping up images and transmitting them sequentially. The first mechanical television in the world invented by John Logie Baird (Kamm & Baird 2002) also adopted the mechanical scanning system.

When western countries were exploring different television technologies, the old China or the semi-feudal and semi-colonial China was suffering from both external aggression and internal unrest. Though China has never been fully colonized, many countries have broken it into several parts and each country had its own sphere of influence. For example, Russia cast its influence in the northeast China, Japan cast its influence on the city of Qingdao. Even one city could be divided into different parts and each one was subjected to one country’s influence. For example, Shanghai was once divided by four parts, which were administrated by China, France, American and British separately. Within the country, there were fierce conflicts among different warlords and political groups. The unstable society didn’t provide a peaceful environment, nor enough money and advanced science knowledge for the development of technology, it was only until 1949, when People’s Republic of China was founded, that China entered into a relatively peaceful period.

When People’s Republic of China was founded, the country was isolated by most western countries. Therefore, China’s development of television technology was cut off from the outside world except for the Soviet Union. It was not until March 18, 1958, that China’s produced its first electronic television(Sina Tech 2009). This television learnt from the technology in Soviet Union and was invented and produced under the support of the government. The first national broadcast in China began on May 1, 1958 (Museum of Broadcast Communication 2018). At this time, there were only few programs per week on TV and each won't last long. Most of these programs were aimed to broadcast official announcements and local news. Due to both economic and technology difficulties, television was still a privilege for only a few people or government institutions during this period, and the influence of television on Chinese audience was extremely limited.

First Television in China

Beijing, the first television in China

When China produced its first black and white television, western countries were exploring technologies for color television, which is a television transmission technology that enable screens of television to display color images and videos. Compared with black and white television, color television can offer much better television viewing experiences for audience. In 1928, John Logie Baird invented the first mechanical color television and in 1944 he gave the world the first demonstration of a color television (Early Television Foundation and Museum 2018). After the invention of color television, western countries entered into the first golden age of television (Stephens 2018). High-quality shows were popping up and television began to play an important role in people’s daily life. Even political figures began to use Television debates to gain supports from people.

During this time, China was not only facing political isolation but also had to fight against poverty and industrial backwardness. To increase the productivity in agriculture and secondary industry, China adopted the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962), an economic and social campaign to transform China into a socialist society through rapid industrialization and collectivization. However, this campaign didn’t achieve its goal and was widely regarded as a cause that had worsen the condition of The Great Famine (1959-1961). The Famine was caused by a combination of adverse weather conditions, economic mismanagement and radical changes in agriculture imposed by the government (Perkins, Dwight 1991). In the early 1960, the former Soviet Union withdrew economic aid from China. Many TV stations were closed and the number was reduced from 23 to 5 (Museum of Broadcast Communications, 2018). Then came the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), during which television's sole function was to publicize, explain, and express class struggles. Television's regular telecasting came to a halt during this period and it was not until the early 1970s that television development gradually became normal.

First Color Television in  China

China didn’t have its first color television until December 26,1970 (ChianByte 2009). At that time China’s relationships with the United States and the Soviet Union were at an ice point, it adopted neither NTSC (color television standard in America) nor SECAM (color television standard in Soviet Union) but the PAL (color television standard in Europe) system. After color television came into the market, though television was still not popular among common people, there was a milestone in the history of China’s television program, which was the start of the nation-wide news programXin Wen Lian Bo.

Xin Wen Lian Bo

Xin Wen Lian Bo

There is no standard English translation for this program. According to its meaning, it can be translated as "joint broadcast" or "simulcast", because this daily program is broadcast simultaneously by all local TV stations in mainland China. This news program covers various issues from both outside and inside the country and it is used as a medium for the government to announce big decisions, meetings or policies. The program remained to be the most influential news program in China until today (CCTV 2008).

When Xin Wen Lian Bo was launched, the country was starting to recover from its decade-long chaos and television technologies began to development. Television sets were more accessible in the 1970s than in the 1940s and 1950s, but in the 1970s, television sets still remained to be public or government-owned machine to broadcast state information and announcement, at that time one can hardly find personal entertainment through television. At the early stage of television development in China, the development was not driven by the market, instead, it was supported by the government. Television at this time in China was more for political propaganda rather than for recreational consumption. Xin Wen Lian Bo (News Simulcast) can be best understood as the outcome of this period.

Starting Period before 1978