Carl Crow


Carl Crow (1884–1945) was a Highland, Missouri-born newspaperman, businessman, and author who managed several newspapers and then opened the first Western advertising agency in Shanghai, China. He ran the agency for 19 years, creating calendar advertisements and the so-called sexy China Girl poster.[1] He was also the founding editor of the Shanghai Evening Post and Mercury.

With A.R. Burt and J.B. Powell, Crow published the bilingual Biographies of Prominent Chinese (c. 1925).[2] In the 1930s and 1940s, Crow wrote 13 books, including the explanation of his Confucianism, Master Kung: The Story of Confucius (1937); the anecdotal The Chinese are Like That (1938), titled My Friends the Chinese in England; and his most popular book, 400 Million Customers (1937). The latter won one of the early National Book Awards: the Most Original Book of 1937, voted by members of the American Booksellers Association.[3][4] 400 Million Customers has been reprinted at least twice in the new millennium.[5]

Carl Crow arrived in Shanghai in 1911 and made the city his home for a quarter of a century, working there as a journalist, newspaper proprietor, and groundbreaking ad-man. He also did stints as a hostage negotiator, emergency police sergeant, gentleman farmer, go-between for the American government, and propagandist. As his career progressed, so did the fortunes of Shanghai. The city transformed itself from a dull colonial backwater when Crow arrived, to the thriving and ruthless cosmopolitan metropolis of the 1930s when Crow wrote his pioneering book 400 Million Customers, which encouraged a flood of business into China in an intriguing foreshadowing of today's boom.

In 1935, the Shanghai Municipal Council published a map for visitors to the city which they commissioned Crow to produce. A reproduction of the map was printed in 2005 to help fund the copying of the archive of Crow's unpublished works, diaries and correspondence held at the University of Missouri.[6]

Among Crow's exploits were attending the negotiations in Peking which led to the fall of the Qing Dynasty, getting a scoop on the Japanese interference in China during the First World War, negotiating the release of a group of western hostages from a mountain bandit lair, and being one of the first westerners to journey up the Burma Road during the Second World War. He met and interviewed most of the major figures of the time, including Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, the Soong sisters, and Mao Zedong's second-in-command Zhou En-lai. During the Second World War he worked for American intelligence alongside Owen Lattimore, co-ordinating US policies to support China against Japan.

He was very anti-Japanese, and fearing retribution he left Shanghai for good in 1937, just days after the Japanese attacked as part of the Second Sino-Japanese War's Battle of Shanghai.[1]

He returned to Chongqing in 1939, entering China via the Burma Road from Rangoon to Kunming. He wrote a diary of this time which has been edited by Shanghai-based English writer Paul French, and published as Carl Crow: The Long Road Back to China.

He died in Manhattan in 1945.


  • 1913 – The Travelers Handbook for China, Hwa-Mei Book Concern, Shanghai, (1913)
  • 1914 – America and the Philippines, Doubleday, Page & Company, Garden City, NY, (1914)
  • 1916 – Japan and America: A Contrast, Robert M McBride & Company, New York, (1916)
  • c. 1925 - Biographies of Prominent Chinese, Biographical Publishing Company Inc., Shanghai, (c. 1925)
  • 1937 – I Speak for the Chinese, Harper & Brothers, New York, (1937)
  • 1937 – Four Hundred Million Customers, Harper & Brothers, New York, (1937)
  • 1938 – Master Kung: The Story of Confucius, Harper & Brothers, New York and London, (1938)
  • 1938 – The Chinese Are Like That, Harper & Brothers, New York, (1938) (Also published as My Friends the Chinese, Hamish Hamilton, London (1938))
  • 1939 – He Opened the Door of Japan, Harper & Brothers, New York, (1939). Sometimes known by the alternative title Harris of Japan
  • 1940 – Foreign Devils in the Flowery Kingdom, Harper & Brothers, New York, (1940)
  • 1940 – Meet the South Americans, Harper & Brothers, New York, (1940)
  • 1942 – Japan's Dream of World Empire: The Tanaka Memorial, Harper & Brothers, New York, (1942)
  • 1943 – The Great American Customer, Harper & Brothers, New York, (1943)
  • 1944 – China Takes Her Place, Harper & Brothers, New York, (1944)
  • 1945 – The City of Flint Grows Up, Harper & Brothers, New York, (1945)
  • 2009 – The Long Road Back to China: The Burma Road Wartime Diaries (written 1939, pub. 2009)

Further reading

  • French, Paul. Through the Looking Glass: Foreign Journalists in China, from the Opium Wars to Mao. Hong Kong University Press, 2009.
  • Elizabeth Ingleson, "Four Hundred Million Customers: Carl Crow and the Legacy of 1930s Sino-American Trade", Australasian Journal of American Studies Vol. 35, No. 1
  • Reprint of Crow's Foreign Devils in the Flowery Kingdom China Economic Review
  • Carl Crow's 1935 map of Shanghai
  • "Chinese Wise Man". Time. May 16, 1938. Archived from the original on February 8, 2007. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
  • "Milestones, Jun. 18, 1945". Time. June 18, 1945.
  • Economist article
  • Asian Review of Books article
  • NPR on Carl Crow
  • Global Journalist on Carl Crow and Missouri journalists in Shanghai
  • The Enduring Legacy of Carl Crow


  1. ^ a b French, Paul. Carl Crow, a Tough Old China Hand: The Life, Times, and Adventures of an American in Shanghai, Hong Kong University Press (2006) ISBN 962-209-802-9.
  2. ^ A Brief Introduction – Biographies of Prominent Chinese Archived 2019-01-07 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ "Books and Authors", The New York Times, 1936-04-12, page BR12. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851-2007).
  4. ^ "Booksellers Give Prize to 'Citadel': Cronin's Work About Doctors Their Favorite--'Mme. Curie' Gets Non-Fiction Award Two Others Win Honors Fadiman Is 'Not Interested' in What Pulitzer Committee Thinks of Selections Other High Favorites Paperweights As Prizes", The New York Times 1938-03-02, page 14. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851-2007).
  5. ^ (2002) ISBN 1-891936-07-7; Kegan Paul (2006) ISBN 0-7103-1212-1.
  6. ^ Article on reprint of historical map of Shanghai produced by Carl Crow.