The Chinese Signs of the Times Publishing Association (abbreviated STPA, in Chinese時兆出版社 or it’s romanization “Shih Chao Chu Pan Che”), located in Taipei, Taiwan, is the only official Chinese publishing house of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in China. The establishment of STPA is closely associated with the spread of the Seventh-day Adventist message in China.1 The goal of STPA is to “bring good news, proclaim peace, bring glad tidings of good things, and proclaim salvation”2 through the publishing ministries, as well as to try to “call people’s attention to the abiding word of God.”3 The brief history below, based on the information on the STPA Website, 4, 5 shows how STPA did and continues to serve all Chinese people both in China and around the world.
At the Beginning
In 1903 American surgeon Harry W. Miller arrived at Henan, China, and began to publish religious tracts on a small printing machine donated to him by an American company together with some Chinese character lead types he bought with the money he had saved from his meager salary. Two years later in 1905, the thirty-fifth year of Emperor Guangxu of Qing, the magazine, Signs of The Times, was established in Shangcai County, Henan. Its original name was The Gospel Herald.6 The first issue, printed in English, had a total of 8 pages in addition to a cover. As the church had no literature evangelists then, the printing staff had to sell the 500 copies of the magazine on the street themselves. Beginning with the third issue, the editorial content switched from English to Chinese.
In 1908 The Gospel Herald was renamed the Signs of The Times. In the same year, the Signs of the Times Publishing House itself moved to Ningguo Road, Shanghai. From that point onward the publishing business continued to grow and expand tremendously. By 1927 the Signs of the Times had become the bestselling religious magazine in China with an average circulation of 70,000-80,000 copies per month and reached its peak at 500,000 copies for a special issue, which made it the largest religious magazine in the Far East region at that time.7
On its thirtieth anniversary, the Signs of the Times Publishing House undertook a large-scale expansion by purchasing various new printing machinery. The publishing house had a total of 14 departments, including administrative, finance, editorial, proofreading, sales, art, pressroom, composing, platemaking, and bindery. It employed some 56 workers. In addition to the Signs of the Times, the house also published The Last Day Shepherd’s Call, Preacher, The Friend of Youth, and Sabbath School Lessons. In addition, it produced several religious, educational, and health books that gained great popularity in the Chinese market. Moreover, the publishing house also established branches in Singapore, Japan, UK, India, the Philippines, and Thailand, places that had major overseas Chinese population centers.8
The War Years
When the Second Sino-Japanese War (known to many as the “War of Resistance Against Japan”) erupted in 1937, it was hard to continue the editing and printing functions in Shanghai. By the end of 1941, as the Pacific War broke out, most areas where the printing houses operated, had fallen into Japanese hands and had to close. The editorial department of the publishing house followed the head office of the China Division of Seventh-day Adventist Church and moved to Daxigou, Chongqing, Sichuan. Despite a shortage of printing materials, the publishing house still maintained its flagship magazine, the Signs of the Times, in Chongqing. The peak circulation during the war years was 50,000 copies per month. No other magazine in China achieved such a high sales record during the conflict.9 At the end of World War II in 1945, the publishing house moved back to Shanghai and within a short period of time increased the magazine's circulation to 87,000 copies per month.
Move to Hong Kong and Singapore
In 1949 the political situation in China changed again due to civil war. When the new China government was established in Beijing, it did not approve the continuing publication of the Signs of the Times in Shanghai. Therefore, the main editorial office of the Signs of the Times Publishing House transferred to Hong Kong while some of the staff and equipment shifted to the Malayan Signs Press in Singapore.
In September 1951 the Signs of the Times magazine ceased publication in mainland China. By November the new Chinese government took over control of the entire Signs of the Times Publishing House in Shanghai which was by then the largest printing facility in China. In 1952 the government decided to take advantage of the site and its equipment and formed the Shanghai Printing School, which later became the Shanghai Publishing and Printing College.10
Relocate to Taiwan
In 1956 the Signs of the Times Publishing House reestablished itself as the South China Island Union Mission Publishing House in Taipei, Taiwan.11 Organizationally, it was part of the South China Island Union Mission. Its name officially changed in 1963 to “Chinese Signs of the Times Publishing Association” (in Chinese時兆出版社 or its romanization “Shih Chao Chu Pan Che”) and became an independent administrative unit.12 In time the publishing house became commonly known as Signs of the Times Publishing Association (STPA). Several years later in 1969, the Malaysian (the former Malayan) Signs Press decided to relinquish the publication of the Chinese Signs of the Times magazine, so the Taiwan publishing house took over that responsibility. From that point onward the magazine has been published at the Taiwan facilities. 13
The STPA board of directors began a series of major expansions in 1977, purchasing a high-speed planographic press, cameras and darkroom equipment, binding equipment, an electronic paper cutter, and folding machines. In 1985, the eightieth Anniversary of the Signs of the Time magazine, the house added a two-story 1720-square meter new building.
Meeting Today’s Challenges
Since its move to Taiwan, STPA has taken on the responsibility of providing Adventist books and magazines not only to the people of mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao, but also to overseas Chinese around the globe. The regular periodicals published by STPA include Signs of the Times, The Last Day Shepherd’s Call, and the Sabbath School Lessons. Therefore STPA occupies a central role in the publishing ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church serving the needs of the world’s Chinese-speaking population.
As during the past couple decades the publishing industry has undergone dramatic changes, STPA has been no exception. It closed its printing department in 2000 and made adjustment in the number of employees. In 2006, it adopted as its goal “Connecting with the society,” going beyond serving just within the traditional boundary of the Adventist Church. All publications come with an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and follow the national CIP (Cataloguing in Publication) standard. With STPA books being sold in commercial bookstores throughout Taiwan, there came a breakthrough in January 2007: the Chinese version of Ellen G. White’s The Desire of Ages successfully sold in more than 500 commercial bookstores in Taiwan.14 Sales by STPA increased 400 percent, turning what had been losses by the house into financial gains.
A significant landmark occurred in 2010. The Wuhan Signs of the Times Cultural Communication Co., Ltd., was established on mainland China, and was approved by the government of the People’s Republic of China. The new entity had authorization to receive ISBN and CIP legally from the General Administration of Press and Publication of the Chinese Government.
Another significant event involving church organization took place in 2013 when administrative control of STPA formally shifted from the South China Island Union Mission to the Northern Asia-Pacific Division (NSD). In the same year STPA was awarded the “Outstanding Publisher” award by National Taiwan Library. In 2014 STPA’s publications were selected to be displayed on the world's largest maritime library ship, Logos Hope. A new landmark was also reached in 2018 when more than 300,000 copies of The Story of Hope, the 2018 global mission book, sold in China, inspiring many Christians in China to join the publishing ministry. The sales and production statistics of STPA appear in Table 1 below.15
Table 1: STPA Sales and Production Statistics (in USD)
|Year||Printing Job||Total Sales|
|2016||$ 193,755.91||$ 497,690.63|
|2017||$ 204,657.16||$ 567,473.12|
|2018||$ 198,270.61||$ 441,927.33|
With the development of e-books and new media in the digital era, STPA recognizes its many challenges as it continues to fulfill the mission of bringing the Good News to Chinese people no matter where they are.
The names and locations of STPA have changed many times over the years. Here is a summary in chronological order: Chinese Printing Office (in Henan) 1905-1908; Shanghai Publishing House and Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Mission Press (in Shanghai) 1908-1911; Shizhao Baoguan (in Hong Kong, Chongqing, and Shanghai) 1911-1947; South-Eastern Asia Publishing House (in Singapore) 1947-1955; South China Island Union Mission Publishing House (in Taiwan) 1956-1962; Signs of the Times Publishing Association (also called “Shih Chao Chu Pan Che” in Taiwan) 1963-.16
Chief editors of the Signs of the Times: Harry W. Miller 1905-1911; Arthur C. Selmon 1911-1916; J. E. Shultz 1917; En-Le Hsia 1918-1919; Li-Wen Fu 1920-1921; H. O. Swartout 1922-1930; Frederick Lee 1931-1934; Hua Hsu 1934-1936; John Oss and Hua Hsu 1937-1941; Xing Zhi Su 1942-1947; Hua Hsu 1948; Yao-Hsi Lin 1949-1950; Shy-Shen Tsai 1951-1963; Bin-Hsiang Li 1963-1969; Chi-Yi Teng 1970-1982; Fu-Hsiang Cho1983-2006; Shu-Mei Huang 2006-2007; Ying-Pi Chou 2007-2010; Li Chuan Chou 2010-.17
Managers of Sign of the Times Publishing Association in Taiwan since 1968: Hui-Yi Shen 1968-1970; Ta-Ting Chiang 1970-1972; Shu-Shen Tsai 1972-1975; Ta-Ting Chiang 1977-1978; Hsin-Sheng Liu1978-1983; Hun-Sheng Tseng 1983-1984; Yu-Cheng Huang 1984-1986; Hsin-Sheng Liu 1987-1990; Fu-Hsiang Cho 1991-1997; Shih-Yang Wang 1998-1999; Fu-Hsiang Cho 2000-2006; Ying-Pi Chou 2006-.18
Editorial Department. The Story of Advent Movement. Tapei: Signs of the Times Publishing House, 2012.
Fu-Hsiang Cho. Centennial Anniversary of Signs of the Times. Taipei Signs of the Times Publishing House, 2005.
Gu, Chan Sheng. Missionaries and Modern China. Shanghai: Shanghai People Publishing house, 2004.
Lee, Joseph Tse-Hei and Christie Chui-Sahn Chow. Religious Publishing and Print Culture in Modern China: 1800–2012. Ed. Philip Clart and Gregory Adam Scott. Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2015.
Signs of the Times Publishing Association Website: http://www.stpa.org/index.aspx.
“Signs of the Times Publishing Association” on the Howling Pixel Website. Accessed July 20, 2019. https://howlingpixel.com/i-en/Signs_of_the_Times_Publishing_Association.
Young, Samuel, ed. Chinese SDA History (Zhong Hua Shengong Shi). Hong Kong: The Chinese Union Mission of the Seven-day Adventist, 2002, vol. 1.
Zou, Zhen-Wei. Publishing and Printing, The History of Signs of the Times Publishing House. Shanghai: Shanghai Publishing and Printing College, 2017, vol. 4.
Ying-Pi Chou and Li-Chuan Chou, personal knowledge from serving as the manager of the Chinese Signs of the Times Publishing Association since 2006, and as the chief editor of the Signs of the Times magazine since 2010 respectively.↩
Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, 152.↩
Ying-Pi Chou and Li-Chuan Chou, personal knowledge as manager and chief editors of STPA respectively from 2006 to the time of writing.↩
Zhen-Wei Zou, Publishing and Printing, The History of Sign of the Times Publishing House (Shanghai: Shanghai Publishing and Printing College, 2017), vol. 4, 49-52.↩
Chan Sheng Gu, Missionaries and Modern China (Shanghai: Shanghai Peoples Publishing House, 2004), 375.↩
Fu-Hsiang Cho, Centennial Anniversary of Signs of the Times (Taipei: Signs of the Times Publishing House, 2005), 10-14.↩
Joseph Tse-Hei Lee and Christie Chui-Sahn Chow, Religious Publishing and Print Culture in Modern China: 1800–2012. Philip Clart and Gregory Adam Scott, eds. (Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2015), 56, 57.↩
Zhen-Wei Zou, Publishing and Printing, The History of Signs of the Times Publishing House (Shanghai: Shanghai Publishing and Printing College, 2017), vol. 4, 52.↩
Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1957).↩
Samuel Young, ed., Chinese SDA History (Zhong Hua Shengong Shi) (Hong Kong: The Chinese Union Mission of the Seven-day Adventist, 2002), vol. 1, 301-307.↩
The Editorial Department, The Story of Advent Movement (Tapei: Signs of the Times Publishing House, 2012), 404.↩
Figures provided by the authors on December 21, 2019, from STPA internal records.↩
“Mission of STPA,” on STPA Website, accessed July 20, 2019,