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China: Libraries and Archives
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Education and Culture > Culture and the Arts > Libraries and Archives

LIBRARIES AND ARCHIVES


Very early in Chinese civilization, scholars had extensive private libraries, and all of the imperial dynasties constructed libraries and archives to house literary treasures and official records. The first modern libraries, however, did not appear in China until the late nineteenth century; even then, library service grew slowly and sporadically. In 1949 there were only fifty-five public libraries at the county level and above, most concentrated in major coastal commercial centers.

Following the founding of the People's Republic, government and education leaders strove to develop library services and make them available throughout the country. The National Book Coordination Act of 1957 authorized the establishment of two national library centers, one in Beijing and the other in Shanghai, and nine regional library networks. Even so, libraries still were scarce, and those facilities that were available were cramped and offered only rudimentary services. Seeing the lack of libraries as a major impediment to modernization efforts, government leaders in the early 1980s took special interest in the development of library services. The special concentration of funds and talent began to produce significant results. By 1986 China had over 200,000 libraries, including a national library and various public, educational, scientific, and military libraries. More than forty Chinese institutions of higher learning also had established library-science or information-science departments. There were more than 2,300 public libraries at the county level and above, containing nearly 256 million volumes, and below the county level some 53,000 cultural centers included a small library or reading room.

The country's main library, the National Library of China, housed a rich collection of books, periodicals, newspapers, maps, prints, photographs, manuscripts, microforms, tape recordings, and inscriptions on bronze, stone, bones, and tortoiseshells. In 1987 a new National Library building, one of the world's largest library structures, was completed in the western suburbs.

The Shanghai Municipal Library, one of the largest public libraries in the country, contained over 7 million volumes, nearly 1 million of which were in foreign languages. The Beijing University Library took over the collections of the Yanjing University Library in 1950 and by the mid-1980s -- with more than 3 million volumes, one-fourth of them in foreign languages -- was one of the best university libraries in the country.

On the basis of the General Rules for Archives published in 1983, historical archives were being expanded at the provincial and county levels. Two of the most important archives were the Number One Historical Archives of China, located in Beijing containing the archives of the Ming and Qing dynasties, and the Number Two Historical Archives of China, located in Nanjing containing the archives of the Guomindang period. A number of foreign scholars have been granted access to these archives. In 1987 public and research libraries still faced serious space, management, and service problems. Even with the special efforts being made to solve these problems, it was clear that they would not be quickly resolved.

In the late 1980s, China was experiencing an active educational and cultural life. Students were staying in school longer, educational standards were being raised, and facilities were being improved. Intellectuals were encouraged to develop their expertise, especially in the scientific and technical spheres, and a wide variety of traditional and foreign literary and art forms were allowed to flourish. This situation was likely to continue as long as it served the interest of economic modernization and posed no threat to the political establishment.

Several general works provide a good overview of China's education and culture. However, because the most important educational reforms did not evolve or become effective until 1985- 86, and were still changing in 1987, these books generally did not address many of the latest educational reforms. Some of the most valuable books available include China Issues and Prospects in Education, Annex 1, 1985 by the World Bank, which provides an overview of the system, detailed statistics, and projections; John Cleverly's The Schooling of China, which has excellent chapters on the anatomy of the educational system and its problems, and prospects; and Ruth Hayhoe's Contemporary Chinese Education, which has valuable chapters on primary, secondary, and teacher education. Other informative works are the chapter on "Education" by Stanley Rosen in a book he co-edited with John Burns, entitled Policy Conflicts in Post-Mao China, and a brief article by Eli Seifman in the March 1986 issue of Asian Thought and Society.

Carol Lee Hamrin and Timothy Cheek's China's Establishment Intellectuals, Merle Goldman's China's Intellectuals, and Michael S. Duke's Blooming and Contending are indispensable sources of information on Chinese intellectual policy past and present. Liu Wu-chi's An Introduction to Chinese Literature gives an excellent summary of traditional literature and drama, and C.T. Hsia's A History of Modern Chinese Fiction gives insight into modern Chinese literature before the Cultural Revolution. Encyclopedia of China Today, edited by Fredric M. Kaplan, Julian M. Sobin, and Stephen Andors, contains valuable information about linguistic reform and gives a good overview of the arts in the post-Cultural Revolution period.

The Zhongguo Chuban Nianjian (China Publishing Yearbook), put out by the Commercial Press since 1980, provides rare data on that industry. Chi Wang's "An Overview of Libraries in the People's Republic of China" in the September 1984 issue of China Exchange News is an excellent source on Chinese libraries in the 1980s.

Other useful articles providing information on the changes and directions of China's education and cultural policy can be found in various issues of Beijing Review, China News Analysis, China Exchange News, China Reconstructs, and the Foreign Broadcast Information Service Daily Report: China, and the Joint Publications Research Service China Report: Political, Sociological, and Military Affairs. People's Republic of China Year-book also provides useful information and statistics. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of July 1987




Last Updated: July 1987


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for China was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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