New Online: Pre-1958 Chinese Collection

Copper-plate engraving showing military exploits in southwest China during the reign of the Qianlong emperor (1735–96).

The contents of the Asian Division’s Pre-1958 Chinese Collection, totaling more than 40,000 items, are now fully searchable through the Library’s online catalog in both Chinese characters and Romanized script. This rich and diverse collection has served researchers and general audiences for nearly 90 years; until now, however, bibliographic records for these materials were only available through a card catalog.

Map of China hand-painted during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).

Around 23,000 of the works in the collection—including 5,300 titles designated as rare books—were created before 1911, when the rule of China’s final imperial dynasty ended. Among these works are rare Song and Yuan dynasty editions (960–1368), including 11 Buddhist sutras and 6,000 volumes of Chinese and Tibetan works donated in 1915.

Another 18,000 works printed between 1912 and 1958 offer wide-ranging possibilities for historical research on the society, politics, economics and literature of that era. These materials include official documents and government archival sources pertaining to the Second Sino–Japanese War (1937–45) as well as the conflict between Nationalists and Communists that culminated in the establishment in 1949 of the People’s Republic of China.

The first issue of the People’s Daily, May 15, 1946.

Not all pre-1958 records can be retrieved at once because of a limit on the number of items returned by a single search. But there are ways to get a glimpse of the records’ scope. For example, searching for “ChinesePre-1958” together with “history” in the online catalog’s quick search or keyword search will retrieve more than 3,000 results on this subject.

The Asian Division has prepared a research guide for the Pre-1958 Chinese Collection. It offers a detailed overview of the diverse types of materials found in the collection and helps readers to navigate the rich body of texts it contains.

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