The origin of libraries in China can be traced back to the time
of Confucius (late 6th century BC) or even earlier (c.1554-1045
BC) to the Shang Dynasty. (Lai 1990:21-23); Wang 1991:4-9) However,
before the 20th Century, most of these libraries were either imperial
libraries, in academies, or private collections. The primary purposes
were collection and preservation rather than access and use. The
development of the modern libraries did not start until the beginning
of the 20th Century. To counter the defeats and humiliation at
the hands of foreign colonial powers during the second half of
the 19th Century, the imperial government of the Qing Dynasty
(AD 1644-1911) adopted a series of reforms focusing on modern
education and Westernization. Under these reforms, American concepts
of libraries found their way into China through the efforts of
Miss Mary Elizabeth Wood and the dedication of many American-educated
Chinese librarians. As a result, more and more of the new-type
libraries were established. After the founding of the Republic
of China in 1911, library laws were promulgated; courses on library
economy were first offered by Nanjing University in 1913; the
first library school, the Wenhua (Boone) Library School, was established
in 1920; the Library Association of China (LAC) was founded in
1925, and modified American classification schemes were widely
used. All of these developments revealed a strong American influence.
Following the rapid development of libraries in China from 1911
to 1937, such efforts were severely curtailed during the Japanese
invasion from 1937 to 1945. The subsequent Civil War in China
from 1947 to 1949 delayed the recovery process.
In 1949, the Nationalist Government withdrew to Taiwan and, after
a period of readjustment, libraries in Taiwan began to rapidly
develop with considerable interaction with American librarians
From 1949, the founding of the People's Republic of China, to
1966, the beginning of the "Cultural Revolution," libraries
flourished in China, strongly influenced by the former Soviet
Union. American influence was almost entirely absent. However,
the ten-year "Cultural Revolution" not only halted the
progress made during the post-1949 period but seriously retarded
library development. Most libraries were closed, and collections
were lost or destroyed.
When the "Cultural Revolution" ended in 1976 and the
new Modernization Movement was launched, interaction with American
libraries resumed with great speed.
This paper provides a historic review of major American contributions through these interactions, divided into the following six periods:
Pre-Republican China (Prior to 1911)
Following the defeat by British forces during the so-called Opium War and the signing of the humiliating Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, China suffered a series of other setbacks at the hands of foreign colonial powers. In response to pressures from the populace, the imperial government of the Qing Dynasty launched a series of reforms. By the end of the 19th Century, many enlightened government officials and intellectuals realized that in order for China to become strong again, five major areas of pursuit needed to be emphasized. These were:
A number of proposals were submitted to the government emphasizing
the importance of having modern libraries which were open to the
public. One of these by Li Dan Fen on May 2, 1896, stated:
Many libraries have been established by western countries. The best libraries have collections numbering in the millions. Citizens can go and read in the libraries and that is the reason why there are so many talents in the West. (Wen 1991:374)
Many articles were published during this period emphasizing the
importance of new types of libraries developed in the West. (Wen
1991:373-374) Some singled out the American style of librarianship
as most desirable for China. One particular article published
in October 1898 in the New knowledge Newspaper (Zhi Xin Bao)
described the establishment of a library school in the U.S.
by Melvil Dewey to prepare professional librarians. (Yen 1983:
In the "School Regulations" promulgated by Emperor Guangxu
in 1903, detailed requirements for libraries in elementary schools,
secondary schools, and colleges were defined. In 1904, the first
two government-operated public libraries were established: the
Hunan Library in Changsha and the Hubei Library in Wuchang. (Wen
1991:374 R 386) These were the first to use "library"
(tu shu guan) instead of the traditional "book depository"
(chang shu lou). "Library Regulations for the Capital
(Jingshi) and Provincial Libraries" were promulgated in 1909,
and the Capital Library (the forerunner of the National Beijing
Library), many provincial libraries throughout China, and a military
library were established shortly after that.
Perhaps the most significant American contribution to modern library
development in China during this period was made by Miss Mary
Elizabeth Wood (1862-1931). Wood, a librarian of the Richmond
Library in Batavia, New York, went to China to visit her missionary
brother in Wuchang in 1899. Because of a shortage of teachers,
Wood was hired as an English teacher by the mission-operated Wenhua
(Boone) College. Recognizing the inadequacy of its library, Wood
campaigned hard for improvement. She went back to the U.S. to
study library science at Pratt Institute and Simmons College and
returned to China to set up the "Public Use Library"
(Kung Shu Lin) in the College in 1903. In 1910, she opened
it to the public in a new library building with money she had
raised in the United States. The Library was the first in China
to display books and journals in open stacks and to open its collection
to the public not affiliated with the school. Albeit a small library,
it became the first library in China modeled after the American
style of public library. (Yen 1983:26)
In addition, Wood established a number of branch libraries in neighboring cities. From these, travelling collections were dispatched to faraway places along the Yangtze River. A few went to north China, and one journeyed as far as Beijing. (Chiu 1971:647-648)
Wood's zeal for library development can best be described in her
own words, "I feel that I have a call to do this work and
that it is part of God's plan for China." (Boettcher 1989:270)
By combining her dedication to missionary work and her conviction
of the importance of modern library development, she tirelessly
devoted the next thirty-one years of her life to this noble cause,
until her death from a heart attack in 1931.
The first known publications exchange between the U.S. and China
began in 1868 when the U.S. Government, represented by the Smithsonian
Institution, presented China with books and plant seeds along
with a proposal to exchange publications between the two countries.
Specifically, the U.S. Government wanted to obtain "publications
relating to the census and revenue of China." (Yang 1990:2)
In response, the Chinese Government in 1869 presented the U.S.
Government with 947 volumes comprised of the census records and
other publications. These books were deposited in the Library
of Congress and constituted the beginning of L.C.'s Chinese collection.
(Hu 1977:261) Further exchanges of documents, books, and maps
were undertaken in 1908 and 1909. (Yang 1990:2-3)
Rapid Modernization Movement (1911-1937)
When the Qing Dynasty was overthrown in 1911 and replaced by the
Republic of China, library development continued despite the chaotic
political situation. By 1914, provincial libraries had been established
in nearly all provinces except a few remote regions. Popular libraries,
reading rooms, and mobile libraries flourished everywhere at amazing
speed. (Wen 1991:376) In 1915, the Government of the new Republic
promulgated two new regulations, one for all libraries and one
for popular libraries.
To extend her ideas of American-type of library services, Wood
felt the need to have a number of American-trained Chinese librarians.
Through her efforts, she raised enough money to send two graduates
of Wenhua College to the U.S. for library education. Mr. Shen
Zhu Rong (Samuel T. Y. Seng) went in 1914 and Mr. Hu Qing Sheng
(Thomas C. S. Hu) went in 1917. Both attended the New York State
Library School in Albany. After Shen graduated and returned to
China in 1917, Wood asked him and another Wenhua graduate, Mr.
Yu Ri Zhang (David Yu), to go on a lecture tour around the country
to promote modern librarianship in the American fashion.
When Hu returned from America in 1919, he, too, joined Wood and Shen in their effort to establish the Wenhua Library School in 1920, with Shen as the director. This first library school in China adopted the model of the New York State Library School which required students to complete two years of university education before being admitted. The library school also used the American credit-hour system. Because of the success of the School, it was granted college status by the Ministry of Education in 1930 and most of its graduates became recognized library leaders.
In addition to Shen and Hu, many other Wenhua graduates and others
received their library educations in America. They completed their
library science education from such library schools as New York
State, Columbia, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Through their efforts,
many summer lectures or short courses were held at Beijing Normal
University in 1920, in Guangzhou in 1922, and at Nanjing Southeastern
University in 1923 - to name just a few. In 1925, the second library
school, The Department of Library Science, was established at
the National Shanghai University. It is worth mentioning that
a number of those who studied in the U.S. and remained there afterward,
played key roles in developing major Chinese collections in several
leading American libraries. (Wen 1991:378-379)
With more librarians and more libraries being established, the
need for a professional association became apparent. When the
Chinese National Association for the Advancement of Education
was founded in 1922, it set up a division on Library Education.
At the second annual meeting of the Association in 1923, five
resolutions were adopted by the Library Education Division. The
fourth resolution called for the establishment of library associations
in various parts of China. Because of this resolution, local library
associations were formed in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Nanjing,
Kaifeng, Nanyang, and Guangzhou in 1924.
About the same time, at the suggestion of Dr. David Yu, a graduate
of Wenhua College and Secretary General of the Chinese Y.M.C.A.,
Wood went back to the U.S. with a petition signed by over 150
Chinese leaders. The petition asked the American Government to
designate a portion of the remission of the indemnity imposed
after the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1900 to be used for public library
development in China. In a tireless effort, Wood visited almost
all the Senators and Congressmen in 1924 and successfully persuaded
them to pass a bill with the provision that the money be used
for "educational and other cultural activities in China".
(Chiu 1971:647-648) The administration of the fund, totalling
$12,000,000, was entrusted to the China Foundation for the Promotion
of Education and Culture. The board of the Foundation consisted
of representatives from both countries. Among the many projects
funded by the Foundation were the establishment of the National
Library of Beijing and annual grants to the Wenhua Library School.
During her trip in the U.S.A., Wood also represented the Chinese
National Association for the Advancement of Education in inviting
the American Library Association to send its former president,
Dr. Arthur E. Bostwick, Director of the St. Louis Public Library,
to visit China in 1925. The visit of Bostwick coincided with the
formal establishment of the Library Association of China (LAC)
in Beijing on June 2, 1925.
In addition to attending the inaugural conference of LAC in Beijing, Bostwick also visited some 50 libraries in ten provinces and 14 large cities in China. He gave many lectures on American librarianship and strongly promoted open access. Under his influence, the China Foundation, at its first meeting in June 1925, decided to use part of the remission from the 1900 indemnity to support library development.
Under a provision of the LAC Constitution, ten other leading American
librarians were invited to become honorary members of LAC. They
were Melvil Dewey, Herbert Putnam, Ernest C. Richardson, Clement
W. Andrews, James I. Myer, John C. Dana, Charles F. D. Belden,
William W. Bishop, Carl H. Milan, and Edwan H. Anderson. In accepting
the honor, Dewey's reply was especially heart-warming. He recalled
the humble beginning of the American Library Association 49 years
earlier with only 50 members and no money. By 1925, its membership
had grown to 10,000. Dewey offered his best wishes to LAC to advance
popular education through libraries. (Yen 1983:229-234)
At its 50th anniversary conference in Philadelphia in 1926, ALA
extended an invitation to LAC. In response, a five-member delegation
was sent. In recognition of the contributions made by LAC to promote
popular education in China, ALA presented LAC a special award
at the conference.
Besides the close cooperation between ALA and LAC, many cooperative
projects were carried out between individual libraries of the
two countries. An example was the agreement for exchange of librarians
between the Beijing Library and Columbia University Library signed
in 1930. During the first six years, three Chinese librarians
went to Columbia University for education and library work.
Just prior to the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, library development
reached an all time high in China. Government statistics show
that the total number of libraries had grown from 502 in 1925
to 5,812 in 1935. (Yen 1983:110-114)
Sino-Japanese War and Civil War (1937-1949)
The Japanese invasion of China in 1937 dealt serious blows to
library development. Indiscriminate bombing, burning, and looting
by Japanese military forces reduced many libraries to ashes. According
to an official estimate, at least 10 million books were lost or
stolen, including numerous treasured collections. (Yen 1983: 140-141)
Fortunately, some 30,000 volumes of rare books and manuscripts,
including many Sung and Ming editions, from the National Beijing
Library were rescued and shipped to the Library of Congress for
safekeeping 1n 1937. In 1944, with the permission of the Chinese
Government, this collection was microfilmed with copies given
to the National Beijing Library, the National Central Library,
and the Academia Sinica Library. These books were returned to
the National Central Library in 1966 when it was re-established
in Taiwan. (Wang 1987:19)
During the early years of the war, in order to replace the losses
and to acquire needed books and journals, the government established
a Committee on Wartime Library Acquisitions in Sichuan in 1938
and sent out a call for help from other countries. The Library
Society of China also wrote to ALA asking for donations of books.
In response to the call, ALA at its 1938 Annual Conference held
in Kansas City launched a "Books for China" project
and collected more than 25,000 books and journals. When the Second
World War broke out in the Pacific in 1939, this project was interrupted
due to shipping difficulties. To remedy this situation, an International
Committee for the Supply of Academic Materials was established
jointly by the U. S. Government, the China Foundation for the
Promotion of Education and Culture, National Beijing Library,
Academia Sinica, the Chinese Ministry of Education, and other
agencies to collect scholarly materials on microfilm and airmail
them to China. The microfilming was done by the Library of Congress.
Some 60 scientific and technical journals were selected and microfilmed
regularly. A number of microfilm readers were donated as well.
After the Second World War in 1945, several American librarians
visited China to resume contacts with the Chinese library community.
Dr. Charles Shaw, Librarian of Swarthmore University and representative
of the United Board of Christian Higher Education in China, visited
several church-related universities in Nanjing, Beijing, Wuhan,
Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Fuzhou in October, 1947. Based on his
recommendation, six librarians from these universities were sent
to the U.S. for further education.
In January 1948, Dr. Charles Brown, Chair of the Far East and Southwest Pacific Subcommittee of ALA and Library Director of Iowa State University, and Mr. Verner Clapp, Deputy Librarian of the Library of Congress, visited China to discuss library cooperation between China and the U.S. After his return, Brown drafted the "Tentative Plan for Library Development in Regard to Sino-American Cultural Relationship" which was submitted to ALA and the U. S. Government. Among the recommendations were:
It was regrettable that this fine plan was shelved due to the
unstable political situation in China and the expanding civil
war which resulted in the downfall of the Republic of China in
the mainland and the separation of the People's Republic of China
From the Founding of the PRC to the End of the Cultural Revolution (1949-1976)
After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the relations
between China and the U.S. was totally cut off. With China's "leaning
to one side" policy, Soviet influence replaced the previous
American influence. According to one description, Soviet experts
"flocked to China in droves" and Lenin's views of libraries
as a means of mass education and indoctrination became the guiding
principle. Therefore, the purpose of the library was "to
serve politics, production, workers, peasants, soldiers, and scientific
studies." (Ting 1981:2)
From 1949 to 1965, Soviet-style libraries expanded rapidly. In
addition to the common types of public, academic, school, and
special libraries, a large number of rural libraries (reading
rooms) and labor union libraries sprang up. These latter were
operated by labor unions in factories, mines and industries, intended
primarily to propagate Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, to raise workers'
political awareness, and to increase their knowledge of technology
and production. (Ting 1981:4)
However, beginning in 1956, the relationship between China and
the Soviet Union began to sour which led to the withdrawal of
Soviet experts in 1957. The "Anti-rightist Movement"
intended to defeat the counter-revolutionary "Revisionism"
quickly evolved into the disastrous and destructive "Great
Proletarian Cultural Revolution" which erupted in 1965.
During the 11 years of "Cultural Revolution", the majority
of libraries were closed, and librarians were sent to the countryside
to be rehabilitated through manual labor. Many books which were
considered problematic were burned and card catalogs destroyed.
Led by Mao's wife, Chiang Ching, and those self-styled radicals
(the "Red Guards") who despised knowledge and the intellectuals,
China was turned upside down in a fanatic turmoil unprecedented
in her history.
After the death of Mao and the arrest of the "Gang of Four", including Chiang Ching, in 1976, the curtain for the Culture Revolution was finally brought down. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution, China has launched a new modernization effort to rebuild the country and to make up for lost time. Her contacts with the U.S. were resumed.
Developments in Taiwan (1949 to the Present)
In Taiwan, the situation was quite different. After the Nationalist
Government moved to Taiwan, there was a short period of chaos,
then - through a series of economic and political reforms - things
began improving. Libraries began to recover and move forward.
The Library Association of China (LAC) was revived in 1953, the
National Central Library re-opened its doors in 1954, and five
library science programs have been established in colleges and
universities since 1955. To meet manpower needs, the LAC began
to offer an annual in-service training program. With the rapid
economic development since 1960, a plan for cultural development
was initiated by the government in 1977 with library development
as a key component. The first National Conference on Libraries
was held in 1989 under the joint sponsorship of the National Central
Library and the Library Association of China. Based on one of
its recommendations, the Ministry of Education established a Committee
on Library Development to coordinate library planning and development
in Taiwan. The Committee drafted a comprehensive Library Law and
submitted it for formal adoption by the government through the
legislative process. Currently, library development has been included
as one of the components in the Six-year Plan for National Building
for 1993-1998. (Wang 1992:1-6)
Through this entire period, relationships between Taiwan and U.S.
libraries were close and mutually beneficial. American influence
in library development continues strong as the majority of library
leaders in Taiwan received their professional education in the
U.S. Many American librarians have been invited to Taiwan as consultants
and lecturers. Some also have attended library conferences held
in Taiwan. For example, Dr. David Kaser of Indiana University
has been in Taiwan many times and was the highly respected building
consultant for many newly constructed library buildings, including
the National Central Library. (Fung 1989:115-128) Dr. Tze-chung
Li, the first Chinese American to serve as a library school dean
in the U.S., was appointed director of the National Central Library
during his tenure at Rosary College. (Ho 1996:97-107)
In 1968, during the Centennial of the First U.S.-China Book Exchange, books and journals on many subjects were donated to the National Central Library in Taiwan by American libraries with strong Chinese collections. (Yang 1990:5) They were:
|The Library of Congress||Physics|
|University of California, Los Angeles||Biology & Medicine|
|University of Chicago||Chemistry|
|Columbia University||General Sciences|
|University of Illinois||Physics|
|University Kansas||General Sciences|
|University of Michigan||Engineering|
|University of Minnesota||Mathematics & Biology|
|University of Pittsburgh||Philosophy|
|Princeton University||Engineering & Mathematics|
|Stanford University||General Sciences|
|Yale University||Biology & Geology|
In 1970-71, some 28,616 volumes of books and journals were donated
to the National Central Library by the U. S. Information Services
and Rotary International for distribution to other libraries in
Taiwan. (Yang 1990:6) From 1986 to 1990, the Asia Foundation also
donated a total of 19,149 volumes to various libraries in Taiwan.
In reciprocity, the National Central Library also sent a large
number of publications to the Library of Congress and to other
American libraries. According to NCL statistics, between 1977
and 1989, some 50,627 volumes were sent to the Library of Congress
by NCL. (Yang 1990:7-8) In addition, NCL has participated in exhibits
at the ALA Annual Conference since 1957 and has donated the exhibited
books to various American libraries. One of the innovative examples
of these was the cooperative program between NCL and Ohio University
under which Ohio University provided internship training for NCL
librarians and in return received several of the exhibited collections.
Through the Fulbright Exchange Program and the USIA/ALA Book Fellows
Program, a number of American librarians have gone to Taiwan for
lectures and consulting work while a number of library professionals
from Taiwan have come to the U,S. for education and scholarly
In the area of technical cooperation, Taiwan libraries were the
first in Asia to participate in OCLC. NCL has also cooperated
with OCLC and RLG to create MARC records for Chinese collections.
New Era of Library Development (1976 to the Present)
Following the Cultural Revolution, China launched a major effort to rebuild its libraries as an important part of the "Four Modernizations" movement (science and technology, industry, agriculture, and defense). Contacts with the American library community were resumed. In September, 1979, at the invitation of Beijing Library, a delegation of 12 American librarians headed by William Welsh, Deputy Librarian of the Library of Congress spent three weeks in China. In March/April of 1980 Seminars on Library Operation were conducted in Beijing and Shanghai under the joint sponsorship of the China Society of Library Science (CSLS) and USIA. Over 300 librarians from all parts of China participated. In June of 1980, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. National Committee for Sino-American Relations invited a delegation of 10 university librarians to visit American university and research libraries. In June of 1981, at the invitation of ALA the China Society of Library Science sent a delegation to attend the 100th Annual Conference of ALA in San Francisco.
Since China rejoined IFLA in 1981, exchange visits and cooperative
agreements between libraries of China and the U.S. have increased.
In May of 1982, The Chinese Academy of Medical Science and the
Rockefeller Foundation organized a seminar on the Management of
Medical Libraries in Beijing. In August, at the invitation of
Seton Hall University Library, a delegation of librarians and
information specialists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences visited
many libraries on the East Coast and signed an agreement for staff
exchange with Seton Hall University. In December of the same year,
under the joint sponsorship of the Institute of Scientific and
Technical Information of China and the International Development
Research Centre (Canada), this author and three others from the
U.S. and Canada were invited to conduct a two-week workshop on
Management of Information Centres in China in Kunming. (Broadbent
From 1982 to 1989, the frequency and variety of library contacts
between China and the U.S. grew rapidly. They are too numerous
to list. The spirit of cooperation was very high by any measure.
Using Ohio University as an example, an agreement for mutual cooperation
and staff exchange was signed between Ohio University Libraries
and the Wuhan Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in June,
1986. Under that agreement, each year, Ohio will send a staff
to Wuhan for one month and Wuhan will send a staff to Ohio for
three months. In addition, over 70 Chinese librarians have participated
in Ohio's International Librarians Internship program since 1984
for periods ranging from one month to one year. On September 8-11,
1988, an International Symposium on New Techniques and Applications
in Libraries was jointly sponsored by Ohio and Xian Jiaotong University
in Xian. (International Symposium 1988)
The suppression of the pro-democracy movement of Chinese students
in June of 1989 caused the suspension of some cooperative programs
between China and other countries. Fortunately, this temporary
setback did not last long. Again, China has continued her modernization
reform and pragmatic approach for economic development.
Despite serious funding problems, libraries of all types continue
to make great strides. Not only have the number of libraries expanded,
so have collections, facilities, and services. More and more libraries
have adopted the open-stack approach. American library practices
are increasingly being adapted to Chinese needs. The Chinese Library
Classification Scheme, the Chinese Subject Headings, the Bibliography
of Chinese Rare Books, the National Bibliography, the Chinese
Standard for Bibliographic Description, Cataloging in Publication
practice, the National Center for Microfilming, the development
of many standards for library and documentation work, and others
have all been put into practice. From 1987 to 1990, a nationwide
survey of library and information resources was conducted and
results were analyzed for cooperative collection development.
Library automation and networking have spread rapidly during the
last decade. Since 1994, with the support of the State Education
Commission and the State Planning Commission, the development
of the China Education and Research Network (CERNET) has been
undertaken by Tsinghua University. An agreement with OCLC was
signed this year to make the OCLC's FirstSearch available to Chinese
users via CERNET. Cooperation with OCLC to make existing and new
Chinese databases accessible online will be the next step.
In the area of professional education and training, China is making
substantial progress toward meeting its urgent manpower needs.
Before 1978 there were only two undergraduate library science
programs (Peking and Wuhan Universities). There are now more than
50 library and information science programs offering a wide range
of degree programs: associate's, bachelor's, master's, to doctoral
degrees. To prepare library support staff, high-school-level programs
have also been established. For in-service training, the Bureau
of Library Administration of the Ministry of Culture works with
the Central Broadcasting and Television University in offering
an associate degree program in Library and Information Science
since 1985. By 1988, 10,769 students had graduated. (Wu 1992:29-43)
This paper briefly has reviewed modern library development in
China from the late 19th Century to the present time with a special
focus on the relationship between libraries of China and the U.S.
From what has been highlighted in this paper, it is clear that
the relationship between the two countries has been close and
mutually beneficial. American contributions to the development
of modern librarianship in China were of particular significance
in the first half of the 20th Century. Following the lead of Mary
Elizabeth Wood, whose contributions were far reaching, many American-educated
Chinese library leaders have made major improvements. For a young
country, the U.S., too, has gone through rapid changes in her
librarianship in the 20th century. It is admirable that the U.S.
has shared her progress in modern librarianship with China throughout
most of these one hundred years. Both countries have much to gain
from continuing and expanding these relationships to build more
open and enlightened societies with better informed citizens.
Libraries and information centers are the foundation for mass
education, cultural enrichment, economic development, and social
progress. They are also the base for global understanding and
peace. The recent surge of more sophisticated information technologies
will enable us to further develop our libraries and information
services to meet our present and future information needs.
This China-U.S. Conference on Global Information Access: Challenges
and Opportunities is held at this very important juncture as the
two countries seek to reaffirm our mutually beneficial relationship
in modern librarianship for the 21st Century.
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