Historical Archives in Chinese Christian Colleges from before 1949

By Ng, Peter Tze Ming | International Bulletin of Missionary Research, July 1996 | Go to article overview

Historical Archives in Chinese Christian Colleges from before 1949


Ng, Peter Tze Ming, International Bulletin of Missionary Research


The search for archival records about the Christian mission in China dates from the late 1950s. The first bibliographic guide was published in 1962.(1) In 1989 a major guide was produced by Archie Crouch: Christianity in China: A Scholars' Guide to Resources in the Libraries and Archives of the United States.(2) On a smaller scale, Canadian scholars compiled Guide to Archival Resources on Canadian Missionaries in East Asia: 1890-1960.(3)

While the materials in these North American archives are of great value, equally valuable, if not more so, would be archival records in China itself. After the gradual release of archival materials under the open-door policy of the late 1980s, Chinese scholars began to pay attention to the possible existence of Christian archives in China.

In 1993 an international symposium, Historical Archives of Pre-1949 Christian Higher Education in China, was held in Hong Kong.(4) It sparked much interest among scholars and researchers, both from outside and from within China. Scholars began to see the value of archives of Christian colleges in China, not merely for the writing of institutional histories, but as a means of exploring the significance of Christian education for the development of modern education in China, of East-West relationships, and of East-West cultural exchanges in the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. There was concern that the Christian college archives might have been destroyed or widely dispersed in the past forty-five years. Therefore an urgent need was felt for updated information regarding the nature and whereabouts of the Christian college archives. Scholars would then be able to use the information about the availability of archives in China to launch in-depth studies using the newly released archives.(5)

With support from the Research Enablement Program of the Overseas Ministries Study Center, New Haven, I had the opportunity to arrange several consultations in China in 1994 and 1995 that consolidated and updated information about Christian college archives in China. I was able to meet scholars from various parts of China and visit some of the archives in China.

Current Status

We now know that there are huge collections of archival materials from Christian colleges in China.(6) The estimate is more than 13,000 volumes.(7) These materials have been largely untouched in the last forty-five years. Though it was thought that some might have been destroyed or lost during the years of turmoil in China, in fact most had been placed safely under seal and did not suffer much damage. Most of the collections are stored in national, provincial, and municipal archives in China; some remain in libraries and institutions that were associated with the former Christian colleges.

The Archives Law of the People's Republic of China (1987) provides that the pre-1949 archives will be gradually released and will be accessible to scholars and researchers, including overseas scholars and foreigners.(8) Much of the Christian colleges' archives are now open to outside scholars.(9) The following is some of the key information gathered from the consultations.

In Shanghai, the historical archives of four of the Christian colleges - University of Shanghai, St. John's University, Aurora University, and Soochow University - are held in the Municipal Archives.(10) According to a document issued by Shanghai Municipal Archives in June 1991, there are 1,113 volumes of archives from the University of Shanghai, covering the period 1906 to 1952, of which 721 volumes had been released. There were 1,787 volumes from the St. John's archives, covering the period from 1879 to 1952, of which 1,340 had been released. There were 1,249 volumes from the Aurora University archives, covering the period from 1903 to 1952, of which 1,069 had been released. And there were 509 volumes from the Soochow University archives, covering the period from 1915 to 1952, of which 492 volumes had been released. …

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