A review of the Zhejiang Provincial Library (浙江省图书馆), Hangzhou, China.
My research interests focus on the history of medicine and health in twentieth-century China. I have just completed my research of barefoot doctors in Chinese villages. It is a study of Hangzhou Prefecture (in Zhejiang Province), and is based on oral interviews, local archives, and documents. The main thread of discussion is the development of medicine and health since the middle 1940s in Jiang Village, Yuhang County, which is now a suburban area under the jurisdiction of Hangzhou City. Since 2003, I have been visiting the Zhejiang Provincial Library annually to collect local documents (including gazetteers, newspapers, periodicals, and other books) for my study. In this review, I’ll briefly introduce my experience at the Zhejiang Library (website here). I hope that this review will be useful to those who are interested in studying Zhejiang since 1949.
The Zhejiang Provincial Library is located in Hangzhou at 73 Shuguang Road [曙光路73号], across the street from the Yellow Dragon Stadium and next door to the Yellow Dragon Cave Park. The first time I visited this library, I showed a librarian my Chinese ID (foreign readers need to bring their passports). Next, I filled out the registration form at the General Service Desk, paid the deposit of 100 RMB, and was given a reader’s card. The most important section of the library for my topic of study is the Local Documents Reading Room, which is located in the east wing on the third level. This room mainly preserves local gazetteers (including yearbooks) and newspapers published in Zhejiang since 1949, as well as books relevant to Zhejiang.
The gazetteers mainly fall into three categories:
(1) communist party history and comprehensive gazetteers of each county and prefecture (since 2005, local governments have started the second compilation project, which is focused on developments since the late 1970s)
(2) gazetteers compiled by each government department at the county, prefectural, and provincial levels, covering topics such as health, education, land, public security, rations, and transport, among others
(3) gazetteers edited by specific “work units” (danwei) such as hospitals, schools, companies, and state-owned enterprises, celebrating the anniversary of their founding.
In addition to these sources, over the past ten years, even townships and villages have started compiling their own gazetteers, and these are also available in the Local Documents Reading Room.
There are also many books relevant to Zhejiang, such as biographies, novels, academic monographs, and collections of local documents. Because each staff member of this reading room has been assigned the responsibility to look for gazetteers and books published each year in each county and prefecture of Zhejiang Province, the total number of publications in this collection has been increasing steadily over the past few years. More importantly, readers can find books which are not available anywhere else. This reading room also has county, prefectural, and provincial newspapers published since 1949. Among them, the most valuable newspapers are the county newspapers published during the early 1950s and the Great Leap Forward campaign. These newspapers were usually published for only two or three years. So far I haven’t found any other archives in Zhejiang that have such newspapers.
Each time I visited the Local Documents Reading Room, I filled in a registration form indicating my name, “work unit” (danwei), contact information, purpose of research, and expected final result (e.g., type of resulting publication) at the service desk. Though there is still no wireless internet access available in the Library for personal use, there is a computer for catalogue search in the reading room. Furthermore, all of the gazetteers are classified according to each county of the 11 prefectures. It is very convenient to browse them on the open shelves. The collections of local newspapers are kept in a storehouse behind the reading room. If needed, a request form must be filled in, and librarians will retrieve the requested newspapers from the storehouse. Usually I brought my digital camera to take photos of pages I wanted and saved them directly into my laptop. The Local Documents Reading Roomallows library users to bring their cameras and laptops into the library and to take photographs of publications in the library. To make photocopies of books, readers must first fill in request forms, place the books into a special box locked by the staff, and then bring the box to the photocopying room on the first floor. In this photocopying room, the library staff can also scan documents into electronic image files, such as JPEG or TIFF files. I have scanned a few figures from the newspapers for my book there. They charged 10 yuan per megabyte of memory.
I often went to the Back Issues Reading Room, which is located in the basement. This room has a collection of bound periodicals published since 1949. The first category of periodicals includes those published in Zhejiang since 1949, such as the Zhejiang Pictorial of Workers, Peasants and Soldiers, and Zhejiang Health Correspondence, among others. The second category, which is also the most valuable for me, includes internal periodicals published by provincial departments or even prefectural departments during the 1960s and 1970s. These kinds of periodicals are unavailable at other libraries in China. To request these materials, I just filled in a small request form and handed it to the staff, and they retrieved the periodicals from the storehouse. The duplication procedure is the same as that of the Local Documents Reading Room.
Around early 2008, the Zhejiang Provincial Library basically completed digitizing all local gazetteers and newspapers published after 1949, as well as periodicals and newspapers published during the time of the Republic of China. Since I found that the digitized collection of these newspapers is more complete than those of the Local Documents Reading Room, I also went to the Electronic Reading to look for these local materials later. The only inconvenience I encountered was that I had to download gazetteers chapter by chapter and newspapers day by day. But it is free. Because it is a free service, each reader can only use the computer for two hours per time. However, you can still swipe your reader’s card to log in immediately if the seat is available. This room is open to the public throughout the year, while the Local Documents Reading Room and the Back Issues Reading Room are closed on Sundays and Mondays respectively.
It’s very convenient to reach the Zhejiang Library by Bus K16, K23, K28, K101, and K66, and by taxi, stopping at the Yellow Dragon Cave Station. The Library is not far from the Yuquan Campus and the Xixi Campus of Zhejiang University. Those who would like to work at the Zhejiang Library for many weeks might like to consider staying at their guest houses of ZJU. The Library has its own staff canteen for lunch, and it is open to readers (a meal there costs 10 RMB). It opens at 11am. If you don’t want to have lunch at the canteen, you will find many small restaurants just outside the western gate. On Saturdays, there is a book fair where you can find many old books published during the 1950s and 60s, especially those relevant to the history and culture of Zhejiang.
Most importantly, the staff members who work in these reading rooms are very warmhearted and professional. They mainly majored in library & information, history, literature, and politics. When I was there, they offered me a lot of advice about how to look for local documents in other libraries and archives within Zhejiang. Collecting materials at the Zhejiang Provincial Library was one of my two most enjoyable experiences when I was working on my barefoot doctor research project (the other was the conducting of interviews with villagers and barefoot doctors). I still miss the days of reading books in the daytime, having lunch and chatting with staff at small restaurants at noon, and wandering around the West Lake on Sundays and holidays.
Xiaoping Fang, PhD
China Research Centre
University of Technology, Sydney
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