Shandong Provincial Archives

A review of Shandong Provincial Archives (山東省檔案館) (Jinan, Shandong, PRC).

In May 2014, I travelled to Jinan, Shandong, to conduct research in the Shandong Provincial Archives as part of a dissertation project exploring the social and political implications of private gun ownership in Republican China. The archives, established in 1963, house the historical records of the provincial government dating from the Ming period to the early PRC period. However, only a portion of documents after the late Qing are officially open to the public. The archives are helpful and efficient, and the staff is friendly (although it imposes some occasionally burdensome restrictions on researchers, detailed below). This brief review intends to offer a glimpse into the Shandong Provincial Archives for researchers who study Shandong history.

My research on Republican Shandong focuses on how the different decisions made by the Nationalist government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regarding management of civilian firearm use affected the national political arena. In the Shandong Provincial Archives, I planned to examine how local peasants in southwestern Shandong responded to Han Fuju’s policy of collecting private guns in the early 1930s. One specialty of the archives is their collection of CCP internal documents, telling primarily the story of the CCP’s political activities in Shandong. These rich sources have allowed me to study how the CCP used armed civilians to increase its military strength.

The Shandong Provincial Archives have been visited by a number of researchers since the 1980s and described in a variety of introductory guides or handbooks. Chinese Archives: An Introductory Guide (edited by Ye Wa and Joseph Esherick) and Shandong sheng dang’an guan zhinan 山東省檔案館指南 (published by the archives themselves) contain detailed introductions to the archives’ major collections.

Recent scholars planning to visit the archives need to be aware that new facilities have been built in the southeastern part of the city. With the new building, the archives enforce new rules for visitors. The new address is Jingshi Dong Lu, Lixia District (歷下區經十東路11619號), next door to the Shandong Provincial Museum. The closest bus stop within walking distance of the archives is Bowuguan zhan 博物館站, serviced by bus lines 5, 115, 119, and K139 (fare: 1 RMB). Located in the city’s newly developing district, there are a few hotels and restaurants in this area. Short term researchers seeking convenient accommodation are advised to live in the more developed area near Shandong University, approximately thirty minutes from the archives by the No. 5 bus.

The hours of operation are 9:00-11:30 in the morning and 1:00-4:00 in the afternoon, Monday through Friday. Access for research in the archives requires a stamped letter of introduction from the visitor’s affiliated institution in China, along with proper identification (resident identification card for Chinese nationals and valid passport with visa for foreign researchers). The archive staff emphasizes that the letter of introduction for foreigner researchers must be issued by provincial or higher-level authorities.

When you first arrive, a security guard in the lobby will check your background information and show you to the reading room located to the left of the lobby, where archive staff will coordinate your visit. You have to leave all belongings except basic stationery in the allocated locker room off the lobby. Taking notes using laptop computer and taking pictures with camera or other similar electronic devices is prohibited in the archives. After checking your belongings, you will be required to fill out a one-time registration form at the front desk of the reading room, describing your research project in a few sentences. The reading room is spacious with plenty of comfortable tables and chairs and is surrounded by bookshelves filled with published documentary collections, notably Shandong geming lishi dangan ziliao xuanbian 山東革命歷史檔案資料選編 and other sources edited by the archives.

The archives now house more than 1 million documents that are open to public access, classified into seven main categories:

  1. Post-1949 Archives (1949-) 建國后檔案
  2. Republican Archives (1922-1948) 民國檔案
  3. Revolutionary History Archives 革命歷史檔案
  4. Current Documents 現行文件
  5. Books and Resources 圖書資料
  6. Donation of Personal papers 個人捐贈檔案
  7. Archives of Shandong Celebrity 山東名人檔案

The archive website includes the collection’s online catalog. However, the website is not user-friendly and it seems the open-access catalog never works outside the archives. Researchers may use the reading room’s two computers to view the searchable catalog, which enables researchers to locate materials by using notable persons’ names, keywords, and terms. Once you locate specific items in the system, you need to complete a request form indicating the call number and the title of each document. There is no limit to the number of documents you may access per day.

When I was there in summer, the archives received very few visitors, and the staff was able to retrieve documents within ten minutes. The archives have been implementing a plan to have all textual materials digitized. Before digitization is complete, researchers may read original documents. Before handing over original documents, an archivist will check each document carefully to ensure the content fits the research subject matter and is not politically sensitive. This decision is left to the discretion of the archivist. Some of my requests regarding the CCP’s grassroots campaigns in the 1940s were rejected without explanation.

From my experience, some staff seem to have little knowledge of their Republican-era collection and little experience dealing with researchers. For example, my request to read one document about the CCP’s mobilization movement in Western Shandong was refused at first because the archivist felt that the document had nothing to do with my project. After listening to my explanation, he agreed to approve my request. Thus, you may need to invest time and energy in convincing the archives staff of the relevance of specific documents to your project.

The archives contain a large number of Shandong Communist party documents and Nationalist government records from Shandong. While the facilities at the Shandong Provincial Archives have improved greatly since the opening of the new archives building in 2012, researchers might notice that the archives still impose some restrictions on consulting open historical records. Establishing effective communication with the archives staff is vital sometimes to have access to documents.

Location: Jing Shi Dong Lu, Lixia District (歷下區經十東路11619號)
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9:00-11:30 a.m. and 1:00-4:00 p.m.
Email: sdsdaj@126.com
Website: http://www.sdab.gov.cn/

Lei Duan
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of History
Syracuse University
lduan@syr.edu

Image: Shandong Provincial Archives. Photograph by Author.

2 comments

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  1. Ghassan Moazzin

    Thanks for the very interesting review. From my own experience I can only add that according to the archival guides cited in the review, the archive does hold a significant number of sources of the provincial government from Late Qing and early Republican period. However, during my own visit to the archives in spring 2014, none of the files from the late Qing period and only some files from the early Republican period were accessible to outside researchers.

  2. Thank you for this review. I visited the Shandong Provincial archives in summer 2014 and just had a couple of things to add.

    The archives some contain some materials from the Qing, but, when I was there, I was told that they had not yet been digitized and were thus not available. I was allowed, though, to examine a paper version of the catalog, which was not available on the computer work station. (The staff working in the reading room didn’t know about the condition of the Qing materials; it was only when I was speaking to a supervisor about something else that I was allowed to see the catalog.)

    While I was there I was allowed to take notes with my iPad, but, as the review indicates, no photographs are allowed. Copies can be made for a fee.

    Adding to the comment on archivists checking requested material, I was not allowed access to court cases from the Republican period because, I was told, they contained “personal secrets.” After several failed attempts to request legal files, a supervisor explained this policy to me and also questioned why I was requesting these materials given the description of my research I had provided (which was a legitimate question). So, to second the review’s description, the staff are very kind, helpful, and forthcoming with materials, but there are some limits.

    Dan Knorr
    PhD Student
    University of Chicago
    dknorr @ uchicago.edu

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