A review of the Jilin Provincial Archives.
Are you conducting research on the late Qing and/or early Republican periods? Have you been searching for an extensive and well-preserved source base? Do you work best while listening to the melodious sounds of Chinese pop? Then the materials at the Jilin Provincial Archives (JPA) might suit your research needs.
I conducted research for my doctoral dissertation at the JPA from March to July 2015. As my research relates to the history of forestry, I primarily worked with the Qing and Republican collections related to forest management, the promotion of industry, and education. The JPA has provided a clean, well-lit, and comfortable environment in which to conduct my research. Although its location in Changchun’s business district means the reading room hardly provides a quiet environment, the friendliness of the archivists and the extensiveness of its collection more than compensate for the Chinese pop music blaring outside. The JPA’s collection not only contains documents related to provincial events, but also contains orders from central government organs and even inter-provincial memoranda. As such, it could also provide a valuable resource for scholars working on topics of national political administration in the late Qing and early Republican periods.
Unfortunately, the JPA does not currently allow researchers to photocopy or photograph any of its pre-PRC archival materials. Typically, researchers spend most of their time transcribing materials. Fortunately, they do permit the use of a laptop and do not ban the use of cell phones (even those with cameras). In short, it would be rather difficult to do a short research trip here. However, should you make the trip, you will come out with a searchable collection of materials.
Foreign scholars interested in the history of Manchukuo should be aware that the JPA strictly limits access to these collections. Recently, a foreign researcher attempted to gain access to documents related to foreign relations. His request was promptly denied. However, I have seen some Chinese scholars successfully gain access to materials deemed to be of lesser importance. A few materials on the early years of the regime can be found in the Republican collection (the latest I have seen is one brief document from Datong 4). Still it should be noted that these are few and far between.
Thanks in great part to Manchukuo archival policy, the JPA contains a broader range of documents than a typical Chinese provincial archive. During the Manchukuo period, all archival documents (including those at the county level) were housed in Shenyang. During the PRC, archivists have attempted to return the documents to their original districts. In the process, the provincial archives in Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning have been able to hold on to certain materials that would normally be held at the county level. This makes the JPA and other Dongbei archives excellent places to study political and economic history.
The Jilin Provincial Archive holds an extensive and well-preserved collection of historical archival materials ranging from Qianlong 19 (1754) to the present. Currently, its Qing (1754-1911) and Republican (1912-1931) collections are completely open to both foreign and Chinese researchers. The Qing collection is more or less complete in the late Guangxu (years 20s and 30s), as well as the Xuantong period (i.e., the 1900s). Documents from previous years of the Guangxu era can be rather hit or miss. The Republican collection is similarly stronger for years toward the end of the period (1920s) than it is the 1910s. Chinese researchers have been allowed access to selected materials from the Manchukuo period (1932-1945). Liberation-era materials (1946-1948) are currently closed to all researchers.
The JPA only holds and collects documents related to government bodies in Jilin Province. Documents related to industry, agriculture, natural resources, taxation, and banditry are particularly plentiful, but the archive also holds decent collections on education and crime. Unfortunately, the JPA does not hold or collect any personal papers. The archive’s Qing collection includes documents in both Chinese and Manchu. Its Manchu collection contains 160,000 documents beginning in Jiaqing 14 (1809). Though I have yet to work with Manchu materials, I suspect that its collection would be stronger toward the end of the Qing.
Unfortunately, the JPA has yet to allow researchers to search its collections online. Though the website (http://www.jilinda.gov.cn) does provide a brief overview of the collection, the print guide to the collections published in 1996 is still the best source for more detailed information on specific collections of relevance to your research (吉林省档案馆编. 吉林省档案馆指南. 北京: 中国档案出版社, 1996).
Although the digitization process for pre-PRC materials has begun, it should be noted that none of the JPA’s collections have been completely digitized. Fortunately, the conditions of the archive itself mean that this project is unlikely to interfere with access to specific collections for an extended period of time. The JPA building is rather large, providing the archivists with enough space to digitize on-site. You will even see some archivists using the reading room’s scanners to contribute to the project. For now, however, researchers have the opportunity to work with the original materials.
In general, I have been pleasantly surprised by the level of access the JPA has given me. I would estimate that I have been allowed to read three quarters of the documents for which I have applied. I have even been allowed access to materials that I initially worried might be considered sensitive, such as disputes involving ethnic minorities and GMD propaganda pamphlets. The JPA archivists have provided the following reasons a document request might be rejected:
1. The title suggests that it contains an image or map: you will automatically be refused access to any file with the character 图 in the title. However, if you have been approved access to a file by the upper-level archivists and it is later discovered it contains some images, the archivists will usually allow you to read it anyway.
2. The documents are in need of repair: the policy seems to be that if an archivist does not feel comfortable holding a document in one hand while talking on the phone, researchers should not be allowed to access it. The JPA seems to be focusing most of their repair efforts on the Qing collection at the moment. I have yet to see a Republican document that has been visibly repaired.
3. “It is not open to the public”: This typically implies a political reason.
Preparing for your visit:
As is the case with many archives in China, the JPA does not always update their website as frequently as one might like. I would recommend that you call the archive prior to your visit to confirm that the collections you would like to work with are still open to the public. The number for the reading room is +86 431-8849-7856. Ask to speak with Xu Laoshi, who is the head reading room archivist. She is by far the most knowledgeable person on archival policy and the contents of various collections. If she tells you that a collection is not open to the public or being reorganized, then that likely means it will be closed for the foreseeable future. However, if she informs you that that collection is being digitized, there is a good chance it might be available again within six months.
Officially, JPA requests that all foreign researchers apply for access at least two weeks prior to their visit. It is possible to access the collections without this step, but your experience will go a lot more smoothly if you fax the requested materials beforehand.
As the archive does not currently provide its employees with email addresses, you are required to fax your materials to the archive itself (+86 431-8895-7722). If your university does not provide you with access to a fax machine, there are many online services and mobile apps that will fax digital documents for you. I used ifax Pro which allows users to send three separate faxes for free (even internationally!).
Address the fax to: 吉林省档案馆开发利用处. Your fax should include the following documents:
1. Application Letter: this should state your name as it appears on your passport as well as your name in Chinese characters, home university, Chinese sponsor university, research topic (I suggest describing it as generally as possible to ensure access to a broad range of documents), purpose of your research (thesis, dissertation, etc.), the length of your stay, and some of the general collections you wish to use. With regard to the last point, there is no need to create an exhaustive list. As long as the archivists can see that a volume relates to your research topic they will typically allow you access.
2. Copy of Your Identification Materials: first page of your passport as well as a copy of your visa
3. Letter of Introduction: this must be from a Chinese university or government organ. It does not need to be a university located in or near Jilin Province. It should state the name of your recommender, your legal and/or Chinese name, and include a general description of your research topic.
What to bring to the archive:
2. Letter of Introduction (see above)
3. Laptop (the archive provides extension cords, so your battery does not need to be fully charged)
4. Paper or electronic dictionary (can be on a device with a camera)
5. Pen (for filling out document request forms)
6. Light sweater (both in summer and winter it can get a little cool inside the archive)
7. Water bottle (Jilin has a dry climate, so be sure to stay hydrated!)
8. Sound-proof headphones (particularly in summer, when the hubbub outside can be ear-piercing)
The JPA is located in the Nanguan District (Nanguan qu 南关区) of the city of Changchun at the intersection between Renmin dajie 人民大街 and Min’an lu 民安路. It is a tall building with a large red triangle at the top. As this is a major shopping area, many of the buses go to this area. Baidu Map can provide a good reference, but it is not always entirely accurate for Changchun. Confirm with locals that the bus still stops at the appropriate stop before boarding.
I recommend a cab for your first day. Cabs in Changchun start at 5 RMB for the flag drop, which includes the first 2.5 km. I have yet to meet a cab driver who knew the location of the archive. Simply tell the driver that it is on 人民大街 on the north side of People’s Square 人民广场 but south of Chongqing lu 重庆路. If you are coming from the south, get off at the Construction Bank on the east side of人民大街 after you turn off the rotunda (People’s Square). Continue to walk north and turn right on 民安路. The archive is the tall building on the north side of the road on the west side of Xiao guniang bingqilin 小姑娘冰淇淋.
If you are coming along Renmin dajie from the north, get off at the ICBC at the intersection after you see the Starbuck’s at 重庆路. Walk east on the street opposite from the ICBC.
Your first day:
The JPA’s reading room opens at 8:40 a.m. and closes for lunch at 11:20 a.m. in both summer and winter. During the summer, it reopens again at 1:30 p.m. and closes for the day at 4:20 p.m. During winter it reopens at 1:00 p.m. and closes at 3:50 p.m. As the first day includes a lot of administrative procedures, I would recommend arriving as close as you can to the opening time either before or after the lunch break.
Once you are inside the JPA building, approach the security desk to your right. Inform the guard that you are here to search for documents (查档案). He will remind you of the letter of introduction requirement, and may even ask to see it. Do not let him keep it, as you will need it again in the reading room. He will then ask you to fill out a short registration form that includes your Chinese name, ID number, and the purpose of your visit (查档案). In the future, you will only need to fill this form out once per week. Return it to him with an archivist’s signature at the end of each week.
The reading room is in room 506. Take the elevator to the fifth floor, turn right out of the elevator and then an immediate left. The reading room is the first door on your right.
When you arrive in the reading room, inform the archivists that you are here to look at documents (查档案). If you have faxed in your materials beforehand, make sure you inform them of this as well. If you have not, they will either grumble and let you stay, or ask you to leave your forms with them and return another day.
Ask them to sign the registration form you filled out downstairs. As they file your letter of introduction and copy your passport, they will ask you to fill out a registration form. This includes your name, the name of your home university, the name of your Chinese sponsor university, the purpose of your research, and your research topic. You will need to fill out a new form at the beginning of every calendar month.
All pre-PRC documents have been compiled into a searchable digital catalogue. Even if you have not yet received approval to access documents, the archivists will usually allow you to at least search through the catalogue.
If you have been given permission to access documents in one or more of the collections, the archivists will provide you with a document request form. You will not have time to view documents in the same session (morning or afternoon) during which you fill out your request forms. As such, I recommend trying to fill out as many forms as you can by the end of the session. Each form only contains space for eight folders (卷), so ask for at least two or three forms.
On the computers, first click on the collection (Qing, Republican, Manchukuo) that you would like to access. You need a special code to access the Manchukuo catalogue, so for those who have not received clearance for the Manchukuo collection clicking on the “all” button will only search the Qing and Republican materials. After you have entered the appropriate collection, click on the search icon in the upper left of the screen.
Currently, the system is only set up to search for keywords in the folder (卷) title. These titles will typically include the national, provincial, or local government organs involved in the folder’s most important documents, as well as a few descriptive phrases that allude to their content. For example: 吉林省长公署为植树节举行纪念一事给省立通俗教育讲演所的训令. Searching by a short keyword, government organ, or place (county, province, etc.) would thus be the most effective way to navigate the system.
Once the results of your search come in, you can press the same search button at the top left to search within these results. If you wish to do a completely new search, go back to the original screen by exiting the collection screen and start the search process from the beginning.
Please note that both the Qing and Republican collections contain some documents from other time periods. The Qing collection contains some materials from the Republican period, while the Republican collection contains some Manchukuo documents. So long as the document is in the collection for which you have approval, you are allowed to access it! During my time at the JPA, I have found and been allowed access to occasional documents from the early Manchukuo period.
Once you have finished filling out your request forms, give them to the archivist. She will tell you to return at least half an hour after the opening time of the following session. The archivists need time to first get your request approved, retrieve the folders from storage, and then examine the folder’s contents. The archivists will not inform you when you have been denied access to certain folders, so if this information is important to you I would suggest keeping a separate record of all the documents you have requested.
Foreign researchers are only allowed access to one folder at a time. Photography and photocopying are not permitted. Transcription or note taking are the only options allowed. Each folder may contain anywhere from one to two hundred pages, so some folders may take longer than others. Depending on the length and utility of the folders I received, I could transcribe anywhere between 1/2 of a folder to five folders in the span of a day. Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time at the archive to finish your work.
Things to do on your lunch break:
Both the summer and winter breaks are rather long, designed to accommodate both a meal and a nap. The sun rises very early in Changchun (as early as 4 am in the summer), so scholars who are sensitive to light may find themselves actually needing a nap during the break.
Those who have invested in thick curtains may find themselves with some spare time on their hands. There is no place to eat within the archive itself, so you will have to buy lunch. Fortunately, Jilin Provincial Archives is conveniently located in Changchun’s business district (People’s Square 人民广场). There are plenty of nearby options for food, shopping, work and entertainment. Here are some suggestions:
Cheap and Delicious Food:
• The “Taiwanese Night Market” snack street on Wenhua jie 文化街 between Guangming lu 光明路 and Chongqing lu 重庆路 (west of the archive across Renmin dajie 人民大街).
• The dumpling shop on Qingming jie xi er hutong 清明街西二胡同 (the alley on the east side of the archive building)
• The Kungfu Malatang restaurant (功夫麻辣烫) on Chongqing hutong 重庆胡同 (alley on the north side of the archive)
• Wanda Plaza (万达广场) at the intersection of Xi’an dalu 西安大路 and 重庆路: includes an electronics market, an IMAX movie theater, a Walmart, and an arcade.
• Chongqing Road 重庆路: various shops.
• A1 Fitness (A1健身房): located on the eighth floor of Minsun Shopping Center 民生购物中心. The entrance to the direct elevator is on the southeast side of the plaza on 光明路. They have imported machines, an excellent shower, and have classes both during the archive’s lunch break and after the archive closes. The price for a single month or seasonal pass is quite expensive, but it might be worth it to escape the temptations of the snack street.
• Chan’ai Yoga Studio (Chan’ai Yujia 禅爱瑜伽) on 重庆胡同 directly to the north of the archive. I have never personally been, but it is very close to the archive.
Starbucks (two locations on 重庆路).
• Peony Garden Mudan yuan 牡丹园 (south on 人民大街, past People’s Square on the west side of the street)
• Imperial Garden Yuhua yuan 御花园 (take the 261 bus picking up on Jianzheng lu 建政路)
JPA Address: 长春市南关区民安路63号
JPA Contact Information:
Reading Room Phone Number: +86 431-8849-7856
Fax Number: +86 431-8895-7722
JPA Website: http://www.jilinda.gov.cn
Print Guide to JPA: 吉林省档案馆编. 吉林省档案馆指南. 北京: 中国档案出版社, 1996.
Department of History
University of California, Berkeley
Image: Photography by Author.
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