A review of the Nanjing Municipal Archives (南京市档案馆) (Nanjing, Jiangsu, China).
In June 2012, I conducted archival research in Nanjing for two weeks for my dissertation on women’s political participation in wartime China (1937-1949). I was looking for documents about the women’s political societies and networks right before the war in Nanjing – thus I chose to visit the Nanjing Municipal Archives [website]. These archives hold significant documents on Nanjing city during the Republican era, the Japanese occupation period and after (roughly from late 1937 to 1949) and the Communist era after 1949. The archives also curate documents on the underground Communist Party organisations, student movements and revolutionary activities in Nanjing from the 1920s to 1949. Although the volume of holdings could not compare with that of No. 2 National Archives of History in Nanjing, I was still excited by their personal documents of about 700 local government officials, social elites and activists. I was particularly interested in the personal documents of Xia Bengying (夏琫瑛), a Guomindang women activist in 1940s who was elected into the first National Assembly in 1946.
The archives are located at No.41 Beijing East Road in Xuanwu (玄武) District of the central city. Although sharing the same address with the Nanjing People’s Municipal Government, the archives’ building is not actually inside of the municipal government compound but behind it, with its own gate next to the sports ground of a primary school. The directions were quite confusing when I first visited it as the municipal government was surrounded by tube construction sites. Apparently the Nanjing underground was being extended to reach the municipal government. But before all that happens, the closest tube station was still Gulou (鼓楼) Station, about a 20 minutes walk to the Archives. I would recommend using the bus if the tube is still under construction by the time of your visit.
After you enter the main building, inform the receptionist of your visit, and you will be directed to the reading room on the second floor. At the desk in the reading room, the archivist will ask you for your ID card or passport and recommendation letter. To receive access you will also need to fill in the registration form. The process will be a lot more efficient if you check in advance the titles and serial numbers of the main collections (Quanzong 全宗) that you want to look at, as this information is required at the desk before the archivist hands you the paper indexes of Quanzong. Alternatively, you can check the information from the archive guidebook on the bookshelf at the back of the reading room, but unfortunately no computer was available for this purpose, neither was there any digitised document. Not all of the Quanzong are accessible to visitors so you might need some luck with the archivists to get what you want. The archivist refused to show me the collection on student movements 1935-1949 (Quanzong No. 1052 – 4), but agreed to let me go through the personal documents of Xia Bengying after my hard begging. On this point, being persistent but polite is very important and it always helps if you insist on checking with superior staff whether you are allowed to view certain holdings.
After the archivist confirms that the required Quanzong is accessible to you, you will be given the index book of this Quanzong to check the numbers and titles of Juan (卷). You need to tell archivists the specific serial numbers and titles of Juan, and they will put this information in your registration form then fetch the documents for you. Bags must be put in the locker but you can take in your laptop and notepaper. It does not take long for documents to arrive, and you can ask for other Quanzong following the same procedure.
The archives are open Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 11:45, and in the afternoon from 2:00 to 5:00. You are allowed to stay in the reading room with your documents during the lunch break and one archivist will remain at service. This saves a lot of time if you do not need a two-hour long break in the middle of your research. But if you do need a break, you can take a stroll along Jimingsi (鸡鸣寺) Road towards the south side of the Xuanwu Lake; the park by the lake offers the perfect place to refresh your mind and relax your bones.
It is noted on the website of the archives that there is a limit of 30 pages on copying documents older than 50 years, and a limit of 80 pages on the rest. Fragile or damaged documents, as well as rare documents are not allowed to be copied. Scanning and photography are not allowed either. These rules are strict on paper only, as it is up to the archivists to decide whether you can get your copies, and how many pages. In my case, I tried not to bother the archivist to copy the documents that I had begged hard just for viewing them, as “give an inch, take a mile” was the least thing I wanted to try with public servants. At the end, seeing there was no way to take notes of everything, I decided to at least copy some of Xia Bengying’s personal documents. My request was rejected again at the first, for the reason that those were collections containing personal information. After I explained that I was in Nanjing only for a short stay therefore could not afford the time for hand-copying and the information would be only used for my research, the archivist finally agreed to copy six pages for me. There was no charge on those copies.
Compared with Shanghai where I stayed for one week research before heading for Nanjing, I find things follow stricter bureaucratic rules in Nanjing. I was wondering if it would be easier if I had a recommendation letter from a Chinese university or danwei (单位). Although my study status at a foreign university was never questioned at the archives, I definitely felt helpless when I was refused for access to certain holdings. When I visited the No.2 National Archives of History, I only requested to see the complete indexes of the Quanzong and Juan under the Guomindang Central Social Ministry (Shehuibu 社会部) as the majority of documents were closed for digitisation. Eventually my efforts were in vain since I failed to get a letter from a Chinese university in time.
In spite of being somewhat bureaucratic in a typical Chinese way, Nanjing is an attractive city with rich academic and cultural traditions. Your will enjoy the clean and quiet study environment at the Nanjing Municipal Archives, Nanjing Library and Nanjing University Library. Sitting in any reading room, you will find yourself surrounded by university students, researchers and scholars. If you are not too afraid of heat, late May or June can be the good time to conduct your research in Nanjing, when the whole city is submerged in the fragrance of summer flowers and plants.
Vivienne Xiangwei GUO
King’s College London
Image: Photo of Nanjing Municipal Archives from the NMA website.
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