Central Academy of Fine Arts Library, Beijing

A review of Central Academy of Fine Arts Library (Zhongyang meishu xueyuan tushuguan, 中央美术学院图书馆), Beijing, China.

As one of the most prestigious art academies in China and the academic home of prominent modern and contemporary artists such as Xu Beihong, Wu Zuoren, Zhang Huan, and Xu Bing since its establishment in 1950, the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) has had a constant presence during my graduate training in Chinese modern art. CAFA resulted from the merger of the department of fine arts at North China University (华北大学) and the National Art School in Beiping (国立北平艺术专科学校), formerly the National School of Fine Arts in Beijing (国立北京美术学校) that was one of the first national fine arts schools in Chinese history. Since my dissertation revolves around sculpture and its relationship to the conception of new public spaces after the Communist Revolution in 1949, on several occasions I drew upon CAFA’s significant holdings of post-1949 period primary materials during my stay in Beijing from September to December 2012.

The CAFA library is just inside the north gate of the main campus and lies in close proximity to the school’s art museum. It is a 10 RMB cab ride from Taiyanggong (太阳宫), the closest subway stop to CAFA; from Taiyanggong station, you can also take bus 467 to Huajiadi xili erqu (花家地西里二区), which drops you off at a 5-minute walk from CAFA’s north gate, or bus 132 to Huajiadi nanjie (花家地南街) which drops you off in front of the north gate.

Like any school library, its main purpose is to serve the student population and so the majority of library patrons are CAFA students. Foreign researchers may gain access to the library by going to the library administrative office on the 2nd floor and simply presenting an ID card from their home institution. Advanced notification that you are coming is not necessary, though if you wish to inform the library ahead of time, call the office (010-64771045) a few days before you go as they will be more attentive to your upcoming visit. The first time I came was in the early afternoon after lunch, unannounced, and they were friendly and accommodating. An administrative library staff member will give you a temporary user card to gain entrance into the library and make requests from the central book depository. The administrative staff librarians will also be the ones to facilitate your requests to view items from special collections.

It will be helpful and efficient to look up and write down in advance the titles and reference numbers of the books or materials you would like to see from the CAFA library catalog online search page. If you experience difficulty accessing this page outside of China, also try to connect from the link on the right sidebar of the library’s main website. There are also computer terminals available in the CAFA reading rooms to access the online catalog. The CAFA library is open from 8 am to 9:30 pm Mondays to Fridays, while the general stacks on the 2nd floor are also open from 9 am to 4 pm on Saturdays and the reference and periodicals on the 1st floor are open 9 am to 4 pm on Sundays. However, the working hours of the library administrative staff, who will be your primary contact, are Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm with a lunch break around noon to 1:30 pm. The best time to approach them would be early morning or early afternoon.

The library consists of three floors: the first floor houses reference books and journals, while the second floor holds the general stacks that CAFA students and affiliates can check out, and the third floor houses foreign publications and journals. Each floor has a reading room and the atmosphere in each is studious and quiet. There are lockers on the second floor for visitors to secure their bags and personal belongings. Laptops, pens, pencils, and cameras are allowed in the reading rooms, but bags are not allowed so you can store them in a locker or leave them by the reading room entrance. The books in the general stacks are art-related books organized mainly by medium; the primary materials that will likely be of interest to researchers will be in the central book depository (中心书库), which also houses rare books, and the special collection (特藏库). The central book depository consists of copies of rare books and art publications, from Ming period books to original translations of Soviet texts used for art education in the early years of the PRC. Recently published books can also be found in this collection because the library retains in the central book depository the first copy of every book they acquire and places additional copies in the general stacks in order to ensure that the library staff and patrons can always readily access a copy.

The central book depository is accessible only on Wednesdays from 8 am to 4 pm when you can fill out a request form at the 2nd floor circulation to request 3-4 books or items at a time. In my experience, the turn-around time on a request is fairly quick, on average less than 20 minutes. Around 3 pm the library staff may be more reluctant to take your request, so plan accordingly if you come in the afternoon. You can take photographs of the materials in the reading room or make copies on the third floor where there is a copy service shop. A copy is 2 jiao each and a scan is 3 RMB each.

The special collection is strong in modern primary materials, namely Ming, Qing, and Republican periods and 1945 to 1970, such as Qing to early-PRC New Year woodcut prints, propaganda posters, and 1950s to 1980s lianhuanhua (连环画), or popular illustrated story books that during the early PRC were often appropriated for political use and illustrated by well-trained, gifted artists. Locating original art-related ephemera from the early-PRC period poses a challenge, so the CAFA’s special collection holdings are unique in this respect, though much of it still needs to be formally catalogued and organized for easy access. For instance, they have thousands of lianhuanhua and over 7,000 propaganda posters. Though they have hi-res digital images of all the posters, they are not in a browsable database but rather saved on the administrative staff’s computers in their office so effectively, with their assistance, you will be using the computers that they use for work to look at the images. Therefore, it would be best to come prepared with the reference numbers or the subject matter that you are particularly interested in viewing. I was able to copy the image files of propaganda posters and early-PRC posters of artworks relevant to my research onto my USB drive that the library director helped me locate after I described to him my research interests. He also said that the staff can email low-res pictures of posters if a researcher has specific ones that they would like to view. Their email address is cafalib@126.com; however, I have not yet used this service so cannot speak to its ease of use or effectiveness.

There is also a branch of the CAFA main library that I came across often in my online CAFA catalog searches called Yanjiao Library (燕郊图书馆). Some books are also located at the Yanjiao campus in Hebei, which is a CAFA satellite campus less than an hour away from the CAFA main campus. I did not need to look at any materials there, but in case you do, there is a school van that leaves from CAFA’s north gate to the Yanjiao campus everyday at 12:30 pm.

For lunch or breaks, you can visit the commercial development building called the Beijing International Art Material Center (北京国际画材中心) that is fashioned like an art mall conveniently located across the street from the parking lot outside the CAFA north gate. It has coffee shops, a bookstore, a copy center, art supply shops, and restaurants. For a quick lunch, I often ate at the various noodle shops in a small commercial strip just behind the art mall building. There is also a good Korean food counter and Taiwanese food counter. The new CAFA Art Museum designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki is also worth a visit while in the area. It is just a few minutes walk from the library and hosts rotating exhibitions.

In sum, besides the 2nd floor general circulation desk, the library staff in the administrative offices will be your primary point of contact while researching at CAFA. I found the administrative staff to be professional and welcoming to visiting scholars. They will not necessarily be forthcoming with suggestions for potential resources, so the key is to be as articulate as possible about what you are researching and what kinds of material you are searching for in their collections.

Vivian Li
Department of History of Art
University of Michigan
vli@umich.edu

Image: Photograph by the Central Academy of Fine Arts Library, Beijing. Used with permission.

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