Hangzhou Municipal Archives

A review of the Hangzhou Municipal Archives (杭州市档案馆), Hangzhou, China.

In April 2011, I spent several days working at the Hangzhou Municipal Archives as part of a three-week research visit to China. Even though I only had a limited amount of time and this was my first trip to these archives, I was able to collect a substantial amount of materials on popular legal education during the 1950s and 1980s.

The archives are located in Xiacheng district at 3 Xiangjisi Lu on the corner of Xiangjisi Lu and Dong Xin Lu. Unlike the Zhejiang Provincial Archives, the municipal archives are sadly not within walking distance of the West Lake. If you have the time, try to visit both archives while you are in Hangzhou. The website (www.hzarchives.gov.cn) gives a general overview of the archives and their guidelines. Pre-registration is not required, you can just turn up. If you want to liaise with archive staff prior to your trip you can simply call (0571-85359049) or e-mail (daj@hz.gov.cn). The registration process is very straightforward. They require a jieshao xin by your Chinese host institution and your passport. It is always helpful if the letter contains some explanation of your research and the kinds of materials you wish to consult. Bring an original letter for each archive you visit, as archivists will often want to keep it for their records.

The archives are housed in a new-ish building, which you reach by passing through the main gate on Xiangjisi Lu. Often the main gate is open and there is no guard standing outside.  Before you head to the archives building, go to the guards sitting in the guardhouse at the main gate and sign in. The reading room is located on the first floor and is (officially) open 9am to 11:30am and 14:30pm to 17:00pm. At times, if there are few people around, it might close earlier. Xiuxi times are strictly observed, so be sure to arrive early. During xiuxi you can pass time at one of the coffee shops or have lunch at one of the restaurants on Xiangjisi Lu. Alternatively, go for a stroll in the (fairly) nearby park on Xiangjisi Dong Lu (take a right on Xiangjisi Lu).

Once you arrive at the reading room, lock your bags in one of the lockers. You may find that there is no free locker (people happily occupy these for days in a row with their lunch and tea etc.). If that is the case, just let the archivists know. They usually do not mind if you keep your bag and place it somewhere close to you where they can also see it. The reading room is fairly modern and there is one big table for everyone to work at. There are also a few smaller carrels. Archivists, however, prefer you sit at the main table. When you arrive, go up to the main desk with your jieshao xin and your passport. You will be asked to fill in a form and state your research interests once again. Archivists will then ask which materials you would like to see immediately. It is helpful to check for materials online before arriving (www.hzarchives.gov.cn/wsdag). However, the online mulu is not always accurate and only gives you a fragment of the materials available. Although there are several computers, the archivist wanted me to find materials together with her, not on my own. So she asked for keywords and then allowed me to look at her computer screen and identify the files I wanted to see. I then had to fill out the request form under her careful watch. The problem with this approach was that I had fairly little time to decide on files. On the upside, she immediately ordered the files and I could start working 30 minutes later.

Generally speaking, be sure to request files well in advance of xiuxi or closing time. An hour in advance is a fairly safe bet. That way you avoid waiting for files in the afternoon or when you arrive in the morning. Sometimes files are off limits because they have been requested internally. It is worthwhile checking back every couple of days whether they have become available again. Once the files arrive you can take 10 files to your workspace and replace these whenever you have finished reading a couple of files or a whole bunch. There seems to be no limit on how many files you can access per day.

None of the materials I was interested in were digitized and I saw no indication that a digitization project was underway. You can hand-copy documents on paper or use your notebook. There is also a Xerox machine. If you require copies you need to fill in a request form and ask the archivist to sign off on your request. It seemed to me that copies could be made within a day or two because the lingdaoren’s office is just around the corner on the same floor. Make sure you take careful notes of the archival codes before you send the files off for copying. They may return the files back to the depository immediately after copying. In my case, the archivist told me that it would be easier if I used my digital camera. She asked me to talk her through each of the documents I wanted to copy. I was permitted to photograph everything except documents that contained personal information. Once I had finished a pile, I handed her my camera and she cursorily checked that I had not photographed the wrong material. At the end, I paid a fee of 150 yuan for a large quantity of photos.

Overall, archivists were very helpful and friendly. Red tape was kept to a minimum. For some reason, the archivists were surprised by the fact that a “Western” woman had come to research Chinese materials. So much so that they called up someone from what I assume must have been the equivalent of the archives’ “PR” department to take photos of me. Somewhere there now exists a series of photos that show me reading files and shaking the hand of the director of the archives while both of us hold up a file together like a lottery check. Archive research in China never ceases to surprise me.

Jennifer E. Altehenger
Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies
CGIS South Building
1730 Cambridge St
Cambridge, MA 02138
jennifer.altehenger@gmail.com

 

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