Nanjing Library Republican Collection


A review of the Republican-era Collections, Nanjing Library (南京图书馆,民国文献阅览), Nanjing, China.

In June 2012, I conducted archival research in Nanjing for my PhD dissertation on women’s political participation in wartime China (1937-1949). Apart from visiting the archives, I also explored the Republican-era (1911-1949) collections (民国文献 minguo wenxian) held in the Nanjing Library [website], in order to perform a comprehensive review of the historical materials published during the war years.

First established in 1907 as the South Yangtze Region Library by the Qing government, the Nanjing Library was expanded and renewed by the Nanjing Republican Government in 1933 to become the National Central Library. Today’s Nanjing Library is proud of its voluminous holdings of published and unpublished republican-era literature, including books, journals, and newspapers published before 1949, the Nanjing government reports, meeting minutes, party and military documents, personal documents, and autobiographies of important figures of the Republican era. I was primarily interested in historical materials on women’s movements and organisations in the 1930s and 1940s, in particular women’s journals, pamphlets, memoirs, and diaries.

The Nanjing Library is located at No.189 Zhongshan East Road in Xuanwu (玄武) District of the central city. The Da Xing Gong (大行宫) tube station has an exit directly leading to the library called “Nanjing Library Exit”. Coming out of this tube exit, you will see the massive library building right in front of you. It is also simple to take buses to the library; all you need is to get off the bus at Da Xing Gong station and the library should be within a few minutes walk.

The Nanjing library has its holdings divided into four big catalogs: Chinese books and journals, foreign books and journals, the collection of Chinese ancient books and the Republican-era collection. These books, journals and historical materials are located in different reading rooms on different floors. The reading room for the Republican-era collection is located on the fourth floor, and the entire collection is not available for loan and cannot be taken out of the reading room.

To be able to use any of the library reading rooms, you need to register for a library card at the library service desk on the ground floor. You need to present your ID card or passport, but recommendation letters are not required for registration. The staff member at the service desk will give you a registration form, on which you indicate which type of library card you would like to obtain. As I intended to use the Republican-era collections at the library reading room, I registered for a reading card only – saving myself the 100 yuan deposit required for borrowing privileges. Your library card will be produced at the service desk with a card number on top of it, which is needed when you request closed stack collections. Bags must be checked at the door, but you can take in your laptop and notepaper. Photography is allowed in the library so it might be convenient to take a camera with you.

Compared with the reading rooms for Chinese books and journals, the reading room for the Republican-era collection is very quiet, sometimes even empty. After you come up to the fourth floor, the indicator board will point you to the reading room. You need to touch your library card on the card reader when you enter the room, and then ask the librarian for request forms for the closed stack collection since the majority of Republican-era materials are not on the open shelves of the reading room. There are several computers in the reading room available for the library search. You can easily search for the materials you need, write down the title and number, and then return the request forms to the librarian. You should request no more than two items (e.g. one women’s pamphlet and one meeting report) at one time, but a shiny smile may help break the rule especially when you are the only reader in the reading room.

It might be a good idea to look through the open shelves in the reading room while you are waiting for your materials to arrive. On those shelves at the far end of the room, I found complete copies of Shen Bao (申报) from 1872 to 1949, as well as copies of other important newspapers of the Republican era, such as the Central Daily of the KMT (中央日报 Zhongyang ribao). Photography was allowed in these collections on open shelves with no charge. But a charge from 12 to 30 yuan per page is applied to taking photos of different closed stack materials. Unfortunately there was no photocopy service in this reading room. Since I required viewing many old pamphlets, meeting notes and short memoirs of women activists from the 1940s which were printed on dark brown thin papers of horrible quality, I did not bother to take any photos (it was not cheap either) but rather took notes of almost everything.

The reading room of the Republican-era collections opens everyday from 9:00 to 17:30. The lunch break is from 11:30 to 12:30, during which time you can stay in but cannot request books or materials. Generally speaking, the Nanjing library has first class facilities and service, and the librarians are friendly and informative. As I studied in the library during summer time, the powerful central air conditioning made the whole library a paradise in hot and humid Nanjing. If you fancy a walk after reading the whole day, the library is only one bus stop from the famous  presidential residence of Chiang Kai-shek (总统府 zongtong fu), which has been turned into a museum-like attraction for people to learn about the Nanjing regime. I believe the Nanjing Library and the presidential residence of Chiang will provide you with sufficient textual information and visual images of the Nanjing regime under the KMT.

Vivienne Xiangwei GUO
PhD Candidate
King’s College London


Image: Nanjing Library, photograph by Vivienne Xiangwei GUO.

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  1. Update as of July 2013: Republican-era books are now paged via the 5th floor “Ancient Books” (古籍) reading room. This makes it less convenient to consult open-stack reprints of Republican sources to pass the time while you wait, or to double-check references (those are still housed on the 4th floor), but paging time is generally fairly fast. Despite consolidation when the library moved to its present location in 2007, expect some attrition rate between books that turn up v. what is in the catalog.

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