Studying Chinese History in New Delhi


A special report on the National Archives of India for China Scholars

It was my involvement in a project called “Source Materials on Modern China in the National Archives of India” that first brought me to the National Archives of India (NAI) in New Delhi [website]. The project is directed by Dr. Madhavi Thampi of the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi, and is affiliated with the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), New Delhi. The goal of the project has been to compile a comprehensive list of every document in the Archives related to China.

While working through the archives in NAI, I stumbled across materials that have come to form the basis of my own dissertation. For my PhD, I am rearching the Indian National Army (INA) in China. The INA was formed in 1942 by a group of Indians in Singapore at the encouragement of Japan’s calls to fight against British rule in India. While the INA has been extensively studied in connection with Japan and Southeast Asia, there exists little serious study of the INA in China despite the ample documentary evidence which exists to throw light on the subject. The INA was active in China from 1942 to 1945, having several branches in several Chinese cities and a considerable following among Indians in China at the time. The INA in China, as in Southeast Asia, sided with the occupying Japanese forces and flourished under Japanese patronage. The documents on the INA movement in China are primarily found in the Indian National Army (INA) Papers, the Indian Independence League (IIL) Papers, and the Subhas Chandra Bose Papers, all of which are located in the Private Collections.

As I have been working on both the “Source Materials” project and my own dissertation research, I am a frequent visitor to the archives, going at least four days each week. The Research Room is also open on Saturdays, I should note, although one cannot request files on this day –  one can only consult files which were received earlier, or consult indexes.

The NAI is located at Janpath Road, New Delhi, 110001, with the closest Metro station being the Central Secretariat Metro station on the Yellow Line. Exit from the Shastri Bhawan Gate, as the NAI is located near Shastri Bhawan, which houses offices of the many ministries of the Government of India. The Research Room is located on the ground floor of the Annexe Building of the NAI, with the the Private Archives being located on the third floor. The Research Room opens at 9am and remains open until 8pm, except on Saturdays when it closes at 5:30pm. The Private Archives closes at 5:30pm every day. Registration in the NAI is not a long process and, if you have your papers ready, will take only a few minutes. Indian nationals are required to have an identity card and a letter of introduction. Foreign researchers are required to have an identity card (e.g., passport), a letter of introduction from one’s home institution, and a letter from their Embassy in India with details on the researcher’s institutional affiliation, title and position, research topic, and duration of stay in India.

The document request process is rather simple. Using the Indian National Army papers in the Private Collection as an example, the procedure is as follows: First, one consults the Index of the INA Papers. After identifying documents of interest, the next step is to fill in a few details in the Requisition slips provided by the archives, including the name of the researcher, name of the collection, time period covered by the requested documents, file numbers, and serial numbers, among a few other data. These completed slips are handed over to the assigned personnel, who then provide the documents (if available).

The rules for photocopying and scanning documents are simple as well. Once the researcher has identified what s/he wants to photocopy or scan, the researcher fills out a photocopy request form and deposits the document and paperwork with the archivist on duty, who then calculates the cost. Photocopy charges are not the same for everyone, it is important to note. For example, students without research scholarships are required to pay less than those who are being funded. Foreign scholars may also pay more than Indian scholars. For scholars outside of the immediate area, NAI personnel will sometimes expedite the photocopying of documents if informed about the researcher’s itinerary beforehand and if a request is made for speeding up the process. [Please note that cameras are not permitted inside the premises. Indeed, I recall once a foreign scholar who, likely unaware of this rule, was gladly taking pictures of a document until an NAI personnel intervened and ensured that all the pictures that he had taken were deleted from his camera.]

Being part of the “Source Materials” project has required me to work through many of the files in the Public Records as well, starting from the year 1800. With most historians in India focusing on mainstream Indian history, it is left to area studies – and more specifically students of Chinese studies – to examine documents related to China. In the indexes in the Public Records, which are located in the Research Room, I have been seeking out documents categorized under entries for “China,” “Tibet,” “Hong Kong,” “Macau,” “Kashgar,” “Chinese Tartary,” “Chinese,” “Shanghai,” “Peking,” etc. While the number of entries on China in the initial years of nineteenth century is miniscule, by the end of the century there is a steep and marked increase. This is due in large part to increased interaction between the colonial Government in India and the Chinese empire following the Opium Wars, and the growing importance of China and its affairs for the British rulers of India. With the opening of treaty ports and later the establishment of the British Legation in Beijing and consulates in many parts of China, a great deal of intelligence on China was dispatched to and collected in India. The colonial government kept a close watch on happenings in China, firstly to guard the British Empire in India from danger, secondly because their growing stakes in China prompted desires for a greater say in Chinese affairs.

Scholars working on Sino-Indian topics stand to benefit immensely from the collection, and yet historians working on other topics should also take note of this collection, being a treasure of resources largely unused by scholars in the field. For example, many materials on the Opium Wars can be found in the form of letters, notes, reports, military strategies, and other topics. Materials on Tibet are also abundant, particularly as the “Tibet issue” became increasingly important for the British following the Simla Convention of 1913-1914. It should also be noted that the NAI collection would prove particularly useful to researchers who have limited Chinese language proficiency, for the obvious reason that many of these documents are written in English.

For all of these reasons and more, the archival resources in the National Archives of India in New Delhi could prove to be of immense help for China scholars who are working on multiple aspects of modern Chinese history.

Nirmola Sharma
PhD Candidate
University of Delhi

Image: Sample letter from the Raja Mahendra Pratap Papers, Microfilm Roll 1, Accession No: 489, Correspondence, Serial No: 9 (Private Collections, NAI) (with permission of the archives)

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