Tianjin Municipal Archives


A review of the Tianjin Municipal Archives (天津市档案馆), Tianjin, China.

During the summer of 2011, I spent one month at the Tianjin Municipal Archives. This was my third visit to the archives. I also used the archives during the summer of 2005 and during the 2006-07 academic year. The archive is located in Tianjin’s Nankai district at 11 Fukang Lu (and Shui shang gongyuan xi lu), next to the Tianjin Library and across the street from Nankai University. Entering through the main entrance on Shuishang gongyuan xi lu, bear right and walk to the back, then take a left and head into the new building. If you have entered a grand lobby with hanging chandeliers and a young soldier guarding the door, you are in the right place. The archive is open on Monday through Friday 8:30 – 11:30 and 1:30 – 4:30. During the heat of summer (beginning end of July) afternoon reading hours begin at 2:30.

Before visiting the Tianjin Municipal Archives, you can get a sense of what kinds of materials are available by visiting the archive’s website: www.tjdag.gov.cn, or checking out a copy of Guide to Tianjin City Archives, Tianjin shi dang an guan zhi nan. (Beijing: Dangan chubanshe, Xin hua shu dian Beijing fa xing suo fa xing, 1996). In the past, the archive kept their electronic mulu on their website. This is no longer the case, and the limited mulu that is available on the website does not include the correct call numbers. Those who are interested in researching treaty-port Tianjin should keep in mind that most foreign language archives (ie. English and Japanese) are closed. The Haiho Conservancy English-language archives are open and British Municipal Council’s published minutes (some copies are also available in the UK and at the Tianjin Library) have recently been made available to some researchers.

When you are ready to visit the archive, you will need to prepare a letter (in Chinese) that introduces your project and describes what kinds of materials you plan to look at. You will also need a jieshao xin from a Chinese sponsor institution and an ID card (passport for non-Chinese nationals). Chinese nationals (including from Taiwan) may use the archives the same day; process time for foreigners takes longer, but it is much quicker than in the past. Foreign researchers can expect to start reading materials in 2-3 days (up from 2-3 weeks).  Having a local academic contact bring you to the archive seems to help. In most cases, researchers can begin searching the electronic finding aid “mulu” at the time of application. It always helps to let the archive know you are coming; you or your host institution may call ahead at 022-23678909-23678910.

The main entrance hall includes several computers with the electronic mulu database. The old paper card catalogue is not longer used. The electronic database searches juan titles and numbers. Type in a keyword to call up all juan with that word in the title. Each entry includea a juan number, the title, and the archive that it comes from. You will need the number to call up the file, and the head archivist may want to preview a list of numbers and titles.  All materials listed in the electronic finding aid are “open” or kaifang. Thus, the closed portion of the archive is not included in the electronic finding aid. In some cases researchers will not be allowed to see a file even though it is kaifang, or a portion of the file may be censored. For example, if a file includes people’s names, or if it is a court case of a sensitive nature, a researcher might not be allowed to view it.

When you are ready to look at materials, proceed to the reading room where you can fill out a paper request form. You may submit one request form for a limited number of folders (the number seems to be negotiable). You must check bags in a locker in the grand hall, but you can bring everything you need, including a water bottle and a cell phone, into the reading room. You may bring a computer, tracing paper, and regular notepaper into the reading room, but no cameras. You can request photocopies. There is another 2 page form for that. Put paper markers in the pages you want to copy and fill out the form. Submit your request at the end of each day, and the head archivist will review it. This review process is much quicker than in the past, copies can be made by the end of the next day, or possibly quicker. Note that requests for copies may or may not be granted; thus, if you definitely want the material, you should copy it by hand or computer, or hire an assistant to help you. The service fee to view a folder is 2 RMB. Copies of pre ’49 materials are .8 RMB, post ’49 RMB are .7. Images, maps, blueprints, diagrams etc. cost 200 RMB to copy.  Some materials have been digitized and can be viewed on computers at the reading room desk. The cost to print these are the same.

While the service and facilities at the Tianjin Municipal Archives have improved greatly, researchers might find that Tianjin is not as efficient or open as other archives. To keep yourself entertained during the xiuxi, you can head over to Nankai campus for lunch. The Korean hole in the wall directly across the street is especially tasty and cheap. There are a few nice restaurants near the foreign experts building and the Aida hotel. Long-term researchers might consider joining the athletic club at the TEDA international building (also home to TGI Fridays) down the street. The archive now keeps the doors to the main hall open during xiuxi, so you can surf the web, read a book or take a nap.

Elizabeth LaCouture
East Asian Studies and History
Colby College


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