Chinese University of Hong Kong, University Services Centre

A review of Chinese University of Hong Kong, University Services Centre (香港中文大學中國研究服務中心) (Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong S.A.R., China).

I spent several weeks at the University Services Centre (USC) in July of 2014 as well as a week in January 2015 to conduct research on a few projects relating to the early People’s Republic. The USC is a tremendous resource for anyone working on post-1949 China (in fact, it has a storied history as the “home base” for many early scholars of the PRC unable to travel to the mainland).

Getting to the USC via the MTR is quite easy by getting off at University Station on the East Rail Line. The CUHK is a gorgeous campus but it is a steep one, so I highly recommend taking one of the frequent buses that clamber up the hill and stop on either end of the central campus “quad”. The USC is located on the 8th floor of the Tin Ka Ping Building (田家炳樓), a tall building situated behind the university’s main library at one end of the quad. Registration is not required for entry, though a little paperwork is needed for some of the resources described below.

No advance notice of your visit is required, but may be beneficial so the staff can be prepared to assist you. In any event, the staff members at the USC are extremely friendly and knowledgeable and will be happy to help you. Like most things in Hong Kong these days, printing and copying (as well as food in the university’s cafeterias) can be paid for using an Octopus Card.

The USC is open M-F, 9:00 a.m. to 5:50 p.m. and Saturday mornings from 9:00 a.m. until 12:15 p.m.; it is closed on Sunday and public holidays. The staff take lunch breaks but you are welcome to remain in the centre during lunch hours.

There are multiple cafeterias of varying quality and price on campus, with the nearby Benjamin Franklin Centre offering several options for a quick, inexpensive meal. Conveniently, accommodations on campus are often available at a decent rate (

The USC offers several resources that are unique or difficult to find elsewhere. For my own period, these include a full run of the Communist Party’s Internal Reference (内部参考) newsletter for high-level party officials form 1949-1963, as well as a comprehensive collection of newspapers from the early PRC, and provincial and county/municipal gazetteers (地方志), including thematic gazetteers (local 军事志, 农业志, etc.). While such a full run of gazetteers does exist elsewhere, the full Internal Reference are not available anywhere else to my knowledge. These documents are of great value; stripped of the ideological jargon of newspapers and official publications as well as the bureaucratic language of many archival documents, the Internal Reference are akin to hundreds of concise, thematic snapshots on the early PRC. The information contained within is often startling and the tenor is frank (the phrase “severe problems” 严重问题 appears frequently). It should be pointed out that many but not all of these documents have been digitized as part of the USC’s “Chinese Contemporary Political Movements Database” (中国当代政治运动史数据库), and can be accessed online if you are at an institution that subscribes to the database.

Also, individual CD-ROMs of the database collections, including the recently released “Database of Political Campaigns in the 1950s: From Land Reform to the State-Private Partnership” (中国五十年代初中期的政治运动资料库:从土地改革到公私合营, 1949-1956), can be purchased online through the Chinese University of Hong Kong Press for less than the cost of a plane ticket ( That being said, to the best of my knowledge, not all of the Internal Reference are currently included in the Contemporary Political Movements Database, particularly for the period before the Anti-Rightist Campaign.

The Internal Reference can be accessed on a computer in the main office; the individual issues can be browsed and the titles but not the content of articles are searchable. It would be good to draw up a list of a range of possible search terms to make sure you find all the articles pertaining to your topic (for example, information on Gansu could appear in an article with title phrases 甘肃, 西北, or 陕甘宁, Anhui could appear as 安徽, 华东, or 皖, etc.). Researchers have daily and “lifetime” limits on printing the Internal Reference (75 and 450 pages respectively, I believe), but given the short length of the newsletters it would be difficult to exceed the lifetime limit, particularly in one trip.

On-site books and periodicals are indexed in the USC’s catalog (, which can be useful for finding rare sources even if one is not planning on visiting the centre. The USC houses an extensive collection of published primary and secondary sources as well as documentary films dealing with contemporary China, many of which are difficult if not impossible to find elsewhere. In addition to the newspapers and gazetteers mentioned above, the USC has an excellent collection of Red Guard publications from the Cultural Revolution.

The Databank for China Studies and Barometer on China’s Development both contain a wealth of economic and population data since 1949, with an emphasis on the 1980s to the present. Both of these resources can be utilized off-site (i.e., online) after an application process. The USC also has online and on-site resources pertaining to “folk history” (民间历史), which actually contain many personal accounts of life in the early PRC, particularly those who were students when the Cultural Revolution began.

The University Services Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong is a valuable resource for anyone researching the People’s Republic, from its inception in 1949 until the present. The centre’s most important resources are, to my mind, the newspapers, neibu reports, archival documents, and Red Guard publications from the Mao period that have largely but not entirely been included in the Chinese Contemporary Political Movements Database. For the contemporary period, the centre’s databases which aggregate local and provincial data provide vast opportunities for quantitative researchers. While some of the centre’s resources can be accessed online or are available elsewhere, the convenience and accessibility of rare and unique sources at the centre make it well worth a trip if one is passing through Hong Kong.

Steven Pieragastini
PhD Candidate
Brandeis University Department of History

Image: Photograph by Author.


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