Historical Archives in Nanjing, Jiangsu, China


A review of the Second Historical Archives of China (第二历史档案馆) (Nanjing, Jiangsu, China)

The Second Historical Archives of China (第二历史档案馆, sometimes abbreviated SHAC, and also called the No. 2 Historical Archives of China) are located in Nanjing on East Zhongshan Road (中山东路309号, postal code: 210016). The Nanjing archive preserves important central-level archival documents from the Republic of China and has been described in greater detail in archival handbooks (see below). As reported in newspaper articles, in 2008 the archive began a process of digitization that placed bureaus out of circulation. Now, all files are viewed digitally rather than on paper. This report is meant as merely an introduction to the new computer-based system for viewing files.

Preparation and Registration.

Because each visitor has a tailored account and access to the index, the computer-based system begins with registration. There is a page for pre-registration (预约) on the archive’s website, but I found that it was only truly accessible within China. You do not need to pre-register before you arrive in order to use the archive, but it is possible, when you are in China, to reserve a seat. The system will also tell you how many scholars have reserved one of thirty desks in the archive. I imagine this is only necessary in really busy seasons. The archivists are also extremely responsive to both phone calls and emails, and you may contact them in advance.

When you enter the archives, be prepared for the first day of registration, which is the most important. When you leave your bag with the guard, write your name, etc., in a book on his desk. Come to the archive with a letter of introduction and your passport. You should also be prepared to ask them for access to particular reading group numbers (全总好) in relation to a specific research topic. The archivists will be able to tell you if they think that there is information on your topic. This is an extremely important step because, through this process, the archivists allow you access to specific reading group numbers; afterwards, you will only be able to check the index (目录) of those reading group numbers. For the best research results, I would recommend being completely forthright with the archivist on the first day about the exact scope of your research. Because an expansion of these search parameters must be renegotiated, it is perhaps better to err on the side of being open about all the bureaus you wish to see during your visit. Thus it is very important to have completed some research into which bureaus are available before visiting the archive. (See below for a list of archival bureaus taken from the website).

The reading group numbers are the same as they were before digitization, and, as far as I can tell, so too are the archival file numbers. (The first page, including a description of the file, and the last page, showing notation of the processing of that file, also appear to be the same.) Scholars who have conducted previous research will thus be able to experience some continuity despite the new computer system. (And, while a China scholar was surprised that he needed a new letter of introduction, it did matter to the archivists that he was a known entity who had been there before). New scholars will also benefit from previously published archive guides, in particular中国第二历史档案馆指南, the most recent guide to the Second Historical Archive, published in 1994. Copies may be available in your university library, and in China might be available for purchase on a used books site such as Kongfz 孔夫子旧书网 (http://www.kongfz.com). By consulting such guides beforehand, you can specify with greater accuracy to the archivists which reading-group numbers you need to access in your negotiation with them on the first day. Because you cannot access the index off-site, it is especially useful to come to the archive with an integrated system of reproducing basic information from the index – such as Excel or Scrivener.

The first day you arrive, you will need to wait for the processing of your request by someone “upstairs.” The archivists will take your picture, and print out a card with your photograph, identification number, and password. Guard this card. Every day that you use the archive, you will first “log in” to the system by scanning that card; an archivist will then click on your file, nod, and you are free to seat yourself at a computer. You will also need your card to input your username and password onto that computer. That identification file has all of your previous and future files on it, so it is individualized to each user.

On your first day in the archive, you log into the computer, then click on the Internet icon, which will give you the option to register or to conduct research. On the first day, choose register, thus continuing another step in the registration process. Once the archivists give you the okay, you may begin your research, and you will not have to register for any of the subsequent days you are in the archive.

Using the Digital Index.

After clicking on the Internet icon, you then click the option for conducting research. That will take you to a page with the index. On the left hand side, there will be an option for searching the index of your own specific content. Double-click on that option and all possible items will show up. Just above the index, there will be a little arrow. After clicking on that arrow, a half-screen will drop down, allowing you the option of searching by number or keyword. You can use whatever keywords you wish to conduct a search. Some computers have more imputing options than others, but generally all use hanyu pinyin (汉语拼音).

Here, it is important to note that the keyword search scans information from the titles that the archivists attributed to the files. There may be additional information, personages, etc., that may be relevant to your research, but subsumed or overlooked by the title. Here, it’s especially important to (1) look at previous guides and research for clues; and (2) read around your topic until you find information that is relevant to you. It is also important to note that before you select the file (when you first see the file on the index), you will not know how long the file is, although files that end with 及有关文书 are generally longer than those that do not.

When you find a file that you wish to read, click on it, and then request to view. You will be asked to confirm your selection of those files, and when you do, the system will tell you that you have achieved success and remind you how many files you have left to view that day. You may select as many as 30 files per day to view. Once you succeed in selecting the file, it moves to a folder called “awaiting viewing” (待检库). In order to find the files that you selected, click on this folder from a drop-down menu on the horizontal bar above the index.

Once you have viewed the file, it will go into another folder called “files already viewed” (已检库), which is listed below the previous file in the drop-down menu. These files are listed in the order of the time at which you viewed them, so I recommend going through the files as systematically as possible for easiest retrieval afterward.

Once you select a file, it is removed from your searchable index. This ensures that you do not re-click on previously-seen files and max out your 30-file quota. Also, it is important to note that you can go back to selected files from previous days without affecting your 30-file daily quota. This is a really kind and important consideration on the part of the archivists, since some files are a single page and others run to hundreds (and you cannot know which is which before you select the file). Sometimes files relate to each other, but do not try to open two files at once otherwise your computer will crash, and you will have to reboot it.


As of October 2015, the archive has a policy of allowing 30 pages per month of printing, and up to one-third of each archival file. When you are on a page that you wish to print, you will see options for “printing” and for “scanning.” However, the archive no longer allows scans and does not use the “printing” (打印) button.

Instead, while viewing a particular page, select the “copy” (复制) button. Select the first item, also called “copy,” that pops up – then the computer will alert you that you have successfully requested to print the item. That particular page then goes to a folder of items awaiting printing, which is visible in the horizontal menu. Those items have the archival file number, and you can click on them to review what the page looks like, as well as to cancel printing that page. This feature allows you to review all of the items for printing before you put in the request, by clicking on the files and hitting submit.

It is important to note here that if you exceed 30 pages, as one local Chinese scholar did, the computer system will ignore your request completely. The archivists also prefer that you print all at one time rather than a few pages at a time. One scholar was able to negotiate printing a few pages, but only because he was going to be away at a conference for a week.

When you submit your request, someone “upstairs” will review it. They do actually read the pages, and your print-outs might come in bundles based on their decisions. It might also take them some time to review the materials, but they are kindly willing to mail documents to scholars.

Practical Matters.

Travel: East Zhongshan Road tends to have heavy traffic. The closest subway station is the Ming Gugong (明故宫) station. The subway station maps include the archives as a destination point. From the no. 2 exit, head toward Ming Gugong and continue along the road until you see the archives to your right.

Food: The archive breaks at 11:30 a.m. for about an hour for lunch. There are a few small shops and areas to eat in the alley beside the archives. Across the street, there is street food. The archive cafeteria will also give you your own room (since visitors are not allowed to eat in the open room with the staff) for 30 RMB. More food options are available near the hospital by the Xianmen (西安门) subway stop. I should note that the archival clocks run about 5 minutes fast.

Accommodations: There is a Rujia (如家) Hotel in the alley just behind the archives. The area around the Nanjing Library (Daxinggong 大行宮 station) would also be a good option. It’s only two subway stops away from the archive, and the no. 3 line takes you directly to Hongqiao (虹桥) Railway Station for only 2 RMB, if your travels take you elsewhere in China.

Margaret Mih Tillman
Faculty of History
Purdue University

Note: I would like to thank Shirley Ye, Helen Schneider, and Larissa Pitts for their advice regarding going to the archive, and I hope that this report, although basic and technical in nature, also encourages scholars to go to Nanjing.

Kirby, William, ed. State and Economy in Republican China: A Handbook for Scholars (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 200).
Ye, Wa and Joseph Escherick. Chinese Archives: An Introductory Guide. (Berkeley: IEAS, 1996).
Shao Ling 邵玲, Han Wenchang 韩文昌, Li, Zuoming 李祚明 ; Zhao Mingzhong 赵铭忠. Zhongguo di’er lishi dang’anguan zhinan 中国第二历史档案馆指南. (Zhongguo dang an chu ban she, 1994).

Open Files.
As of October 2015, these are the archival bureaus open for research (taken from the archive’s website):

1. 南京临时政府档案
2. 广州与武汉国民政府档案
3. 广州陆海军大元帅大本营档案
4. 中央研究院档案
5. 中央银行档案(部分)
6. 财政部档案(部分)
7. 邮政系统档案(部分)
8. 民国时期烟草行业档案选编
9. 民国时期黄河水利档案选编
10. 民国时期广州地区档案选编
11. 民国时期新加坡地区档案选编
12. 北洋政府公报
13. 国民政府立法院公报
14. 社会部档案
15. 教育部档案
16. 农林部档案
17. 国史馆档案

  1. 国防部史政局及战史编纂委员会
  2. 汪伪行政院
  3. 国民党中央秘书处
  4. 国民党中央宣传部
  5. 私立金陵大学
  6. 私立金陵女子文理学院

二、南京保卫战殉难将士档案(10册 )

Image: photo taken by the author

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