A review of the Shijiazhuang Municipal Archives (石家莊市檔案館), Shijiazhuang, China.
In late March 2011, I spent four days in Shijiazhuang to conduct research in the Shijiazhuang Municipal Archives and in the Hebei Provincial Archives. The trip was unfortunately very brief as I had to schedule it in between terms and teaching commitments. Fortunately, the archivists at the Shijiazhuang Municipal Archive were very friendly and helpful. In two days, I could thus access and copy more materials than I had often been able to during longer archive visits to Shanghai and Beijing in 2008 and 2010.
Ed. note: This is the second in a pair of archive reviews by Jennifer Altehenger. For her review on the Hangzhou Municipal Archives, click here.
The archives are located within the municipal government compound on 219 Xing Kai Lu [兴凯路219号], just off Zhonghua Bei Dajie. If you have to ask for directions, ask people how to get to the municipal government, not the municipal archives. You can call ahead (0311-87851933) or e-mail (email@example.com), but that is not really necessary. Like most archives in the PRC, Shijiazhuang Municipal Archives also hosts a website [here]. But beware, it is not a user-friendly website. The official opening times are from 9am to 11:30am and from 1:30pm to 4:30pm, though you might find that these times can be flexible.
When you arrive your first contact will be with the soldier who guards the government compound. Few foreigners seem to frequent the archives. When I first arrived, it took some fifteen minutes to pass through the main gate because the guard demanded to see my passport and then made me explain why I wanted to visit the archives. Once you have made it past the guard, take a left and walk straight ahead until you reach the last building on the compound. The entrance to the archives is through the large, elevated entrance in the middle. The reading room is located on the first floor. It is a small room with space for about 10-15 researchers (at best) who all work at one long table. When I arrived, the table was covered with newspapers. Do not hesitate to free some working space for yourself. It is expected that you do that.
There are two or three archivists in the room at all times, mostly reading newspapers or helping locals find records. You will need a letter of introduction (jieshaoxin) from a Chinese host institution and your passport. Your letter should contain some explanation of your research topic and of the kinds of materials you would like to access. Do not be surprised if your letter gets handed to each archivist and Chinese visitor in the room. Everyone will want to know who you are and why you have come. Registration took half an hour in my case and I could start perusing materials that same morning.
Locating materials once you have arrived can be tricky. I was told that all of the four computers in the room could not be used. Luckily, I had searched the archives’ online catalog (mulu) (there is a link on the top of the archives’ website) beforehand and had printed a list of files. It is definitely a good idea to come prepared. The online mulu allows you to search most of the open-access (kaifang) catalogues by keywords and gives an overview of the available files with juan numbers and names. A paper catalogue exists but archivists were very hesitant and asked me to bring printed lists from home instead. I did not have to fill out a request form to see materials. Rather, the archivist took my printed list of some twenty files and within ten minutes I had a large pile of files in front of me. There were no restrictions on how many files I could access in one day. Instead of a request form, the archivist kept my list and attached it to my jieshaoxin (which they also kept). None of the materials seemed to be digitized and there was no mention of plans for digitization. The archive website states that you have to pay a protection fee for each page viewed: between 0.2 and 0.8 yuan for pre-1949 files (depending on their age); 0.05 yuan for post-1949 files. But I was not asked to pay any fees.
You can bring your bag into the reading room but you have to place it on the floor so that the archivists can see it. Notes can be taken using your own paper and pens. Alternatively, you can use your computer. Documents can be photocopied. There is a fee of 0.8 yuan for each B4 sheet and 0.4 for each B5 sheet. Reproduction of images costs between 30 and 50 yuan a piece. Given the brevity of my research visit I was keen to copy as many pages as possible. But the archivists were unhappy at the thought of having to copy large quantities and instead asked me to use my digital camera to make photos of the documents I required. I was told not to photograph any documents containing personal information or court records. After I had finished taking photos, I handed the camera to the archivist who scanned through the pictures. Instead of counting each photograph, I paid a general fee. If you decide to request photocopies your request has to be cleared with a lingdaoren at the archives, so it might take a day or two to process. In any case, be sure to make notes of the archival codes, they will not earmark them for you.
I was pleasantly surprised by the archives’ friendly atmosphere. Contrary to what I expected upon entering the reading room for the first time, archivists were helpful, interested and efficient. However, the reading room is not a quiet work environment. It is a small room, people chat all the time, lots of people come and go, and interested (and slightly bored) visitors and archivists will ask you many questions. So be prepared to multi-task. During xiuxi you may well be asked to join everyone for lunch in the municipal government’s canteen; an experience not to be missed. If that is not for you, you can buy lunch from local street vendors outside the compound or take a rest in one of the small restaurants in the area.
Jennifer E. Altehenger
Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies
Cambridge, MA 02138
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An interesting note. As a “native” of Shijiazhuang, I spend at least three or four months there every year, but I had never heard that the Archive is accessible to public until I read the note. It might be a good place for me to visit when I am back there next time.