The Upton Sino-Foreign Archive (USFA)


An Introduction to the Upton Sino-Foreign Archive (USFA), Concord, New Hampshire, USA.

This is an introduction to the Upton Sino-Foreign Archive (USFA), a privately held non-institutional archive. For more than three decades, Steve Upton has enjoyed the hobby, in his spare time, of studying Sino-Foreign interaction in the period from the 1790s to the early 1950s, and of collecting unusual materials pertinent to that topic and extensively interviewing and corresponding with hundreds of foreign residents of pre-1950s China. He has taught a course, at Dartmouth’s ILEAD Institute, about the lives of Westerners in China’s treaty ports and summer resorts. He has also been an invited speaker on more specific topics regarding Sino-Foreign interaction at various educational institutions, including Dartmouth, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Harvard Law School.

The USFA collection is diverse. One of Upton’s favorite research interests, and one that is well reflected in the collection, has been the history of schools for foreign children in pre-1950 East Asia. USFA has the largest and most diversified collection in the world on that topic. With regard to pre-1950 schools in China that were primarily for American children, only Yale University has collections about the Shanghai American School and the North China American School that are stronger than the ones at USFA. The only collection about the Peking American School that is comparable to the one at USFA is presently in private hands. USFA’s collection about the American School Kikungshan is fully comparable to the only other major one, which is at Yale. USFA has the most important existing collections with regard to the Hangchow American School, Kuling American School, Lingnan Foreign School, Miss Jewell’s School (and its successors), Nanking American School (Hillcrest), PaakHokTung School, Talbert Schools, Tientsin American School, Tsinan Foreign School, Tsingtao American School, Yentung School, and dozens of smaller schools in pre-1950 China that were primarily for American children. USFA has the best collections in North America with regard to schools in pre-1950 China that were primarily for British, French, German or Italian children, and the best collection in the United States with regard to schools in pre-1950 China that were primarily for Canadian children. USFA has one of the larger collections outside Israel regarding schools in pre-1950 China that were primarily for Jewish children (another important one is at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, in New York). USFA also has a very large collection regarding Catholic schools in pre-1950 China that were attended by significant numbers of foreign children. With regard to schools for Polish children in pre-1950 China, USFA has one of the two best collections in North America (the other is in private hands). Regarding the numerous schools for Russian children in pre-1950 China, USFA has one of the five or six larger collections in North America (the others are in California and Canada). USFA presently has only a relatively small amount of material regarding the many schools for Japanese children in pre-1950 China.

Although USFA’s collection regarding schools for Chinese students is much smaller than the one regarding schools for foreign students, there are numerous pre-1950 materials, including yearbooks and/or ephemera, that collectively are from dozens of schools, colleges, and universities at Shanghai that were primarily for Chinese students. Regarding places in China other than Shanghai, there are small amounts of pre-1950 materials from or about many of the major colleges and universities that were established by, or with substantial help from, foreigners. There are also small amounts of pre-1950 materials from or about some schools for Chinese children at places other than Shanghai, including schools at Chongqing, Dezhou, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Jiujiang, Nanjing, Suzhou, Taigu, Tianjin, Tongchuan (at Sichuan), the Tongzhou area (suburb of old Beijing), Wuhan, Wuhu, Yangzhou, and Zhenjiang. USFA also has some pre-1950 materials regarding Western-style medical education, especially at Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai.

With regard to educational institutions that were primarily for foreign adults in China, the most important items at USFA are some pre-1950 publications from language schools at Beijing and Nanjing, and some materials from or about pre-1950 post-secondary institutions at Harbin.

Despite the immense importance of Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan in the history of Sino-Foreign interaction, Upton generally has not collected much material from those places. Upton instead has decided to use his limited resources to concentrate primarily on other parts of China, especially Shanghai and Tianjin. Upton, however, has done considerable research on the old summer resorts at Hong Kong, and on various schools at Hong Kong and Macao.

If the U.S. National Archives and major archives of U.S. military branches (Naval History & Heritage Command, U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, and National Museum of the Marine Corps) are excluded, USFA has one of the more important collections regarding the pre-1950 history of U.S. military forces at China. USFA also has a very large collection regarding the Shanghai Volunteer Corps, and fairly large collections regarding British and Japanese military forces at China. There are much smaller quantities of pre-1950 materials at USFA regarding Austro-Hungarian, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Russian military forces at China. There are some unusual and unique materials from various military conflicts at or involving China, including the Opium War, Taiping Rebellion, Arrow War, Sino-French War, Boxer Uprising, Russo-Japanese War, 1911-12 Revolution, World War I (capture of Qingdao, Chinese Labor Force), warlord conflicts, Northern Expedition, the 1931-1945 Sino-Japanese Conflict/World War II, and the late 1940s civil war. There also are some quite unusual materials regarding foreign intelligence and espionage activities in pre-1950 China.

Although USFA’s collection of China Judaica materials with regard to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is not comparable to the one at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, it is nevertheless one of the larger North American collections on this topic, with more materials from Holocaust refugees who fled to Shanghai than from the Baghdadi Jewish and Russian Jewish communities in China.

USFA also has a fairly substantial collection of materials regarding Russians in pre-1950 China (especially at Harbin and Shanghai), but there are several vastly larger collections in California and one vastly larger collection in Hawaii. There are several huge Russian emigre collections in the eastern U.S., but most of the materials in those collections do not pertain to Russians in China.

USFA holds unusual and unique materials regarding the Chinese Maritime Customs and the Chinese Salt Administration, including albums, photos, documents, ephemera, and unpublished autobiographies.

Upton long has taken a special interest in the history of Shanghai from the 1840s to the early 1950s, and this too is reflected in the USFA collection. With regard to that time period, USFA has large collections of pre-1950 materials (ephemera, photos, etc.) not only about educational institutions and military forces at Shanghai, but also about the following: (1) hotels and apartment buildings; (2) restaurants, bars, cafes, cabarets/nightclubs, ballrooms, dance halls, brothels; (3) cinemas, theaters, movies, plays/opera, ballet/dance, musicians/concerts, magicians, comedians, circuses; (4) clubs, associations, Masonic organizations, and recreation (sports, racetracks, parks, etc.); (5) local governments and public utilities; and (6) businesses generally.

At USFA there is a very large collection regarding Tianjin, and there are fairly substantial collections regarding Beijing, Guangzhou, Harbin, Nanjing, Qingdao, Weihai, Wuhan, and Yantai. USFA has smaller collections regarding many other locations in China.

USFA has unusual and unique materials regarding Chinese who made visits to the U.S. in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including government officials, diplomats, students, businessmen, and entertainers. USFA also has a number of old case files from lawyers who represented Chinese migrants at the Angel Island immigration station at San Francisco.

Some of the other noteworthy collections at USFA about pre-1950 China pertain to journalists; architects and engineers; explorers and scientists; Western-style medicine; Western-style law; Western agricultural advisers; the China Trade (1790s-late nineteenth century), and transportation (railroads, shipping lines, sailing vessels, airlines, buses, autos, etc.). USFA’s collection of materials relating to Christian evangelical activities of missionaries is quite small, but USFA has larger amounts of materials regarding educational and medical activities of missionaries.

Many of the items at USFA have not been cataloged, and none have been digitized. There are no plans to digitize any of the items. The catalog, which is accessible only on an on-site computer, has thousands of entries and gradually is being expanded. It is possible for visitors to search for words or names in the catalog, but the more common practice at this time is for visitors to browse through boxes, which are organized by topics. For example, there presently are five boxes about the Shanghai American School, two boxes about the Shanghai Volunteer Corps, five boxes about the U.S. Navy at China, etc. A box is slightly more than 10 inches high, holds about 1.3 linear feet of materials, and usually has virtually no empty space. A request to inspect any or all of the materials in a box is made orally, without any paperwork whatsoever. It usually does not take more than a minute or two to pull out a box for inspection. There is no limit on the number of boxes or materials which may be inspected. It is possible to inspect more than one item, and more than one box, simultaneously. Upton is generally present throughout the inspection process, and often converses with visitors while they are examining the materials, not only to provide explanatory information, but also to learn more about the visitors and their research interests.

Almost everything in the collection can be hand-copied. Photocopying and photographing are generally not allowed. This restriction is likely to be waived occasionally if the item to be photocopied or photographed was mass-produced and other examples of the item are known to exist. No markings are added to items that are being duplicated, There are photocopying services (Staples, FedEx Kinko’s, etc.) nearby. Also, it generally is possible for a visitor to photograph an item, for the purpose of including an image of the item in a publication in accordance with applicable laws, upon signing an agreement and paying a fee. The standard fee for making and using a photograph for that purpose is US$100 (to be paid in cash if the visitor does not live in the U.S.). There occasionally have been special circumstances in which that fee has been reduced or waived at Upton’s discretion. Photographic images of items from USFA have been used in a number of domestic and foreign publications (one example is: Peter Hibbard, Beyond Hospitality: The History of the Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Limited. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2010).

Materials from USFA sometimes have been lent for exhibitions at major academic institutions in the U.S., including a loan to Cornell University for an exhibition in celebration of the 600th anniversary of the city of Tianjin, and a loan to California State University -Northridge for an exhibition in celebration of that university’s Old China Hands Archive.

USFA’s mailing address is as follows: USFA, c/o Steve Upton, P.O. Box 177, Concord, NH 03302-0177 USA. Detailed directions on how to get to USFA will be provided to anyone who has been invited. There are no regularly scheduled hours of operation; instead, arrangements are made in advance for visits at mutually convenient times. It is generally possible for a visitor to begin as early as 8 A.M. and to stay as late as 6 P.M. It is also often possible to visit for two consecutive days. There are no scheduled breaks during a visit. There is no problem if a visitor wishes to take one or more breaks. Light snacks and canned or bottled beverages are generally available during the day and are provided at no charge. There is no official time for lunch. At lunch, Upton and the visitor usually go together to one of the various moderately priced restaurants at Concord, and each pays for his/her own meal. Anyone with a serious interest in obtaining an invitation should contact Upton at the following e-mail address:

USFA is located inside a private residence. For that reason (as well as because of limits on Upton’s availability), usually not more than four or five invitations are issued per year. In some instances, however, two individuals (who have common interests or shared institutional ties, or are partners) have been invited to visit USFA together. More than a few of the past visitors to USFA have been professors from major Chinese universities. Anyone requesting an invitation should provide a fairly detailed description of his/her background and should mention any reasons for his/her interest in making a visit to USFA. There is no need to provide anything else. At USFA, unlike many conventional archives, visitors are not asked to fill out any forms when they arrive. The building in which USFA is located is not compliant (and is not required to be compliant) with handicap accessibility standards. Any invitee who uses a wheelchair or walker, or who faces other noteworthy physical constraints, should notify Upton in advance so that special arrangements can be made.

Scholars are welcome to make occasional inquiries to the same e-mail address regarding whether USFA has any noteworthy materials regarding a particular individual, entity, or event.

Steve Upton


Image: Masonic apron, on white leather, from Northern Crown Royal Arch Chapter No. 2931, Tianjin (Courtesy of USFA).

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