|China Table of Contents
Very early in Chinese civilization, scholars had extensive private libraries, and all of the imperial dynasties constructed libraries and archives to house literary treasures and official records. The first modern libraries, however, did not appear in China until the late nineteenth century; even then, library service grew slowly and sporadically. In 1949 there were only fifty-five public libraries at the county level and above, most concentrated in major coastal commercial centers.
Following the founding of the People's Republic, government and education leaders strove to develop library services and make them available throughout the country. The National Book Coordination Act of 1957 authorized the establishment of two national library centers, one in Beijing and the other in Shanghai, and nine regional library networks. Even so, libraries still were scarce, and those facilities that were available were cramped and offered only rudimentary services. Seeing the lack of libraries as a major impediment to modernization efforts, government leaders in the early 1980s took special interest in the development of library services. The special concentration of funds and talent began to produce significant results. By 1986 China had over 200,000 libraries, including a national library and various public, educational, scientific, and military libraries. More than forty Chinese institutions of higher learning also had established library-science or information-science departments. There were more than 2,300 public libraries at the county level and above, containing nearly 256 million volumes, and below the county level some 53,000 cultural centers included a small library or reading room.
The country's main library, the National Library of China, housed a rich collection of books, periodicals, newspapers, maps, prints, photographs, manuscripts, microforms, tape recordings, and inscriptions on bronze, stone, bones, and tortoiseshells. In 1987 a new National Library building, one of the world's largest library structures, was completed in the western suburbs.
The Shanghai Municipal Library, one of the largest public libraries in the country, contained over 7 million volumes, nearly 1 million of which were in foreign languages. The Beijing University Library took over the collections of the Yanjing University Library in 1950 and by the mid-1980s--with more than 3 million volumes, one-fourth of them in foreign languages--was one of the best university libraries in the country.
On the basis of the General Rules for Archives published in 1983, historical archives were being expanded at the provincial and county levels. Two of the most important archives were the Number One Historical Archives of China, located in Beijing containing the archives of the Ming and Qing dynasties, and the Number Two Historical Archives of China, located in Nanjing containing the archives of the Guomindang period. A number of foreign scholars have been granted access to these archives. In 1987 public and research libraries still faced serious space, management, and service problems. Even with the special efforts being made to solve these problems, it was clear that they would not be quickly resolved.
In the late 1980s, China was experiencing an active educational and cultural life. Students were staying in school longer, educational standards were being raised, and facilities were being improved. Intellectuals were encouraged to develop their expertise, especially in the scientific and technical spheres, and a wide variety of traditional and foreign literary and art forms were allowed to flourish. This situation was likely to continue as long as it served the interest of economic modernization and posed no threat to the political establishment.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress