Looking behind the curtain

Inside the Archives

One day after lunch when I returned to the Shaanxi Provincial Archives one of the employees asked if I would like to see the documents they were working on upstairs. At all other Chinese archives I have been to that never happens. You sit in the reading room and they bring you stuff, and a tour of the place is not going to happen. So I was a bit surprised, but also excited. I got to go up to the room where they were processing documents Archive room

One thing they do is mount the pages. Most Republican-era documents are printed on fairly flimsy paper which was then folded over to make a sort of two-ply page. In Shaanxi they mount all of these on heavier paper in part to preserve the pages and also to make them easier to read without the other side bleeding through. That is this guy’s job, and yes, that is an ordinary iron he is using. 1


Thus you end up with something like this. Nice firm mounting, easy to read, and easy to preserve.


They are also doing computer print-outs of all the tables of contents in each folder. At present these are hand written, and most of them are fine, but some of them seem to have been done by budding master calligraphers. On others you can see the handwriting get worse as the copyist gets bored. Now they will all be nice and machine printed. You might think they were on their way to digitizing the whole collection. Indeed, here is a lady doing scanning for the digitization process.Digitize

Here are people entering keywords. Soon, not sure how soon, the whole archive will be digitized, and you will be able to call up stuff from anywhere.Keywords

Cool huh? Well, this is a Chinese history blog, and I think it’s cool

Tour Guide

My tour guide

  1. I don’t know if they still do this, but one bad thing about Shaanxi is how they used to deal with post-it notes. On Chinese documents if someone in the bureau had a long comment that could not fit in the margin they would write it on a slip of ultra flimsy paper and glue that to the top of the page. These long strips often rip or come off, and are hard to deal with. The solution in Shaanxi, at one point, at least, was to glue the entire comment on top of the document. Not ideal. 


  1. Thanks for sharing this! Very cool. Amazing to think how many Chinese archives are moving toward full digitalization and how this will affect our research in the coming years.

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