Libraries in China

The first libraries in China came into being during the time of the Shang dynasty (the sixteenth to eleventh centuries B.C.) as intellectuals known as the Shi (historians) and Wu (diviners) emerged from manual labor to special occupations for the creation and spread of culture. Among the documents that these occupations managed were "the country's statute books, genealogies of imperial kinsmen, issued notices and orders, and recorded important events and natural phenomena. For future verification and reference, they built storehouses to keep records in different media. To meet the needs of more and more complicated affairs and to ensure easy use, they began to collect and sort out those records according to chronological order and category. Thus, the earliest library in China came into being. The numerous kinds of media loaded with information and knowledge emerged in human society, resulting in the concepts of preservation and collection. Accordingly, the earliest libraries and archives were the result of conscious collection, process, coalition, and utilization."[1]

Early in the history of China, 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 (National Library of China) and the other in Shanghai (Shanghai Library), 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. 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.

At the end of 2004, China had 2,710 public libraries with a collection of over 400 million copies. There were 2,925 public libraries in China in 2011.[2] Of the university or college libraries, the collections of Peking University and Zhejiang University libraries lead the nation.[3][4] The national library network also includes scientific research institution libraries, trade union libraries, plus libraries and reading rooms attached to government institutions, army units, primary and secondary schools, townships, enterprises and local communities.

National Library

The country's main library, the National Library of China,[5] housed a rich collection of books, periodicals, newspapers, maps, prints, photographs, manuscripts, microforms, tape recordings, and inscriptions on bronze, stone, bones, and tortoiseshells.

The National Library of China, with a collection of over 26 million volumes, is the largest library in Asia, housing the largest collection of Chinese books in the world. In the library's collection are over 35,000 oracle bones and tortoise shells carved with ancient Chinese characters, 1.6 million volumes of traditional thread-bound books, over 16,000 volumes of documents from Dunhuang Grottoes, 12 million volumes of foreign-language books, and dozens of electronic databases.

The library started to accept the submissions of official national publications in 1916, becoming the main national database; and began to accept submissions of domestic electronic publications in 1987. It is also the country's ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) Center and Network Information Center. At present, the National Library of China has formed a digital library alliance with some 90 other libraries around the country, making joint efforts in promoting the development and application of China's digital public information service. The second phase of the National Library – China Digital Library, whose foundation was laid at the end of 2004, is planned to be completed and commissioned in October 2007. The expanded library will be able to meet book storage demand for the next 30 years. The Digital Library will make it the world's biggest Chinese literature collection center and digital resources base, as well as the most advanced network service base in China.

Other Libraries

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 Shanghai Library, well known at home and abroad, is China's largest provincial-level library. Of its collection, the over 1.7 million volumes of ancient documents are the most valuable and representative, including 25,000 titles of rare ancient books in 178,000 volumes, many being the only copies extant in the world. The oldest document dates back nearly 1,500 years.

The Peking 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. It is one of the earliest modern new libraries in China. Approved by the State Council as the first batch of national key ancient books protection unit, has developed into a resource rich, modern, comprehensive, open research library.[6]

Major provincial libraries

  • Anhui Library 安徽省图书馆
  • Capital Library (zh:首都图书馆) in Beijing
  • Chongqing Library 重庆市图书馆
  • Fujian Library 福建省图书馆
  • Gansu Library 甘肃省图书馆
  • Guangdong Library 广东省图书馆
  • Guangxi Autonomous Region Library 广西自治区图书馆
  • Guizhou Library 贵州省图书馆
  • Hainan Library 海南省图书馆
  • Hebei Library 河北省图书馆
  • Heilongjiang Library 黑龙江省图书馆
  • Henan Library 河南图书馆
  • Hubei Provincial Library 湖北省图书馆
  • Hunan Library 湖南省图书馆
  • Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Library 内蒙古自治区图书馆
  • Jiangxi Library 江西省图书馆
  • Jilin Library 吉林省图书馆
  • Liaoning Library 辽宁省图书馆
  • Nanjing Library 南京圖書館
  • Ningxia Autonomous Region Library 宁夏自治區图书馆
  • Qinghai Library 青海省图书馆
  • Shaanxi Library 陕西省图书馆
  • Shandong Library 山东省图书馆
  • Shanghai Library 上海市图书馆
  • Shanxi Library 山西省图书馆
  • Sichuan Library 四川省图书馆
  • Tianjin Library 天津市图书馆
  • Tibet Autonomous Region Library 西藏自治区图书馆
  • Xinjiang Autonomous Region Library 新疆自治区图书馆
  • Yunnan Library 云南省图书馆
  • Zhejiang Library 浙江省图书馆

See also


  1. Hua, Xie Zhuo (1996). Libraries and the development of culture in China. "Libraries & Culture", No. 3/4, pp. 533.
  2. "Statistical Communiqué on the 2011 National Economic and Social Development". National Bureau of Statistics of China. 22 February 2012. Archived from the original on 6 August 2012. Retrieved 5 September 2012.
  3. PKU Library Archived 24 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ZJU Library Archived 13 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. Official site of the National Library of China. Users can search database of books, periodicals, and statistical yearbooks.
  6. (2017). Overview and History | Beijing University Library. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Mar. 2017].

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