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The Beginning of Asian Collections

The Asian Division's collections are among the most significant outside of Asia and comprise over 3 million books, periodicals, newspapers, manuscripts and microforms in the languages of East, South and Southeast Asia. The first acquisition of and Asian collection in the Library of Congress can be traced back to 1865 when the Smithsonian Institution transferred a collection of books on Southeast Asia and Pacific islands that had been gathered in Singapore by the American Naval Exploring Expedition team from 1838 to 1842, the Asian collections have become one of the most accessible and comprehensive sources of Asian language materials in the world.  The collections span a diversity of subjects from China, Japan, Korea, the South Asian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.


Yizong Jinjian
Yizong Jinjian
(Complete Survey of Medical Knowledge).
Beijing: Imperial Edition, 1743.
Chinese Section

One of the largest collections in the world outside of China, the Chinese Collection began in 1869 when the Library received ten works in 933 volumes from Emperor Tongzhi (1862-1874) of China, as part of an exchange authorized by the Congress. A Division of Chinese Literature was established in 1928 with the approval of the Congress. Arthur H. Hummel, Sr., a renowned Sinologist, was appointed as the first Chief of the Division. The collection has since then grown to about 900,000 volumes. In addition to Chinese language publications, it also houses several thousand volumes in Manchu, Mongolian and Naxi (Moso) and other minority languages. The collection covers all subject areas, is especially strong in the humanities and social sciences, and rich in classical Chinese literature, archival materials of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) and Republican period (1911-1949), and Chinese medicine. It owns 4,000 or so local and regional gazetteers from the Ming and Qing dynasties and those published since the 1980s. A unique Chinese rare book collection of 2,000 titles includes a Buddhist sutra printed in 975 A.D., the earliest printed specimen in the Library of Congress, and about 1,500 imprints of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

Since 2000, with a general grant from the Luce Foundation, the Chinese Collection has expanded its collection of contemporary publications of the People's Republic of China and widened the scope of business, finance, law, science and technology, environment, development in western China, and minority affairs, with focus on international relations, Communist Party history, American studies in China, economic reform and military affairs and national defense. A collection of "gray" literature consisting of unpublished tracts from Hong Kong and Taiwan has also been acquired in recent years.

Challenging the present and future needs, the Asian Division has placed emphasis on the integration of digital content and services into its collections, public services and programs. The Chinese section has accordingly made strides in developing and maintaining selected Web links to recommended information resources on China.

The history of the collection can be traced in "The Development of the Chinese Collection in the Library of Congress" by Shu Chao Hu (Boulder, Colorado. Westview, 1979) and "Library of Congress Asian Collection : an illustrated guide" (Washington, D.C. Library of Congress, 2000)


Hyakumanto dharani
Hyakumanto dharani

One Million Pagoda Charms).
Woodblock printed sutras and
wooden pagoda, ca. 764.
Japanese Section

The Japanese collection began in 1875 when the governments of the United States and Japan agreed to exchange their respective government publications and for them to be housed in the Library of Congress. The first shipment arrived in 1876 and the collection grew slowly until Dr. Shiho Sakanishi became the first Area Specialist on Japan in 1930. During her tenure, Dr. Sakanishi collected about 900 titles, most of which were literary works. In 1938, the Japanese Section was established as part of the then Orientalia Division, which was renamed the Asian Division in 1978. The Japanese language collection, probably the most extensive in the world outside Japan, has grown to over one million books and serial volumes, 9,500 reels of microfilm, and 15,000 sheets of microfiche. The Japanese collection covers research materials in virtually all subjects except clinical medicine and technical agriculture. The collections are strong in the humanities and social sciences, central and local government publications, and academic journals including the areas of science and technology.

The collection received an important gift in 1905 when Crosby Stuart Noyes, the journalist and editor of the Washington Evening Star, donated 658 illustrated books, watercolors, drawings, woodblock prints and lithographs to the library. Early acquisitions were begun by Dr. Kan'ichi Asakawa, who first purchased books in Japan on behalf of the library in 1907. These included works on Tokugawa government laws, local administration, history, regional geography, and Buddhism. Works were also purchased for the library between 1915 and 1926 by Dr. Walter Tennyson Swingle, a botanist with a special interest in Asian botany.

The collection also has approximately 4,800 titles of rare publications and manuscript copies of works produced before the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1868 and the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912). These collections include one of the world's earliest surviving printed material, the dharani prayer charms from 770 A.D. Also noteworthy is a collection of 403 titles of traditional mathematics called wasan. Among other pre-Meiji classics on religion, history, and literature are a rare edition of the Japanese literary masterpiece Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), that was published in Kyoto in 1654 and is complete with all 60 volumes, and the rare manuscript Kabuki sugatami, written by the kabuki actor Nakamura Nakazo in 1776.

The Japanese collection increased dramatically after World War II when an estimated 300,000 volumes of Japanese language research materials were added with the transfer of resources acquired during the Occupation of Japan from 1945-1952 and sent initially to the Washington Document Center (WDC). These materials contain extensive research reports prepared by the South Manchurian Railway Company and the East Asia Research Institute. Much of these materials are pre-World War II studies on such areas as Korea, Taiwan, China, Mongolia, and the Pacific Islands. Included in this collection are Japanese military publications, censored materials from the former Japanese Ministry of Home Affairs, and other important collections vital to comparative research of Japanese thought before and after the end of World War II.

The microfilm collection includes pre-1946 censored books and serials, and other Japanese government documents, as well as national and local Japanese newspapers, and titles of the South Manchurian Railway Company publications. Selected materials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs archives, materials of the Japanese Army and Navy and other agencies of the pre-1946 period are available in the Microform Reading Room.

The Japan Documentation Center (JDC) was established in 1992 to collect and disseminate difficult-to-obtain unpublished public policy literature, often referred to as "grey literature," the bulk of which were issued between 1993 and 1999, and 95% of which are in Japanese. The project successfully developed an information management system and a database of over 5,000 items that included policy studies and reports, white papers and annual reports, draft legislation, think-tank reports, and public opinion polls. With the closing of the Japan Documentation Center on March 31, 2000, the JDC database will not be updated. Materials already in the collection, however, will be serviced by the Japanese Section staff and can be searched online at

The modern holdings of the Japanese collection also include such major Japanese newspapers as the Asahi shinbun (microfilm edition), Mainichi shinbun, Nihon keizai shinbun, and Yomiuri shinbun (reduced print editions).



Type specimens.
Type specimens.
Korea, ca. thirteenth century.
Brass, iron, copper, and wood.
Korean Section

The Korean Team at the Library of Congress was established in 1990 largely through the stimulus of a substantial grant received from the International Cultural Society of Korea. The collection of Korean materials began earnestly in 1950, the year that the Korean War broke out.

The Library has approximately 240,000 volumes in the Korean language, as well as about 20,000 Japanese language books on Korea. With over 6,300 periodical titles and 250 newspapers dating from the 1920s to the present, and 10,000 reels of microfilms, the collections constitute some of the most extensive and most comprehensive outside of Korea.

The Library also has some 480 titles (3,000 volumes) of rare Korean books, many of which were obtained in the 1920s. The most important contributor to the Library's classical Korean book collection was Dr. James S. Gale, a Canadian missionary who arrived in Korea in 1888 and spent the next forty years there. Gale helped the Library procure a number of Korean classics, including rare books from the estate of the Korean scholar Kim To-hui. In 1927, the Library received the major portion of Gale's own library. Korean rare collections also include the first editions of literary works by prominent Korean authors and Korean textbooks survived during the Korean War.

Korea made an important contribution to the technology of printing by developing movable cast metal type, beginning in the 1230s. Although China first used movable type made of clay, it was in Korea that printing with movable metal type reached a high point in the 15th century. The Korean collection includes several fine examples of Korean printing employing metal movable type. These include the collected writings, printed in 1744, of the renowned 16th-century Confucian scholar and statesman Yi I and the 1834 reprint of the works of the "Father of Korean Literature", Ch'oe Ch'i-won (857-915 AD). Examples of rare woodblock-printed books include a history of the Koryo Dynasty, printed in 1590, and the law code of the Choson Dynasty, printed in 1630.

North Korea, or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is one of the most secretive in the modern world. The 10,000 items from North Korea that the collection holds are therefore vital to scholars and government officials seeking to understand developments in the North. The Library receives two major North Korean daily newspapers, Nodong Sinmun and Minju Chosun, one a government paper and the other a Party paper.

In addition, there are about 7,700 English language books on Korea. 1998, the Korean Team has completed an online bibliography of approximately 4,800 records of books about Korea in English up to 1995 held by the Library of Congress. The Korean Bibliography is a comprehensive and user friendly bibliographic tool for researchers and scholars interested in Korean studies.

The Korean Serial Database provides researchers with detailed information about the rich and diverse newspaper and periodical collections located throughout the Library of Congress. We may have only scattered issues of some journals. Please consult with the Korean Reference Specialist to verity our receipt of specific issues.

As the Asian Division faces the future, planning is focusing on integrating digital content and electronic services into the Division's collections, services, and programs. At present, the Korean Team develops and maintains selected web links to recommended in-depth and authoritative information resources about Korea. International Portal Pages are available at:

South Korea

North Korea



Type specimens.
Illustrated folio from the Sutra of the Great Liberation.
Mongolia, 18th or 19th c. manuscript
Gift of William W. Rockhill

The Mongolian Collection consists of approximately 2,500 monographs, 160 serial titles, over 2,000 microfiche, and 408 volumes of rare books. Since 1992 the Library’s New Delhi Field Office, through a bibliographic representative in Ulaanbaatar, has been actively acquiring publications from Mongolia, in both classical Mongolian script and Cyrillic.

Included in the rare book collection are 80 traditional Mongolian books which were acquired in the early 20th c. The first of these to arrive were two manuscripts and one xylograph donated by William Woodville Rockhill, American scholar and diplomat, between 1893 and 1901. All three are Mongolian translations of famous Buddhist sutras (sudur), which Rockhill acquired during his travels in Mongolia at the turn of the century. Other early notable acquisitions include over seventy works acquired by Berthold Laufer in 1917, containing his brief handwritten notes, and two xylographs acquired from the Krebs Collection of Linguistics. These 80 works have been analyzed and indexed in an article by David M. Farquhar, “A Description of the Mongolian Manuscripts and Xylographs in Washington, D.C.” Central Asiatic Journal, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1955. Included are 27 canonical works, 19 works on Buddhist ritual and prayer, 11 works on biography and history, 5 on medicine, 2 on language, and an episode of the Central Asian Gesar (Geser) epic. The collection contains many 18th c. xylographs of popular sutras such as the Ocean of Parables (Uliger-un dalai), the Sutra of the Golden Light (Altan gerel-tu) , the Collection of Sutras (Gzungdui), the Mongolian translation of the Diamond Sutra, as well as an elaborately illustrated manuscript of the Mongolian translation of the Sutra of the Great Liberation.

The Mongolian rare collection also includes complete reprint editions of both the Mongolian Kanjur and Tanjur, the Buddhist canonical texts and their commentaries. The Mongolian Kanjur, in 108 volumes, was published in New Delhi, 1973-1974 by Dr. Lokesh Chandra. The edition was reproduced from the Imperial Red block-print edition of 1720, which in turn had been prepared based on the rare handwritten Ligdan Khan Kanjur produced in the early 17th c.

During 1956-58, Professor Raghu Vira obtained a microfilm copy of the extremely rare Urga Tanjur, kept in Ulaanbaatar. This edition had been compiled and translated into Mongolian under the direction of Lcang-skya Rol-pa’i rdo-rje in the mid-18th c. A 226 volume set of photocopy enlargements taken from this film was given to the Library by Dr. Lokesh Chandra, and is kept in the rare book cage, along with the 8 volume catalog to the set, published in 1982.

Catalog records for more recent materials can be found in the Library’s online catalog using the LC/ALA romanization tables for Mongolian in vertical script and in Cyrillic Script. Many titles, including newspapers, are microfilmed or microfiched in the New Delhi Office before being sent to the Asian Division. Handlists for uncataloged materials are available in the division’s reading room.


South and Southeast Asia


(Book of Worship).
Maharashtra, nineteenth or
early twentieth century.
Southern Asian Section

In 1938, the Library inaugurated the Indic Project, which later became the present Southern Asia Section, to manage and service the collections it had previously acquired. Through various post-World War II acquisition projects, particularly after the establishment of the field offices in New Delhi, Karachi, and Jakarta in the 1960's, the collection has now grown to include more than 216,000 volumes in the languages of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Philippines, Tibet, Vietnam, and the Pacific Islands. The collection now provides broad research coverage in most fields and disciplines with particular strengths in the areas of vernacular languages and literatures, modern history and politics, vernacular newspapers and periodicals, and government publications. The Section also maintains a large and expanding collection of serials, monographs and pamphlets in microform.

It has custody of rare materials relating to South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Tibet, including the manuscript collections of the great Indologist Albrecht Weber purchased by the Library in 1904-1905. Other items of interest are in Burmese, Thai, Tibetan and in Malay written in Jawi script, and also include specimens of Filipino writing in ancient Indic script incised in bamboo tubes.

Since 1962, the Section has made successful efforts to add to the collection materials from all Southeast Asian nations.



Tibetan Musical Score
Tibetan Musical Score,
ca. Nineteenth century.
Tibetan Collection

The Tibetan collection of the Library of Congress began in 1901 with a presentation of 57 xylographs and eight manuscripts acquired by William Woodville Rockhill, U.S. Minister to China, during his travels in Mongolia and Tibet from 1888 to 1892. Between 1901 and 1928 approximately 920 original xylographs and manuscripts were acquired for the Library primarily by Rockhill, Berthold Laufer, and Joseph Rock. Currently, the collection is one of the largest in the West, consisting of approximately 9,000 volumes, made up of hundreds of individual titles.

The Library's Tibetan collection is representative of the entire corpus of Tibetan literature from the 8th century to the present: Buddhist and Bon-po philosophical texts and their commentaries, history, biography, traditional medicine, astrology, iconography, musical notations, the collected works of over 200 major Tibetan authors, bibliographies, traditional grammars and linguistic sciences, modern science, social sciences and modern literature. Among the Library's holdings are several rare xylograph redactions of the Buddhist canonical literature, Kanjur and Tanjur, as well as a complete set of the Bon-po Kanjur and Tanjur. The Derge Kanjur was acquired for the Library by William Rockhill in 1901, and the Narthang Tanjur was acquired by Berthold Laufer in 1926. The complete Coni redaction in 317 volumes acquired by Joseph Rock in 1928 is one of only a few known to exist today.

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  October 2, 2012
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