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Asian Collections: Library of Congress, An Illustrated Guide

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The Diplomat and the Dalai Lama  From the Steppes of Central Asia  The Japanese World  Korean Classics
Homer on the Ganges  White Whales and Bugis Book  Barangays, Friars, and "The Mild Sway of Justice"
The Theravada Tradition  The Southern Mandarins  Modern Asia  East Asia  Inner Asia  South Asia
Southeast Asia and the Pacific  Epilog  Publications on the Asian Collections


Direct American involvement in Southeast Asia, with the exception of the Philippines, was limited until the end of World War I. Nonetheless, the Library holds some fascinating collections of Southeast Asian and South Pacific material that predate the war. In 1934, the Fahnestock brothers, Bruce and Sheridan, set sail from New York for China and the South Pacific on their ship, Director. The three year voyage, during which they studied the cultures of the Pacific and uncovered a set of important Fijian petroglyphs, the Ndakunimba Stones, was documented in their book, Stars to Windward (1938). During a second sailing expedition in 1940, the Fahnestocks made extensive recordings of music from American Samoa, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Australia before their ship hit a reef near Australia and sank.

A third voyage in 1941, as war loomed in the Pacific, resulted in rare recordings of music on the islands of Indonesia, including Bali, Madura, and the Kangean islands. This third expedition also had a covert side. At the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Fahnestocks evaluated Dutch military preparations on Java and carried out several other missions. With the outbreak of war, the Fahnestocks joined the U.S. Army's Small Ships Section in New Guinea, the unit that inspired the 1960s television series entitled The Wackiest Ship in the Army. In 1986, Margaret Fahnestock Lewis, the widow of Sheridan Fahnestock, gave the Library much of the material the brothers had collected on their three expeditions. The Library's Archive of Folk Culture is the home for the Fahnestock South Seas collection, including recorded music of the South Pacific and Indonesia, recordings of Fijian legends, manuscripts, logs, correspondence, and photographs.

Another important collection of material on the cultures of the South Pacific and Indonesia may be found in the Manuscript Division where the papers of the renowned American anthropologist Margaret Mead are kept. Mead's academic career began with the field trip to the South Pacific in 1925 that resulted in the publication of Coming of Age in Samoa, a book that attracted a readership well beyond the academic community. During a career that spanned some fifty years, Mead's field work took her from Fiji to the Admiralty Islands, New Guinea, and Bali. Her fame and her sometimes controversial views on subjects, such as the rearing of children, stimulated public interest in the field of anthropology. Mead's papers in the Library are a valuable source for research on her work and life.

The Archive of Folk Culture holds other rare Asian material, including the Benjamin Ives Gilman collection of wax cylinder recordings made at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and including Javanese and South Pacific music. The Hornbostel Demonstration collection of 120 pressed cylinder copies from wax field recordings includes Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asian, and Indian music recorded in the early years of the twentieth century. In addition, the Archive of Folk Culture holds many more recent recordings of music from Asia and the Pacific.

During World War II, the United States supported the anti-Japanese resistance movement in Thailand, the Free Thai Movement. The American largely responsible for bringing about this relationship was Dr. Kenneth Landon, a former Presbyterian minister who had spent ten years in Thailand as a missionary. After his return to the United States in 1937, Landon worked on a Ph.D. and wrote a book on Thai politics. With the outbreak of war, he became Washington's leading expert on Thailand, first with America's wartime intelligence organization, the Office of Strategic Services, and then with the Department of State. Dr. Landon later donated hundreds of pages of transcripts of Free Thai radio broadcasts to the Library, along with a small but important collection of post-World War II Thai books on politics as well as Thai political fiction.

Seni and Kukrit Pramoj. The King of Siam Speaks.
Seni and Kukrit Pramoj, The King of Siam Speaks. Most Thai were shocked by the portrayal of their revered nineteenth-century king, Mongkut, in the musical The King and I. The stage and screen versions were based on Margaret Landon's 1944 book entitled Anna and the King of Siam. To correct the record, well-known Thai intellectuals Seni and Kukrit Pramoj wrote this account in 1948. The Pramoj brothers sent their manuscript to the American politician and diplomat Abbot Low Moffat, who drew on it for his biography entitled Mongkut the King of Siam (1961). Moffat donated the Pramoj manuscript to the Library in 1961. (Southeast Asian Collection, Asian Division)

Landon's connection with the Library of Congress, however, began before his donation of the Free Thai material, going back to research by his wife, Margaret, for her book entitled Anna and the King of Siam. Published in 1944, the book was an account of the English governess Anna Leonowens's experiences in the court of King Mongkut (Rama IV) and became the inspiration for the Broadway musical The King and I. In her note at the end of the book, Margaret Landon thanks Dr. Horace Poleman of the Library of Congress for making available material for reconstructing some of the historical background in the book. Specifically, she cites her use of a Thai-language book in the Library containing King Mongkut's correspondence.

With the beginning of the Cold War, the Library's collection efforts increased to meet the need for more knowledge about Southeast Asia. Growing concern about Asian Communism can be seen in the increasing number of titles the Library received from Southeast Asia during the late 1940s and 1950s, such as a 1952 report on the Philippine Communist Party published by the Philippine House of Representatives and publications from the Saigon-based Asian People's Anti-Communist League and the Bangkok headquarters of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO).

Today the Library's Jakarta Field Office is responsible for the acquisition of publications from the region. Through dealers in most Southeast Asian capitals and periodic buying trips, the Jakarta Field Office ensures a continual flow of current publications to the Library. Contemporary holdings in the languages of Southeast Asia reflect the full range of publications available in the region. Through its acquisitions office in Manila, the Library has continued to expand its Philippine collection. Current holdings of Philippine-government publications may be the largest outside the Philippines. With the opening of an office in the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, the Library's Thai collection has become second only to the collections in the major libraries in Thailand itself. The collection is strong in the areas of politics, economics, and regional Thai publications. The Jakarta Field Office also implements a project to microfilm and microfiche material from the region.

Jajak MD, Biografi Presiden dan Vakil, Presiden Republik Indonesia: 1945-Sekarang.
Jajak MD, Biografi. Presiden dan Vakil, Presiden Republik Indonesia: 1945-Sekarang.
Containing the biographies of the presidents and vice-presidents of Indonesia since independence, this book is an example of a recent publication in modern Indonesian. During the colonial period, the Dutch helped popularize the use of the Malay language throughout Indonesia's over three thousand islands. This language later evolved into "Bahasa Indonesia," and the roman script became the official writing system. Indonesia's first two presidents, Sukarno and Suharto, appear on the cover. (Southeast Asian Collection, Asian Division)

Publications from the countries of Indochina are part of the responsibility of the Jakarta office and deserve special mention here because of America's intense military and political involvement in the area from the 1950s to 1975 and because of the large number of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Lao who have entered the fabric of American society since the end of the war.

The Library stepped up its acquisition of French-language publications from Indochina in the late 1940s. By the early 1950s, the Library was receiving four Vietnamese-language newspapers: two from Hanoi and two from Saigon. Signs of growing interest in Vietnamese internal politics were in evidence, such as the Library's acquisition of an intriguing book on Vietnam's Cao Dài religion, published in 1950 under the auspices of the Commander-in-Chief of the Cao Dài Army and Saigon's then-Minister of Armed Forces, Maj. Gen. Tran Quang Vinh. The Library holds copies of reports on government and administrative reform in South Vietnam from Michigan State University's "Vietnam Advisory Group." Despite this increasing attention, Vietnamese-language material continued to grow more slowly than other Southeast Asian-language publications in the 1950s, ranking well behind material published in Indonesia, Thailand, and Burma. Even in the mid-1960s, with American involvement escalating, the Library complained of the irregular flow of published material from South Vietnam and the difficulty of getting publications from North Vietnam. Nonetheless, in spite of the hostilities between North Vietnam and the United States, the Library had by the late 1960s begun to develop a close working relationship with selected institutions in Hanoi. As a result of these exchanges, the Library's collection of works from the northern provinces of Vietnam is stronger than that from the former Saigon government.

America's war in Vietnam is often said to be the first televised war. An extensive record of this coverage can be found in the Library's Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division. Included are special reports that appeared on ABC, CBS, and NBC; historic footage from Nippon News covering the Japanese occupation during World War II; travelogues on French Indochina produced in the late 1940s; and a French film collection on the colonial period with perspectives from the Viet Minh and Ho Chi Minh, and some scenes from 1901.

Another interesting source of material on the war is found in the Documents Division, which holds the notes and records of Neil Sheehan, author of A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam.

Following the end of the war in 1975 and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Indochina, the Library began to see a large increase in demand for publications in the languages of the region. With all of Vietnam now under Hanoi's control, however, it took some effort for the Library to rebuild sources of supply for Vietnamese publications. Today the Asian Division's holdings in Vietnamese include some seventy-five newspapers, about half published in Vietnam and the rest published by the overseas Vietnamese community. The Asian Division receives 247 Vietnamese periodicals, over half published in Vietnam, and a broad selection of fiction and nonfiction published in Vietnam. While the Library maintains an excellent exchange relationship with the National Library of Vietnam, it has a special project with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Hanoi, collecting unique law and other publications that could not be obtained in the past. As a result, the Library's post-1975 Vietnamese collection is the premier collection outside Vietnam.

The other languages of Indochina are represented by small but growing collections in Khmer and Lao. Beginning in the 1970s, the Library began to develop its Lao and Khmer collections, including a unique set of publications in Cambodian from refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border. The Library holds a small but growing retrospective collection of publications from the Lao Patriotic Front (Neo Lao Hak Sat), which provided the leadership for the post-1975 Lao government. The collections are most heavily used by former residents of Indochina, primarily scholars and Buddhist monks. Much of the published material in the lesser-known languages of mainland Southeast Asia is being put on microfilm or microfiche. Other divisions in the Library hold material. The Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division has materials on several Lao minority groups, such as the Khammu and Hmong, as part of the Indochina Archives Project of the Social Science Research Council. The diaries of Souvanna Phouma, former Prime Minister of Laos, can be found in the Manuscript Division.

HOME  Preface  Introduction  The World of Asian Books  Chinese Beginnings  Tales from the Yunnan Woods
The Diplomat and the Dalai Lama  From the Steppes of Central Asia  The Japanese World  Korean Classics
Homer on the Ganges  White Whales and Bugis Book  Barangays, Friars, and "The Mild Sway of Justice"
The Theravada Tradition  The Southern Mandarins  Modern Asia  East Asia  Inner Asia  South Asia
Southeast Asia and the Pacific  Epilog  Publications on the Asian Collections

The Library of Congress >> Asian Reading Room
( August 20, 2012 )
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