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Asian Collections: Library of Congress, An Illustrated Guide

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Calligraphy of MaoTse-Tung

Calligraphy of Mao Tse-tung. The People's Republic of China printed only 500 copies of this large book of Mao Tse-tung's poetry and calligraphy, using them as presentation books during official visits. This copy was donated to the Library by Dr. Chi Wang, who received it in 1989 from Prof. Hu Qiao Mu, Mao's personal secretary for over nineteen years. Here Mao has copied a poem by a famous Sung Dynasty general, Yüeh Fei. (Chinese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division)

Calligraphy of Mao Tse-tung

War and revolution in China during much of the first half of the twentieth century provided both unique collection opportunities and serious problems for the Library's Chinese collections. On the positive side, the Library was able to obtain the only copies of some four thousand unique and valuable publications issued by both the Nationalist and the Communist sides during the war years from 1939 to 1945. These publications cover subjects ranging from the social sciences and government to military strategy and wartime propaganda. The material includes valuable Chinese Communist Party publications concerning party policies in the areas of northwest China under its control during World War II. Literary works are another particularly rich part of this collection, especially a number of modern Chinese plays written in the wartime capital of Chongqing. Included are works by the well-known writers Lao She (author of Rickshaw Boy) and CaoYu (Sunrise and Thunderstorm).

After the Communist victory in 1949 and the resulting rupture of contacts between the United States and the People's Republic of China (PRC), acquiring current Chinese mainland publications became very difficult. Chinese publications from Taiwan continued to flow, but from 1950 to 1975 the Library had to purchase all its mainland Chinese publications through either Hong Kong or Japan. Despite these difficulties, the Library acquired probably the best holdings on the PRC available in the West during the 1950s and 1960s. Through the Department of State's publications procurement program, the Consulate General in Hong Kong was able to buy large amounts of material published in China that it shared with the Library. Of special interest from that period are the Library's holdings of some six hundred to seven hundred provincial newspapers. Because of its excellent collection of PRC publications, the Library became a center for China-watchers during the 1950s and 1960s, with many American graduate students using the material for M.A. theses or Ph.D. dissertations.

Following the 1972 visit to China of President Nixon, the Library reopened its contact with the National Library of Beijing, signing the first formal exchange agreement in 1979. From 1980 until 1987, the Library received a massive influx of Chinese publications, averaging some twenty-four thousand titles each year, through this exchange agreement.

Holdings on contemporary China underwent a major expansion in the opening years of the 21st century. Through a five-year grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, the Library undertook a major effort to increase its coverage of modern China and fill some significant gaps in the collections. Using a system of regional acquisition associates throughout China, the Library obtained publications on a number key subjects, notably the Chinese Communist Party, military affairs and national security, politics and government, U.S.-China relations and economic, trade and finance issues. In view of the success of the Luce Project, the Library has kept the Project's local Chinese acquisition system in place, using the regular Library budget.

Additionally, there are significant holdings of photographs of China in the Prints and Photographs Division, Chinese maps in the Geography and Map Division, and unique material in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division.

Electronic Resources: The Chinese collections include a number of electronic databases, primarily continuing subscriptions that can only be accessed from the Asia Division Reading Room. These include China Academic Journals (CAJ) and China Core Newspaper Database (CCND) from the China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) and Wanfang's Academic Conferences in China (ACIC) and Dissertations of China (DOC). An electronic version of People's Daily, the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party, is also available, starting from its first issue in May 1946. In addition, researchers will find databases from the Academia Sinica in Taiwan, including Chinese Civilization in Time and Space. The latter incorporates images of 21,000 Chinese maps and 840 aerial photographs from the Library's map collections that were digitized under an agreement between the Library and Academia Sinica. In addition, the Library entered into an agreement with Taiwan's National Central Library to digitize the Asian Division's rare Chinese books. Under the agreement, the two libraries will share each other's digitized databases of rare books, making them readily available to researchers.


The traditional Japanese world entered a period of rapid modernization beginning with the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Although Japan's role in East Asia continued to become more important, it was not until the 1930s that serious academic study of Japan began in the United States. This decade marked the growing tensions in relations between the United States and Japan. Dr. Sakanishi Shiho at the Library of Congress played an active role not only in building the Library's Japanese collections but also in promoting Japanese studies in the United States. Born in Tokyo, Sakanishi held a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and had been an assistant professor at Hollins College in Virginia before starting at the Library in 1930. Her personal story is intertwined with the tragic story of World War II in the Pacific. Dr. Sakanishi's tireless efforts to encourage Japanese studies and her close relations with the Japanese Embassy in Washington apparently put her high on the FBI's list of "enemy aliens." Federal officers arrested Sakanishi on December 7, 1941, holding her in a detention camp until June 1942 when she was sent to Japan as part of an exchange of prisoners.

With the end of World War II, the Library's holdings of Japanese material increased rapidly and are today the most extensive collection outside Japan. Valuable Japanese government records that throw light on Japanese decision making before the war were transferred to the Library from the Washington Documents Center. Among them are records from the former Japanese Imperial Army and Navy, the South Manchuria Railway Company, and the East Asian Research Institute (Toa Kenkyujo). The Library has a microfilm copy of the archives of the Japanese Foreign Ministry from 1868 to 1945 that was used, for example, in John Toland's history of the fall of the Japanese Empire, The Rising Sun. Japanese scholars have also used the Library's pre-1945 records of the Police Bureau of Japan's Ministry of Home Affairs. Complementing this rich resource are maps in the Geography and Map Division that provide insight into the early period of Japanese expansion in northeast Asia. These include a collection of Japanese Army manuscript route maps of Korea and China prepared from 1878 to the 1880s and manuscript maps concerning the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) from Theodore Roosevelt's papers.

At present, the Japanese collection has over one million books and serials. Its holdings include major Japanese newspapers such as Asahi shinbun, Yomiuri shinbun, and Nikkei Weekly. Japanese material in other divisions of the Library includes pre-1946 newsreels and movies in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division; posters, ukiyo- e, other prints, and photographs in the Prints and Photographs Division; technical reports in the Science and Technology Division; and recorded music and scores in the Music Division.

Electronic Resources: In close cooperation with Nichibunken (the International Research Center of Japanese Studies), the Asian Division has digitized its rare collection of Nara Ehon, a type of illustrated manuscript books produced from the 14th century to the middle of the Edo period (1615-1868) and considered to be the earliest popular illustrated books in Japan. Researchers may now access some 2,000 digital images, including 173 color illustrations, from the Nara Ehon. With the support of the Nichibunken, the Asian Division has also digitized its rare 1654 illustrated edition of The Tale of Genji. Nichibunken has also supported the Library in scanning the large collection of Japanese prints (Ukiyo-e) held in the Prints and Photographs Division. Finally, in cooperation with the Japan Map Center, the early 19th-century map of Japan's coastline by Japan's first modern cartographer, Inoh Tadataka, has been digitized and may be found in the Geography and Map Division’s online map collection.

Subscription databases for the Japanese collection include the Directory of Japanese Scientific Periodicals and the Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan as well as full-text databases of major Japanese newspapers.


Choson Yujok Yumul Togam (Illustrated Book of Ruins and Relics of Korea).
Choson Yujok Yumul Togam
(Illustrated Book of Ruins and Relics of Korea). Because of the closed nature of North Korean society, the outside world has little information on Korean artifacts held in the north. This seventeen-volume set, published in Pyongyang in 1994, was, therefore, welcomed by art collectors and other specialists. Ceramics are among the most important of Korea's artistic achievements, and volume 12 is devoted to the unique ceramics of the Koryo period (918-1392), widely admired for their beautiful colors and design. (Korean Collection, Asian Division)

The Library began systematic acquisition of Korean-language publications in 1950 and now has the largest and most comprehensive collection outside of East Asia, including books, periodicals, and some two hundred fifty different newspapers that go back to the 1920s. The collection covers a broad range of topics, from the classics, history, literature and arts to social and natural sciences. Through a 1966 exchange agreement between the United States and the Republic of Korea, the Library has an especially strong collection of Korean government publications. Another strength of the contemporary collection is Korean trade publications, systematically built up since 1955. The Library also holds Korean material that is hard to find elsewhere, such as its collection of “gray material” in the Minjuhwa Undong Collection of publications banned by earlier South Korean governments. In addition, copies of some material that disappeared during the destruction of the Korean War may be found in the Korean collections. Examples include newspapers published by the North Korean communists during their occupation of Seoul as well as Korean communist textbooks.

The Christian religion plays a prominent role in modern South Korean society, with Christians accounting for about 25% of South Korea's 48.8 million people. Originally entering Korea in the late 18th century through the writings of Jesuits in Beijing, Roman Catholicism remained the dominant form of Christianity until the arrival of American missionaries in 1884 began the shift towards Protestantism. Through its sponsorship of medical care and education, as well as its close identification with Korean nationalism during the Japanese occupation, Protestantism gained a firm foothold in Korean society. The roots of this influence are reflected in the Library's collection of early Christian Korean publications, spanning the years 1884 to 1927.

North Korea, or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is probably the most secretive society in the modern world. The Asian Division's 10,000 items from North Korea are therefore vital to scholars and government officials trying to understand developments in the north. The Library receives the two major North Korean newspapers--one a government paper and the other the party paper--as well as about 200 periodicals.

The Soviet Koreans.  1952 family photo of Ho Ka-I (1908-1953)
The Soviet Koreans.
Example of the biographic information on the purged faction of the Korean Communist Party that fled to Tashkent in the late1950s. This is a 1952 family photo of Ho Ka-I (1908-1953) who was deputy chairman of the Party and deputy premier. He “went missing” in North Korea in 1953. Ho Ri-ra, his second daughter (right back row), asserts, “my father was assassinated."(Korean Collection, Asian Division)

A unique collection of materials that sheds light on the little-understood history of the Korean Communist Party came into the Library’s possession in 2005. In the wake of the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1905, many Korean nationalists fled the country, including a group that went to Russian Central Asia, settling in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Members of this group of “Soviet Koreans” returned to join other factions of the Korean Communist Party after World War II and played a prominent part in the Korean War (1950-54). However, beginning in early 1957, Kim Il Sung ruthlessly purged leaders of the Soviet faction (as well as members of the Yenan faction that had been close to the Chinese Communist Party). Facing arrest or possible execution, members of the Soviet-Korean faction returned to Uzbekistan, where their families remain to this day. The Library’s material consists of handwritten biographical sketches of eighty Soviet Korean Party leaders with portraits and pictures. The documents are accessible through the Asian Division’s homepage (

Electronic Resources: Recent acquisitions include the Chosun Daily Newspaper Archive, the Korean Studies Database, the Korean Studies Information Service System, the DBPia, the National Assembly Library Database, and Law n B - Korean Law Database (available only in the Law Library reading room). Also, Korean Bibliography, that includes some 8,000 English-language publications, and Korean Serials, with some 6,600 periodical titles (including 200 North Korean), are accessible through the Asian Division's homepage.


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

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( November 15, 2010 )
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