Working at the Shanghai Lexicographical Publishing House

Thus far, I have conducted almost all of my research at the Shanghai Library, China's largest provincial level library. Their holdings of textbooks is quite impressive, and I've found extensive amounts of material there. However, I read in Culp's book that the largest holdings of textbooks is in the Shanghai Lexicographical Publishing House, known in Chinese as the 辞书出版社图书馆, or for short the 辞书 (cishu). Since I am in Shanghai, I thought I should take advantage of such a wealth of material. I spoke with my adviser, Dr. Jiang, who told me she knew someone at the Cishu; I only thought I needed a letter of introduction, but it seems that Dr. Jiang's connections were much more important than I previously realized. Dr. Jiang spoke to her contacts, a former classmate named Wang Jihong, and I subsequently made an appointment to meet with her at the Cishu.

The building is in a small courtyard near West Nanjing Road, which is much closer to where I live than the Shanghai Library. It shares this courtyard with the Mansion; I haven't figured out what the Mansion is yet, but it is built in colonial architecture and dates back nearly a century. The archive itself is a small dusty building made of cement (which makes it quite uncomfortable to look through the card catalog located near the door in a hallway where small heaters cannot reach). I asked for Wang Jihong, and a woman in a white coat paged her. Wang Jihong was a bustling and very sweet middle aged woman who asked me a lot of questions and was quite complimentary of me in a very sincere way. She and I chatted about education here and in America, about Fulbrights (a program with which she was quite familiar) and how she knew my advisor. Another man then came in and asked what I was doing my research on, and I told him in a vague way. He pressed me further, attempting to understand exactly what kind of material I wanted to look through. Finally, I understood that he was not making polite conversation and actually wanted to get me my materials, so I asked for elementary and middle school changshi and weisheng textbooks; he swiftly left the room and came back within 15 minutes with a stack of books, which I then proceeded to look through.

I didn't realize how lucky I was to be able to use these archives, however, until I went to the archives with a fellow history student from California who I had met through a mutual friend. She and I had both read Culp's article about the Cishu, and thus both assumed that a letter of introduction would suffice for being able to use the archives. When we went together, however, she and I were tossed around to a few people until they finally told her that, even though this was not open to the public, they would allow her to look at only a few materials as long as they were in good condition and were easy to find. Ms. Wang then explained to us that normally, it was necessary for her to have Chinese connections to be able to use this private archives, and part of the reason they allowed it is because she knew me, who knew Dr. Jiang, who new Ms. Wang. Such is the importance of 关系 (connections) in China.

All that being said, the staff is incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. They are also quite proud of their library, and are often engaging in conversations about how many foreign people come to their library. The staff and other researchers also love to engage me in conversations; one older man who often gets my materials had a long conversation with me about Japanese electronics (since my camera is a Nikon); he also found it funny that I wrote everything in traditional characters. The rules are not strict at all, like some other archives; they will fetch materials at any times of the day, they don't force us to leave during lunch, and while we cannot photocopy, we can take pictures for a small fee (half the price of the Shanghai library). Finding materials is slightly more difficult because the card catalog is only by title, although for earlier materials it is possible for them to do a subject search on the computer (this is not, however, possible for later materials, as they are only cataloged on the cards).

It is very clear that the library has a lot of material, and (as Culp's article suggests) anyone interested in education should definitely make use of their collection. It seems that having the support or letter from a Chinese professor, especially one that they know, is helpful in facilitating the process. Similarly, knowing exactly what kind of material you need to use seems to make them more likely to let you in. It is a great place, and I am excited to do more research there, as I know I will continue to find things that I could probably not find elsewhere.

An introduction to this archive can be found in:
Culp, Robert. "Research Note: Shanghai Lexicograhpical Publishing House Library's Holdings on Republican Period Popular Culture and Education." Modern China (2), 1997: 103-109.

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