Archival updates

Amanda Shuman's picture

Dear all:

I don't know how often those of us here check the Dissertation Reviews website, but I received an update today on the Foreign Ministry Archives (posted as a comment on my orignal review here: and in Arunabh's update here: that says the following:

"A recent update on the archives has just come in from a reader. This information has not been independently verified by Dissertation Reviews: “As of May 13, 2014 the Foreign Ministry Archive in Beijing appears to be closed to the public. When we visited today (June 18, 2014), the glass door to the archive reading room was locked, the lights were out, and no one was inside. A sign on the locked door said that ‘the system malfunctioned’ on May 13, 2014, although the website provides no information regarding the closure or malfunction. No one responded when we dialed the local Beijing phone number on the notice: 65964294. We could hear it ringing inside the closed archive reading room. Two young men in an office on the same floor as the archive said there was no information regarding when the archive might be opened again."

I realize that some other archives also have various restrictions that have changed over the course of the last year or two, Shanghai being one of them. Are there other archives suddenly changing their policies? Anyone else have recent news to report? Given that it's the time of year when most people are planning research trips or on them already this kind of information would probably be very useful right now!

Also, if anyone has any insight as to why these policy changes might be happening maybe we could discuss?

Amanda Shuman
PhD Candidate
University of California, Santa Cruz

I wouldn't delay your research trip in the hope that archival access at the Foreign Ministry or anywhere else will be more relaxed in six months time. The political environment in China has shifted dramatically since April last year and all in the direction of the assertion of central Party control over the ideological consciousness of its members, soldiers and citizens. This means tighter control over the political line supported in the state media, establishing Party oversight over online discussion, challenging the independence of the Hong Kong and international press, promoting Party-line scholarship amongst the international academic community (the global perigrination of Eric X. Li is one example of this) and more systematic implementation of protocols for archival access. These are not examples of the periodic tightening up that we're use to seeing in the lead up to anniversaries of suppressed historical events but are glimpses of daily life in the post-Mao, post-reform, Era of Deepening Reforms. Exactly what it means for archilval access is something we'll slowly find out. My expectation is that it will mean fewer exciting documents about what senior central and provincial party leaders were up to, and more laborious, formalised and expensive processes for looking up and copying documents at all levels of the archival system. Let's keep talking about the daily life of PRC historians in this new era as we experience it over the summer.

I was at 北京市档案馆 yesterday where everything seems to be as normal, albeit with some restrictions on the copying of material.


Matt Wills

Peking University 

Dear all,

This is Leon Rocha; I am one of the Managing Editors of Dissertation Reviews. Thanks so much for having this discussion on the Foreign Ministry Archives. If anyone is happy to do so, please feel free to add comments directly on Amanda's original review ( and Arunabh's update ( Please feel free to post the comments anonymously (or using a nickname that does not identify you), if you prefer. It will be great to keep the information flowing, so that scholars about to embark on research trip have a sense of what they may be getting themselves into.

With best wishes, Leon


“Archive” has become a sensitive topic in mainland China since the beginning of 2013. However, I would like to share some brief information on this topic provided by my friend who service in a certain Chinese archive.

   Beside the FMA and SMA mentioned before ,He bei ,Hubei,Si chuan ,Gan su and Shananxi, those were very kindly to scholars before ,have changed their policies in the past two years.

   He bei had returned the archives which labeled all levels of  “secret”into classification recently, and printing of course is not available any more, the printing in Hubei and Shananxi was cancelled as well. Gan su and Sichuan had closed a huge number of materials (especially the documents regarding foreign affair and some political movements)since the summer of 2013.

   I am afraid it will be much harder for scholars (especially foreign scholars)to conduct archival research in most provincial archives,but county archives have not changed their policies . for people who is now planning research trips, Getting Helps from Chinese Scholars and Units would make your trips more fruitful.   


Huajie Jiang.


Can I ask for more specificity about changes at the Shanghai Municipal Archives? Is everyone refering to the requirements regarding letters of introduction, as well as restrictions on printing? Or are there are other restrictions that I am not aware of?

I ask because I did work at the SMA for the first time last summer (and plan to be there for about a month this summer, as of Monday) and, overall, found it quite pleasant. The staff were extremely helpful, even calling many of the district archives (区档案馆) on my behalf to make sure that I was given access.


Chuck Kraus


Sadly, PRC archives are not the only ones engaged in the reclassification of once declassified historical documents. Already back in 2006, the US National Security Archive in an article entitled “Declassification in Reverse” revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency and other US federal agencies had secretly reclassified over 55,000 pages of records taken from the open shelves at the National Archives and Records Administration. In recent years, Steven Aftergood’s informative “Secrecy News” < > has highlighted numerous examples in the US of a wider trend toward restricting access to once openly available records. So when we now hear Chinese government archivists eager to 与国际接轨speak of “学习当今国外档案管理的先进经验” or say that “国外成熟的档案鉴定和保管方法,为我们提高档案管理水平提供了学习的模式”we should not be surprised to find that this sometimes means restricting access and making independent historical research more, rather than less, difficult.

Many thanks to everyone who has written in.  Leon, if you think that the discussion here would be of interest to Dissertation Reviews readers, one suggestion would be to post the permanent link to this H-PRC discussion thread as an update to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs archive entry hosted on DR.  Please feel free to be in touch if you think there are other ways we might better share information to the benefit of those using DR and/or the H-PRC listserv and  Matt


Yes, needless to surprise that PRC archives are engaging reclassification. Beside the changing political environment domestically, national security also played a key role(in some sense,even more important than others) in pushing Chinese archives into secret state. the primary function of all level of PRC archives now is “为党守档,为国守史”(holding the archives for our party ,protecting the historical narrative of our country). 


   Just a short response to Chuck Kraus’ queries. I visited SMA recently. foreign scholars who registered before November 2013 have to reactive theirs accounts with letter of introduction from certain Chinese units(including Chinese universities and academic institution),or ,they could choose to set up a new account, but letter of introduction is required as well. According to the new regulation announced by SMA later last year, people can apply for printing on computer located in reading room, 50 pages for free at most each day and no more than one third of a folder(卷宗).however, the problem is not all the materials can be printed eventually. the staff of SMA will through the catalogs (sometimes full version)that received carefully, documents regarding “sensitive political movements and foreign affair” will be rejected. I tried to print a 42-page long document about anti-revisionism movements(反修运动) in early 1960s. finally, I got nothing ,I was very angry and asked the chancellor of SMA to explain ,he seriously replied: ”the materials you applied are not allowed to be printed out cause we find some sensitive key words, such as “soviet union”, inside.”

   Fortunately, transcription is allowed in SMA, but ,you know ,it is much more time consuming and expensive.   






Soviet Union is a senstive word. Any idea why?




Just to add to what has been already written about the Beijing Municipal Archive. There are new restrictions on the number of pages allowed for xeroxing (percentage of the folder and per day); I was denied xerox of specific texts because they contained personal names (of common people) and references to the Soviet Union; documents that come from other archives or have been produced by danwei not directly associated with the city of Beijing (such a ministry) cannot be reproduced; finally, I was told they could not xerox a certain document because the pages were "too thin."

Some of these restrictions seem to be politically motivated, others less so. But there is indeed a general tightening up. And its manifestation are, as usual, a bit random.