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81 AN ARCHIVAL REVIVAL: THE QING CENTRAL GOVERNMENT ARCHIVES IN PEKING TODAY Beatrice S. Bartlett* When I went to Peking for the first time in September 1974, I was eager to learn what had happened to the Qing archives during the Cultural Revolution. I surmised that my tourist status and conditions in China would not permit research; nevertheless I hoped to pry out some information. Chinese officialdom was silent, however, even on the subject of the location of the archives. I had to be satisfied with a stroll around the Wenhua ¿ iff Pavilion in the Imperial Palace (where many of the materials had been housed before World War Two) and a peek in the door. Fortunately, it was a warped Qing door, and I was able to capture a fairly good view of a quiet interior courtyard before I was discovered and told to leave. Six years later, on my return to China in September 1980, I was granted far more than the boon of a peek through a warped Qing door— I was able to spend an entire academic year in Peking carrying out meaning2 ful research in the Ming-Qing Archives. The Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) archives of 3 China are the world's oldest national archives. The Chinese are probably the world's most experienced archivists. By *The writer is a research fellow at the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, Harvard University. In 1980-81, she spent ten months in Peking at The First Historical Archives under the sponsorship of the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People's Republic of China. She wishes to thank the American Council of Learned Societies for the financial support for 1981-82 which facilitated the writing of this report. 82 the Qing era, each major government agency had established its own organization to oversee and safeguard its documents. The Grand Secretariat had a supervisory body known as the Dianji ting j|fc & ff ; the Grand Council's was sometimes called the Qingdang fang yf* ^S J^T ¦ Frequent imperial edicts laid down conditions for safekeeping, particularly guarding against loss to mildew, fire, or theft. Some of the most precious works on deposit had to be ceremonially aired on a regular basis. Elaborate rules prescribed lanterns safe for palace use. In the early years strategically placed wells were available to douse fires in the palace offices; later large cisterns were installed for the same purpose. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the Grand Council had inaugurated a system of document copying, first for the palace memorials and later for record books. The existence of the regular copying system is as much of a boon to modern researchers as it was to the Qing custodians, as it has generally assured the survival of at least one copy of a document. The Grand Council inventories of eighteenth century holdings show the mid and late Qing curatorial methods to have been highly successful. When I compared the Qianlong period (1736-1795) Grand Council record book lists with what I knew to exist in Taiwan's Palace Museum collection and the Peking archives today, I was pleased to find a survival rate of more than ninety-five percent. Similarly high survival rates can be calculated for the parts of the nineteenth century for which we have Qing lists. Unfortunately the survival rate for palace memorials, while good, does not appear to be as good as for the record books. 83 Chinese curatorial concern for the Qing archives did not end with the overthrow of the dynasty in 1911. Both the Peking and Taipei archives contain evidence that the cabinet (Guowu yuan 13 &· f& ) of the early Republic years took some interest in these materials —a few documents still have attached notes written on cabinet stationery. But the notorious 1921 sale to local paper merchants of nine thousand burlap bags stuffed with irreplaceable documents from the National History Museum (Lishi bowu guan Jj# ^_ "JjB.if% fy% ) jolted official circles into taking action to preserve what was left. Once the imperial pretender Puyi was evicted from the palace and the Committee in Charge of the Qing Inheritance (Banli Qingshi shanhou weiyuan hui »#» ^f...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3257
Print ISSN
0884-3236
Pages
pp. 81-110
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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