The Role of Archives in Chinese Society: An Examination from the Perspective of Access
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The contemporary Chinese archival system is based on those agency archives ofaces (dangan shi) that were established in the early 1950s, right after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in October 1949. The system is structured and developed according to the principle of a uniaed leadership and administration at different levels . It consists of three types of archival institutions, each of them having clearly deaned, state-mandated functions and responsibilities. These three types include archives administration departments (dangan ju), archives ofaces within agencies (dangan shi), and archives (dangan guan). The arst type includes national and local (including provincial, municipal, and county) archives administration departments, which are government agencies responsible for all archival endeavors within their respective administrative jurisdictions. These include formulating and implementing archival laws, regulations, policies and standards. Archives of this type are involved in making overall plans, exercising supervision, and providing guidance to archival programs of the state and party agencies, social and mass organizations, enterprises, scientiac and cultural institutions, and other organizations under their jurisdiction. A second type we can call archives ofaces within agencies, organizations, enterprises, and institutions are responsible for the custody of their own archival records and for the transfer of those with long-term value to relevant archives (dangan guan). The third type consists of archives at all levels (national, provincial, municipal , and county) and of various kinds (comprehensive, special, departmental, business, institutional)1 that are cultural and scientiac institutions, responsible for receiving , collecting, arranging and keeping archival records of state and social interests within their respective jurisdiction and making them available to users. This network or system has the potential of broadly documenting and archiving the Chinese social memory since it structurally and institutionally covers almost every organization and nearly all activities of society. They include rural village councils, urban residential committees , social organizations, professional associations, business enterprises, scientiac and cultural institutions, and governments at all levels. However, this potential for comprehensiveness needs to be examined more closely within the Chinese archival context of the past half century. A South African archivist once stated that archivists determine which elements of social life are imparted to future generations.2 It should be reasonable to say that they also determine which elements of past social life are imparted to current generations. With a focus on comprehensive state archives, which have the legal responsibility to provide public access to records, this essay reviews how archives are used and how they function in recalling and reproducing the past in China. By doing so, it attempts to identify problems that need to be given conscientious consideration and rebection by the Chinese archival community. A Retrospective From their inception in the 1950s, current archival institutions would remain closed to the general public and 427 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ The Role of Archives in Chinese Society An Examination from the Perspective of Access Du Mei ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ The views expressed in this essay are those of the author. They do not represent the authority of the State Archives Administration of China. individual researchers for more than thirty years. They were not legally open to the public until 1987. In that time, the typical archive was an administrative and politically oriented service, located within a complex or courtyard of party or government buildings. Its invisibility to society bespoke a conadential purpose. It was closed but very “active” under some special circumstances . Ironically, this period during which the archives were not legally open to the general public was also an era when archives twice experienced nationwide massive interaction with related agencies and organizations. The process of establishing archives in the 1950s coincided with a series of political and economic movements, including the suppression of counterrevolutionaries, the anti-Rightists campaign, and the Great Leap Forward. That arst generation of contemporary Chinese archivists were actively involved in these movements with a goal of “serving the political aght.” Huge quantities of archival records, especially political ales created by the old regime (Guomindang government), were used for the purpose of targeting “anti-Party evidences.” During the Great Leap Forward campaign in 1958, a policy was developed to call for archivists to “make full and active use of archival materials in socialist construction, and to serve the socialist revolution in the aelds of economy, politics, and ideology .” The policy led to a fever of “massively collecting, compiling and using archival records” in archival institutions all over the country. According to one report, 20,852 ales of records in the county of Hebei were consulted in order to compile supporting...


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