Harvard College Library

Harvard-Yenching 75th Anniversary Celebrated with Conference

James Cheng, Librarian of Harvard-Yenching Library, and Professor Rulan Chao Pian, Faculty Emeritus, Harvard, wait for the first session -- "Bronze Inscriptions and Writings on Bamboo and Paper: Collection and Preservation" held at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences -- to begin.
October 29, 2003 -- This year Harvard-Yenching Library celebrates its 75th anniversary, and in honor of the occasion the library recently hosted a weekend of events around Books in Numbers: A Conference in Celebration of the 75th Anniversary of Harvard-Yenching Library, which attracted 200 scholars and guests from over 35 countries. An international array of scholars participated in five sessions: Bronze Inscriptions and Writings on Bamboo and Paper, Traditional Print Culture in East Asia, The Industrialization of Print Culture in East Asia, Book Illustrations in East Asia, and The Challenges of Digitalization for East Asian Collections.

"Collaborative planning with faculty members and the East Asian institutes was a key element in the success of this event. We were able to attract scholars from excellent institutions on three continents as both presenters and participants," said Librarian of Harvard-Yenching James Cheng.

The weekend opened with a reception at Houghton Library, where William Kirby, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences gave opening remarks. An Asia scholar, the dean recounted his time spent in the library since his graduate school days and remarked on the richness of Harvard-Yenching’s collections, the importance of its international collaborations, and the outstanding service attitude of its librarians from Alfred Chiu to James Cheng.

"Students graduate, faculty retire, but libraries by contrast endure and reinvent themselves as repositories, gatherers, and disseminators of knowledge that is essential to our fields in ever more dynamic ways. The collections of the Harvard-Yenching Library reflect scholarship across Asia, across disciplines, and across political perspectives, collecting even in times and areas that were sensitive and very difficult. Our libraries have served not only Harvard, but the world. I hope and know that you will continue to enjoy the treasure that is the Harvard-Yenching library," said Kirby.

The Harvard-Yenching Library is Harvard University’s primary resource for research materials on traditional and modern East Asia. Although as an organized library it dates only from 1928, the collection can trace its beginnings back to 1879. In that year a group of Bostonians engaged in the China trade invited Ko K’un-hua, a Chinese scholar from the city of Ningpo, Chekiang Province, to Harvard to instruct their successors in the Chinese language. The small collection of books Professor Ko brought for his course became the nucleus of the collection and were the first East Asian materials acquired at Harvard.

A Japanese collection was similarly launched in 1914 when two Japanese professors, Hattori Unokichi and Anesaki Masaharu, both of Tokyo Imperial University, came to lecture at Harvard and donated several important groups of Japanese publications to Widener Library.

In 1928 the Harvard-Yenching Institute, an independent, non-profit foundation closely associated with Harvard and, originally, with Yenching University and other Chinese universities, was formed for the dual purpose of promoting higher education in the humanities and social sciences in Asia, and Asian studies at Harvard. The Institute assumed responsibility for the East Asian-language materials from Widener, and in 1931 the collection became the Chinese-Japanese Library of the Harvard-Yenching Institute at Harvard University.

Subsequent expansion of Harvard’s East Asian curriculum led to a similar expansion in the scope of the collection. Tibetan, Mongolian, and Manchu publications were added as well as Western-language monographs and journals. A Korean collection was inaugurated in 1951 and a Vietnamese collection in 1973. In 1965 the library name changed to Harvard-Yenching Library to more accurately reflect the nature of the collection, and in 1976 it became a part of the Harvard College Library although it continues to maintain a special relationship with the Harvard-Yenching Institute. Today the library is the center of East Asian studies at Harvard and is closely associated with the faculty of the East Asian Languages & Civilizations department, the Harvard-Yenching Institute, Asia Center, Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, and Korea Institute.

The conference was punctuated with receptions and dinners for library donors and conference participants. Guests visiting from Asia toured Boston and conference participants enjoyed a celebratory dinner in Chinatown. In addition, a meeting of the East Asian Library Consortium, which is composed of representatives from the East Asian libraries at Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale, was held in tandem with the conference.

Four exhibitions, held in conjunction with Harvard-Yenching’s anniversary celebration, are on display throughout the University: An Exhibition to Highlight the Special Collections of Harvard-Yenching Library, Houghton Library; Photographs on China, at the Peabody Museum; Ephemeral Materials on East Asia, at Pusey Library; and Rare and Unique Legal Documents on China and Japan at the Harvard Law School Library. A catalog has been released for the exhibition in Houghton.


This story appears courtesy of the Harvard College Library Communications Office
Copyright © 2004 President and Fellows of Harvard College