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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Seeking Truth from Facts: Information Politics in Modern China
3: Collecting ‘Living Documents’: Establishing Provincial Archives in the PRC, 1950s-1980s
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Stanford University, United States
In November 1955, the National Archives Administration (国家档案局) called for systemic change in the management of state archives. Referring to historical archives as “Living Documents” (“是活的材料”), deputy director Zhang Zhong (张中, 1907-1990), announced a departure in preservation policy as the central government stepped forward to take control of the archives of failed regimes (“敌伪政治档案”). These documents had previously been maintained by a variety of units, including libraries, danwei offices, and public security bureaus. Cadres affiliated with the National Archives suggested that local curators were guilty of wanton destruction, dereliction of duty, and possibly counterrevolutionary mismanagement. Five months later, The People’s Daily,published a resolution to “Strengthen National Archives Work” (加强国家档案工作) through the unification of state and party collections in a national system. A national network was established during the Great Leap Forward. Between 1958 and 1963, thirteen provincial archives, nine municipal and autonomous region archives, and more than 1,200 county archives were founded under the oversight of the National Archives. Yet, the successful networking process championed in central level publications is challenged by local-level sources, including reports, study guides, and surveys submitted by archive preparatory committees. These documents – from counties in Shandong and Guangdong to Inner Mongolia and Yunnan—shed light on the traumatic, politicized process of nationalizing the historical records of China. Cadre planning yielded pig iron and provincial archives. Among the questions this talk will address are the following: What is a provincial archive in the PRC? How did regional variation affect national collecting? Finally, how are domestic and foreign security concerns linked with state archive management practices?