Wason Chinese Collection History

The Chinese Collection at Cornell University Library is one of the oldest and finest library collections on China in North America. It was initiated by Hu Shi (Cornell 1914), the pioneer of the new Chinese literature movement, in 1911 with 350 books amassed by him and his fellow Chinese students. In his letter to the Cornell library Hu Shi stated “I am often of the opinion that the lack of a department of Chinese books would scarcely diminish the value of an American library, yet a collection of such books would surely add something to the completeness of the library itself.” The Chinese Collection was officially launched by Charles W. Wason (Cornell 1876) with his generous donation of over 9,000 volumes of materials and an endowment of $50,000 in 1918. The purpose of establishing this collection, as stated by Charles W. Wason, was to “bring China and the United States into close intellectual relations” and “to promote the friendly relations of two great countries”.

Today with a holding of over 431,000 volumes the Wason Chinese Collection supports faculty, students, visiting scholars, and the general public in their teaching, learning, and research in the fields of agriculture, anthropology, archeology, architecture, business, Chinese diaspora, culture, demography, economy, education, ethnicity, environment, fine arts, gazetteer, gender studies, genealogy, geography, history, historiography, human development, international relations, labor relations, languages, law, linguistics, literature, medicine, military, music, national security, navigation, performing arts, philosophy, political science, popular culture, psychology, religion, science and technology, sociology, tourism, urban and rural studies, and visual arts.

Apart from its continuing steady growth of paper materials, in recent years the Wason Chinese Collection has also rapidly developed from a traditional library collection primarily focused on print materials into a digital one with vast electronic resources. The collection currently is equipped with over 80 databases covering almost every aspect of traditional library holdings including bibliographies, newspapers, periodicals, monographs, classic works, historical documents, gazetteers, laws and regulations, economic statistics, dissertations and theses, conference papers, dictionaries, and sinology, making itself one of the leading North American Chinese collections on track in this dynamic digital era.

Meanwhile the Wason Chinese Collection has made great efforts to digitize its rare and unique holdings including the Wason Pamphlets (16th- early 20th centuries), Xiamen Old Photos (1880), the Shi Shi Hua Bao (1905-1912), and the Chinese Student Monthly (1905-1933). In addition, the Wason Chinese Collection has developed joint digital resource-sharing websites with Tsinghua University Library, National Taiwan University Library, National University of Singapore Library, Xiamen University Library, and Ohio University Library.