News & Events

February 2008 Wason Update

Vol. 2 No. 2, February 28, 2008

Kudos to Beth Katzoff, the Acting Japanese Bibliographer

Dr. Beth Katzoff assumed the position of Acting Japanese Bibliographer in April 2007.  During the past 11 months, Dr. Katzoff discharged her duties in an outstanding manner.  She worked diligently to augment the Japanese collection both in its print and electronic resources, which included acquiring new access to online newspapers and dictionaries. She provided valuable assistance to our patrons with her knowledge and expertise. In cooperation with the Law Library, she organized a November workshop on Chinese, Japanese, and Korean online legal resources, which was attended by 26 faculty members, librarians, and students. She is a collegial member of the Wason Collection team with a warm heart, ready to assist her colleagues. While Dr. Katzoff has now resumed her position as the Head of Public Services in the Asia Collection of Kroch Library, she will continue to select materials for the Wason’s Korean collection. She can be reached at We greatly appreciate Dr. Katzoff’s dedication and contributions to the Wason Collection and wish her the best in her current position.

Greetings from Dr. Daniel McKee, the New Japanese Bibliographer

Greetings! My name is Daniel McKee and I am excited to be assuming my duties this month as Japanese Studies Bibliographer for the Wason Collection on East Asia.  Having spent seven years as a graduate student at Cornell, I am very pleased to be coming back to Ithaca, and being an active contributor to, rather than just partaker of, Cornell’s fine academic resources. I greatly look forward to meeting soon with faculty, students and staff to learn about your needs, interests and suggestions, and welcome your contact anytime, by email at, by phone at 255-4737, or in person at 173 Kroch Library.

A New Chinese Database, Guoxue Baodian 国 学 宝 典, for Trial

The Wason Collection has arranged a trial for a new online full-text Chinese database, Guoxue Baodian 国学宝典
User ID:     gxchen
Password:  tp
The trial period will end on March 17th, 2008.

The Guoxue Baodian was first created in 2005 in Beijing. As of today, it has a total of 3,903 titles, covering the major Chinese ancient works in philosophy, history, literature, geography, religion, arts, medicine, sciences, and technology. The Wason Collection has already subscribed to two important online full-text databases on Chinese ancient works, that is, the Han Da Wen Ku (Chinese Ancient Texts) , which includes the Chinese ancient works inscribed or written in carapace bones, bronze, bamboo, and silk, and the Si Ku Quan Shu, which contains 3,503 titles of Chinese classic works. The Guoxue Baodian will be an important complement to the Si Ku Quan Shu as it also includes novels, plays, and many other works that were excluded by the Si Ku Quan Shu.

The Academic Conference in Honor of the 90th Anniversary of the Wason Collection

The Cornell Wason Collection on East Asia was founded by Cornell alumnus Charles W. Wason (1876) in 1918 with the lofty ideal of bringing “China and the U.S. into intellectual relations”. During the past 90 years, the Wason Collection has provided strong support to generations of East Asian scholars at Cornell and throughout the world in their academic pursuits. Today the Wason Collection is one of the top East Asian libraries in North America. In commemoration of the 90th jubilee of the Wason Collection, Cornell University Library, the East Asian Program, and the Association of Chinese Professors of Social Sciences in the United States will jointly organize an academic conference, East Asia Studies: Challenges of Complex Realities in an Era of Globalization and Digitization, at Cornell University Library on November 7th to 9th, 2008.

The History of the Wason Collection

The Cornell University Library officially started collecting books on East Asia in 1902, the year the library received special appropriations for this pursuit. The initial holdings were augmented by around 350 volumes of Chinese-language book donated to the library by the Chinese students at Cornell in 1912. The real take-off of Cornell Library’s collection on East Asia came in 1918 when Charles W. Wason made his significant contribution.

Photo of Charles Wason Wason was born to a Cleveland, Ohio, banker’s family on April 20, 1854. He grew up in Cleveland and graduated from the Guilford Academy. Wason entered Cornell in 1872 and received his degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1876. After graduation, Wason came back to Cleveland and started his career first as an engineer for the East Cleveland Railway Company, where he was assigned to a project that would use electricity to power the company’s street railway. This project resulted in the first electric railroad for public use in the United States. Subsequently, Wason rose through the ranks and became the president or director of a number of other railroads, electric, and telephone companies.

Wason and his wife, Mabel, took a cruise to China and Japan in 1903, which was a crucial, transitional, and eventful period in modern Chinese history. It was eight years after China’s defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War, five years after the failed reform movement led by Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao, three years after the Boxer Uprising, and just eight years before the 1911 Revolution that would bring down China’s 2000 years’ imperial system and establish China’s first republic. This trip served to ignite Wason’s strong passion for China, Chinese people, and Chinese culture, but he did not start collecting books on China until 1909 when he received a Christmas gift, a book entitled Letters from China, with particular reference to the empress dowager and women in China by Sarah Pike Conger (Chicago: 1909), from his mother-in-law.

As an active member of the Cornell Alumni Association of Cleveland, Wason maintained a close tie with his alma mater. In a speech he gave to the association, he revealed that his motive to collect books on China was "to bring China and the United States into closer intellectual relations". For this purpose, he would undertake “to purchase everything he could get his hands on written in English on China.”

Initially Wason purchased books by himself. He checked catalogs published by American and European book dealers for items he felt suitable and ordered them. To keep track of his private library on China, he created a card index by author and subject. But Wason soon realized that his own health was declining and that the collection was growing to the extent that he needed the professional assistance. So he called upon Arthur H. Clark, a personal friend and a publisher based in Cleveland, to take over the book purchasing.

Arthur H. Clark was an expert in the publishing field. He not only secured many unique items from the American market but also from around the world. Among the rarest and most significant items purchased for the collection were several surviving manuscript volumes of the famous Chinese encyclopedia, Yongle Dadian, which was originally compiled in 1408 and re-produced in 1568, a 17th century’s beautiful incised jade book bearing an ancestral inscription by the Chinese Emperor Kangxi, the manuscripts form the Lord Macartney mission to China in 1792-94, which were sent by the British crown in celebration of the 80th jubilee of the Chinese Emperor Qianlong, and a set of  publications of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service. In addition Clark obtained 17th century travelogues and maps and 18th century ship logs of merchant vessels plying the oriental seas since these represent first-hand accounts of Western contacts with China and the Chinese people. Selected non-English materials, such as 16th and 17th century books and manuscripts in French, Latin, Portuguese, and Spanish, mostly by Jesuit missionaries were also purchased.

Wason realized the importance of journal literature. He thus collected 62,000 articles on China excerpted from over 150 periodicals. He bound them into volumes and created tables of contents for them. In addition to the focus on China proper, Wason also gave his attention to countries and areas closely related to China. His intent was to build a well-rounded collection that would include important titles produced both inside and outside China so as to provide a comprehensive view of China and the Chinese people. For this goal, he bought standard works on Japan, Korea, the Russian Far East, the Philippines, Burma, Indochina, Malaya, the East Indies, and the Far East in general.

Photo of Wason private libraryAs a result of eight years of intensive collections between 1910 and 1918, Wason totally amassed over 9,000 volumes of materials, including 550 manuscripts bound in 55 volumes, 750 pamphlets bound in 120 volumes, files of 37 English-language periodicals published in China, documents, drawings, maps, albums, and other materials. The collection was originally housed on the third floor of Wason’s private residence on Cleveland’s upscale Euclid Avenue. In order to provide better housing with an authentic Chinese milieu for this massive collection on literature pertaining to China and the Chinese people, Wason undertook careful research and drew up an extensive blueprint of the spacious room and its every detail and decoration. Wason and his wife then hired the architectural firm, Mead & Hamilton, to convert their entire third floor ballroom into a charming personal library with Chinese decor.

Wason passed away on April 15, 1918, Along with his remarkable collection, he also bequeathed to Cornell University a very generous endowment of $50,000 with the interest from the endowment fund used to supplement the collection The collection was moved to Ithaca in the summer of 1919 and was housed in the Cornell University Library building (now Uris Library). The collection was named after the Charles W. Wason, and since then the collection has become one of the nation's finest Western language libraries devoted to East Asia. Upon accepting Wason’s generous gift, Cornell trustees decided that future additions would not be limited to English language publications but would also include works in Chinese and other languages.

In 1920, Gussie E. Gaskill, a Cornell graduate student in modern European History, was recruited to organize the collection and make necessary purchases. Nevertheless, Gaskill was not able to make a systematic update of holdings until 1927, when the Wason endowment actually became available. The same year Gaskill was appointed the first Curator of the Wason Collection. Her tenure lasted for thirty-six years until her retirement in 1963. Over the years Gaskill kept in frequent correspondence with Mabel Wason, who maintained an active interest in the development of the collection, often recommending books she herself had just read for purchasing. Gaskill studied Chinese; cultivated relationships with librarians, scholars and book dealers in the U.S., Europe, and China; went to China on book buying trips; and worked closely with the faculty in developing the collection. She was the one who guided the early development of the Wason Collection which has since served to provide the firm foundation necessary to bring it to its current excellence.

1939 newspaper highlighting Wason collection donationThe Wason Collection started to grow rapidly after 1927 with the annual income from the Wason endowment, University budget appropriations, and outside grants. In 1938 it received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, which also brought to Cornell its first full-time Chinese History professor, Knight Biggerstaff. Professor Biggerstaff played an important role in the development of the Wason Collection. Cornell Alumni News on November 23, 1939 reported a story of how the Wason Collection secured a valu­able set of 1,210 volumes of reproduced original records of the Qing dynasty (The Veritable Records of the Qing Dynasty) through Professor Knight Biggerstaff and Cornell alumnus Cabot Coville. The original volumes of these records were housed in the Manchu’s old imperial palaces in Shenyang. After the Japanese con­quered Manchuria in 1931, these original volumes fell into the hands of the Manzhouguo government which was set up by the Japanese. In 1937 the Manzhouguo government reproduced 300 copies of the volumes by photolithography, and then through the Japanese foreign office it gave several sets to European institutions and one each to Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Hawaii. The rest were sent to Japan. During 1934-36, with a fellowship from the American Social Science Research Council, Professor Biggerstaff went to China especially to study these records. He knew that there was a great demand for these records all over the world as they had high research value. Professor Biggerstaff entered into correspondence with Cabot Coville who used to be United States Consul in Harbin in Manchuria and was second secretary at the American Embassy in Tokyo at that time. Coville graduated from Cornell University with a B.A. degree in 1923. He had strong ties to Cornell as his parents and three siblings were all Cornell alumni. He entered the U.S. foreign service in 1926 and had served as the American Embassy attaché in Tokyo, vice-consul and con­sul in Kobe, Darien, Tokyo, and Harbin. Interested at once, Coville unofficially brought this issue to the attention of the Japanese government stressing the im­portance of Cornell's Wason Collection and the desirability of augmenting it with this set for the benefit of American scholars. As a result, the books were presented to Cornell through Coville and Biggerstaff.

During the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s the Wason Collection experienced several shifts of emphasis on its collection development. Between 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded and 1966 when the Cultural Revolution broke out, the Wason Collection placed its emphasis on the acquisition of contemporary publications on all subjects regarding post-1949 mainland China. However this endeavor ran into difficulty after 1966 due to the restrictions resulted from the Cultural Revolution. Consequently, from 1966 to the early 1970s, the Wason Collection shifted its attention to closing the gap of insufficient materials for the period of 1900-1949. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, the Wason Collection has placed its priority of collection development again on the materials of contemporary China. Meanwhile it has also extensively collected reprints and microfilms of pre-20th century materials. Through these diversified emphases, and on the historical foundation of Wason’s initial contributions, the Wason Collection now holds a multitude of materials in all kinds of formats, including the highly regarded European-language materials on China, particularly those pre-1918 imprints, Chinese imperial archives, local gazetteers, genealogies, ancient and modern military treatises, extensive archaeological reports of excavations along the fabled Silk Road, every conceivable type of publication on popular Chinese culture, and a huge array of recent publications on China by public and private publishers. It offers superb and often unique resources for research and teaching, and its breadth and excellence have been highly recognized by scholars and students around the world in China studies.

Photo of the China Science Society at CornellIt must be pointed out that the Wason Collection and the Rare and Manuscript Collections also hold personal papers, documents, and photographs of many diplomats, missionaries, scientists, business people, politicians, and educators involved in East Asia, including many Chinese and American Cornell alumni, from the 19th century to the present, which is another gold mine for research. As early as the beginning of the 20th century Cornell University started to encourage Chinese students with financial support. In 1906 Cornell Trustees authorized six scholarships a year for Chinese students, and in 1908 funds authorized by President Theodore Roosevelt from the Boxer Indemnity, imposed on China after the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 were used to fund these scholarships. As a result, an increasing number of Chinese students came to study at Cornell. Between 1900 and 1949, a total of over 30,000 Chinese students came to the United States, of which 12%, that is 3,500, were enrolled at Cornell. Among these early Chinese Cornellians were such notable individuals as Alfred Sao-ke Sze, the first Chinese Ambassador to the United States, Hu Shi, the initiator of China’s new literature movement, Zhao Yuanren, the father of modern Chinese linguistics, Mao Yisheng, the pioneer of China’s modern bridge building, Yang Xingfo, the first martyr of China’s human right movement, and Bing Zhi, the founder of China’s modern biology and the publisher of the first Chinese science journal, Kexue. They left their footprints at Cornell and the Wason Collection has kept their records. Recently the Wason Collection made an arrangement for a group of researchers from the Shanghai Publication Museum and the Shanghai TV Station to conduct document research on the Chinese students who organized the China Science Society (Zhongguo Kexue She) at Cornell during the early 20th century. The China Science Society, the fore-runner of today’s China National Scientists Association, was inaugurated on October 25, 1915. Its headquarters moved to China in 1918 and many active members of the organization later played a significant role in the development of China’s modern science and technology. The documentary resulted from their research will be shown on China’s public educational TV channel.

Photo of Willard StraightCornell University also has many American alumni who were deeply involved in East Asia. When the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, Zhou Wenzhong, visited Cornell University in April 2007, he showed great interest when viewing items related to Willard Dickerman Straight, a 1901 Cornell graduate, who was a very active American diplomat to China during the 1900s. His papers remain one of the most heavily used materials for the study of East Asian history. Photo of William HintonOther famous American alumni include Pearl Buck, the Nobel laureate, William H. Hinton, the author of Fanshen, Erwin Engst and Joan Hinton, a couple who lived and worked in China for nearly half century and regarded China as their home. Recently the Wason Collection received a gift from the widow of Cornell alumnus, Alfred Harding. Harding received his B.A. in Far Eastern Studies from Cornell University and joined the US Army Service in China during World War II. He was a member of the Yenan Observer Group and became acquainted with Mao Zedong, Zhu De, and other CCP leaders. His gift includes autographed photos of Mao Zedong and Zhu De.

Photo of William GriffisWhile the holdings on China are the oldest and largest component of the Wason Collection, over the years the Wason Collection has expanded its focus to include materials from Japan. In the early 1900s, a gift of over 6,000 volumes of Japanese language books, periodicals, and maps were donated to Cornell University Library by William Eliot Griffis who was instrumental in the emergence of modern science education during the late 19th century in Japan. Though the Wason Collection’s Japanese holdings on Japan were moderate twenty years ago, they have increased significantly in a short period. In 1997, the Cornell University Library acquired the Maeda Collection, which was the personal library of the well-known Japanese literary scholar and critic Maeda Ai. The collection consists of more than 10,000 volumes, including early postwar publications in many subject areas and early Japanese translations of European literature that are nearly impossible to obtain today. There are about 3,000 volumes of pre-20th century works in traditional formats, including a number of manuscripts and the diary of the late 19th century scholar and journalist Narushima Ryuhoku. The acquisition of this important collection has lifted the Wason Collection into the top tier of Japanese libraries in the United States and has greatly enhanced Cornell University’s reputation as a center for the study of modern Japanese literature and culture. Besides modern Japanese literature, the Wason Collection’s Japanese holdings are also strong in the areas of pre-modern Japanese literature, classic theater, particularly Noh theater, ethnic studies related to Japan’s minorities, including resident Koreans and the so-called Burakumin, whose members still encounter prejudice in today’s Japanese society. In recent years, the Wason Collection has also increased its efforts to enlarge its Korean holdings.

As of the end of 2006, the Wason Collection held a total of 608,328 volumes’ monograph holdings, which include 373,102 volumes in Chinese, 146,954 volumes in Japanese, 10,480 volumes in Korean, and 77,792 volumes in Western languages. The Wason Collection on East Asia, along with the John M. Echols Collection on Southeast Asia and the South Asia Collection, is housed in the Kroch Asia Library. The Kroch Asia Library, built in 1991, is a state-of-the-art building featuring wireless reading and instruction rooms, student study carrels, exhibit spaces, offices, and easily accessible book stacks. Its Asian Reading Room holds over 10,000 reference books, over 100 newspapers, and 315 periodicals. The Kroch Library is the only Asian library in the United States where Asian language materials are inter-shelved with Western language materials on the same subject. This greatly facilitates research and teaching efforts by reducing time spent searching around various campus locations for related materials in different languages.

With its size, history, and unique materials, the Wason Collection is among the top East Asian libraries in the United States. The breadth and depth of the Wason Collection has provided strong support to generations of East Asian scholars at Cornell and throughout the world in their academic pursuits during the past 90 years, and it will continue to do so in the 21st century and beyond.