About Chinese Collections

Four people, among others, played vital role in initiating Chinese studies at Columbia. William Barclay Parsons, Columbia professor and trustee who published An American Engineer in China based on his own Chinese experience, proposed to establish "Chinese Department" at Columbia in about 1900. Dean Lung, a Chinese manservant of General Carpentier, donated $12,000 to President Low  in 1901 "as a contribution to the fund for Chinese learning". General Horace Walpole Carpentier, the employer of Dean Lung and Columbia trustee, then contributed nearly a quarter million dollars to set up the endowment of "Dean Lung Professor of Chinese Studies." And President Seth Low, whose family made fortunes from China-trading business, embraced Chinese studies and planned to found Chinese Department, Chinese Library and Chinese Museum at Columbia. 

In 1902, Friedrick Hirth was appointed the first Professor of Chinese at Columbia, as well as the first curator of the Chinese Library. That year, the Chinese Qing Court gave the Chinese Library a set of Gu jin tu shu ji cheng《欽定古今圖書集成》 the 5,044-volume encyclopedia. This set of books started the collection of the Chinese Library.

Started alongside the Chinese Department in 1902, the Chinese Library evolved into Chinese and Japanese Library in 1938, the East Asiatic Library in 1949, East Asian Library in the early 1960s and finally C.V. Starr East Asian Library in 1983.

The Chinese collections holds over half a million Chinese-language books, serials, microform documents and videotapes related to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao in a variety of fields of humanities and social sciences.

Over many decades of development, the Chinese collection has become very strong in the four categories of traditional Chinese knowledge classification, namely, classics, history, philosophy, and belles-lettres. In particular, the collection boasts, among many others, the top-tier collections of Chinese local gazetteers and literary works and the largest collection of Chinese genealogical records in North America. The recent decades have witnessed steady growth of collections in subjects of social sciences and multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary studies, particularly in Chinese film, cultural and media studies, politics, socioeconomics, archeology, and art history.

The library has a proud history, many noted scholars have been associated with the library in one way or another. And the literature on the library history and the library collections is enormous, and may be easily searched out from catalogs, databases and media reports, etc. 

Generally, the collection does not cover materials directly on science and technology. Translations of Western works of a general nature are not collected. The collection has recently started including Chinese-language publications published outside the Greater China Area and translations of scholarly value.

For recent decade or more, great efforts have been made to acquire Chinese e-resources. The digital collections have been made strong in almost all subjects. 


Chengzhi Wang, Ph.D.
Chinese Studies Librarian
307M Kent Hall
(212) 854-3721