Chinese Rare Books & Special Collections

Most of the rare books and special collections at Starr East Asian Library are Chinese-language rare books and other special materials. Chinese rare books and special collections at the library include family histories, local histories, individual collected (literary) works, oracle bones, legal histories, and Collection of China's spring 1989 democracy movement, among many others. Materials and documents on Qing and modern China accounts for a very significant portion of the collections. A great number of materials are unique items held nowhere but at Columbia.

Where to Find?

The Starr East Asian Library's Chinese-language rare books and most of special materials can be found by searching CLIO and preferable to many users, Worldcat, which at least satisfactorily accommodates Chinese traditional or simplified characters.

Most of Chinese rare books, particularly those over 1,000 titles cataloged through the Chinese Rare Books Project, can also be found at Chinese Ancient Books Union Catalog 中文古籍聯合目錄 by choosing Columbia East Asian Library 哥倫比亞大學東亞圖書館 in the last field of Holding Library 原書館藏地.

The Rare Book and Manuscript Library also has a substantial collection of Chinese rare books and large collections of China related archival and special materials. Particularly it holds print leaves of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), namely Ling ji duan bi 《零璣斷璧》, a collection of 12-title print samples.

China-related archival and special collections, including Chinese Oral History Project results and papers, can be found by using Archival Collections Portal and Oral History Portal.

Other libraries at Columbia such as Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary and Gottesman Libraries at Teachers College also hold valuable collections of China-related special materials. In particular, the China Papers of Missionary Research Library Archives in Burke Library includes many dozens of personal and organizational papers related to China mission.

Users often asked for Columbia's print catalog, bibliography or title list of Chinese rare books and special collections in a traditional book format. Unfortunately, a general catalog, bibliography or title list in a traditional book format has not been compiled due to a variety of reasons. Thus, CLIO or Worldcat has to be used, particularly for updated, accurate information of rare books and special collections.

In addition, the library has many other very rare and special collections, such as Oracle bones, which have been digitized in collaboration with Zhejiang University and made available to public, a jade book in Manchu and Chinese languages, of which the texts have been digitized, and artwork and other objects not fully processed and cataloged yet.

Many special collections of significant nature have not been processed or fully processed, including but not limited to:

  • Zhang Xueliang (Peter H. L. Chang) and Yu Fengchi Collection
  • Papers of China Institute in America
  • Myron Cohen Formosa/Taiwan Land/Field Data & Records
  • Kiachi and Patricia Koo Tsien Collection
  • Weng Wan-go Film Reel Collection (partially processed; some converted into DVDs)
  • Ephemera Collection on Chinese Science, Technology, Law, and Society (over 100 posters have been processed)
  • Ta Chun Hsu Papers
  • Tsuyee Pei Papers.

It is hoped that they will be processed and made available for researchers in near future.  

How to Use?

Chinese rare books and special materials are mostely stored at the Kress Rare Books & Special Collections Reading Room. To use these materials, users must visit the reading room during the hours it is open and follow the policy and regulations as specified.

Non-Columbia users are welcome to use rare books and special collections at Columbia. Non-Columbia users are required to register in the Information Office of Butler Library and an access card has to be obtained there; and the card should be presented to library staff for entering the library and using the materials. The librarian should be contacted first in order to obtain an access card from the Information Office.

In recent years, select rare books and special collections at Columbia such as Xin bian dui xiang si yan 《新編對相四言》, Ling Long Women’s Magazine 《玲瓏》, Guba hua gong diao cha lu 《古巴華工調查錄》, and Chinese Paper Gods 門神紙馬 have been digitized and made available online for public use.

The digitized rare and special titles are also made accessible through Internet Archive. Actually a comprehensive list of most digitized Chinese rare and special titles from Columbia are accessible through the not-perfectly-organized but pretty useful Internet Archive volume list of Columbia Chinese rare and special.

Besides personal research use, the information for commercial use or borrowing for exhibition can be found through links listed in the website of Preservation & Digital Conversion Division.

How to Reproduce?

The policies concerning orders and copyright for reproduction of Columbia University Libraries are followed. Detailed information can be found through links listed in the website of Preservation & Digital Conversion Division.

Particularly, Digitization and Reprographic Instructions have to be followed and necessary copyright and order forms have to be filled and submitted.

Policies, forms and personnel may experience changes over time, interdepartmental coordination is needed for digitization, reproduction and borrowing for exhibition. It is always useful to check online information and ask library people when having questions.

Whom to Ask?

Researching rare books and special collections may not be direct and easy as expected. Please direct questions about Chinese rare books and special collections to the Chinese Studies Librarian.

Librarians at other libraries holding Chinese rare and special materials and the Preservation & Digital Conversion Division may be asked too.


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