The Asia Collection at Cornell University Library: the Collection on Southeast Asia Chinese Literature

Presented at the
"International Conference of Institutes and Libraries For Overseas Chinese Studies,"
Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, U.S.A.


Teresa Mei
Cornell University

The objective of this paper is to introduce the Asia Collections at Cornell University. The Asia Collections at Cornell University acquire from overseas many materials on oversea Chinese in various languages. In this paper I have chosen "Southeast East Asian Chinese Literature" as a means of guiding patrons in using the library's collection. First, I will introduce the library.

1. The Asia Collections at Cornell University

The Echols Collection on Southeast Asia is the largest collection of materials on Southeast Asia in North America. In 1977 it was named in honor of John M. Echols, a professor of linguistics and literature in the Southeast Asia Program at Cornell who devoted three decades to its development. Among the many collections in the Echols Collection, materials on Chinese in Southeast Asia comprise one of the richest collections on this continent.

The Southeast Asia program at Cornell gained its momentum in the 1950s through the support of a Rockefeller grant and a matching grant from the university. Its development was later accelerated by the Farmington Plan, a book acquisition plan designed by the federal government to use surplus foreign currencies to buy publications in vernacular languages for American libraries. After the Farmington Plan was phased out, the 1958 National Defense Education Act established National Resources Centers for each region of the non-Western world with funds committed to buy publications in every subject. In the 1960s the Library of Congress began an Overseas Acquisitions Program. As its contribution to this national effort, Cornell agreed to acquire a copy of every publication of research value produced in the countries of Southeast Asia.

As a premier resource on Southeast Asia, the Echols Collection adds more than 7,000 volumes annually to its holdings. It is the most comprehensive body of material on a global region in the Cornell University Library system and the largest collection on Southeast Asia in the world. (The strength of the Echols Collection judged by the Conspectus method is at level 5.) The geographic area from which the collection obtains its materials extends from eastern India and southwestern China to the northern shore of Australia, then along the eastern border of the Philippines. Included in the region are the nations of Brunei, Darussalam, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

As of today, the Echols Collection consists of more than 300,000 monograph titles, plus an equal number of microtext items, some 21,000 serials, and approximately 900 newspapers. In addition, there are an estimated 3,000 audio cassettes and some 500 video cassettes. It also holds over 30,000 photographs and about 200 cubic feet of papers and documents dealing with Southeast Asia.

The Wason Collection on East Asia was named to honor Charles W. Wason, a Cornell alumnus of 1876 who donated 9,000 volumes of books on China and the Chinese and also provded an endowment to support the collection at his time. Growing by approximately 15,000 volumes a year, the collection today acquires materials on China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, Mongolia, and Macao. Particular efforts are being made currently to strengthen the holdings on Japan. The Wason Collection collects many overseas items on China that are written in Western languages as well as in Chinese and Japanese.

2. Southeast Asian Chinese Literature

The term "Southeast Asian Chinese literature" that I use here means literary works written in Chinese by Chinese authors who live in Southeast Asian countries. The majority of them were born in Southeast Asian countries and attended local Chinese middle school. Among these authors there are also people who migrated to Southeast Asia at various stages of their lives. One such example is the author Yu Dafu, who lived in Malaysia during the Second World War. His work during that period was full of local color. He also had a strong influence on the Southeast Asia Chinese literary world at that time.

The earliest Chinese literary works were published mostly in local Chinese newspapers. In the late nineteenth century they were written in a literary style, and writing classical Chinese was considered a learned gentleman's favorite creative activity. After the May 4 movement, the so-called literary revolution, the abandonment of literary style in favor of the spoken language style influenced the Southeast Asia literary world. Although, as in China, composing classical Chinese poetry is still favored among scholars, creative writing has generally been done in the vernacular since 1919.

Compared to the Chinese literature of Hong Kong, the Chinese literary tradition in Southeast Asia is more established and has more documentation. The history of Southeast Asian Chinese literature has been written since the 1950s, even though it has never been accepted as mainstream Chinese literature. In contrast, the study of Hong Kong Chinese literature began only in the late 1970s. Although it is not established Chinese literature, there are quite a few publications in China of Southeast Asian Chinese authors' works and works about the literature. In the 80s and 90s, there were more publication on Southeast Asia Chinese literature in China, despite the fact that some were published for political reasons: for example, China published some works by authors who criticized colonialism, Fascism, and the Japanese invasion in the Second World War. And some of the Southeast Asian Chinese authors actually paid the publication expenses themselves to have their work published in China. In the 1980s and 1990s Taiwan also published several works of Southeast Asian Chinese literature that were compiled by authors who had studied in Taiwan and continued stay, working and writing.

Although Chinese literature outside China is still not considered to be in the mainstream of Chinese literature, during the last ten years it has been gaining a lot of attention. There are eight learning institutions in China with established Southeast Asian Chinese study institutes and at least four ongoing international conferences on international Chinese literature and Southeast Asian Chinese literature. The conferences are held annually and biannually.

3. How to Locate Southeast Asian Chinese Literature in Cornell University's Asia Collections

As I mentioned above, the John M. Echols Collection on Southeast Asia, the Charles W. Wason Collection on East Asia, and the South Asia Collection of the Cornell University Asia Collections comprise one of the largest and best-integrated collections on Asia in North America. Cornell University Library is one of the very few libraries in the nation that houses all its Asia Collections materials in the same stacks and provides a common reading room for all areas of Asian studies. The uniqueness of the shelving system lies in integrated language shelving and integrated geographical area shelving.

The integrated language shelving provides convenience for library patrons because books on the same subject, regardless of language, are shelved together. The integrated geographical area shelving provides a great advantage in subject areas like anthropology, Buddhism, and linguistics, as well as for materials covering the whole Asian area. It provides a one-stop shopping advantage for library users.

Among the many subjects and languages that benefit from the intershelving system, the materials concerning overseas Chinese literature in Southeast Asia are an obvious example. The Echols Collection and the Library of Congress hold the largest collections of Southeast Asian Chinese literature in North America. The Wason Collection also collects Southeast Asian Chinese literature published in China and Taiwan. The joint efforts of the two collections make Cornell's Asia library an excellent place to study Southeast Asian Chinese literature.

The theme of this conference is international cooperation. The objective of this paper is to aid in locating creative works written in Chinese by Southeast Asian authors, as well as to provide a history and interpretation of that literature. The purpose is to serve visitors who come to our library for a short period of time, enabling them to locate materials in an efficient way, and to help those seeking to locate materials for interlibrary loan.

How to locate Southeast Asian Chinese literature by using the Library of Congress classification and subject headings.

Southeast Asian Chinese literature can be classified according to the following forms and styles:

  • classical poetry
  • modern poetry
  • essays
  • novels
  • short stories
  • drama
  • children's literature

Because of colonialism and immigration, much that was written in English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish was not written by authors who lived in England, France, Portugal, or Spain. The Library of Congress classification schedules give each geographical location its own classification. However, literary works in Chinese, regardless of form or style, and regardless of where the author lives, all classify in the Chinese author classification number.

Individual literary works

The Library of Congress classifies all Chinese literary authors under "Individual authors and works." The classification scheme is as follows:

  • 1644-1912 (PL2699-PL2735)
  • 1912-1949 (PL2735.5-PL2832.3)
  • 1949-2000 (PL2832.5-PL2929.5)

History and collected works The Library of Congress classifies collections of literary works and the history of Southeast Asian Chinese literature under "Chinese literature outside China." The classification scheme is as follows:
PL3080 Periodicals. Societies. Serials.
PL3080.15 Congresses
PL3080.2 Encyclopedias. Dictionaries.
PL3080.3 Study and teaching.
PL3080.6 Biography of critics, historians, etc., A-Z
PL3081 General works
PL3082 General special
PL3083 Addresses, essays, lectures
PL3084 Biography (Collective)
PL3085 Origins
PL3086 To 1800
PL3087 19th century
PL3088 20th century
PL3090 Poetry
PL3091 Drama
PL3092 Other

PL3093 General
PL3093.5 Translations. By language, A-Z
PL3094 Poetry
PL3094.5 Translations. By language, A-Z
PL3095 Drama
PL3096 Other
PL3097 Local, A-Z

There are also books on overseas Chinese literature, which includes Southeast Asian Chinese literature. These books are classified under PL3033.

There are other methods for locating works that can be summarized as follows:

  1. Bibliographies and indexes
  2. Biographies
  3. Conferences
    1. DongnanYa Huawen wenxue yantaohui.
    2. DongnanYa Huawen wenxue.
    3. Quanguo Tai Gang yu haiwai Huawen wenxue xueshu taolunhui.
    4. World Chinese Mini Short Story Conference
  4. Current activites
    The bimonthly periodical "Xinjiabo zuojia (Singapore writers)" was published from November 1, 1991, to January 1, 1998, by the Singapore Association of Writers for a total of 38 issues. This periodical carried news of all the current events concerning Chinese literary work and activities in Southeast Asia and around the world, such as individual and group activities, conferences, competitions, prize awards, publications, etc. It also published all forms of current Chinese literature, mostly by writers in Singapore and Malaysia. It remains a good source for locating individual authors' works and collections for that period.
    On March 1, 1998, the bimonthly merged with the other five periodicals published by the Singapore Writers Association to become the new title "XinHua wenxue jikan (XinHua literary quarterly)." The other five serials were:

      "Wenxue yuebao (Literary monthly)"
      "Xiezuoran shuangzhoukan (Writer's bimonthly)"
      "Wenxue banniankan (Literature simiannually)"
      "Weixing xiaoshuo jikan (Mini stories quarterly)"
      "Houlei siyuekan (Houlai quarterly)"

    The new journal carries the same publications and news that make it the most important source for the study of current Singapore and Malaysian as well as overseas Chinese literary works.