by Elisabeth Forster (Research Assistant, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg)
The Beijing Municipal Archive (Beijing shi dang’an guan 北京市档案馆) stores, as the name suggests, materials pertaining to Beijing as a city. It has materials on both the period before 1949 and after. Arunabh Ghosh has already written a very informative review of this archive on Dissertation Review, based on his experiences in 2011: http://dissertationreviews.org/archives/643. Therefore I will only give updated information on the aspects that I found changed, when I visited the archive in February and March 2018.
Most importantly, the archival database cannot currently be used since, according to information given by the staff, it is being updated. Since, as far as I can tell, almost all materials are digitised and can only be accessed through the database; this means that it is essentially impossible to use the archive at the moment. When I was there, it was unclear how long this updating process would take. Before planning your trip, I therefore recommend that you call the archive (67640609) to check.
Address: Beijing, Fengtai District, Puhuangyu Road 42 北京市丰台区蒲黄榆路42号
Opening hours: normally 9:15 – 17:15. Careful, the database cannot be used at the moment (cf. above)
Nearest subway station: Puhuangyu 蒲黄榆, Line 5.
The registration process has remained the same. You will need your passport and a letter of introduction by a Chinese university. Staff will register you very quickly and you can immediately start your research.
While it says on the archive’s website that you can search for documents online and then pre-order them, I have not found this to be the case in February 2018. Instead, I was able to search for any keywords I wanted at the computers of the archive and then submit requests to access certain files through an electronic system. Staff then immediately checked if it was permissible to read these documents, after which I was given electronic access to them on my archive computer.
Printing and taking notes
You can apply to have 20 pages printed per day. This is free of charge and you receive your print-outs in the afternoon of the following day. However, some materials may be deemed politically sensitive and will then not be printed. However, when you collect your print-outs, the archivists will indicate to you which pages were not printed and you are then be allowed to take notes of the relevant sections by hand. Importantly, when submitting your request for printing, you have to tick a box to confirm that you will not take the documents outside of China. It is possible to apply separately for this permission, but this is a lengthy process, and overall I found it easier to just take notes of the materials on my laptop. Mobile phones (and the usage of cameras) are strictly prohibited in the reading room.
The opportunities to pass lunchtime have considerably improved since Ghosh’s report in 2011. There are now a number of small restaurants within 5 minutes’ walking distance of the archive. You can also find several small convenience stores in the area.
Overall, I found the Beijing Municipal Archive an extremely pleasant and relaxed place to work. As soon as the database is updated, I can highly recommend a visit.
*The author’s visit to the archive was supported by a travel grant awarded by the Max Weber Foundation – German Humanities Institutes Abroad (with the support of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation).