History of Digital Archives Project

The Grand Secretariat Archives refers to the books, articles, and documents initially located in the Grand Secretariat's storerooms in the Ch'ing Imperial Palace. As Mr. Xu Zhongshu, a senior scholar of the Institute of History and Philology, emphasized, " before the Yongzheng and Qianlong period, The Grand Secretariat of the Qing Dynasty was the place where national politics originated. After the Yongzheng and Qianlong period, it became where the letters patent was stored. The archives are all the narratives of the historical relics at that time," which shows the importance of The Grand Secretariat to historical researchers.  

The Grand Secretariat Archives, collected by the Institute of History and Philology, is part of the removed portion when the archive was renovated in the first year of Xuantong. It includes edict, title, transfer, congratulatory form, three law department files, actual manuscript, various summaries, books, etc. This part of the files was risked being burned and labeled as "useless old archives." The History Museum, which was later taken over, put the less complete archives in 8,000 sacks and sold them to Tong Maozeng Paper Mill for 4,000 yuan due to their meager budget. In February 1922, Luo Zhenyu bought it for 12,000 yuan, hired someone to review it, and printed the valuable parts into ten volumes of "The First Edition of Historical Materials Series." In 1924, Luo kept a part of the book and sold the rest to Lee Shengyi. In 1928, the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, was established in Guangzhou. The institute really wanted to research with historical materials. With the effort of the first director, Mr. Fu Sinian, the institute purchased these archives from Li Shengduo in March 1929. In May of the same year, The Institute of History and Philology moved from Guangzhou to Peiping. In September, the organization of the Grand Secretariat Archives was carried out in the Wumen Building. From then on, the archiving work continues till this day.

Over the past sixty years, the work of organizing the archives of the Institute of History and Philology has roughly gone through four stages. From 1929 to the end of 1932 was the first stage. At this stage, the preliminary classification work was completed. "All the archives that were sorted were put on the shelves. Although they were not numbered and registered, there was a catalog for important files." Unfortunately, the institute decided to transport most archives, books, and antiquities to the south because of the Japanese invasion. Later, although the situation in Northern China became stable, the archives were still planned to be moved back to the Silkworm Altar of the North Sea. The anti-Japanese army flourished, and Mr. Fu Xian demanded Mr. Li Guangtao to pack the archives in a hundred boxes and transport the books and antiquities south again. These 100 boxes of archives moved from Changsha to Kunming with the Institute of History and Philology from Kunming to Lizhuang. After the victory of the Anti-Japanese War, Li Zhuang returned to Nanjing. Subsequently, the political situation changed, the institute moved to Taiwan, and these archives also moved from Nanjing to Taiwan. After more than a decade of migration, archive organization had never been able to proceed smoothly. The Institute of History and Philology had to wait until the April of 1941 to reorganize the Grand Secretariat Archive. Mr. Dong Zuobin, the director at the time, believed that only preliminary classification was done due to the limitation of funds in the past. Also, each category's number was not recorded accurately,  which seemed to fail the responsibility of keeping the files. They were demanded to "open all the boxes, check the number of pieces, and re-register all of them." As a result, a total of 311,914 documents were found. However, this inventory work was limited to only counting the number of items, without further work on file registration. Up until Mr. Li Guangtao retired in 1964, the number of documents registered by the Institute of History and Philology was probably less than 10,000.

The large-scale organization of archives in the Institute of Historical and Philology's Grand Secretariat Archive was in October 1981. Under the promotion of the former director Mr. Ding Bangxin, Mr. Zhang Weiren was responsible for the planning and execution. The most significant difference between this organization and the previous two is: order to print each book not only with the serial number, but also with two photocopies, sealed and put on the shelves, and only open if necessary; the photocopies will be used for future editing and publishing, and for researchers to borrow.

At the beginning of 1995, thanks to technology, The Grand Secretariat Archives' organization had some adjustments. In addition to the seal number, computer registration was also implemented to facilitate archive management. The registered content includes the name, official position, time, reasoning, archive category, etc. However, the most significant change was that since 1985, no more photocopies were made. Instead, the image scanning method has been used to save the files on discs. If funding permits, the institute also planned to organize 20,000 documents per year. Such a change could not only save the space for storing copies and speed up the organizing work but also save considerable human resources and material resources in the future, whether to provide services for researchers or to edit and publish.

In fact, sorting and publishing documents in the Grand Secretariat Archive were carried out almost simultaneously. At the beginning of sorting out the archives, Mr. Fu Sinian decided to "not wait to finish the work, but first divide it into periodicals." In September 1930, the first edition of "The Historical Materials of Ming and Qing Dynasty," Part A, was printed. The Shanghai Commercial Press also published ten copies each of Part B and Part C in 1935 and 1936. Ten books of Part D were demanded to move to Taiwan before printing, and the manuscript was left in Shanghai (it was later added in print when the bound edition of Part A to E was issued in 1972). When they arrived in Taiwan, from 1953 to 1975, the "Historical Materials of Ming and Qing Dynasty" of the Institute of History and Philology published a total of six parts from Part E to J, 60 books in total. The first, second, and third episodes of "Selected Collections of Ming and Qing Archives" and the first and second volumes of "Original Archives of Old Manchu in Qing Taizu Dynasty" were published. In 1974, the Institute of History and Philology entrusted the organized archives to the Lianjing Publishing Company and began to photocopy and publish the "Ming and Qing Archives" year by year. Up to now, 324 volumes have been published. In recent years, the research of Taiwan history has become a trend. We have put together archives related to Taiwan History published and organized in the past and compiled them into the 13th volume of "Taiwan History Archives Catalog," edited by the History Department of National Taiwan University, published in 1997.

It has been 75 years since IHP purchased the Grand Secretariat Archives in 1929, and the filing of the Ming and Qing Dynasties has not yet been accomplished. Reviewing this period of history, the turmoil caused by the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War should be the main reason for the lengthy and time-consuming organization work. At that time, Luo Zhenyu estimated it to be done in about ten years. However, up until now, more than ten years of human resources have been used. The organization of data can not be interrupted to continue the predecessors' achievements and experience. Otherwise, subsequent work would have to start from scratch. It would be a massive loss in manpower, material resources, and time.

Mr. Fu Sinian decided to purchase the Ming and Qing archives from the Grand Secretariat Archives because they were the most direct historical material for researching the Ming and Qing Dynasties. In his letter to Mr. Tsai Yuanpei to purchase the archives, he pointed out that the Ming and Qing archives "have endless treasures, covering private records of Ming and Qing history. After all, knowledge is limited, and official books may change over the years, making them unreliable. The real political facts are all in these archives." This shows his high expectation towards the archives of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Mr. Tsai Yuanpei said in the preface of the publication of Ming and Qing Historical Materials, "We cannot say, in the future, how much we can achieve organizing these files. We simply wanted to do the spirit of this cause and draw some direct historical materials. This will be within our greatest comfort." I am going to change a few words now at the end of this introduction: We cannot say, in the future, how much we can achieve organizing these files. We simply wanted to do the spirit of this cause and draw out intentions from researchers who want to make fair use of this historical material. This will be within our greatest comfort."