A treasure trove of knowledge

Updated: 2015-12-30 08:10

By Yang Yang(China Daily)

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A treasure trove of knowledge

Zhao Xiao, deputy curator of Zashuguan, shows an old book collected by the library.[Photo by Yang Yang/ China Daily]

"We have more than 5,000 titles of such books, and this is one of our specialties. It's not the focus of many public libraries but we want them," he says.

Another important collection, says Zhao, is the librettos of local operas in China. It is the biggest of its kind in the world.

"It's what common people read in old days," he says.

Many are about historical events and figures, such as the revolution of 1911, and the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45). They provide a perspective of common people in many regions of China, and therefore provide important material for research of folk culture in different places.

Zashuguan also leads in the collection of folklore that came from sermons in temples in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), telling ordinary people religious stories. The folklore, in literary form, reflects the religious and cultural life of ordinary people. Official statistics show that while there are more than 5,000 such Chinese titles around the world, Zashuguan has more than 4,000 of them.

The other collections include manuscripts, letters and personal materials of famous scholars, great writers, historians, philosophers and economists, such as Jin Yuelin, professor of philosophy at Peking University, Liang Qichao, Kang Youwei, Hu Shi and Cai Yuanpei.

On the second story, these precious manuscripts and letters, put in paper boxes, are everywhere on the floor, waiting to be sorted and arranged on the shelves.

"We have bought these manuscripts, letters and personal materials from waste dealers. They collect waste in famous universities at low prices and sort the waste out to find valuable pieces and sell to us," Zhao says.

Zhao and the founders of the library have been collecting precious historical materials for more than 20 years. When the library was built, more than 100 trucks of books, periodicals and materials were transported to the place, and 15 employees spent more than one year putting the collection on the shelves. It will take another two years to put the information about the collection online.

"Thanks to a market economy and the Internet, we can now buy and sell our collections very easily on online platforms," says Zhao.

Gao Xiaosong, a famous songwriter-singer-talkshow host, who is also one of the founders of the library, is the curator.

The library is very busy on weekends. Zhao says: "Too many visitors put pressure on our operation because it is a nonprofit library. As the cost of running the library is high, we hire part-time staff on weekends and limit reader numbers.

"But we are happy to see so many readers at our library. We welcome people from all over the world to read and do research using our resources," he says.

Contact the writer at yangyangs@chinadaily.com.cn

If you go

10 am to 5 pm, except Tuesdays. Red Plant Design Creative Industry Park, No 328 Hegezhuang village, Cuigezhuang, Chaoyang district, Beijing. 010-8430-8727 (Booking in advance on www.zashuguan.cn is required, 100 people at most on weekdays, 500 people on weekends).

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