Collecting Non-Chinese Materials from China: Needs, Methods, Issues

Collecting Non-Chinese Materials
from China: Needs, Methods, Issues
Yang Jidong
University of Michigan
China as a multilingual nation
Examples of modern and historical languages (with at least one
writing system) used in the lands belonging to today’s PRC
Sino-Tibetan languages: Chinese, Tibetan, Yi/Nuosu, Naxi,
Tangut/Xi Xia (extinct)
Tai-Kadai languages: Tai/Dai, Zhuang, Shui
Ural-Altaic languages: Mongolian, Korean, Uighur, Kazakh,
Manchu (near-extinct), Khitan (extinct), Jurchen (extinct), Old
Turkic (extinct)
Indo-European languages: English, French, German,
Russian, Khotanese (extinct), Tocharian (extinct), Sogdian
(extinct), Sanskrit (extinct)
Afro-Asiatic languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Syriac (extinct)
Studies of China’s minority peoples
Outside China, European countries such as Germany,
France, and Russia have the most advanced academic
programs in the languages and cultures of non-Han ethnic
groups in China. Japan also plays a leading role in the field.
Compared with Europe and Japan, the United States lacks a
strong academic tradition of studying China’s minority
peoples. But a number of U.S. institutions do offer courses
and graduate programs focusing on those peoples and their
cultures. Interests in the Tibetans, Uighur, Mongolians,
Manchu, and various non-Han peoples in South China are
especially strong.
Overview of ethnic publication in China
China publishes a fairly large number of books and serials in
minority languages each year. Many monographic studies
written by minority scholars are only available in a nonChinese language.
Beijing, the five “autonomous regions” (Inner Mongolia, Tibet,
Xinjiang, Guangxi, and Ningxia), and provinces with large
non-Han populations (Jilin, Liaoning, Sichuan, Yunnan,
Qinghai, Gansu) are the main centers of ethnic publication.
Minority publishing houses (民族出版社), institutes of
ethnological studies (民族学院), and people’s presses (人民出
版社) in autonomous regions are the major publishers in
minority languages.
Collecting ethnic publications from China
Collecting materials in Chinese minority languages has long
been ignored by research libraries in North America. The only
exception may be Tibetan publications (mostly from India).
While some ethnic publications from China serve political
propaganda purposes, many are purely academic books
written by minority scholars on their languages, history, and
All major Chinese vendors provide ethnic titles in their new
book lists. E-books in minority languages are also available
from Apabi and other vendors.
Since all ethnic publications from China have a colophon in
Chinese, librarians for Chinese collections should be able to
determine the academic value of those materials easily.
Cataloging ethnic publications from China
Due to the lack of staff with knowledge of relevant languages,
cataloging (especially romanization) is always the biggest
challenge in the collection of ethnic publications from China.
As reflected in WorldCat and other library OPACs, many of
the materials are wrongly coded as Chinese.
LC have established romanization rules for Tibetan,
Mongolian (classic script), and Uighur. There are widely
accepted romanization rules among researchers for some
other Chinese minority languages such as Manchu. Unicodecompatible cataloging systems like Connexion can handle
many non-Chinese scripts from PRC.
Possible solutions: 1) Cooperation among collecting libraries.
2) How about studying a few more alphabets for fun? 3)
Pressing vendors to provide MARC records for ethnic books.
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