First Decade of the Dr. Shao You Bao Overseas Chinese Documentation and Research Center at Ohio University (1993-2003) by Dr. Liren Zheng
Since its inception in 1993, the Shao Center has made consistent efforts to promote Overseas Chinese studies and has achieved considerable accomplishments.
1. Document Collection
One of the Shao Center’s missions is to collect, organize, and preserve relevant documents and other information resources related to Overseas Chinese, such as monographs, periodical articles, official archives, private manuscripts, genealogies, epigraphic materials, and oral records. The Shao Center has exploited a variety of channels to effectively secure publications on Overseas Chinese. It orders Western-language publications mainly through regular book dealers that have signed agreements with Ohio University Libraries. It enlists the assistance of the Field Office of the Library of Congress in Jakarta to extensively amass materials on Overseas Chinese published in Southeast Asian countries. To purchase Chinese-language materials on Overseas Chinese published in mainland China, the Shao Center has established a partnership with the Center for Overseas Chinese Documents and Information Data at Jinan University Library, Guangzhou, PRC. Meanwhile, through an international exchange program with the National Central Library in Taipei, the Shao Center is able to collect materials published in Taiwan. Finally, the Shao Center also can rely on the Chubu University Library, which has a long-standing relationship with Ohio University Libraries, to acquire Japanese-language materials on Overseas Chinese.
Despite the invaluable contributions of the Overseas Chinese to economic and cultural developments in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, their historical roles and evidence of that have often been neglected, ignored, or actively suppressed. Many valuable historical documents scattered in various parts of the world have not been properly cared for and are now in grave danger of deteriorating or vanishing entirely. This situation has resulted from narrow nationalism, ethnic jealousies, or ignorance combined with inadequate resources to effectively preserve such documents. In the light of this situation, securing and preserving historical documents on Overseas Chinese has become an urgent task that calls for immediate action.
Realizing the long-term neglect of historical documents on Overseas Chinese in Indonesia, the Shao Center is paying special attention to the salvage of materials on Indonesian Chinese. In 2001, the Center acquired 1,415 microfiche copies of Dr. Myra Sidharta’s personal collection on Indonesian Peranakan literature, which cover Peranakan literature works published between 1884 and 1976, thus making Ohio University Libraries one of only two libraries in the United States that possess this valuable resource. The Shao Center also gives a special emphasis to preserving materials on Overseas Chinese in North America. In 2002, the Shao Center paid over 10,000 dollars to secure the complete microfilm set of The Young China Daily (1910 1991). The Young China Daily is a Chinese-language newspaper, which was founded by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen in San Francisco in 1910 as the official newspaper of his revolutionary organization, the Tung Meng Hui. With over 82 years of publication, The Young China Daily has the longest history among all of the Chinese newspapers ever published in North America, which enables it to provide researchers with rich information in regard to the Chinese communities in the United States and Canada. The Shao Center holds the distinction of being the only library collection in North America that holds the complete set of this important newspaper.
In order to provide scholars around the world with easy access to bibliographical and digital resources on Overseas Chinese through modern library networks and information systems, the Shao Center has been actively working on building databases. A major project, which is now under construction and will soon be available on the Internet, is the Database on Overseas Chinese Publications. This database is one of the first comprehensive databases on Overseas Chinese publications. It includes publications on Overseas Chinese in Western languages, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian / Malay, and other Southeast Asian languages. It includes thousands of items published since the early 20th century. Data can be searched by author, title, subject, and keyword via the Internet.
In the process of constructing this database, the Shao Center has received active assistance from Jinan University Library and Shenzhen Library in mainland China. By means of an on-going cooperative program, The Center for Overseas Chinese Documents and Information Data at Jinan University Library has sent two experienced library staff members to Ohio University to assist in the project. Meanwhile, the Shenzhen Library has generously donated a software system to the Shao Center for the project. The Shenzhen Library has developed the Integrated Library and Information System (ILAS), which has now been widely adopted by libraries in mainland China. The Shenzhen Library specifically modified the system to meet the requirements of the Shao Center's project.
The Shao Center has offered regular courses on Overseas Chinese for the graduate students from the Center for International Studies at Ohio University. Graduate seminar Studies of Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia surveys major themes of Overseas Chinese studies in Southeast Asia: the history of Overseas Chinese migration to Southeast Asia, the changing relationship between China and Overseas Chinese, social structures and business networks of Overseas Chinese communities, identity issues, and the problems Overseas Chinese are facing in various countries in Southeast Asia. It is a 5-credit course that meets for 4 hours a week. The Shao Center has also provided independent study courses for graduate students who conducted their interdisciplinary study on Overseas Chinese. These courses were well received by international students, especially those from Asian countries. After graduating and returning to his country, Ehsanul Haque, a Fulbright scholarship student from Bangladesh, wrote to the Shao Center Curator:
I have resumed my teaching duties at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. I am teaching two classes: one on Southeast Asian Affairs and the other one on International Relations of South Asia. I strongly feel (that) my participation in your class on Overseas Chinese has broadened my knowledge and I am using the reading materials you gave in the class. I really appreciate your approach to teaching .
Thus far, students from the U.S., mainland China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Mexico have taken these courses on Overseas Chinese. A number of undergraduate students have also audited the graduate seminar. The Center for International Studies requires that all students should have one major and two minor fields for their comprehensive examination in order to receive their Master’s degrees. Many students, who had taken courses on Overseas Chinese, selected Overseas Chinese studies as one of their minor fields. In addition to regular teaching, the Shao Center also provided academic advice and bibliographic support to graduate students who presented their research papers at international conferences on Overseas Chinese.
In view of the fact that only very few universities in North America are now offering courses on Overseas Chinese studies, the Shao Center has played a pioneering role in accumulating teaching experience on Overseas Chinese studies and developing Overseas Chinese curriculum.
4. International Conferences
Since its inception, the Shao Center has actively promoted scholarly exchange in the field of Overseas Chinese studies through international conferences. It has sponsored, hosted, or participated in many important international conferences on Overseas Chinese.
In 1996, the Shao Center sponsored the International Conference on Hakkaology held in Singapore. In 1997, the Shao Center again sponsored the International Conference on Chinese Population in Contemporary Southeast Asian Societies held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The proceedings of the Urbana-Champaign conference have recently been published by prestigious Curzon Press in London.
In 2000, the beginning of a new century, the Shao Center initiated, organized, and hosted The First International Conference of Institutes and Libraries for Overseas Chinese Studies at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. The two keynote speakers of this conference were Dr. Evelyn Hu-DeHart, the Chair of Department of Ethnic Studies at University of Colorado ( Boulder) and Ms. Ch ng Kim See, the Head of Institutes of Southeast Asian Studies Library. A total of 53 institutes and libraries from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America sent representatives or papers to participate in this conference. A cooperation organization The World Confederation of Institutes and Libraries for Overseas Chinese Studies was also launched during the conference. This ground-breaking conference was financially sponsored by Ohio University, Dr. Shao You-Bao, the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation, the Cultural and Charity Foundation of the United World Chinese Commercial Bank, the Fong Shu Fook Tong Foundation, and the Fongs Family Foundation. This inaugural conference received worldwide attention and was subsequently reported in detail by the People’s Daily (Overseas Edition) in mainland China, the Chiaohsieh Tsachih in Taiwan, the Kangao Chihyou Tunghsun in Hong Kong, the Rippon Kyopo in Tokyo, and the Collection Building in the U.S.
As a sequel to the First International Conference of Institutes and Libraries for Overseas Chinese Studies, Ohio University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) jointly hosted The Second International Conference of Institutes and Libraries for Overseas Chinese Studies on March 13-15, 2003 in Hong Kong. The theme of the conference is: Transnational Networks: Challenges in Research and Documentation of the Chinese Overseas. The conference had 18 presentation sessions. A total of 66 papers were presented at the conference, while 142 scholars and librarians from the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, mainland China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Russia, France, and Switzerland attended this event. The conference also had three additional sessions presented by the keynote speakers. The three keynote speakers were Dr. Wang Gungwu, the Director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, Dr. Claudine Salmon, a Senior Researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, and Dr. Philip Kuhn, the Chairman of East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department at Harvard University. The papers presented at this conference will be published by the Chinese University of Hong Kong Press. During the conference, a celebration banquet for the 10th anniversary of the Dr. Shao You-Bao Overseas Chinese Documentation and Research Center was hosted by Dr. Robert Glidden, the President of Ohio University, and Ms. Julia Zimmerman, the Dean of Ohio University Libraries, and over 140 guests attended this event.
Inspired by the successful first and second conferences, the Chinese Heritage Center, the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Library, and the National Library Board of Singapore hosted the Third International Conference of Institutes and Libraries for Overseas Chinese Studies in Singapore in 2005. Having been involved in the organization of these three conferences, the Shao Center will continue to make efforts to develop The International Conference of Institutes and Libraries for Overseas Chinese Studies into a regular and important international forum for librarians and scholars worldwide to present and share their scholarly accomplishments.
In addition to sponsoring and hosting the above international conferences, the Shao Center has presented papers at and participated in the following important international events: The Roundtable on Collecting Overseas Chinese Sources at the International Convention of Asian Scholars (Noordwijkerhout, The Netherlands, 1998), the International Conference for Qiaoxiang Studies (Quanzhou, PRC., 1998), the Joint Working Meeting of Research Institutes for Overseas Chinese Studies (Guangzhou, PRC. 1998), the International Conference on the Ethnic Chinese Inter-cultural Relations and Cultural Transformation of Ethnic Chinese Communities (Manila, The Philippines, 1998), the International Conference on Chinese in Japan (Nagasaki, Japan, 1999), the Roundtable on Primary Overseas Chinese Sources at the Annul Meeting of The Association for Asian Studies (San Diego, U.S.A., 2000), the Overseas Chinese Studies Session at the 2000 Symposium of the Ohio Chinese Academic and Professional Association (Athens, Ohio, U.S.A., 2000), and the 17th World Hakka Conference (Jakarta, Indonesia, 2002).
5. Information and Reference Services
The most important services provided by the Shao Center to the public since its establishment have been its information and reference services, which have been and continue to be widely used.
To provide information services, the Shao Center has set up two websites:
With these two websites, the Shao Center is able to provide the public with an abundance of digital information on Overseas Chinese studies through the Internet. The information furnished by these two websites includes databases, directories of institutes and scholars in the field of Overseas Chinese studies, resource guidance (libraries, archives, museums, public and individual collections, etc.), curriculum syllabuses and references, selected research papers, links to relevant websites, and announcements of conferences, new publications, new videos, and exhibitions, etc.
The publicity created by the Shao Center’ s websites and other external activities has resulted in a greater demand of reference services from the Shao Center. The Shao Center provides its reference services mainly though electronic mail, facsimiles, telephone, and regular mail services as most of the requests for assistance have come from outside the campus. The number and scope of inquiries has considerably increased in recent years. Geographically the patrons are widely distributed, including individuals from the United States, Canada, Britain, Italy, France, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, The Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China. The requests have varied from bibliographic guidance, reference assistance, statistics and historical information, academic consultation to thesis advice. There were also requests for help to contact overseas Chinese organizations, research institutes, or individual scholars in order to conduct surveys or other research projects. The Shao Center has done its best to respond to inquiries, and its services were well appreciated by its patrons.
After receiving assistance in securing information on Overseas Chinese benevolent associations in Mexico, Vietnam, Madagascar, and New Zealand, Ms. Julie Hand, a senior East Asian Studies major at Middlebury College, Vermont, who was applying for a Watson Fellowship to spend one year in the above countries studying local Overseas Chinese cultures, wrote to the Shao Center:
“Thank you so much for the plethora of information you have provided for me. I feel as if I have struck a goldmine. It is wonderful to know that there are such valuable resources in this field.”
Ms. Julia Hand has successfully received a Watson Fellowship; she is now doing her field work abroad.
Ms. Alessia Borin, a student at Ca Foscari University in Venice, Italy, wrote to the Dean of Ohio University Libraries, expressing her gratitude for the assistance she received while she was writing her graduate thesis on Chinese Vietnamese refugees:
“I made contact with Doctor Liren Zheng. His collaboration and his invaluable piece of advice have been a very very very precious gift for me. So, I feel flattered by the honor of writing you, to appreciate this Library's devotion to Overseas Chinese Studies.”
The study of Overseas Chinese is a new and rapidly developing academic discipline. As a Chinese idiom advises, “The burden is heavy and the way ahead is long”. It will indeed be a great challenge for the Shao Center to become a key mover in Overseas Chinese studies in North America. In the next ten years, the Shao Center will stay the course set by its missions. It will continue to collect documents and archives, expand research and teaching, and promote international cooperation in order to push Overseas Chinese studies forward for the purpose of exalting the history of struggles and contributions of Overseas Chinese. This history is not only an important element in the history of those countries where Overseas Chinese resided, but is also the extension and glorification of the long lasting Chinese civilization.