German Archives as Treasure Troves for the Study of 20th Century China

“Why are you going to German company archives? Aren’t you doing Chinese history?” After having to answer this question time and again, I was glad to learn that the new issue of the PRC History Review is devoted exactly to this topic: Why and how should we use material stored in archives outside of mainland China or Taiwan to study Chinese history?

Especially the contributions by Jennifer Altehenger and Nicolai Volland on archival sources related to Sino-German relations in GDR-files in Berlin and Leipzig are very illustrative and I can wholeheartedly agree with both of them:

“Foreign archives cannot replace Chinese archival documentation, but they offer corrective lenses to help alleviate distortions of the historical record.” N. Volland (p.20)
“One of the exciting developments in PRC history, often of course driven by problems of accessibility, has been the push to explore lower-level but also, where available, non-state archival holdings in China. That same principle is useful in any search for documents from other formerly socialist countries.” J. Altehenger (p. 5)
Of course, this does not only hold true for the history of the People’s Republic but is also valid for research on the Republican period.
The complete issue of the PRC History Review can be found here.