Researching at the Ningbo Municipal Archives

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Registering at the 宁波市档案馆 Ningbo Municipal Archives was quick and painless. I arrived, entered the main hall, and presented my letter of introduction and passport. While the staff photocopied my passport, I filled out a typical registration form asking for my name, contact info, and the nature of my research. The staff person assisting me read my project description and tried to give me some guidance about the catalogs I should look into, at the same time she finished my registration.

Within 10 minutes of arriving, the staff person guided me into the reading room and showed me all of the catalogs lining the long wall. The Ningbo Municipal Archives is exceedingly well organized. There are hundreds of fonds (全总号) for the post-1949 era, each covering an individual and specific danwei (work unit, or bureaucratic entity). If you know the creator of the files you are looking for, there is a good chance you’ll be able to find a dedicated catalog for the work unit, even if it was just a short-lived office.

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You can browse the “open” catalogs one-by-one along the wall in the huge reading room, or search across all of the catalogs at once using one of the computers onsite or from home using the online catalog. It’s much quicker to search the database for known keywords, but, if you have the time, browsing the paper catalogs offers better archival context. You might even find interesting things you didn’t expect.

When using the electronic search, you may find that some files have already been digitized. If so, it’s as easy as clicking on the search result to view the document. For others, you simply follow the request procedures as you would if using paper catalogs: write down the three sequence file number and present it to the staff at the registration desk. (As an aside, ftom the searches I ran, it looked like the digitized files are mostly from the pre-1949 era.)

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My requests were delivered promptly. The staff seem to get a little flustered if you are requesting folders from many different fonds at once, as that requires them to physically run around the stacks to retrieve everything. My first request was for 11 folders; in the end, they delivered only 10 and asked me to request the final folder later on. My second request was also for around 10 folders, but they asked that I split it into two requests and space things out in order to make life easier on the person retrieving the files. I complied.

Although the electronic catalog does only list “open” files, there was one instance where they staff was not entirely comfortable with me seeing the entire contents of a folder. The staff person assisting me brought out a folder dating from sometime during the Cultural Revolution and said some of the contents were a bit sensitive. She asked which document in particular I wanted to see. I told her the page number, she flipped to it, saw that it was innocuous, and went ahead and made a photocopy for me. I didn’t see the rest of the folder, but I suspect it contained something that could be construed as personal information.

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The Ningbo Municipal Archives does make photocopies! I requested half a dozen individual documents on day one and they were copied before closing time. Only one of my requests was turned down—and it was because the document had the word “secret” written in the top corner. The staff asked that I simply transcribe or take notes on this file. (Seems to me that they should learn the U.S. system of using declassification stickers when making photocopies of formerly secret files, but oh well.) The photocopies were free of charge.

The archives is very conveniently located next to the Gulou (Drum Tower) Metro Stop servicing both lines 1 and 2, closest to Exit ‘E’. (If you are arriving to Ningbo via the gaotie/HSR from Shanghai, it’s much quicker to take the subway than wait in the taxi line.) Although the lunch break is rather long, running from 11:45a.m. until 2:00p.m., the neighborhood has lots of restaurants and coffee shops to explore.

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Not quite as laissez-faire as the Hangzhou Municipal Archives, Ningbo is nevertheless much, much more accessible than the Zhejiang Provincial Archives. It is a low-fuss, safe bet for archival research in China.

The Ningbo Municipal Archives is located at 宁波市解放北路69号.

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