Researching the History of the People’s Republic of China

Charles Kraus, “Researching the History of the People’s Republic of China,” Cold War International History Project Working Paper 79 (April 2016).

I spent August through December 2015 running around to dozens of Chinese archives and completing dissertation research. Normally after  visiting an archive, I wrote a brief, informal review on this blog. I hoped that by writing about my experiences, I could provide helpful information to others in the midst of researching on the Mainland. Occasionally I also wrote other thought pieces on Chinese archives, touching on issues such as reclassification and duplication.

Since coming back to the U.S. in January 2016, I’ve worked to synthesize roughly 20 blog posts–as well as other ideas I’d been kicking around in my head–and come up with a comprehensive guide to researching the history of the People’s Republic of China by way of official Chinese archives.

I ended up with a nearly 10,000 word piece which touches on the intricacies of Chinese archives and offers a step-by-step guide to getting inside an archive. The essay also describes some of the challenges of doing archival research in China today and issues involved with interpreting official documents, as well as suggesting various strategies toward successfully researching PRC history.

I published the essay through the Cold War International History Project, in part because I work there and I know CWIHP provides a fast-and-easy path to publication. More importantly, though, I wanted the essay to be easily found and read. CWIHP publications are not hidden behind paywalls and are not trapped inside onerous library databases–they can be found and read instantaneously through a Google (or Baidu!) search.

Certainly there is a lot still to be said about Chinese archives and researching the history of the People’s Republic, but hopefully my essay is a helpful start. The paper can be downloaded by clicking the citation above.



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