Yuan Tongli

Name in Chinese
Name in Wade-Giles
Yuan T'ung-li
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Biography in English

Yuan T'ung-li T. Shou-ho Yuan T'ung-li (1895-6 February 1965), distinguished library administrator and bibliographer who was a pioneer in the modern library movement in China.

The second son of a government official in Hsushui, Chihli (Hopei), Yuan T'ung-li was brought up in a scholarly environment. His elder brother was Yuan Fu-li, who later became a professor of geology at Tsinghua University. Yuan T'ung-li evinced an avid interest in books and scholarship at an early age. In 1913 he enrolled at Peking University. Upon graduation in 1916, he was appointed assistant librarian of Tsinghua College. The following year, he became acting librarian, in which capacity he was largely responsible for the construction of the college's new library building.

In August 1920 Yuan T'ung-li received a Peking University scholarship for advanced study in the United States. Upon arrival in New York, he enrolled at Columbia University, from which he obtained a B.A. degree in 1922. During the Washington Conference in 1921-22 he served as secretary to Huang Fu (q.v.). After the conference, he enrolled at the New York State Library School in Albany, from which he was graduated with a B.L.S. degree in 1923. During this period, he spent three summers at the Library of Congress helping to catalogue its Chinese collections. In 1923 Yuan went to England for a year's study at the University of London's Institute of Historical Research.

Yuan T'ung-li returned to China in 1924 to become librarian of Kwangtung University. He also assisted in the creation of the National Palace Museum at Peking. He moved to Peking in 1925 as librarian and professor of bibliography at Peking University. In 1926 the Peking Metropolitan Library was organized, with the support of the China Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture, as the first step toward the establishment of a national library. Liang Ch'i-ch'ao (q.v.) was appointed its director and Yuan T'ung-li, its librarian. In 1929 the Metropolitan Library and the old National Library merged to form the National Library of Peiping, with Ts'ai Yuan-p'ei (q.v.) as director and Yuan T'ung-li as associate director. This new institution soon became the center of library activity in China. Because Ts'ai was also president of the Academia Sinica, the work of the directorship fell to Yuan, who finally succeeded Ts'ai as director in 1942. In 1930 Yuan T'ung-li instituted a program for the exchange of librarians with Western libraries. To this end, he sought funds from foundations and other sources to send promising Chinese librarians to the United States, England, France, and Germany for advanced study and training. At the same time, he recruited a staff for the National Library of Peiping. After the library's new building was opened to the public on 25 June 1931, he introduced to China such Western practices as interlibrary loan, a photostat service, the exchange of materials with foreign countries, and the compilation of union catalogues and serial lists. In 1934 he sent a member of his staff to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and the British Museum in London to plan and supervise the photographic reproduction of Tun-huang manuscripts. The T'u-shu chi-k'an [quarterly bulletin of Chinese bibliography], a joint publication of the National Library of Peiping and the Chinese Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, was established by Yuan T'ung-li in 1934. Under his managing editorship, it appeared in separate Chinese and English editions and contained much useful information about books and libraries in China. Yuan also encouraged the publication of source materials on China's foreign relations and supervised the compilation of such works as the Kuo-hsueh lun-wen so-yin [index to sinological articles], published in four parts (1929, 1931, 1934, 1936); the Wen-hsueh lun-wen so-yin [index to articles on literature], published in three parts (1932, 1933, 1936); and the Ti-hsueh lun-wen so-yin [index to articles on historical geography], published in two parts (1934, 1936). Yuan also did much to develop bibliography and library science in China through his position as chairman of the executive board of the Library Association of China. In addition to compiling bibliographies and union lists, from 1926 to 1948 the association published T'ushu-kuan-hsüeh chi-k'an [library science quarterly] and the bi-monthly Chung-hua t'u-shu-kuan hsieh-hui hui-pao [bulletin of the Library Association of China]. In February 1934 Yuan T'ung-li embarked on a nine-month tour of Europe and North America. He conferred with leading librarians and educators and established exchange relations with many institutions. While in the United States, he was awarded the University Medal for Excellence by Columbia. In July he represented China at the sixteenth plenary session of the League of Nations International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, and in November he was a delegate to the International Museum Conference in Madrid. After returning to China by way of the Soviet Union, he urged the organization of the Museums Association of China, which came into existence in May 1935. Under his editorship, a bulletin of the association and a directory of Chinese museums were published. To arouse greater interest in museum work, a joint conference of the Museums Association and the Library Association was held at Tsingtao in July 1936. To promote cooperative cataloguing, Yuan T'ung-li in 1935 initiated a printed card service patterned on that of the Library of Congress. Many libraries in China and abroad subscribed to this highly successful service until it was forced to suspend operations in 1937 by the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war. Another mid-1930's innovation of Yuan T'ung-li was the establishment of the Engineering Reference Library at Nanking as an administrative division of the National Library of Peiping. Before the occupation of north China by the Japanese in 1937, Yuah T'ung-li, with commendable foresight, moved some of the National Library of Peiping's irreplaceable books and manuscripts to south China. These materials, some 2,800 items in all, later were sent to the Library of Congress for safekeeping. The National Library carried on its work after the Japanese occupied Peiping, but Yuan and some staff members left the occupied areas. Yuan went to Kunming and busied himself with the task of providing the students and faculty of Southwest Associated University at Kunming with library services. He launched a campaign to appeal for books and periodicals for wardevastated libraries. Many institutions in the West responded to these appeals by sending scientific and technical books and journals to unoccupied China.

In 1942 Yuan T'ung-li moved to the wartime capital of Chungking, where he set up an office of the National Library of Peiping. At this point in the war, transportation problems were making it extremely difficult to import publications from the West. To keep Chinese scholars and scientists abreast of the latest developments in their fields. Yuan decided that extensive use of microfilm was necessary. As executive secretary of the International Cultural Service of China, an organization sponsored by the ministry of education. Yuan coordinated the activities of two organizations which, at the National Government's request, supplied microfilms of scientific and technical journals. One of these was the Sino-British Cooperation Office, headed by Professor Joseph Needham of Cambridge University; the other was the American Publications Service, headed by Professor John K. Fairbank of Harvard University. Another important task undertaken by the International Cultural Service was the collecting of scholarly and scientific papers by Chinese authors for publication abroad. This work was entrusted to the service by the Cultural Relations Division of the United States Department of State. A committee was set up to examine and select papers for transmission to the United States. By June 1945 about 200 of these papers had been published in American journals.

At the end of 1944 Yuan T'ung-li was sent abroad by the Executive Yuan to strengthen cultural relations with Great Britain and the United States. During this trip. Yuan made special efforts to observe the changes and advances made in the library world as a result of the Second World War. In 1945 he was an adviser to the Chinese delegation to the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco. That May, he received an honorary LL.D. degree from the University of Pittsburgh.

Yuan T'ung-li returned to China in September 1 945 to resume direction of the National Library of Peiping. Early in 1946 the ministry of education sent him on an acquisitions and investigation trip to the United States and Europe. In London he attended the UNESCO conference and served as vice chairman of the Committee on the Restoration of Art Objects. He then went on to Germany to make an investigation of Chinese cultural objects in that country. He returned to Peiping in September 1946 and remained there until the Chinese Communists threatened the city in December 1948.

In 1949 Yuan T'ung-li went to the United States to become consultant in Chinese literature at the Library of Congress. He edited the Kuo-hui Vu-shu-kuan ts'ang Chung-kuo shan-pen shu-mu [descriptive catalogue of rare Chinese books in the Library of Congress], which had been compiled by his former student Wang Chung-min. From 1951 to 1953 he served as the chief bibliographer of the Stanford Research Institute in California. He received a research grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1953 which enabled him to spend a year in Europe. In 1957 he joined the Library of Congress as a regular member of its staff. He remained in Washington until the summer of 1964, when he was awarded a research grant by the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council for the compilation of a bibliography on Chinese art and archaeology. While doing research in Munich, Germany, that July, he was taken ill and was compelled to return to the United States for treatment. His health continued to deteriorate, and he retired from the Library of Congress staff on 15 January 1965. He died of cancer on 6 February 1965. Yuan was survived by his wife, nee Hui Hai, and by two sons and a daughter. Friends and scholars alike mourned the loss of an indefatigable and inspiring worker who devoted his entire life to the promotion of scholarship and of better understanding of the cultural heritage of China. Yuan T'ung-li was the author of numerous articles published in professional journals. As early as 1924 he developed an interest in the Yung-lo ta-tien, an encyclopedic dictionary of unparalleled bulk, compiled (1403-9) by order of Yung-lo, the third emperor of the Ming dynasty, who reigned from 1403 to 1424. This work, which consisted of 1 1 ,095 hand-written volumes, has never been printed; only two manuscript copies were made, one of which perished at the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644. The remaining set was stored in the Hanlin Academy in Peking, which was partly destroyed by fire on 23 June 1900 during the Boxer Uprising. A number of volumes were rescued from the conflagration; they were subsequently scattered all over the world. The National Library of Peiping, through the legacy of its institutional predecessor, possessed the largest number of surviving volumes. Yuan made a census of the extant volumes of this monumental compilation, which first appeared in the February 1924 issue of the magazine Hsueh-hsng [critical review]. He brought it up to date several times; the last census he made appeared in the September 1939 issue of the Chinese edition of the T'u-shu chi-k'an, in which he listed the location of 367 volumes. A number of additional volumes were discovered later, with the result that a total of about 500 volumes were identified.

Among Yuan's many works his China in Western Literature: A Continuation of Cordier^s Bibliotheca Sinica of 1958 may be singled out for special mention. It is a comprehensive listing of some 18,000 monographic works on China in English, French, and German and works in Portuguese on Macao published from 1921 to 1957. It is the most important bibliography on China since the appearance of the monumental compilation by Henri Cordier (18491925) several decades ago. Russian Works on China, 1918-1960, in American Libraries, which appeared in 1961, lists materials in Russian not included in China in Western Literature. To record the academic interests and accomplishments of Chinese students who had pursued advanced studies abroad. Yuan compiled a number of lists of doctoral dissertations. The first to appear, in 1961, was A Guide to Doctoral Dissertations by Chinese Students in America, 19051960, containing nearly 3,000 titles. This was followed by Doctoral Dissertations by Chinese Students in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 1916-1961, which appeared in the March 1961 issue of Chinese Culture (Taipei) , and A Guide to Doctoral Dissertations by Chinese Students in Continental Europe, 1907-1962, which appeared in installments in 1964 in the same journal. All these publications contributed greatly to a better understanding of the background and trends of higher education in modern China. In his later years Yuan was interested in Sinkiang. He projected a series of ten titles on this outlying territory, including three bibliographies (of works in Chinese, in Japanese, and in Western languages) ; a collection of treaties and agreements between China and Russia relating to northwestern China; and reproductions of six older works on the area which were long out of print. Nearly all of these titles were published.

Biography in Chinese

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