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Foreign Ministry Archives, Beijing

Page history last edited by Paul Keenan 14 years ago

Date of tip: 23 August 2005 (last research visit dates back July 2004)

Source: Margaret (Malgorzata) Gnoinska, gnoinska@gwu.edu


Location: 2 Southern Street, Chaoyang men, Chaoyang District, Beijing,100701 Tel: 65961114; The address in Chinese address: 北京市朝阳区朝阳门南大街 2 号  邮编:100701  电话86-10-65961114


Possible Accommodation: There are numerous hotels in Beijing and the archives are centrally located, so you should stay in central Beijing if you can, preferably close to the metro line. Consult the Lonely Planet guidebook on hotels, or go to their website at www.lonelyplanet.com. I stayed at the Chongwenmen Hotel (right next to the Chongwenmen Metro Station) which was very convenient and not too expensive.


How to get there: There are many flights to Beijing, so you just need to look for the best deal and the best route for yourself. 

The best way to get to the FM Archive there is to take the metro to Chaoyangmen and go out from the Southern exit. The Foreign Ministry building is huge, so you won't miss it, but the archives are not in the major building! Cross the street (heading north). After you cross, don't go straight, but take a left (now you are walking east). Walk for a little while. Then take a left on the first (I think) street you see. Actually, it's more like an internal street that takes you into the Foreign Ministry complex. Walk a little and the building you want will be on your left. It's pretty small. The archive is on the 7th floor.  


Language: The staff speak a little bit of English, but you need to communicate with them in Chinese (of course) either by yourself or have someone come with you and help you out.


Getting started: Firstly, you need a letter of introduction from a Chinese university or research institute; a letter from your professor or department back home will not be enough. When I went there, in July 2004, the archive had just opened up to the public, so the rules and regulations may have changed. I did not call ahead of time, but went with the introduction letter in hand and a graduate student from Beijing University (to assist me with communication and research). I filled out an application and was granted permission to conduct research instantly. Of course, bring your photo ID with you, which in case of foreign researchers is a passport. The reading room is small, but comfortable. It can hold about 8 researchers. 


Opening Hours: Monday through Friday, 9:00 am – 4pm (closed for state holidays). The archive was closed for one hour from 12:30 – 1:30pm, as I recall. (The hours of operation may have changed since).


General working conditions: The Reading Room is very small, but extremely comfortable and high-tech with eight computer stations. Absolutely no food or beverages (including water) are allowed. You can bring in your stuff, including notepaper, pens and pencils; there were no lockers when I was there. I am not sure about laptop computers.


Consultation: Everything is computerized. You do not turn in request slips for research material. There are no boxes, no paper, but computers and documents in pdf files available to researchers. There are two computers in the first room (where the archivists are; this is NOT a Reading Room). You are allowed to pull up ten documents at a time by way of conducting a key word search. You then select them and they get sent (electronically) to the archivist. When I was there you had to pay 5 yuan (about $.60) per document just to look at it. Once the docs are approved by the archivist and you have paid (in CASH!), then you are given a password and directed to the Reading Room. You type in your password (which will be different every time you request the docs) and your documents appear in pdf form. 


Policy on technology: No microfilm available, not sure about laptop computers (now) and no digital cameras since there are no hard copies of documents. 


Photocopy policy: Once your documents appear in pdf files on your computer work station, you can flag the pages you want to have copied and send them electronically to the archivist. At the time each copy cost 10 yuan, which was about $1.25 a page (NOT CHEAP!). The staff were very strict on what they allowed to be copied. Actually, some were not allowed to be copied physically, but they could be copied by hand. However, it's very hard to do that if one has little time in the archives. If you stay in Beijing for a month or more, it may be feasible. It takes only a couple of days to have the documents copied by the archivists, after they have been previously approved and paid for, of course.  


Particularities: No complaints. As far as food, there are many restaurants around the Chaoyangmen Metro Station which serve Chinese, Japanese, and Western food. 


How to apply for classified files: Not sure. 


Contact name in case of questions regarding classified files: I am not sure if this process even exists. For more details you can always contact Mr. Hao Weihua who is Deputy Division Director. His direct number is (010) 65964294. 


General Assessment: The visit to the archive is naturally a must for students of Chinese foreign policy, Cold War history, international history and Asian history. At the time of my visit, the archive was releasing documents between 1949 and 1955 only. What was extremely interesting was that there were many more journalists, especially from Japan and South Korea, than scholars and students making use of the newly declassified archival evidence. However, it was really exciting to be there soon after the archive opened to the public. I was able to obtain interesting documents, such as reports from the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw on Zhou Enlai's visit in Poland in 1954. The strange part of the experience was that everything was computerized and I did not deal with any boxes, folders, files, etc., which made the whole research process much more clinical and made me nostalgic for the past hidden in yellowish paper, carbon copies, and typewritten and handwritten, often fragile documents…

The staff were helpful and understanding of foreign researchers who did not speak Chinese.  

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