The Shanghai, China Library has more than 15,000 original family tree books. With digital and microfilmed archives, the total collection contains genealogies of 283 family names. This is believed to be the largest collection of Chinese genealogies in the world,
"As the first library which set up a genealogy room for the public in China, Shanghai Library is a centre for collecting Chinese genealogies and for related studies in China as well as in the world," said Chen Jianhua, the assistant director of the Historical Documentation Centre in the Shanghai Library.
Shanghai Library started collecting and preserving family tree books in the early 1930s. Before the Communist Revolution of 1949, there were 400 family tree books in its collection. In the 1950s, social movements advocated abandoning all the heritage of China from before 1949 and the books were considered worthless. The documents and archives were sent to paper mills and were slated to be turned into paper pulp.
After receiving a grant from the government, Gu Tinglong visited almost every paper mill in China and bought many genealogies for the Shanghai Library. According to the library, Gu salvaged 5,800 family tree books that way.
"In contrast to family tree books in other countries, these unique documents are priceless as studies of Chinese history and folklore," Chen said. "In Western countries, family trees only give brief descriptions of the relationships between people who come from the same family. But Chinese genealogies contain abundant information: people can find records of family members' economic activities, educational traditions, places of residence and families' disciplines. The information greatly supplements the official historical record."
Zou Zhenhuan, the dean of ancient Chinese history at Fudan University, said that much important historical information comes from genealogical books. "When we carry on our studies, it's often difficult for us to find concrete description or even traces of ancient civilian lives because in ancient China the official history only provided information about emperors, higher officials or other outstanding persons. But for historical studies, the main object of interest is ordinary civilian life. Thanks to the good tradition of Chinese genealogy, we can acquire a lot of information on such topics that is just as important as what is recorded in official history."
According to Chen, people of all economic levels have great interest in searching and compiling their family tree books. Rong Yiren, the former Chinese vice-president, once visited Shanghai Library and was glad to find the genealogy of his family there. After his visit, he was delighted to receive a copy of his family tree book.
"Since the genealogy room was set up in 1996, every day we have met people from China and overseas who are interested in their families' genealogies. They have proposed all kinds of questions related to genealogy. We give them relevant suggestions and help them as much as possible. There is no cost to them and we are pleased to do this because it's good to see that people are satisfied with the results they find here," said Chen.
More information about the Shanghai Library may be found at http://www.library.sh.cn/new-eng.