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China: Culture and Society

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"Much of the knowledge of China written for consumption by the English-speaking world appeared first in pamphlets written by diplomats, missionaries, merchants, academics, and travellers working in or passing through China, and even by writers observing China from afar. There was hardly a topic that was not the focus of a published pamphlet, including language and literature, games and pastimes, architecture, natural history, opium, foot binding, philosophy, religion and mythology, international relations, and myriad other topics. The writers sought to make their findings available to an audience that might have been restricted to church or society members or as broad as the general public “at home.” Some pamphlets were intended to be definitive while others were merely exploratory. The vast wealth of materials preserved in the more than 1000 pamphlets in this collection, now digitized and searchable, could never be assembled again. These pamphlets were published over a span of nearly 200 years as letters, lecture notes, guides, addresses and speeches, and meeting minutes. Much of what they contain is preserved nowhere else, and certainly very little of the material is available as a single resource"

Raymond Lum, PhD
Librarian for Western Languages, Harvard-Yenching Library, Harvard University

Source Library

  • The Wason Pamphlet Collection at Cornell University

Editorial Board

  • Robert Bickers (University of Bristol)
  • Sherman Cochran (Cornell University)
  • Raymond Lum (Harvard-Yenching Library, Harvard University)
  • Liren Zheng (Cornell University)

Nature of the Material

  • Addresses and speeches
  • Annual reports
  • Assessments
  • Catalogues
  • Essays
  • Examinations
  • Guides and manuals
  • Inquiries and studies
  • Journals
  • Lecture notes
  • Letters
  • Magazine articles
  • Meeting minutes
  • Notes and records

Scope of the Collection

The pamphlets cover a very wide range of topics including:

  • Ancient objects and artefacts
  • Architecture
  • Colonial rule
  • Currency and coinage
  • Customs and traditions
  • Education
  • Embassy visits and legations
  • Everyday life
  • Expeditions and voyages
  • Games and pastimes
  • Health and Medicine
  • Immigration
  • International Relations
  • Language and writing
  • Literature and poetry
  • Missionary work
  • Natural history
  • Opium trade and smuggling
  • Philosophy
  • Politics and policy
  • Population data
  • Religion and mythology
  • Topography and geography
  • Trade and commerce

About the Charles W. Wason Collection on East Asia

The Charles W. Wason Collection on East Asia began as the private library of the late Charles W. Wason, a Cornell alumnus and railroad magnate based in Cleveland. Wason developed an interest in the Far East after he and his wife took a cruise to China and Japan in 1903, which was a crucial and transitional period in modern Chinese history, just eight years before the revolution was about to bring down a feudal system that had endured for over 2000 years. The Wason China Pamphlet Collection (DS703 Z101 – DS703 Z226) is held in the Rare and Manuscript Collection at the Carl A. Kroch Library, one of the nineteen libraries that constitutes the Cornell University Library. The size of the Wason Pamphlet Collection is c220 bound volumes, of which 69 volumes (DS703 Z146 – DS703 Z226) are under a uniform title, China and the Chinese, assumedly given by Wason himself. From the outset, Wason's intent was to collect materials providing a comprehensive view of China and the Chinese people, both in and outside of China. Realizing the importance of journal literature, Wason collected pamphlets and excerpted articles from periodicals, and bound into volumes for which tables of contents were created. While China was always the emphasis, Wason desired a well-rounded collection and acquired important titles relating to countries influenced by Chinese culture.

Example pamphlet titles

The scope of the Wason Pamphlet collection is astonishingly broad. The following selection of pamphlet titles to be included in the resource provides an idea of the vast range and scope of the material:

  • Across Asia on a Bicycle
  • Alligators in China : their history, description and identification
  • Ancient Chinese Coinage
  • British Crown Disgraced in China
  • Calamitous Typhoon at Hongkong, 18th September, 1906, being a full account of the disaster
  • Cathay / translated by Ezra Pound
  • China's Intercourse with Korea
  • Chinese account of the Opium War
  • Description of ancient Chinese vases : with inscriptions illustrative of the history of the Shang dynasty of Chinese sovereigns
  • Extracts from the Peking gazettes (translated)
  • Future of the port of Shanghai : a geological study
  • Glossary of English and Chinese Anatomical Terms according to the Old and New Medical Nomenclatures
  • Golden-horned dragon king, or, The emperor's visit to the spirit world (translated from the Chinese)
  • Hand-Book on Etiquette in Chinese Official Intercourse
  • Inquiry into the population of China
  • Lecture on the nature and structure of the Chinese language
  • Leprosy in Hongkong
  • Notes for Tourists in the North of China
  • Paper on Chinese music
  • Pictures of Tibetan life
  • Postage Stamps of China
  • Relations between China, Russia and Mongolia
  • Remarkable progress of the anti-footbinding movement
  • Silk: Its Origin, Culture, and Manufacture
  • Steam traffic and trade on the upper Yangtse
  • Story of Baptist Missions in Foreign Lands
  • Tea and the Tea Plant
  • Travels of Marco Polo, a Venetian, in the thirteenth century (translated from the Italian)
  • Treaty of Nanking, signed August 29th, 1842, and the Supplementary Treaty, signed October 8th, 1843. In the Chinese and English languages
  • Views of Shanghai, China

This resource is an indispensable addition to any library supporting research on all aspects of Chinese history and culture, and is suitable for academic use from undergraduate to research level.