Nature and Scope

Key topics
Selection criteria
Romanizing Chinese names


“We cannot understand the contemporary world unless we understand China, and we cannot understand contemporary China unless we understand its past”
Professor Robert Bickers, University of Bristol

Discover over 200 years of Chinese history, charting the monumental social and political upheaval that recreated China as a modern power.

This digital collection answers a need for English-language primary sources relating to China and the West, 1793-1980. With manuscripts encompassing events from the earliest English embassy to the birth and early years of the People’s Republic, students are given an incredible insight into the changes wrought upon China during this period. Key documents relating to the Chinese Maritime Customs service – from Robert Hart to Frederick Maze – are accessible and searchable alongside original reports of the Amherst and Macartney embassies. There are letters relating to the first Opium War, survivors’ descriptions of the Boxer War and tantalising glimpses of life in China from the collected diaries and personal photographs of the Bowra family. There are also significant sources describing the lives and work of missionaries in China from 1869-1970, including extensive and fully searchable runs of missionary periodicals:

  • The Chinese Recorder
  • Light and Life Magazine
  • The Land of Sinim: the North China Mission Quarterly Paper

In addition, 400 colour paintings, maps and drawings by English and Chinese artists provide a rich visual seam to the collection. Photographs, sketches and ephemeral items depicting Chinese people, places, customs and events, and providing a striking visual accompaniment to the documentary images.

“It will be a wonderful opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to have access to a substantial body of English language primary source material relating to Modern China. This project will be a very valuable teaching tool for those of us teaching upper level courses and seminars on China and World History. It will make a rich array of sources accessible to students and enable then to do real research using original documents”
Professor Richard Horowitz, California State University, Northridge

Key topics

This project provides a wide variety of primary source material detailing China’s interaction with the West from Macartney’s first Embassy to China in 1793, through to the Nixon/Heath visits to China in 1972-74. It provides multiple perspectives – from politicians, diplomats, missionaries, business people and tourists – and documents many of the key events that happened in this period, including:

  • the 1792-1794 Macartney Embassy
  • the 1816 Amherst Embassy
  • the settling of Penang
  • the Opium Wars
  • the opening of Hong Kong
  • the Taiping Rebellion
  • Missions in China, 1869-1970
  • the Japanese seizure of Taiwan
  • the 'opening of Korea'
  • the Sino-French and territorial struggles with Germany, Britain, America and Japan
  • the Boxer War
  • the Russo-Japanese war
  • the 1911 Revolution
  • the Republican and Nationalist governments of Sun Yat sen and Jiang Jieshi
  • the Warlord period
  • the Sino-Japanese war
  • the Rape of Nanjing
  • the Communist Revolution led by Mao
  • the Korean War
  • the Great Leap Forward
  • the 1972 Nixon visit to China
  • Rolls-Royce's negotiations regarding the delivery of jet engines to China, 1973-1975
  • the Douglas-Home and Heath visits to China, 1973-74

Selection Criteria

Wherever possible we aim to include complete collections or complete sub-sections of larger collections and care has always been taken to ensure the completeness of every item such as diaries, journals or folders of correspondence.
The physical condition of the original documents always has to be assessed to see whether they are suitable for digitisation.

We have taken as much advice as possible from our Consultant Editors, scholars working in the field and the participating source libraries and archives.

Romanizing Chinese names

Various methods of Romanizing the Chinese language have been used in the West, the most often encountered being Wade-Giles and the Chinese Postal system, until the introduction of the Hanyu Pinyin system in 1979.

Wade-Giles was initially devised by Thomas Wade in 1859, and later revised by Herbert Giles in 1892. The Postal map Romanization is based in many ways on this system, and was standardized in 1906. It survived the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912 (largely because it was already used in postal maps and atlases) and was the accepted method of Romanizing Chinese place names during the 20th century.

As the collections represented in this project range from 1793-1980, you will find a mixture of both Romanization systems, as well as some highly idiosyncratic or phonetic spellings of places. Where possible, we have always used the Hanyu Pinyin name when indexing and categorising documents. Our powerful search engine has been programmed to recognise the possible duality of place names, and so will return search results for both Wade-Giles/Postal and Pinyin names, regardless of which place is searched for.

Border Changes – Mongolia and Manchuria

The 1911 revolution resulted in border changes within China, and as a consequence the historical maps of China within the collections differ from modern maps. ‘Manchuria’ no longer exists, but can be broadly represented by the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning. The Chinese-controlled region of Mongolia has also changed dramatically, the borders having changed in 1911 when an independent government was established after the fall of the Qing dynasty.

Wade-Giles/Pinyin conversion table

For quick reference, below is a useful list of places commonly found in our collections, with both the Wade-Giles/Postal system and Pinyin spellings.




Amoy Xiamen
Anhwei Anhui
Chekiang Zhejiang
Chihli Hebei
Fengtien Liaoning
Fukien Fujian
Hainan Hainan
Hokiang Heilongjiang
Honan Henan
Hunan Hunan
Hupeh Hubei
Kansu Gansu
Kiangsi Jiangxi
Kiangsu, Chiang-su Jiangsu
Kirin Jilin
Kwangsi Guangxi
Kwangtung Guangdong
Kweichow Guizhou
Ningsia Ningxia
Pekin/Peking/Beipiing Beijing
Shansi Shanxi
Shantung Shandong
Shensi Shaanxi
Sinkiang Xinjiang
Szechwan Sichuan
Tibet Xizang
Tientsin Tianjin
Tsinghai Qinghai
Yunnan Yunnan


Places and Regions



Amoy Xiamen
Ava Innwa
Batavia Jakarta
Canton Guangzhou
Chefoo Yantai
Chungking, Chungching Chongqing
Chusan, Tchusan Zhoushan
Cochin China Southern Vietnam
Foochow Fuzhou
Formosa Taiwan
Hankow Hankou/Wuhan
Jawa Java
Jehol Rehe
Kansu Gansu
Kiukiang Jiujiang
Kongmoon Jiangmen
Kutien Gutian
Kwei-Chow/Kweichow Guizhou
Lungchow Longzhou
Macao/Aomen Macau
Nanking Nanjing
Ningpo Ningbo
Pehtang Beitang
Peking, Pekin, Beiping, Peiping Beijing
Prince of Wales Island Penang
Shanghae Shanghai
Shansi Shanxi
Shantung Shandong
Sheng-King, Mukden Shengyang
Siam Thailand
Soochow, Soutcheou Suzhou
Swatow Shantou
Tengyueh Tengyue
Tientsin Tianjin
Tsingtao Qingdao
Weihaiwei Weihai
Whampoa Huangpu
Yangtcheou, Yangchow Yangzhou