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Chinese Studies: Special Collections


The Library’s Special Collections provide a rich resource for East Asian Studies at the University of Manchester.


Our collections provide a unique insight into the great variety of East Asian written and visual cultures. They are an excellent resource for the history and literature of China and Japan from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

This guide will identify collection strengths and help you access relevant material.


Collection strengths

Views of the European Palaces in the Garden of Perfect Brightness

The Library’s Special Collections in this field are of international importance, particularly for the documentation of the relationship between Europe and East Asia from the 17th century onwards, as well as relationships between China, Japan and their geographical neighbours.

The Crawford Chinese Collection comprises an essentially complete Classical Chinese Library (of the 19th century) and is an important resource for research and learning. It includes a rare copy of the set of engravings of the Twenty views of the European Palaces in the Garden of Perfect Brightness, including this unique painting. 

There are a number of catalogues covering different parts of the collection, in English and Chinese. These are available as pdfs.

Chinese studies

Page from the Illustrated Chinese Classics

The Library’s printed, manuscript and archival collections are of particular value to Chinese Studies. The bulk of the collection was acquired in 1901 with the purchase of the Crawford collection, which included printed works, manuscripts and approximately 1,000 watercolour paintings depicting many aspects of China and Chinese.

The Miao Peoples throughout the Guizhou Province

The Chinese Collection contains over 500 rare printed books, dating from the Ming dynasty to the early 15th century, and smaller quantities of manuscript material. The collection reflects almost every aspect of Chinese life and culture, and includes histories, biographies, ceremonials, dictionaries, grammar books, and works on calligraphy. The collection also provides valuable evidence of the interests of European Sinologists and collectors in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Library also holds an important collection of Mo‑So manuscripts created by the Na-khi people of South-West China. The collection largely consists of notebooks made by dto-mbas, or shamans, for the performance of secret ritual ceremonies. Some are decorated, and a few contain Chinese and Tibetan translations. The collection was acquired in the early 20th century by the botanist George Forrest, one of the few Europeans to have lived in the ancient Mo-So capital, LiKiang.

European interactions with East Asia

The Library holds rare printed books and several collections of papers which record the colonial, trading and missionary activities of Europeans in East Asia.

The Chinese and Japanese Collections hold important printed books and manuscripts relating to European interactions with China and Japan, including autograph manuscripts by Jesuit missionaries and early Sinologists. There are a number of Christian texts printed in Chinese by Jesuit and Protestant missionaries from the early 18thcentury onwards.

The Voyages and Travels Collection features important atlases and first editions of the published accounts of travellers and explorers, while the Booker and Mills Map Collections contain notable examples of French and Dutch maps of Asia and the Far East.

Within the Methodist Archives, the Lewis Court Bible Christian Collection contains material relating to missionary activities in China during the 19th century. The papers of the Methodist missionary Harold Burgoyne Rattenbury, who worked in China from 1902 to 1934, contain a great deal of information on Chinese life and affairs during a momentous period in the country’s history. Twentieth century missionary activity in China is also well represented in the Christian Brethren Collections, particularly in the Echoes of Service Archive.

Photograph of Li Hung Chang, Chinese diplomat

The Bowring Papers are an important source for studies of Anglo-Chinese relations and the opening of Japan. They contain correspondence of Sir John Bowring (1792–1872), mainly concerning political and commercial affairs in the Far East at the time when Sir John was Consul at Canton, Plenipotentiary to China and, from 1854, Governor of Hong Kong. The Carrington Papers include a small quantity of letters and papers relating to Sir Codrington Edmund Carrington's term as Chief Justice of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), 1800–06.

The Library also holds photographs across the archive, printed and visual collections, which provide a fascinating visual record of China from the 1860s onwards.


What are Special Collections?

picture of a Chaucer manuscript and an iPad image of the same manuscript

What are Special Collections?

The University of Manchester Library holds one of the finest collections of rare books, manuscripts, archives and visual collections in the world. These collections are mainly concentrated in the magnificent building on Deansgate, The John Rylands Research Institute and Library, in the centre of Manchester. They are also housed in the Main Library on the University campus and at the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre, in Manchester Central Library. This resource introduces the different types of materials found in Special Collections and explains how they can be used to support your studies. For general tips on accessing digital and physical collections and visiting our reading room please look at our other Medium resources.

Using Special Collections

You are welcome to make use of Special Collections in your learning and research.

Due to the special nature of the material, we provide access in a controlled environment and there are some restrictions on use and access, particularly for fragile material or modern archives which may contain sensitive data.

Please read our guidance pages on the web for details.

Search Special Collections

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