The National Archives of Publications and Culture: A “Seed Bank” for Chinese Civilization
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) with Xi Jinping at its core made the decision to establish the National Archives of Publications and Culture (NAPC). The NAPC represents a foundational project for China’s development as a great civilization and a landmark cultural initiative that will benefit generations to come. It fully embodies the CPC’s profound consciousness in carrying forward and developing Chinese culture and its initiative in creating a brighter future by drawing on the wisdom of the past. On July 30, 2022, the NAPC’s central archives in Beijing and three branch archives in Xi’an of Shaanxi Province, Hangzhou of Zhejiang Province, and Guangzhou of Guangdong Province were jointly inaugurated. On June 1, 2023, with the NAPC’s first anniversary approaching, President Xi Jinping paid a visit to the central archives in Beijing, where he issued important instructions. At a conference on cultural inheritance and development the following afternoon, President Xi delivered a keynote speech.
Culture shapes a country’s foundation and destiny. With a strong sense of historical insight, consciousness, and confidence, President Xi used his speech at the conference to elaborate on a series of major theoretical and practical issues concerning the inheritance and further advancement of Chinese culture from the strategic perspective of the development of the CPC and the country. Based on an in-depth analysis of the five distinctive features of Chinese civilization, he explored the significance of the idea of “two integrations” (the integration of Marxism’s basic tenets with China’s specific realities and the best of its traditional culture), placing a focus on the “second integration,” and defined the new cultural mission for the new era which began in 2012. In doing so, President Xi has laid out the development direction and fundamental principles we must follow to steadily advance a modern Chinese civilization and a strong socialist culture on the journey ahead. All this has provided us with a strong sense of confidence and impetus for advancing the NAPC’s development.
I. Deepening understanding of cultural inheritance and development
Cultural inheritance and development are important facets of China’s soft power. In terms of building a strong socialist country, they are fundamental to illuminating our origins, fortifying our roots, and carrying forward our traditions as we turn a new page of history.
An aerial view of the National Archives of Publications and Culture (NAPC). Situated along the extended northern section of Beijing’s historic north-south axis, the NAPC has a traditional courtyard layout. Through the use of traditional architectural features including eaves, platforms, and interconnected corridors, it exudes a sense of elegant symmetry, simplicity, and grandeur. NAPC
Understanding the distinctive features of Chinese civilization and reinforcing confidence in our history
Chinese civilization is distinguished by a remarkable degree of consistency, being the sole ancient civilization to endure without interruption and develop as a nation to the present day. It is also marked by striking originality, remaining in a constant state of renewal and innovation that has lent it both profound depths and magnificent scope. It is set apart by remarkable unity, shaped by a time-honored tradition of striving for great unity across the country, which has culminated in solidarity and cohesion amid great diversity. It is also characterized by inclusiveness. Rather than supplanting cultural diversity with uniformity, it has enabled its diverse cultures to come together to create a shared culture based on the resolution of conflicts and consensus-building. Finally, it is characterized by a peaceful nature. The concepts of peace, harmony, and concord have been passed down from generation to generation for over 5,000 years. We champion a world of shared harmony founded on moral order and believe in placing others before oneself in interpersonal relations. The extensive anthology of classic Chinese cultural works, handed down through generations, is a testament to and record of China’s status as the world’s only continuous civilization.
Throughout Chinese history, all dynasties attached great importance to the preservation of editions of classic works in carrying forward China’s cultural heritage. For thousands of years, institutions operating under various names have been devoted to the sole purpose of protecting classic works, from the imperial archives of the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC), the stone chambers of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), and Tianlu Pavilion of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), to Hongwen Library of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Chongwen Academy of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Wenyuan Pavilion of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and the seven imperial libraries of the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911). Despite the uninterrupted continuation of Chinese culture, however, the preservation of such works and materials has encountered considerable vicissitudes, with many precious editions still scattered around the world today. In times of prosperity, cultural development always enjoys priority, particularly the collection and preservation of classic editions. As a project that has received President Xi’s close attention and personal approval, the NAPC’s establishment has incorporated the coordination and planning for collecting and protecting classic works and texts into the larger undertaking of reinforcing China’s cultural identity, illustrating the CPC’s firm confidence and cultural consciousness.
Understanding the necessity and significance of the “two integrations,” particularly the “second integration,” and maintaining firm confidence in our culture
President Xi has expounded the major significance of the “two integrations,” noting that compatibility is the prerequisite for integration and that integration has resulted in mutual advancement for Marxism and China, reinforced the foundations of China’s path, opened up new space for innovation, and consolidated our cultural identity. These points constitute a systematic conclusion drawn by the CPC based on its explorations of socialism with Chinese characteristics. They reflect the new heights the CPC has attained in its understanding of the path, theory, and system of Chinese socialism, in its historical and cultural confidence, and in its consciousness in promoting cultural innovation while carrying forward traditional Chinese culture.
Editions of valuable texts are important carriers of cultural heritage as well as historical and cultural confidence. In addition to serving as concrete and credible evidence of Chinese civilization, they also offer tangible proof of the innovative theories and evolving practices embodied in the notion of the “two integrations.” As the “precious seeds” verifying a million years of humanity, ten thousand years of culture, and more than five thousand years of civilization in China, the archives of classic Chinese works are essentially a microcosm of Chinese history and offer a panoramic view of Chinese culture. In the context of the new era and new discourses, important editions include not only historical materials like bamboo slips, wooden tablets, silk manuscripts, woodblock prints, stone and bronze rubbings, rare ancient books, Republicanera (1912-1949) literature, and local records and maps, but also present and future publications in various formats, such as print and digital editions. These textual sources are all interlinked and collectively reveal the deep-seated roots of Chinese civilization, thereby enhancing its inclusive nature and demonstrating its enduring vigor. Together, they constitute a source of dynamism that allows Chinese civilization to continuously bring forth the new from the old.
Understanding the mission and task of developing a modern Chinese civilization and strengthening our sense of cultural responsibility
Modern Chinese civilization conforms to the general laws governing the development of all civilizations, while also possessing some striking national and contemporary features. It represents the correct direction of development and progress for humanity. History and present reality show that under the CPC’s leadership, China’s traditional culture has undergone the most extensive and profound transformation in its history, providing powerful vitality for the development of contemporary Chinese culture and giving rise to new achievements for Chinese civilization. To develop a modern Chinese civilization, we must stay firmly rooted in Chinese culture and strike a balance between preservation and innovation, striving to promote transformation while preserving our culture and seeking excellence while learning from others. Harnessing the ethos of our times, we should invigorate China’s traditional culture and adapt our cultural heritage to contemporary culture and modern society. Fostering a global mindset, we must keep our roots firmly in mind while embracing the outside world and looking toward the future. With an open and inclusive attitude, we should draw inspiration from all humanity’s outstanding achievements and address shortcomings by drawing on the best elements of other cultures.
With editions of classic works acting as key carriers, the best of the traditional Chinese culture is connected to the revolutionary and advanced socialist cultures of China in a single continuous thread. Together, these constitute the cultural lifeblood of the Chinese nation, supplying a vital wellspring for nurturing the core socialist values and providing us with a firm footing amid global cultural interaction. We can only stride forward into the future if we keep the past firmly in mind; we can only achieve innovation if we adeptly carry forward our cultural heritage. As we seek to pioneer and develop a modern Chinese civilization rooted in more than 5,000 years of history, the most fundamental factor of all will be the extent to which we can utilize classic Chinese works within the broader cultural landscape of the new era to generate theoretical and practical innovations for modern Chinese civilization based on our nation’s great historical and contemporary endeavors. With a stronger sense of historical responsibility, we should persistently elevate, broaden, and deepen our understanding. Armed with a forward-looking mindset and a comprehensive planning approach, we should advance the development of modern Chinese civilization in a holistic way and ensure that it will always stand tall and proud among the civilizations of the world.
II. Steadily developing the NAPC as a landmark cultural project
During his visit to the NAPC’s central archives, President Xi remarked, “I care deeply about the priceless historical and cultural texts that have endured the vicissitudes of Chinese civilization.” “In times of prosperity,” he noted, “cultural development should be prioritized.” “In this era, our nation is thriving, with a peaceful and stable society. We possess both the willingness and ability to carry forward our national culture. It is important to accomplish this major task well.” Since 2019, China has focused on the permanent and safe preservation of cultural treasures with a view to fortifying the cultural basis of national rejuvenation. Selecting locations of outstanding beauty and geographical importance, it has built several cultural sanctuaries to house collections of editions of classic works. Forming the archives of the NAPC, these repositories serve as a showcase for Chinese civilization. They reflect the cultural prosperity of our times, blend the beauty of ancient and modern elements, and stand as cultural monuments for the benefit of future generations. They are new cultural landmarks of the new era.
Building new bases for carrying forward cultural heritage
The NAPC’s central archives and three branches were established in several of China’s renowned mountains to fulfill the mission of safeguarding China’s cultural treasures for future generations. They are respectively located in Beijing’s Yanshan Mountains, Xi’an’s Guifeng Mountain in the Qinling range, Liangzhu in Hangzhou, and Fenghuang Mountain in Guangzhou. They illustrate the splendor of China as a major country, the refined elegance of the Han and Tang dynasties, the cultural charm of the Song Dynasty and the area south of the Yangtze River, as well as the vitality of the Lingnan culture found in the southern provinces of Guangdong and Hainan and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Together, they comprise a national-level cultural institution that seamlessly blends cultural, artistic, and contemporary elements. The central archives is located on the site of an abandoned quarry that has been ecologically restored. The site has pioneered the development of cave repositories to ensure the permanent and safe preservation of precious publication resources. With zones for collection, cave storage, exhibitions, and exchanges, the site totals around 380,000 square meters, with the collection area comprising 190,000 square meters and the storage caves around 55,000 square meters. It represents a new high point in both scale and conditions for storing editions of classic works. The design process employed high-quality materials and integrated elements such as calligraphy, traditional color schemes, and exquisite patterns to create stunning archival spaces for housing precious books and manuscripts. The archives vividly captures the charm of Chinese culture by creatively fusing digital technologies, landscaped gardens, and other features with a unique geographical environment, striking architecture, and splendid exhibition halls, as well as invaluable artifacts.
Creating a new symbol of China’s cultural heritage
The NAPC’s central archives and three branches are located in the east, west, south, and north of the country. Housing the cultural treasures of the Chinese nation, they form an inheritance and preservation system, in which the central archives provides overall planning and guidance, each branch has a special focus, and the central archives and branches reinforce and complement one another. The central archives serves as a national depository for important publication resources and a seed bank for Chinese culture. It leads the planning and coordination of publication resources nationwide, with branches serving as backup repositories and regional centers for the collection of publication resources. When choosing what to collect and preserve, the benchmark we use is cultural value, with careful selections made according to artifacts’ historical, intellectual, social, and aesthetic value. To build a new preservation system for editions of classic works, we have set certain parameters. In deciding what to collect, our goal is to achieve comprehensive coverage, while highlighting distinct cultural characteristics. In determining how much to collect, we endeavor to amass suitable quantities of artifacts across various categories. In terms of how to collect, we are engaged in broad acquisition efforts both domestically and globally. With respect to how to preserve, we have opted for classification based on category and management by sections. The scope of our work encompasses all kinds of Chinese works and materials that bear the imprints of Chinese civilization, be they from ancient or modern times, or sourced from China or overseas. This includes not only publications of all kinds from the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 onwards, but also culturally and historically valuable oracle bones, bamboo slips, wooden tablets, ancient books, revolutionary literature, religious texts, woodblock prints, rubbings from engravings, local documents, family genealogies, and coins and stamps throughout Chinese history. In this way, we are building a comprehensive and authoritative national depository of editions of classic works. The plans for the NAPC’s headquarters and three branches provide for the preservation of over 100 million volumes and items in total, with more than 25 million volumes and items having been collected so far.
A three-story 15-meter-tall atrium, designed in a traditional Chinese octagonal structure, lies at the heart of Wenhan Hall. The unique interior reflects the hall’s role as a repository of classic works. NAPC
Creating a new window for China’s cultural confidence
In line with the theme of the “two integrations,” we have focused on the central narrative of China’s historical development and the evolution of Chinese civilization. Using texts as carriers for this narrative, we have designed one thematic exhibition, two primary exhibits, four special exhibitions, two exhibitions of outstanding publications, and three distinctive library exhibitions. The thematic exhibition “Light of Truth: A Classic Archives Exhibition of Marxism Localization and Modernization in China” showcases the glorious journey of adapting Marxism to the Chinese context and the needs of the times through classic works, archival documents, and manuscripts. The first primary exhibit, “The Inception of Chinese Civilization: An Exhibition of Ancient Chinese Publications and Cultural Articles,” gathers various treasures such as bone and pottery artifacts, bronze inscriptions, bamboo and silk manuscripts, and rare ancient books, presenting the origins, developmental context, and underlying trends of traditional Chinese culture. The second primary display, “Witness to the Great Cause: The Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation Archives Exhibition,” uses physical artifacts to chronicle the endeavors of Chinese Communists in leading the nation on the correct path to rejuvenation. Exhibitions on the craftsmanship of printing, on fine publications and special editions in contemporary China, and on stamps and currency in China showcase the rich heritage and creativity of Chinese culture from different perspectives. The two exhibitions on outstanding publications are located in the National Study and Wenhan Hall and illustrate the PRC’s cultural prosperity with thousands of high-quality publications. An exhibition of the Siku Quanshu (The Complete Library of the Four Treasuries) and a display of the woodblocks of Tripitaka scriptures in the Han, Tibetan, Mongolian, and Manchu ethnic languages are presented in a combined storage-exhibition format. This marks the first simultaneous display of original and replica versions of the Siku Quanshu and the Tripitaka in four different scripts. To date, the NAPC’s four locations have received over 500,000 visits. This has offered the public an opportunity to experience the ingenious craftsmanship of the Chinese nation going back to ancient times, understand the inception of Chinese civilization, witness our progress in the great cause of national rejuvenation, better understand the truth of Marxism, and reflect on some of the outstanding publications issued since the PRC’s founding. Moreover, it has provided the public with a new lens through which they can view the connection between the extraordinary journey of Chinese civilization and the history of world socialism, the CPC, and the PRC.
Creating a new architecture for data development
The NAPC also serves as a national digital center for publications and cultural heritage. In line with the principle of digital empowerment, we have worked to bring to life cultural artifacts in museums, cultural heritage across the country, and texts in ancient books and promoted the application of digital technologies in the preservation, archiving, and development of Chinese heritage from the perspective of editions of classic works. We have developed comprehensive plans for the collection of digital editions of publications, promoted a submission mechanism for digital versions of works, launched a program for the collection of digital texts, and implemented initiatives to digitize physical editions of publications for storage. We have also launched development and service programs for big data in publications. Based on a “1+3+N” framework that incorporates both the central archives and the three branches of the NAPC, we have built a system for long-term preservation, backup, and exhibition restoration in case of disasters. We are also striving to create a comprehensive, safe, and stable national digital resource database for classic works. To date, the NAPC has digitized 16 million pages of precious old editions of books for storage. It has integrated nearly 500 million pieces of data from the upper and lower streams of the publishing and distribution industry chain based on more than 20 million pieces of publication identification data. To accelerate efforts to put publication data resources to more extensive use, we have built a service platform for the NAPC’s data center, providing comprehensive public data services to various industries and sectors.
III. Staying true to the NAPC’s original purpose while shouldering the cultural mission in the new era
During his visit to the NAPC, President Xi Jinping highlighted the original mission behind its establishment. The NAPC’s purpose in this stage is to ensure the collection and protection of all texts and materials dating back to ancient times that can be gathered in order to carry forward the world’s only continuous civilization.
Focusing on the core task of collection to keep Chinese civilization thriving
To fulfill the planning and coordination functions of the NAPC, we will establish and refine a national mechanism for coordinating institutions responsible for publication resources. Gearing our efforts toward the community level, the general public, and overseas, we will carry out thorough surveys for the purposes of building our collection, so as to compile a complete and clearly cataloged inventory of Chinese publication resources. To collect and preserve as many publications and materials as possible, we will seek to gather publication artifacts relating to Chinese civilization that have been scattered among different communities, passed between private owners, or ended up overseas, in an effort to collect as many editions of classic works dating back to ancient times as possible. We will build a general NAPC data repository to achieve connectivity between different digital publication resources and integrate them into the “seed bank” for Chinese civilization. This will provide a complete picture of editions of classic works from Chinese history.
Strengthening preservation and security efforts to effectively safeguard Chinese civilization
Fully leveraging the NAPC’s setup of having a central archives and three branches, we will make good use of our first-rate preservation facilities, draw up well-conceived plans for distributing archive resources between different institutions, and step up the development of branches as off-site disaster recovery centers to achieve mutual backup of data based on various categories and grades. This will enable us to reinforce our ability to withstand various disasters and pass on our cultural heritage. We will push ahead with the research and development of innovative technologies for the preservation of classic works thereby elevating scientific and technological levels for all preservation and restoration efforts and ensuring permanent preservation of and security for the important carriers of our civilization. In doing so, we will build the NAPC into a secure place for safeguarding the seeds of Chinese civilization and reach new heights in the global effort to preserve editions of classic works.
Coordinating the study and utilization of artifacts to provide sound interpretations of Chinese civilization
We collect important artifacts with the goal of passing them on in an optimal state. Editions of classic works in each era are the creations of the people and therefore, should be used for their benefit. While fulfilling our primary duty of preservation, the NAPC will also step up efforts to build a theoretical system concerning editions of classic works and foster the growth of bibliology as an academic discipline. We will conduct research on pertinent theoretical topics and promote academic dialogue both domestically and further afield. To advance the research and interpretation of important editions, we will compile and publish a general catalog of important editions of Chinese rare books. We will also develop brands of academic works and popular readings on bibliology and publish academic journals such as the Chinese Journal of Bibliology as well as specialized journals such as National New Books Information and the English language journal China Book International. We will further the development of the NAPC data center, building it into a one-stop, public-benefit resource and service platform. This will see the NAPC’s magnificent collection becoming a public good for all, thereby allowing the cultural flame passed down by our ancestors to radiate with added luster in the new era. It will serve as a vibrant wellspring of China’s traditional culture, revolutionary culture, and advanced socialist culture, providing nourishment and inspiration for our times.
Promoting cultural exchanges to better inform the world about Chinese civilization
The NAPC stands as a profound gift for our times and a precious cultural legacy for generations to come. It leverages the role of editions of classic works and texts as important cultural symbols. From this unique perspective, we will collect all classic editions of works concerning Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and organize related thematic symposiums. We will curate and host unique exhibitions that underscore the historical, cultural, and aesthetic value of editions of classic works from various dimensions, thereby offering a glimpse into the profound depths and diverse charm of Chinese culture. National reading events such as the Wenhan Forum and the Wenhan Lecture Hall, alongside international cultural exchanges, including the Cultural Exchange Day, will be organized. Through the unique lens of the culture encapsulated in important editions, we will tell China’s story, allow China’s voice to be better heard, and foster cultural exchanges and dialogues. We will thus open a new cultural window through which the world can understand China and help to further disseminate and promote Chinese culture.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 17, 2023)