European Association of Sinological Librarians


BEASL Number 9

Chinese Collections in Leuven, Belgium

by Benedicte Vaerman

The city of Leuven, site of a university since 1425, hosts three libraries specializing in China. In contrast to the long tradition in most of the other fields of scholarship, the China libraries were not created until the 1980's. Yet Leuven had had some tradition in orientalism since the middle of the l9th century, and the study of Far Eastern languages had become one of the four possible branches of the of officially established Oriental Institute of Louvain as early as 1936. However, since most of the staff of the Oriental Institute was French- speaking, the entire section of Far Eastern Studies moved to the new francophone Universite Catholique de Louvain during the seventies, taking its library with it.

The Chinese- Japanese Library
Thus, when Professor Ulrich Libbrecht created a new sinology section in the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven at the end of the seventies, there were no books available. Gradually, he managed to acquire the most essential reference material. As the study of sinology was a subsidiary section in the Oriental Department of the Faculty of Arts, these books were kept in the Faculty Library. Meanwhile, the university had bought the Chinese collection of the late Father Mullie, a C.I.C.M. China scholar. This collection contained some interesting Chinese religious materials, as well as older editions of the 25 dynasties, some local histories and a lot of works on the Chinese language. Since the Faculty Library could not hold this amount of extra material, the Chinese and Japanese books of the Faculty of Arts, as well as its collection in Western languages on China and Japan, were moved to a large room in the Central Library. The room was furnished with bookshelves that had been made in the 1920's to hold a book collection donated by Emperor Hirohito while visiting Leuven. This Chinese- Japanese Library has now more than 15,000 volumes, almost 10,000 of which are on China. Of this amount, more than two- thirds are in Chinese, the rest are works in Western languages dealing with China. New acquisitions for this collection consist mainly of reference works for the study of sinology, and books related to the teaching and research of the faculty members. Therefore, philosophy, classical literature and history are the best represented subjects. There are at present some 100 current periodicals in the Chinese- Japanese Library.

The Documentation Center of the China- Europe Institute
In the 1980's, the China fever spread to Belgium, and in 1986 the Leuven university decided to establish an inter- faculty research institute focusing on modern China. This institute also started to buy books on China, initially mainly Western language material, to serve the growing need for knowledge on China throughout the academic cornmunity. Thus, the collection of the China- Europe Institute gradually came to comprise 7,000 volumes, of which more than 4,000 are in Western languages. The Center now subscribes to nearly 100 periodicals. The Documentation Center of the China- Europe Institute is the only library in Belgium that systematically collects materials on modern Chinese society. The library collection focuses mainly on Chinese history since the Ming dynasty, politics, economics and the social sciences. The Documentation Center also has a more practical information- oriented function. Telephone inquiries on all aspects of Chinese society arrive daily from the media and from the spheres of government and commerce. Meanwhile, in the 1980's, the study of sinology was also changing. To comply with the growing needs of the new China market, the Faculty offerred its students a choice between modern and classical China studies. As a consequence, the initial distinction between the library collection of the China- Europe Institute and the Faculty of Arts' China collections became irrelevant. In addition, space was becoming a problem in the beautiful Atrecht College building which houses the China- Europe Institute, and thus the K.U.Leuven decided to make some extra space available in the Central Library and bring the two collections together. As of now, plans are being worked out to make the necessary accommodations for bringing the holdings of the China- Europe Institute together with the Chinese- Japanese Library. The move is scheduled for 1996.

The Chinese Memorial Library
In the monastery of the C.I.C.M. order in Kessel- Lo, near Leuven, the personal libraries of some C.I.C.M. missionaries to China have been brought together. These are mainly the works collected by the Fathers Antoon Mostaert, Henry Serruys, Paul Serruys, and Jozef Spae. Many of these books have come from the United States via Taiwan and only then to Leuven. There are approximately 5,000 Chinese volumes in this collection as well as 7,500 books on China in Western languages. For the convenience of the readers, this library uses the same method of classification as the other two Chinese libraries in Leuven. Further, all the Western language books have been added to the LIBIS on- line cataloguing system used by Leuven university and many other universities and libraries in Belgium. The Chinese Memorial Library's acquisition policy is focusing on religions in China, on intercultural dialogue and history of the East- West relations.

Leuven, 15 November l995

Benedicte Vaerman