Bulletin of the European Association
of Sinological Librarians
BEASL Number 10
In the world of Chinese characters
Readers of Chinese in the Royal
Library of Denmark
Readers || Types of
material lent by the three groups of readers || Researchers
|| Students || Ethnic Chinese
The Royal Library of Denmark, situated in Copenhagen, houses the Oriental
Department where, among others, books and journals in Chinese are kept.
It is the largest collection of Chinese language material in Denmark. There
are two universities in Denmark (Copenhagen and Aarhus Universities) teaching
Chinese language and they both have a small library - the biggest of the
two in Copenhagen University.
The Chinese Collection of the Oriental Department purchases books and
journals covering social sciences and humanities in Chinese language. The
budget is not very large but each year the collection increases with about
700 new book titles and in addition the department subscribes to approximately
300 journals and 100 yearbooks. Total holdings amount to ca. 35.000 titels
in ca. 55.000 volumes.
Books and journals published in this century are generally allowed to
be taken out of the Royal Library for reading (up to a maximum of six months).
Older books can only be used in the reading rooms. There are some further
restrictions in lending expensive books, reference books, books including
loose leafs, unbound journals, etc.
In the last five years the average number of Chinese titles lent out
has alternated between 1500-1800 per year. The amount of material delivered
to the reading rooms fluctuated between 300 titles to over 800 per year.
It is not possible to estimate how much the Chinese reference collection
is used since it is kept on open shelves.
Who is the usual reader of Chinese books and journals in Denmark?
There are - as a manner of speaking - three types of readers: a) research
workers, b) students and c) ethnic Chinese: people who are neither researchers
nor students. Researchers are usually connected either to universities
or to other research institutions such as museums. Among the research workers
there are two to three visiting Chinese researchers each year. The group
of students consists mainly of university students and includes also some
Chinese students studying in Denmark for a shorter or longer period. The
ethnic Chinese are a mixed group, representing various professions from
restaurant workers to chemists, from housewives to physicians.
In 1994 the author of this article made a statistical study of the lending
of Chinese books and journals in the years 1992-1993. When this statistical
material is combined with knowledge gained through long practical experience
as a librarian, it is possible to describe the needs of the typical reader
of Chinese material and find indications on their fields of interest.
First of all, 20% of all the material taken out consisted of journals.
Material used in the reading rooms is not registered according to type,
but journals are fairly popular in the reading rooms as well, and form
perhaps 60-70 % of all the material used.
Ethnic Chinese take about 43 % of all lent Chinese material and form
the largest group of readers. Second are researchers with about 39 % of
the lent material, whereas students amount to only 17%. It is not surprising
that students take relatively few books home, since their immediate needs
are covered by their own institute libraries. If research workers and students
are considered as one group, they take 56 % of the Chinese books and journals
out of the Library. This corresponds well to the aim of the Department
to serve mainly the needs of study and research.
The relatively high percentage of ethnic Chinese users derives from
the circumstance that the Department, to a certain extent, acts as a stop-gap
for the public libraries. Although Denmark has fairly well-stocked public
libraries that cater for a variety of interests, their collections of Far
Eastern literature are rather modest.
Types of material lent by the three groups of readers
Researchers seem to be most interested in historical material as this
theme covers one third of all of their lendings. Second in popularity are
philosophy and religion (16%), whereas literature takes only about 6%.
Art and architecture are also fairly popular with about 10%. Social sciences
constitute 14% and economics 9% of all lendings.
History, of course, is a subject relevant to the work of any researcher
in the Chinese culture, ancient or new. Researchers take 60% of all the
lent historical material and 68% of all archaeological material. Archaeology
does not, however, constitute more than 2,5% of their total lendings. Philosophy
and religion are traditional subjects, which is reflected by the fact that
researchers take 53% of all lendings in these two topics. Put together,
students and researchers require a full 92% of all lendings in these fields.
Chinese philology and linguistics are much less in demand and only about
5% of all lent material deals with these subjects. Not surprisingly 87%
of philological and linguistic material is lent by researchers.
Lending statistics reflect an increasing interest in recent political
and social developments. Topics such as law, economics and social sciences
cover 25 % of all lendings, which they did not fifteen years ago. Especially
various yearbooks and statistics have proven to be extremely popular among
readers in the past five years.
It is somewhat surprising that art and architecture cover as much as
10% of the material requested by researchers. One explanation is that this
material can be used both as primary material and as a source of illustrations.
Historical sources and primary material in philosophy and religion are
of course very important from a researcher's point of view; a clear majority
of the lent books deal with these subjects. Especially texts covering periods
of changes or presenting doctrinal innovations seem to rouse the interest
of scholars, e.g. material from the Eastern Zhou period and the time from
Sanguo to the Eastern Jin.
Five years ago Buddhist studies were quite popular in Denmark but now
interest has shifted - according to the lending statistics - to Confucianism
and Taoism. Texts discussing or commenting Yijing and texts from Daozang
are frequently lent out. Also studies in popular religion from the Ming
period up to the present have the attention of scholars. There seem to
be changing fashions in research topics just as there are in fiction, cinema,
or even dress.
The average researcher is mainly interested in primary sources and to
a lesser degree in secondary material in Chinese. Articles in Chinese journals
seem to be fairly popular when it comes to consulting Chinese research
The lending activities of students correspond to those of researchers.
There is a natural relationship between students and their teachers, many
of whom belong to the group of researchers. Historical subjects and religio-philosophical
topics cover respectively 35% and 27% of student lendings. Of all lendings
these figures are 30% in history and 39% in religion/philosophy.
Students borrow relatively few works on social sciences, law, economic
and linguistics - 12%, 0%, 13% and 3% respectively. The reason is that
only advanced students have gained such a level in written Chinese language
that they are able to read these subjects in Chinese.
The Oriental Department has very little material that can be used in
teaching Chinese, because university institutes themselves are responsible
for providing such material. As to dictionaries, most of them are included
in the reference collection and cannot be borrowed.
In the field of Chinese literature, students seem to take out books
and journals slightly more often than researchers - 7% against 6%. Students
are mainly interested in modern literature, especially literature written
after the Cultural Revolution. The interest of students is focused on fiction
describing life in contemporary Chinese society. Women studies have started
to gain ground among students, as is shown by the increased lending in
subjects such as amendments in the Marriage Act, women's position in family
and society etc.
If the present lending behaviour of students is taken as an indication
of a future lending profile, one can expect a growing interest in subjects
dealing with modern China, whereas interest in historical studies will
be waning. But maybe a new fashion will change this picture.
The average student reads both primary sources and secondary literature.
At the moment students focus on present-day society. Fiction is mainly
viewed as a source of modern life and is not really studied as an art form.
3) Ethnic Chinese
This group consists of eager readers of fiction. Of the total amount
of lent literature, 87% is borrowed by this group. In the past 5 or 6 years,
contemporary fiction has been very popular, although classic novels such
as Jin Ping Mei and Fengshen yanyi still have their readers. The action
novels, wuxia, are quite popular, but we have only very few of these in
our collection. In the 1980's poetry, mostly classics from the Tang and
Song periods, had constant readers, but today readers of poetry prefer
modern poems published in current magazines or journals. Among modern authors,
Wang Shuo and Jia Ping'ao presently enjoy a special standing. Their descriptions
of the darker (and more exiting?) aspects of life are attractive to both
ethnic Chinese and students.
Ethnic Chinese are also interested in modern Chinese society and require
about 46% of all the books and journals in this area. The journal most
in demand is the monthly political and cultural magazine Jiushi niandai
(The Nineties), published in Hong Kong. Memoirs by 19th and 20th century
Chinese also have their audience in Denmark. These books are probably liked
because they describe the development of modern Chinese society. Biographies
of famous personalities such as Liang Qichao, Zhang Zuolin, Sun Zhongshan
are also often requested.
Traditional life still seems to be of interest to Chinese living in
Denmark. Especially books on Chinese herbal medicine and Taijiquan make
for popular reading, but because the Royal Library is a humanistic library,
the number of works on natural and medical sciences is limited.
The average ethnic Chinese is an avid reader of fiction. He or she also
reads books or journals describing modern life in China. Female readers
seem to be somewhat more eager to borrow fiction than male readers.
Of course, there is no such thing as a typical reader of Chinese material
and all readers have their individual spheres of interest. The Chinese
collection in the Royal Library cannot satisfy all demands, but is broad
enough to give a base for research and study of Chinese history and culture.
The needs of specialists cannot always be met, but in occurring cases we
have successfully requested the help of other European libraries.