East Asian Library - About the East Asian Library

The East Asian Library and the Gest Collection

普林斯頓大學葛思德東亞圖書館 ・ プリンストン大学東アジア図書館 ・ 프린스턴 대학교 동아시아 도서관

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About the East Asian Library

Although the Gest Library was originally begun with the acquisition of many rare books, today it is the working collection that supports all kinds of research done in the Department and Program of East Asian Studies. Emphases in the makeup of the collection reflect the strengths of the department. Thus the collection is quite comprehensive in works on literature and history, with less stress placed on works in the social sciences. As is appropriate to the Chinese collection, it is also voluminous in philosophy and religion, geography and the classics; of special note is the collection on traditional Chinese medicine. The Japanese collection has similar areas of strength with the holdings in premodern history being particularly noteworthy. The Korean collection, though much smaller in scale than the other two, provides a basis for scholarly research.

While the East Asian Library contains many works in the field of art history, users can also consult titles in Chinese and Japanese in Marquand Library. Some older works on population statistics may be found in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs Library. Almost all non-reference Korean, and more than 100,000 Chinese and Japanese works are presently located in the storage Annexes of the Princeton Libraries; you need to fill out a green Annex Library Book Request to receive the book in a day or two. The great majority are older books with Harvard-Yenching call numbers. Currently, East Asian Microforms are stored in the Microfilm section in Firestone. The catalog records for such items, however, are only available at the East Asian Library.

Every effort is made to acquire works that should be added to the collections, and suggestions of titles to purchase are always welcome. You may reccommend a title using this form. For more information on the organization of the library, please see the pages on finding call numbersand locating books.

Chinese Materials

The Chinese books of the East AsianLibrary, amount to about 425,000 volumes, including traditional string-bound books, modern western bindings, and bound periodicals. In addition, there are 23,000 reels/fiches of microforms (data as of June 2001; they include items currently stored in off-site locations.) Though the collection encompasses all areas of scholarship, it is most comprehensive in traditional literature and history. Major collectanea include the Si bu cong kan, Cong shu ji cheng, Si ku quan shu, Si ku quan shu cun mu and an imperial edition of the Gu jin tu shu ji cheng. The East Asian Library also has a large set of high-quality reproductions of rare Ming items held in Japan, the so-called hishi collection. There are over 2,200 current serial subscriptions covering the same areas as the monograph collection.

Japanese Materials

The Japanese collection consists of about 163,000 volumes, more than1,100 current periodical titles, , as well as some 4,500 reels of microfilm (data as of June 2001, and include items currently stored in off-site locations) . The collection is strongest in the subject areas of premodern and modern history and literature and Japanese sinology. There is a small Japanese Rare Book section, which includes an Edo illustrated Heike monogatari.

Korean Materials

Holdings in Korean, amounting to over 14,000 volumes, include monographs and journals covering all fields of academic endeavor, with historical sources and reference works the outstanding parts of this collection. Of special note are reprints of the Korean Tripitaka, which Gest Library holds in its entirety, and of the Choson wangjo sillok (Annals of the Yi Dynasty).

Western-language Materials

The more than 20,000 volumes of Western-language books and over150 current serials pertain to a limited area, namely, language, literature, general culture, and reference works as they relate to China, Japan, Korea, and Asia in general. Works in philosophy, religion, and history are housed in Firestone Library, and those in the social sciences, art, etc. will be found in corresponding branch libraries. Reserve collections for courses in the Department of East Asian Studies are maintained in the East Asian Library where they may be charged out for limited periods. There is a special, non-circulating Wilhelm collection, located in the (old) rare book room, which is especially strong in pre-war European sinology; most of these books are additional copies of circulating items elsewhere. They are stored in the Special Collections Room.

Rare Book Collection

The East Asian Library has a collection of about 102,000 volumes of string-bound books in Chinese that attract visitors from many parts of the world because of the collection's research value and rarity. Most of these books were printed in the Ming (1368-1644) and the early part of the Qing (1644-1911) period, while a number are earlier editions. The collection deals with all aspects of Chinese culture, but is particularly strong in medicine, Buddhism, history, and literature. Among the unique items are the draft manuscript of the dictionary Pei wen yun fu from before 1711; a 1544 edition of Sima Guang''s historical compilation, Zi zhi tong jian; the manuscript copy of the Ming Veritable Records (Da Ming shi lu); a Ming manuscript of Han Yu's literary work, Chang li wen shi; a 1529 edition of the literary anthology Wen xuan; and a5,000-volume compilation from several editions of the Buddhist canon known as the Qisha Da zang jing, of which a portion dates from the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties. For the catalogs to be used for this collection, see the History of the East Asian Library. Much information on particular items is to be found in the various editions of the East Asian Library Journal, formerly known as the Gest Library Journal.

In addition to the Chinese Gest Oriental Collection, The Rare Book Collection also contains some Japanese and Korean books, including the Robinson Go Collection, a set of Japanese books donated by the American Go Association; a few Manchu, Tibetan, and Mongolian language works; some important memorabilia of Sir Aurel Stein; Captain Leroy Lansing Janes's materials; and numerous curios. The Western Helmutt Wilhelm collection is located on the Third Floor of the East Asian Library; the other items are located in the Mudd Library.


For Chinese, Japanese and Korean items cataloged after September 1982, as well as all Western items, access is possible through the Main catalog of Princeton University; for items cataloged since 1984 access to characters is provided through OCLC WorldCat. For earlier items, primary access is through the card catalogs for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. The Chinese card catalog uses Wade-Giles romanization; the Japanese, modified Hepburn romanization; and the Korean, McCune-Reischauer romanization. The Chinese electronic catalog uses mainly pinyin. Except for the Japanese and Korean public catalogs, which are filed letter by letter, all of the other catalogs are filed word by word. For more information, see the page on finding call numbers. 

History of the East Asian Library and the Gest Collection

The East Asian Library of Princeton University has been built around the original Gest Oriental Library Collection.

Guion Moore Gest (1864-1948), founder of the Gest Chinese Research Library

The "Gest" of this "Gest Oriental Library" (note its exceptional pronunciation: "Guest" instead of "Jest") refers to the American Guion Moore Gest (1864-1948), the founder of the Gest Engineering Company, which in the 1910s and '20s did much business in both the Americas and Asia. As part of his work Gest made frequent visits to Peking, where he met the then Naval Attaché, Commander I.V. Gillis (1875-1948), who would later become the adviser to and purchasing agent for the Gest Library. Gest and Gillis, together with Nancy Lee Swann (1881-1966), would form during the 1930s and '40s the three people most responsible for what is now the world famous Gest Rare Book Collection. The name Gest Oriental Library officially only refers to the original collection brought together by these three people, although often the name is used also for all the East Asian collections developed later at Princeton University.

I.V. Gillis (1875-1948), Gest's purchasing agent in Peking, China, packing rare Buddhist sutras for shipment in 1930.

Even from before the turn of the century Gest had developed an interest in Asia, especially Buddhism. However, his interest in Chinese books started from medicine. Gest had long suffered from glaucoma, and had sought the assistance of many leading American and European ophtalmologists, to no avail. Once when in Peking Gillis, who knew China and Chinese well, suggested he try an eye medicine of the Ma Yinglong family of Dingzhou, which had a shop in Peking solely devoted to selling this famous item. Gest did so, and while it did not really cure him, it gave him some temporary relief. In response Gest left an amount of money to Gillis to buy Chinese works on the treatment of eye diseases, and medical books in general. It was this collection which formed the beginning of the Gest Library.

Nancy Lee Swann (1881-1966), Curator of the Gest Library, 1931-1948

Owing to the larger interests of Gillis the scope of the collection expanded into including many other kinds of books, so that the Gest collection is rich in many fields beyond medicine, including classics, wenji, congshu and also an unusual number of books on scientific subjects, such as mathematics and astronomy. Gillis, who was married to a Manchu princess, had access to many high-class Chinese and Manchu families in the 1920s and was therefore well placed to collect many interesting works from them. The core of the original collection was purchased from Chen Baochen, tutor to the Xuantong emperor. Other famous Chinese families he bought works from include those of Zhang Zhidong, Li Hongzhang, Cai Yuanpei and Yuan Tongli. In fact, Gillis' success in collecting actually impoverished Gest, who had not been very rich to begin with; and since, moreover, Gest had no space to store the works, it was arranged that the collection became an official "Library" in 1926, as part of the McGill University in Montréal, Canada. McGill was willing to establish a Chinese Department alongside the collection, of a more practical nature than Gest thought would be possible at the American Ivy League schools. At that time the collection counted 232 titles, and 8,000 ce. Soon Nancy Lee Swann, perhaps the first female scholar of Chinese studies in the West (her study on Ban Zhao is still widely used) became its curator until 1948, to be replaced by Hu Shi in 1950.

Hu Shi (1891-1962), Curator of the Gest Library 1950-1952, with James Tung (Tong Shigang, 1911-1982), Curator 1952-1977

The 1929 economic crash was disastrous for many; Gest lost most of his money, Swann was paid no salary for two years, Gillis received no money even for books already approved. And McGill University could not afford even the few expenses it had connected with the Library. However, since Swann continued to work unpaid and Gillis used his own money buying new rare books, the collection continued to grow. It also took much time and numerous bureaucratic hurdles before the books bought in Peking could be shipped to outside China, and it required the help of Zhang Xueliang's office to finally ship the last 27,000 ce out of China. Because of all the financial troubles, Gest tried to move the library to a more hospitable university, but most universities in Canada and the US declined to take over the collection. Some help was forthcoming from the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, for which Gest had previously organized a project to learn about the use of acupuncture to stimulate the nervous system. With this help, in 1936-7 finally the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton acquired the collection, then having grown to some 100,000 ce, with the understanding that it was to be administered as part of the Princeton University Library. However it must be said that only after Princeton inaugurated an East Asian department in the late 1950s around the Gest Library it became an integrated part of the University as a whole, and received monies to keep up with current publishing. This came to include since the 1950s Japanese, and to a smaller extent, Korean books, including small numbers of rare items. Much of the expansion took place under James Tung (Tong Shigang), who had been hired by Hu Shi and later took over the latter's curatorship.

The Gest Research Collection while at Montréal

Gillis realized that he could not compete with Asian collectors in acquiring Song and Yuan editions of rare books, and therefore he concentrated upon works from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644); Princeton University has been a center of Ming books and scholarship ever since. This is also true for its books on Chinese medicine: many of its Ming, and even some of its Qing works are rare or even unique.

The original Gest Collection has been collectively cataloged in three different publications. First, for most Ming works, there is the Qu Wanli catalog Pulinsidun daxue Geside Dongfang Tushuguan Zhongwen shanben shuzhi, originally published in 1974, and now available as vol. 13 of the Qu Wanli quanji published by Lianjing. It was compiled in 1965-1966 on the basis of an unpublished draft of Wang Zhongmin. Most Qing works are listed in the 1990 Pulinsidun daxue Geside Dongfang Tushuguan Zhongwen jiuji shumu compiled by Chang Bide and Wu Zhefu. In addition, there is the International Union Catalogue of Chinese Rare Books, which under leadership of Sören Edgren, began as a special project of the Research Libraries Group, a consortium of many of the most important North American research libraries. Its head office is currently an independent organization under the auspices of the Department of East Asian Studies at Princeton University, and physically located within the East Asian Library and is now continued. This electronic catalog gives superior access to detailed records of the pre-1796 Chinese rare book holdings of most North American and several important Mainland Chinese and European libraries. The records follow detailed uniform guidelines which were created after multiple discussions by specialists from the United States and abroad, including Taiwan and China.

Gest's intent was to establish a collection that could be used by North American scholars of sinology and Chinese alike as a means to further understanding between East and West, a desire the East Asian Library continues to advance today. Its rare book collection is one of the outstanding ones in the world; and now, in its location adjacent to the Department of East Asian Studies where it has been housed since 1972, the East Asian Library continues to grow to meet scholars' needs as part of the Princeton University Library system.