This collection of early twentieth-century land deeds and contracts from the Zhejiang region of China offers a valuable glimpse into China’s real estate market from the 1880s to the 1930s. The Liu family lived in Nanxun, a thriving town and center of commerce during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1644–1911). Liu Yong (1826–99), the family patriarch and a prestigious Qing Dynasty merchant, built his fortune on cotton, silk, salt, and real estate. His legacy includes Nanxun's historic landmark, the Xiao Lian Zhuang (Little Lotus Garden Villa), built in 1885. The Liu family collection was most recently in the hands of Rosie Chang, the great- granddaughter of Liu Yong and Sheng Xuanhuai (1844–1916), the former minister of transportation.

The land deeds, which arrived at Hoover in tight bundles, were found, after a preliminary examination by the library and archives’ Preservation Department, to contain obvious signs of deterioration. The deeds could not be unfolded without compromising the integrity of the paper, due to its age and brittleness. In addition, the red ink used to stamp the documents contained iron and other elements that had caused some parts of the paper to deteriorate; some stamped areas were completely destroyed.

After carefully testing the paper, preservation staff found that gentle, supervised humidification in a specially designed chamber softened the paper, allowing each sheet to be unfolded and treated without risk of the ink bleeding or running. Consequently, each page of the collection was individually humidified, unfolded, flattened, ironed and mended when necessary, and allowed to dry under an evenly distributed weight. To facilitate use by researchers, the decision was made to envelop each deed in ultrasonically welded inert polyester sheets. Inside the polyester housing, a customized sheet of MicroChamber® paper backs each document, helping ensure longevity by trapping the pollutants or acids or both released from the document.

After all the documents had been backed and encapsulated, they were individually numbered and filed in customized folders some twelve months after the initial inspection, an indication of the labor-intensive nature of preservation work. Now the collection can be handled and fully viewed by researchers without risking the documents’ inadvertent folding, tearing, or marking.

The Liu family collection was donated to the Hoover Institution Archives in respectful memory of Rosie Chang’s mother, Chen Liu Shi-ling, and aunt, Liu Shi-ching.

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