The Hoover Institution Library & Archives is saddened to learn of the passing of our colleague Eugene Wu. He died earlier this month (August 1) at the age of 100 near his home in Menlo Park, California. “Librarian emeritus, Eugene Wu has contributed to and presided over the growth of three outstanding East Asian collections. His legacy promises to be an enduring inspiration for librarians, researchers, and students of East Asia for generations to come,” said Director of the Library & Archives Eric Wakin.

Eugene Wu was born in Sichuan Province, China, in 1922. He was an English major at the National Central University in Chongqing (Chungking) during World War II. In 1943, he joined the Foreign Affairs Bureau under the National Military Commission of China as an interpreting officer, serving in the Infantry Training Centers and the General Staff School in cooperation with the US Army. In early 1945, he was sent to the United States to help train Chinese pilots and other Air Force specialty personnel.

After the war, Wu attended the University of Washington (UW), where he received his master’s in library science in 1951. He became the first student assistant at UW’s East Asia Library, which was then known as the Far Eastern Institute. While there, he supported the growth of its collections by cataloguing materials by hand, including Chinese literary works as well as Korean and Japanese materials. 

After graduating, Wu joined the Hoover Institution Library & Archives to help organize its Chinese collections, which document China's political, economic, and social developments starting with the 1911 Revolution. He eventually became the curator of the Library & Archives’ East Asian collections (1961–65). One of the earliest collections that Wu acquired while at Hoover is the microfilm collection of Chen Cheng, a former Nationalist Army general and vice president of the Republic of China (Taiwan). The collection includes rare materials of the contemporary Chinese Communist Party, including documents on the Jiangxi Soviet Republic (1930–34). Wu also oversaw biographical documentation and materials related to prominent Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek. These collections contain speeches, official papers, diaries, and official correspondence. In an interview in 1957 with the Hoover radio broadcast Tower of Peace, Wu explained, “All these are the primary sources from which we can learn about their background.” In 1956, he published Leaders of Twentieth-Century China: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Chinese Biographical Works in the Hoover Library (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), and he continued to collect materials to supplement this work.

By 1956, Wu had helped the Library & Archives amass one of the largest collections of Chinese literature in the world. This collection, which contains papers from the Chinese Communist Party from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s, prompted a new era in the West for the study of the history of the Chinese Communist Party. According to a summary he wrote about the collection:

Black and white photo of Eugene Wu unboxing crates containing a shipment of documents, 1950s.
Black and white photo of Eugene Wu unboxing crates containing a shipment of documents, 1950s. Eugene Wu, unboxing crates containing a shipment of documents, 1950s. (Hoover Records, Hoover Institution Library & Archives)

From this, we can get some inspiration. First, because of the efforts of the Hoover Institution, scholars who study the history of the Communist Party of China have been able to use the original documents to discuss a number of issues, and no longer rely on second-hand materials to subjectively speculate. There are still many historical documents in the world that have yet to be discovered, and this work is an urgent task for libraries. Secondly, in this high-tech era, digitization brought unprecedented convenience to research work, and strengthened the preservation, sharing and use of research data. Still, technology is only a tool and cannot replace collection development. Libraries must have people who are good at using technology, and more importantly, they need people who can discover lost documents in order to continue to carry forward the purpose of the library's establishment.

In 1965, Wu became the director of the Harvard-Yenching Library, one of the largest East Asian libraries at any university in the Western world. He held this position until his retirement, in 1997. 

Through his tireless efforts and incredible expertise in the field, Eugene Wu has made an immeasurable impact on East Asian research in the United States and across the globe

Black and white photo of 2 people standing looking at a book and 1 person searching through a box
Mary Wright, curator of the Chinese collection and C. Easton Rothwell, director of the Hoover Institution, examine a shipment of documents, with collection assistant Eugene Wu in the foreground, 1950s. (Hoover Records, Box 70h, Hoover Institution Library)
Black and white photo of Eugene Wu sitting at a desk with a bookshelf in the background
Eugene Wu, curator East Asian collection at Hoover (Stanford University, News Service, Records (SC0122))
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