Go East

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hoover Institution senior associate director Richard Sousa delivered the keynote address at Fudan University during a symposium on T. V. Soong, foreign minister of China during World War II. The T. V. Soong papers are part of Hoover’s East Asia collections.

At the Hoover Institution, we are looking to the Pacific Rim. The institution made a name for itself by collecting in Europe after World War I, then burnished its reputation with its collections in Eastern and Central Europe and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Hoover now wants to etch its reputation in stone by collecting in Asia.

We continue to make major acquisitions in our traditionally strong areas. For example, in 2009 we acquired the files that the KGB left behind in Lithuania when the Soviets abandoned that country in 1991. We also acquired the papers of Mieczyslaw Rakowski, the last Polish first secretary of the Communist Party and a prime minister. Branching out, we also have acquired a vast trove of Iraqi material from Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, more than 12 million documents, which we are screening and making available to researchers.

East Asia, however, has been our focus, and the bulk of our recent landmark collections have come from there. The strength of our collections is their complementary nature; nowhere is that more evident than with Nationalist China, beginning with the collections, papers, and diaries representing the Big Four families of Nationalist China: Chiang Kai-shek, military and political leader; T. V. Soong, diplomatic envoy; H. H. Kung, financial wizard; Chen Li-fu, philosophical guide. Add to them our major project to microfilm the records of the Kuomintang, now in its seventh year, and one has quite a base.

But to aid scholars, it is important to fill out the collections with material from others who may have played a less visible, but significant, role, thus providing scholars with the breadth and depth to conduct detailed and sophisticated historical analyses. We therefore seek to acquire material from aides and subordinates, mentors, political opponents, and, one of our strengths, dissidents. For example, among Chiang’s political opponents was Tseng Ch’i, one of the founders of the Young China Party, which was opposed to both the Communists and Chiang’s Kuomintang.

History may be written by the victors, but providing researchers with records from both sides leads to a more complete and accurate assessment of history.

We are fortunate that our reputation precedes us. The Tseng family was aware of our extensive Nationalist collections, acutely aware of the Soong and Chiang collections. The family felt, as I do, that complementarity and preservation are important. So after possessing the collection for decades, the family agreed that the Hoover Institution was its proper, final resting place. The Tseng Ch’i collection on the Young China Party makes a critical contribution to painting a full picture of the political landscape on the mainland and in Taiwan.

They say that history is written by the victors, but, as I mentioned earlier, providing researchers with records from both sides leads to a more complete and accurate assessment of history. The Tseng papers, I believe, add immeasurably to our understanding of what Chiang Kai-shek, T. V. Soong, and the Kuomintang were going through in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s.

Our extensive collections, our record of stewardship, and our reputation for undertaking extensive preservation efforts sometimes make it embarrassingly easy to acquire material. But we are happy to take full advantage of our ninety-year reputation of collecting, stewardship, and preservation to alert potential donors that Hoover is the place for their material on modern China. The bottom line is that our combination of an outstanding reputation and a commitment to East Asia ensures that Hoover will continue to be important in this area.