Historian gripes about access and quality of archives in China

Jiayun Feng:

Shen Zhihua 沈志华 is a famous Chinese historian who specializes in the history of the Soviet Union, the Cold War, and Sino-Soviet relations. As a professor of history at East China Normal University, Shen earned a reputation for his obsession with archival research, which, according to him, should always be a priority for historians. In a recent and surprisingly frank interview (in Chinese) with Paper.cn, Shen talked the absurd difficulties of obtaining permission to read historical documents in China, and how often they have been tampered with.

At the beginning of the conversation, Shen talks about how he collected a large quantity of declassified archival materials in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time, he paid out of his own pocket for most of the trips that he made to Moscow. But what bothered Shen more than the lack of funding was the quality of the documents he found: “In the U.S.S.R., many government reports submitted to top authorities were written to please superiors,” Shen said. “And archives preserved by Russia are poorly organized compared with those in Western countries such as the United States.”