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Chinese Studies: Pre-Modern History

A guide to resources for the study of China

NOTE: This page is a work in progress. Expect regular improvements to content and page design.

Good Single-volume Histories of China

Harvard Histories of Imperial China

A six-volume series covering the history of China from the Qin 秦 (221–206 BC) dynasty through the Qing 清 (1644–1911 AD) dynasty.

The library has some eBooks and some hard copies of these books. Hard copies are located on Level 1 in the Social Science & Education Library.

Reference Materials

Finding Secondary Scholarship & Primary Sources

A List of Useful Databases for Finding Scholarly Articles

Use the databases listed below to search for scholarly articles on your research topic.  Hovering over the "info" icon  will reveal detailed information about each database. For some very helpful tips on how to conduct a successful database search, click Here.

TIP: Use multiple databases when searching for articles related to your research project as each database has different coverage and unique features.

Databases for Finding Scholarly Articles in Chinese

The CNKI Database (China National Knowledge Infrastructure) is a very comprehensive database for finding full-text scholarly articles in Chinese. BYU has access to journals in literature, history, and philosophy. To see only content to which we subscribe, click the "Subscribed" option at the top right of the upper menu on the database homepage.

China Online Journals (COJ) by Wangfang Data provides access to 237 Chinese university journals in Humanities and Social Sciences and 370 scholarly journals in the Arts and Humanities published in the People’s Republic of China. Articles are full-text and can be printed, down-loaded, or e-mailed. Searching is done in Chinese.

National Social Sciences Database (China) provides current access to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) core journals. Many journals provide full-text links to article PDF files, others just provide citations (use Interlibrary Loan to request a copy of these). To make use of some features you will need to create a personal login (username and password). Searching is done in Chinese.

Airiti Library: Search this database to find citations for articles published in academic journals from Taiwan. After discovering an article you want, request a copy through Interlibrary Loan; this database does not provide access to full text articles.

The Twenty-Four Dynastic Histories

(Shi ji 史記 to Ming shi 明史)

Very useful. Each volume Includes both the original classical Chinese text and a Modern Chinese (baihua 白話) translation published together on same page. 

Location:  Asian Collection (HBLL Level 4)

Call Number: Chinese DS 735. A2 E65 2004. 

Sources of Chinese Tradition, Vol. 1: From Earliest Times to 1600 (2000). A collection of primary readings on the social, intellectual, and religious traditions of China, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom. A substantial part of the volume is dedicated to the Neo-Confucian revival of the Song and Ming.

The Chinese Text Project is an extensive online, open-access, full-text searchable, digital library of pre-modern Chinese texts from the four major categories of the Chinese bibliographic tradition: (Classics 經, Philosophy 子, History 史, Literature 集)



Scripta Sinica (24 Dynastic Histories)  

Full text searchable database including digital access to the "Thirteen Classics" and all Twenty-four Chinese dynastic histories. Click the button that reads "免費使用" to access. Then click 經 to select one of the classics or 史 to select one of the dynastic histories.

Ming History English Translation Project (University of California, San Diego)

Visualizing Cultures: Image Driven Scholarship was launched at MIT in 2002 to explore the potential of the Web for developing innovative image-driven scholarship and learning. The mission of Visualizing Cultures is to use new technology to reconstruct the past as people of the time visualized the world (or imagined it to be). Topical units to date focus on Japan in the modern world and early-modern China.

China, America, and the Pacific (18th–20th Centuries). This database contains an extensive range of archival material connected to the trading and cultural relationships that emerged between China, America and the Pacific region between the 18th and early 20th centuries. Manuscript sources, rare printed texts, visual images, objects and maps document this fascinating history. Maintained by Adam Matthews Digital.

Asia and the West: 19th Century Diplomacy and Cultural Exchange. 19th Century British Foreign Office and United States consular and diplomatic records from China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. These records reflect the day-to-day activities with the indigenous populations, the expansion of trade, and the exercise of extraterritorial rights and treaty provisions. Also missionary correspondence and journals from China, Japan, Korea, and Siam (Bangkok). Maintained by Gale-Cengage.

The China Mission History Repository holds original materials and reproductions relevant mainly to the history of Roman Catholic missionary activities in China from the late-imperial era to the present.


The North China Herald Online Newspaper (1850–1940) is the prime printed source for the history of the foreign presence in China from around 1850 to 1940s. No other newspaper existed over such an extended period or covers the era with such depth and variety. Full-text searchable.

Asia Major, 3rd Series (1988–present)

Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (Östasiatiska Museet Stockholm) (vol. 46, 1974—present) Hard copy only. Located in HBLL Level 1, Social Science and Education Library. Call Number: DS 714 .S7

BSOAS (Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London) (1917–present)

Early China (1975–present)

Early Medieval China (1994–present)

Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (1936–present)

Journal of Asian History (1967–present) Call Number: DS 1 .J64

Journal of Song-Yuan Studies (1970–present)

Late Imperial China (1985–present)

Ming Studies (1975–present)

Oriens Extremus (1954–present)

T'oung Pao (Leading European sinological journal) (1890–1942; 1947–present)

Tang Studies (1982–present) A peer-reviewed interdisciplinary publication covering all topics related to Tang China, but particularly encourages scholarship that is directly engaged with primary sources from the Sui, Tang, and Five Dynasties periods. Major disciplines regularly represented in the journal include literature, linguistics, history, religious studies, and art history.

Journal of Asian Studies (1956–present)  Publishes high-quality, peer-reviewed empirical and multidisciplinary work on Asia, spanning the arts, history, literature, the social sciences, and cultural studies. Coverage includes South and Southeast Asia, China, Inner Asia, and Northeast Asia, JAS welcomes broad comparative and transnational studies as well as essays emanating from fine-grained historical, cultural, political, and literary research.

List of Scholars Actively Researching Pre-Modern China

BYU Faculty

Jon Felt, Department of History

David Honey, Asian and Near Eastern Languages

Timothy Davis, Asian Studies Librarian


Faculty at Other Universities

ProQuest's Alexander Street is the world’s leading provider of academic streaming media to libraries. They have partnered with top video producers around the world to deliver more than 60,000 video titles across all disciplines. They are particularly strong in the fields of anthropology, history, diversity studies, theatre, film, music, dance, news, current affairs, and the social sciences. For video related to Asian Studies, click Here.

FRONTLINE produces works of investigative journalism that both question and explain complicated and controversial aspects of our modern world. Frontline has been one of American television’s top long-form news and current affairs series since 1983. They have won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 91 Emmy Awards and 22 Peabody Awards. You can watch more than 200 documentaries online, for free, any time.

Kanopy partners with public libraries and universities to stream thoughtful entertainment to your preferred device with no fees and no commercials. Click the logo above and log in with your BYU NetID to enjoy Kanopy's diverse catalog with new titles added every month. You can search for films on Asian topics and in Asian languages.

An extensive collection of streamable documentary video. Maintained by Infobase.

Sydney D. Gamble Photography Collection, Duke University

Sidney D. Gamble (1890-1968), sociologist, renowned China scholar, and avid amateur photographer, began taking pictures in China during his first trip to the country with his family in 1908. He returned three more times between 1917 to 1932 and continued photographing the daily life of Chinese citizens. He traveled throughout the country to collect data for social-economic surveys and to photograph urban and rural life, public events, architecture, religious statuary, and the countryside. Gamble used a few of the photographs from his extensive collection in his scholarly publications and in slide lectures, the majority of images were never published or exhibited during his lifetime.

Historical Photographs of China is an open-access resource for more than 8,000 digitized photographs taken in China between 1850 and 1950.  Users may search or browse across the collections and conduct Boolean searches, refining results by date, viewing geo-tagged map results, and exploring connections between results. Users may download images of interest and save them to "My Workbench."

Cambridge History of China

A multi-volume work written by respected experts covering Chinese history from the stone age through the era of Mao Zedong. The library has hard copies of all volumes (Call Numbers: DS 735. C3145) and many digital copies—links to the eBook versions are provided below. Upon selecting the desired eBook, choose the chapter you want and then click the "Save PDF" icon to view or download.

Date Conversion Tool

Date Conversion Tool (Sinocal)

Open access tool provided by Academia Sinica. Converts traditional dates from the Chinese calendar dates to the Western style dates and vice versa.