The British Library offers exceptionally rich resources for the study of East Asia, past and present. Relevant material can be found throughout the collections, in the form of printed books and serials, newspapers, manuscripts, archival resources, photographs and drawings, sound recordings and moving images, electronic resources, theses, and maps. In addition to material in English and European languages, the Library holds, and continues to collect, a substantial amount of material in the languages of East Asia and about the languages and cultures that have shaped the region for thousands of years.
Researching East Asia at the British Library
British Library Collections
- Printed books and periodicals
- Archival resources
- Recorded sound and audio-visual resources
- Electronic resources
- Other resources
- Collection development
Online and published resources
- Items of East Asian interest on the British Library website
- British Library Publications
- Internet links
Almost all books and serials in English and European languages relating to East Asia can be found through Explore the British Library.
Records for modern Chinese and Japanese books are included in separate online catalogues whilst older books are listed in published catalogues or on card catalogues available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Details of these catalogues and finding aids can be found on the relevant pages below.
Modern Books in Korean are included in Explore the British Library in romanised form according to the McCune-Reischauer system.
There are also holdings in a number of other East Asian languages, including Mongolian and Manchu. Printed or card catalogues for older materials are available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room and most recently acquired material is included in the Explore the British Library.
European-language newspapers published in East Asia are included in the Explore the British Library. They can be searched directly, or by selecting the ‘Newspapers’ subset to narrow the search. See the British Library Newspapers pages for details of how to access the Newspaper Collections.
Newspapers in the languages of the region can be accessed at the British Library’s St Pancras site. Newspapers in Japanese acquired since 1980 are included in the British Library Japanese Catalogue. Korean newspapers are included in the British Library Explore the British Library. Older newspapers are included in card catalogues or printed catalogues for each language, under the heading ‘Periodical publications’. A list of Asian language newspapers is available from the Reference Enquiries Desk in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room.
Asian language newspapers held by the British Library, as well as those held by other UK research libraries, are also listed in the Newspapers database of Mapping Asia. The Mapping Asia website is currently being moved to a new server, but a link will be available here as soon as it becomes available again.
The British Library’s manuscript collections in both European and East Asian languages offer an exceptionally rich resource for study of the region. Manuscripts in European languages include the writings of politicians, diplomats, academics, travellers, missionaries, artists and journalists. Most of the Library’s manuscripts in European languages are included in the Manuscripts catalogue. There are also some materials relevant to East Asia in the India Office Private Papers.
Manuscripts in Asian languages are not yet included in the Explore the British Library. They are listed in published catalogues and unpublished handlists by language. For details of the manuscript collections and catalogues, see the relevant language pages:
The Library holds manuscripts in a number of other East Asian languages, including Mongolian, Manchu, Okinawan, Naxi (Moso) and Tangut. Details of these are contained in the List of Oriental Manuscripts and the Classified Inventory of Oriental Manuscripts which are available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room.
There are resources on East Asia in the India Office Records, which are the documentary archives of the administration in London of the English East India Company and the pre-1947 government of India. More detail is available on sources relating to China in the India Office Records.
Detailed information on the East India Company’s trade with East Asia can be found in
Anthony Farrington, The English Factory in Taiwan, 1670-1685 (Taipei, National Taiwan University, 1995).
Anthony Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 1613-1623 (London, British Library, 1991).
The British Library Sound Archive holds one of the world’s largest collections of world and traditional music. There are other relevant resources in the oral history collections, drama and literature. These resources may be located through the Sound Archive catalogue.
A number of key electronic resources for the study of East Asia are also available at the British Library. For licensing reasons, most of these may be accessed only from the Library’s reading rooms. The Library also subscribes to a growing number of electronic journals relevant to East Asian studies.
In addition to these resources the Library offers access to
- academic theses
- official publications
- conference proceedings
- business information
- science and technology information
- prints and drawings
The appendices to the British Library’s Content Strategy describe current collection development for East Asian Studies.
The Online Gallery includes virtual books viewed through the Turning the Pages programme, online exhibitions and features.
Online exhibitions include Trading Places. See especially
The Sacred exhibition includes the following major items of East Asian interest:
- The Diamond Sutra
- Chinese Qur’an
- Chinese Torah
- Expressions of Faith: Buddhism (which contains Chinese, Japanese and Korean items)
- The Lion and Dragon (Britain's first embassy to China)
Images On-Line gives instant access to thousands of images from the British Library's collections which include manuscripts, rare books, musical texts and maps. The range of images available includes illustrations, drawings, paintings and photographs. There are a substantial number of images from Chinese, Japanese and Korean manuscripts and early printed books.
Major items of East Asian interest in the online shop include:
Frances Wood, The Silk Road (London, British Library, 2003).
Anne Farrer, Chinese Printmaking today - Woodblock printing in China 1980-2000 (London, British Library, 2003).
Colin Franklin, Exploring Japanese books and scrolls (London, British Library, 2005).
Turning the Pages CD-Rom: The Diamond Sutra
The Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections’ internet links page includes a number of major internet resources for the study of East Asia, including portals, bibliographies, guides, archives and visual material.
Asian and African Studies enquiries
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7873
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7641
E-mail: Ask the Reference Team