I am currently spending my days at a microfilm machine in the basement of Shandong Provincial library, looking through old wartime newspapers from occupied and civil war period Shandong.1 The publications I’m looking at are often put out of more remotely located areas not fully under Japanese control such as Yishui（沂水）.
To be given access to the old newspapers, I have to pay a fee of about $5 per reel and a few cents per photograph I snap of the microfilm machine screen, but I guess that is just the cost of doing research here (at least I’m allowed to use my camera, which one cannot assume in Asia). Their old microfilm machines aren’t the best, with usually only half of any given page fully in focus and no zoom capabilities but the lamp is brighter and the quality of the microfilm is significantly better than some of the late 1940s newspapers I have looked through in Korea’s national library. Generally, what is left of Korea’s published materials from the postwar late 40s are, as far as I can tell, in far worse condition than what I have come across here in Shandong among the Communist newspapers and documents coming out of nominally occupied zones of wartime China, with some exceptions.2
There is a much better and more powerful machine behind me, however, being used all day by a library employee. I do interrupt her at the end of each reel I look through to have her print out a few selected pages that I want a clearer image of than my camera is currently providing me with by taking pictures of the microfilm machine’s screen. Otherwise, she is slowly making her way through some of the old newspapers in their collection and taking a snapshot of each page that is then saved in the form of a TIFF image of about 200-300kb in size each. We have a similar machine (perhaps the same model) in the microfilm rooms back in the US but it is the first time I have seen it used for a full scale digitization project. Judging from her rate of coverage from the last week, she can probably go through somewhere between 1 to 3 years of issues for a newspaper per day, depending on the completeness of the collection. I estimate that she can probably go through all of the old newspapers the library has in perhaps two years or so, even if she is the only one working on this project.
Many of the newspapers and old magazines they have only exist for a few years and are missing many issues, but are really wonderful sources to have access to. She explained that when she is done the files then have to be processed and indexed by two other sections at the library but she says the eventual goal is to put these online in some form. She is currently making her way through the same newspaper I’m looking at, the Communist controlled 大众日报, and I only wish I could intercept those TIFF files before they get swallowed into the bureaucracy of the library. My experience with the Korean national library and oral history documents available here in digital form is that these wonderfully crisp and simple image files often get horribly mangled on their way to final public access by being transformed into proprietary formats that require dreadful downloaded plug-ins, Internet Explorer Active-X, special reader applications, and the like. God forbid we provide everyone with simple downloads of PDF or image files like some of the better archives and museums out there do. Sometimes issues of copyright are at fault, but that is no excuse for Japanese colonial period documents in Korea or these old wartime newspapers. I look forward to see what happens in this case and hope for the best.
In the meantime, for anyone doing research on Shandong, below are just a few picks from among just the newspapers you can currently view in their microfilm department, selected from periods I’m interested in, including some from occupied territory (often with 新民 in the title). As far as I could tell, these cannot be found listed their library’s search engine and I found a list in an old book that emerged from the drawer of the head of the microfilm division, who has been very friendly and helpful. I’m lucky I ended up in the right place. I was told by a woman working in the newspaper section at the library back in March that, “We have no newspapers from before 1949.” Since I had seen this library listed under various important entries in a master index (name escapes me for this important book) of where old publications are supposed to be located in the libraries and archives of China, I’m glad I was more stubborn this time about tracking down someone who knew what a gold mine there in fact was in their microfilm collection. The microfilm is located deep in the labyrinth of offices in the basement floor. If you wait a few years, perhaps some of these will be viewable online without, I hope, too much hassle. Ok, here is the small sampling, mostly from ’30s and ’40s offerings:
1943-1945 大众日报, for example, is of noticeably worse quality than preceding years and even has some handwritten characters. I can only assume that the Japanese came across and destroyed or confiscated their printing press in one of their many mopping up campaigns in the province. ↩