The Organization and Classification of Library Systems in China

An annotated bibliography (2009).

Hong, Y., & Liu, L. (1987). The development and use of the Chinese classification system.International Library Review, 18, 47-60.

Hong and Liu have created a concise article aimed at the English-speaker interested in Chinese library classification systems. While many articles of this scope and topic use original language in Pinyin to identify major classification systems, Hong and Liu have translated everything to English, making the information easier to digest for the non-Chinese reader. Historical influences pepper the article, providing a backdrop and rationale for the ideological changes occurring during the creation of new classification systems. Lacking in many articles of this scope is the period prior to the introduction of the Dewey Decimal system, but Hong and Liu show how a devastated post-Opium War China looked to western technology to save them, and the resulting introduction of new fields of knowledge made the Four Division system’s inadequacies apparent. The paper is a bit outdated; written in 1985, it doesn’t quite have the grasp on how dominant and pervasive the CLBC (now commonly called the CLC) is in Chinese libraries. Hong and Liu seem to be very invested in western ideas, seeing them as integral to the creation of a competent system in China. They propose the introduction of Chinese classification classes in American library science programs, hoping that American library scholars will aid China in the development of a better system.


Jiang, S. (2007). Into the source and history of Chinese culture: Knowledge classification in ancient China. Libraries and Cultural Record, 42(1), 1-20.

This detailed and extremely informative work strives to fill the void left by most Chinese library classification scholars, who tend to focus on contemporary issues and ignore ancient systems. Jiang’s descriptions of the different dynasties show how different regimes brought about various rules regarding intellectual activities, which affected the collection and organization of works. Though the dynasties differed greatly, all post-Qin Dynasties were bound together by Confucianism; as the prevailing government-sponsored ideology, Confucious’ Five Classics were the backbone of the social and political order for centuries. Noting the rise of intellectual freedom and the creation of library classification structures beginning with the Han Dynasty, Jiang illustrates the progression from Liu Xin’s Qi lue, all the way to Li Chong’s Yuan di shumu (Bibliography of Emperor Yuan’s Library), marking the long standing acceptance of hierarchical classification schemes. Jiang notes that beginning with Liu Xiang’s Bie lu in 26 B.C. until the adoption of contemporary classification systems in the 1900s, Chinese classification only underwent three phases, each manifest in a national bibliography. Jiang contends that library classification not only existed to organize books, but to reflect political and social issues; in ancient China, this was primarily steered by Confucianism.


Li, L. (1991). A history of Chinese library classification: 1949-1991 (Doctoral dissertation, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, 1992). Dissertation Abstracts International, 53(6A), 1707.

Li’s doctoral thesis is a landmark English-language report on Chinese library classification. In evaluating the Chinese Library Classification (CLC), Li outlines contemporary classification systems as well as ancient ones, providing a good historical overview. The second part of Li’s work is a literature review of the four periods of research on Chinese classification extending from 1949-1991, mostly focusing on Chinese-language studies. Finally, Li makes suggestions in optimizing the CLC, such as scholars providing more in-depth historical studies and utilizing foreign systems (such as the Dewey Decimal System, Library of Congress Classification, Colon Classification, and Universal Decimal Classification) in improving the CLC. Li fails to acknowledge the historical change from the Seven Epitomes to the Four Classes as a progression, instead viewing them as distinct systems. Her report is easy to read and does an excellent job of tracing the past to make suggestions for the future. A must read for any English-speaker researching the Chinese Library Classification.


Lin, S. C. (1998). Bibliographic control and services. In Libraries and librarianship in China (pp.143-161). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Lin has created a readable account detailing the creation and standardization of central cataloging, union catalogs, and the Chinese National Bibliography (CNB), which utilizes the CN MARC. The standardization of documents, including not only cataloging but also the creation of the Chinese Thesaurus and the subsequent joining of the ISBN is also discussed, but it is quickly skimmed over. Lin showcases the importance of national bibliographies in creating classification systems both in ancient and modern China. Also of interest is the accounts of activity between 1911-1949 (during the war with Japan) and a description of the reconstruction period following the formation of the People’s Republic of China. The real power in Lin’s work is her ability to contextualize the impact historical events have on the bourgeoning Chinese classification systems, including her analysis of the Cultural Revolution’s stifling of Chinese library advancement.


Liu, J. (1999). Review and prospect for centralized cataloging in China. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 28(2), 57-64.

Since the creation of Shanghai’s Yue-shen Literature Management Center in 1985, Chinese librarians have been working simultaneously with individual and centralized cataloging. In this system, a company works as both bookseller and cataloger, providing acquisitions as well as cataloging services. Jessica Liu’s succinct article adequately describes and advocates for the centralized cataloging system, noting not only the reduction in superfluous work and materials, but also the quality and authority that comes from a cataloging in a unified system. Liu postulates that China, who must take the lead in making sure Chinese bibliographic material is accessible to western nations, has the ability to create a cooperative cataloging system (the current trend in western countries) based on the already-existing centralized cataloging. This evolution could put Chinese catalogers ahead of the game, as cooperative cataloging is our present while centralized cataloging is the future. Liu’s theory is intriguing, but the actual reasoning of how centralized and cooperative cataloging complement one another is lost in the analysis.


Liu, S. and Shen, Z. (2002). The development of cataloging in China. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 35(1/2), 137-154.

In their analysis of cataloging systems in China, authors Liu and Shen provide a very brief outline of the history of cataloging in China but focus most of their attention on the need for resource sharing and cooperative cataloging, and how these will require standardized online cataloging, especially in the form of union catalogs. Critical of a centralized cataloging’s limited range in providing services to only large cities, the authors do not address ways in which centralized systems could be reformed, instead focusing on adapting western cataloging practices. In showing the need to decentralize Chinese cataloging systems and move towards cooperative and internationally standardized systems, the authors take an in-depth look at the successes of the China Academic Library and Information System (CALIS).


Liu, X. (1993). The standardization of Chinese library classification. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 16(2), 41-54.

In showing the need for national standardization, Xiaochun Liu begins his proposal by outlining a very brief history of the attempts to adopt Chinese Library Classification (CLC) as the national classification system beginning in the early 1980s and the subsequent publication of the comprehensive “Chinese Library Classification” series. Standardization, Liu claims, can greatly impact the compatibility of automation, networking and resource sharing. Currently poised as the most popular classification system (it is used by over 94% of libraries/information systems in China), the author lays out the advantages of utilizing the CLC as the national standard. As far as standardization goes, 94% is already quite a high number and the need to further standardize seems like a non-issue at this point, though Liu’s desire to move towards complete standardization does hold significance. Those looking for information on the CLC should utilize this work; Liu does an excellent job of describing the highlights of the formidable system.


Murphy, B. (2008, March). National library of China to add its records to OCLC WorldCat. OCLC News Releases. Retrieved March 1, 2008 from

This news release by the OCLC discusses the National Library of China’s plans to add its library records to OCLC’s WorldCat, which is the world’s largest online union catalog. Although Chinese language materials have been formerly cataloged by chinese academic libraries, as the NLC wields the largest collection in China and the fifth-largest collection in the world, the new additions are highly anticipated. The NLC estimates that some 1.5 million contributions will be added in 2008 alone. In order to accomplish this, software is currently being created that will allow the entry of chinese characters into WorldCat. Although short, Murphy’s piece also highlights some of the key OCLC contributions to libraries in China, such as the introduction of the CJK system for cataloging Chinese, Japanese and Korean language materials. As the mouthpiece of OCLC’s news page, Murphy is optimistic and doesn’t discuss possible pitfalls of this program. Even with this unreliability, this is a nice and succinct piece hinting at the future of Chinese-language materials in WorldCat.


Niu, J. (2002). Building a national or international China bibliographic utility. OCLC Systems & Services, 18(4), 178-185

Niu’s short article is a call to action, a desperate plea for the Chinese government to build a national bibliographic utility. Though he brings up a few good points, the article lacks substance and support. Due to the lack of resource sharing and cooperative cataloging in China, Niu makes the assumption that there are three unfulfilling options to this dilemma: Purchasing bibliographic records from the National Library of China (NLC), joining the China Academic Library and Information System (CALIS), or opting into OCLC WorldCat. He advocates most for writing bibliographic information in WorldCat for Chinese materials, but fails to notice that this doesn’t really tackle the issue of the lack of cooperative cataloging in China – it just opens up Chinese materials to the rest of the world. Niu ends noting that none of the systems currently in place are adequate, advocating instead for the government to build a new system. CALIS is an excellent system already in place that is small but steadily growing; because it is exclusive to academic libraries, Niu dismisses it quickly rather than thinking about ways of adapting the system already in place.


Pong, J. & Cheung, C. (2006) Cataloging of Chinese language materials in the digital era: The cataloging standards and practices in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Journal of Library & Information Science, 32(1), 53-65.

In discussing the different cataloging standards in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, Pong and Cheung, librarians at City University of Hong Kong, lay out the need for standards that would enable the three regions to share bibliographic data, perhaps resulting in a sort of international union catalog for Chinese-language materials. China utilizes the Chinese Library Classification for most libraries, while Taiwan has adopted the Classification Scheme for Chinese Libraries (CCL). As a bilingual nation, Hong Kong has adopted the Library of Congress Classification for most academic libraries and in creating original cataloging of Chinese-language materials, also contributes to OCLC’s WorldCat. The authors stress the need for cooperative cataloging of Chinese-language materials, but this is a difficult task; although they are all linked by their use of the Chinese language, they are very different nations with different needs. Pong and Cheung illustrate the barriers preventing the sharing of bibliographic data and advocate for international standards, but do not provide any clues on how to create standards while continuing to address the needs of local communities.


Zhang, Q.Y., Liu, X. Sh., & Wang, D.B. (1996). Contemporary classification systems and thesauri in China. In Proceedings of the 62nd IFLA general conference. Retrieved January 27, 2008, from

Zhang, et. al have put together a good starting point for those wanting to learn more about contemporary systems of classification in China. Providing a basic outline, the authors briefly describe the Chinese Classification System and Chinese Archive Classification, giving a brief mention of foreign classification systems (such as the Dewey Decimal Classification). A short discussion is also given to the creation and standards of the Chinese Thesaurus. The most interesting aspect of this article is the discussion of natural language searches and the Chinese word separation technique; because Chinese characters run together and can mean different things depending on where they are placed in a sentence, keyword searches have proved challenging, so the prospect of integrating natural language searches into information retrieval systems is promising. Also of interest is the listing of active researchers of Chinese classification systems and thesauri studies, along with and major library programs that offer classification and thesauri courses and books written on the subject (in Chinese). These lists could provide great resources for those looking for additional information in the field.


Zhang, W. (2003). Classification for Chinese libraries (CCL): Histories, accomplishments, problems and its comparisons. Journal of Educational Media & Library Sciences, 41(1), 1-22.

Zhang’s look at the major classification system in China can be quite confusing, as he uses his own translation of CCL instead of CLC, like most scholars. He is very complementary of Western classification, focusing on “modern” vs. ancient systems. In his analysis, Zhang shows how ancient classification was designed to assist scholars and officials and its central theme of Confucianism proved to be ill-suited for contemporary needs. Because of its widespread use, the CCL has paved the way for easy standardization of language. Although Zhang is vague about the development of Western influence post-Opium War, he lays out an excellent historical account the changing political forces in China, and especially the communist influence on the CCL. Included is an excellent comparison of the CCL and the Library of Congress Classification (LCC), in which the author notes that both successes were created through collective work and had national support.