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62nd IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 25-31, 1996

Libraries Oriented to a New Pattern of the Multiple and Integrated World

Professor Fei Xiaotong


IFLA is the most authoritative, representative, professional, and learned organization in the world library community. The coming 62nd IFLA General Conference is a significant event to the Chinese library community as it is the first annual conference to be held in China. It is my great honour to have this opportunity to make a keynote speech at this opening session of the General Conference. I w ould like to express my heartfelt thanks to Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General and all delegates present here. I wish the conference every success.

The theme for the General Conference is:"the Challenge of Change: Libraries and Economic Development". In my opinion, the theme conforms to the main trend of our times----economic development issue of common concern throughout the world, and centers on the leading topics of contemporary libraries---how to enable libraries to serve more effectively economic development, therefore, it is of realist ic and theoretical significance. as a sociologist devoted my whole life to the study of Chinese basic community---rural society---economic development, I have made deep impression on the relationship between libraries and economic development from not only my own life experience but also my experiences in academic study. First of all, please allow me to give my personal view on the role of librar ies, then I will make some comments on prospects of libraries at the turn of the centuries.

I. From Small Studies to Large Libraries

I was born in a small town in Wujiang County, Jiangsu Province 86 years ago. Through generations my family had always won different official ranks through imperial examination system, and so belonged to fairly typical traditional intellectuals and to the social stratum who live on literacy. In my father's youth days, when the imperial examination system was abolished, my father changed his profes sion to engage in local education. There were such many intellectual families in the south of the province, most of whom set up studies for their children. Such studies of varying sizes were of non-government libraries which were very common in China during past dynasties. Generally speaking, the studies collected Chinese basic classical works, such as the Four Books and the Five Classics, and do cuments and ancient books, such as the "Twenty-Four Histories", "Historical Events Retold as a Mirror for Government", "Encyclopedia of Knowledge Accumulated Through Ages", etc. In the early days of the Republic of China (1912-1949), studies had collections of newspapers and periodicals, popular publications prevalent at the time, as well as books introducing contemporary western social ideologie s and science and technology. However, there were not public libraries available for townspeople even in the culturally advanced Taihu Valley during the period. This had made it possible that I could study Chinese history and culture as well as knowledge concerning contemporary world in my small family study apart from studying basic knowledge in school in my early days. In fact, non-government l ibraries of the studies had long maintained Chinese cultural traditions, and trained a great number of excellent intellectuals through ages. However, the studies restricted within a small number of families had caused objectively slow development of Chinese civilization, narrow range of knowledge spread, and a small number of intellectuals in the past dynasties. I feel that my weak academic basis and narrow range of knowledge to some degree throughout my life can be attributed to my limited reading of books and being slow in knowledge and information in my early years. For those whose families did not have studies, the restrictions were even greater.

In the 1930s when I studied in Dongwu University, Peking University and Qinghua University successively, I was most gratified at their well-stocked libraries, feeling as if a caged bird were set free to fly into the vast sky. I could study freely any knowledge which I couldn't learn in classroom, and sometimes had a feeling of being at a loss in a rush and muddle manner, just like a bee flying in to a flower garden. Especially when I entered London Economic Institute for the first time, I could read any books I like at open shelf libraries without going through any formalities, and I really became a hungry visitor who was not choosy and picky about food. I did not leave my seat all the day long until the closing time of the library. This was a rare enjoyment in my life, I felt extremely a mazing as if I swam freely in the ocean of knowledge. In the cheerful frame of mind I wrote a book entitled the "Economy of Jiangcun Village", my first works.

The course of true love never did run smooth. When I graduated from London Economic Institute, the Second World War broke out, and my motherland was fighting against arduously Japanese imperialism. Then, I left London hurriedly, after experiencing all kinds of hardships, I returned to my motherland to teach in Yunnan University located in Kunming City, Yunnan Province in the rear-area. Although I could continue to throw myself into social survey and academic study in the inland countryside in the rear-area of resistance, universities moved from enemy-occupied areas to the rear had generally library equipments but poor collections, in particular, lacked newly-published foreign books and magazines, with academic information nearly blocked. It was worth mentioning that Qinghua University, m oved to Kunming City and merged with Peking University and Nankai University into the South-West United University, tried to ship its original book stock in Beijing to the inland, unfortunately, the oil tank carrying books was bombed by Japanese troops and sank in the Yantze River, resulting in heavy mental strike on scholars.

As far as I was concerned, the lack of international academic exchange not only had direct impact on the quality of my study achievements but also led to my concentration on thinking of my own other than frequent analysis, exchange of views, and comparison with others' thoughts, I got unenlightened academically. Due to long international blockade and my personal unfavorable political situation, i t prevented me from extensive access to and exchanges of new thoughts and viewpoints in the world learned community, and from making new break-through and progress. This situation did not improve until late 1970s and early 1980s. I began to link again the channel of international academic information, and I reinstated my academic life. It has proved that one's academic life is by no means normall y maintained without such service agency as libraries offering knowledge and information. From my personal experience in my studies, I deeply realize that library is really a great treasure-house serving education and science, development and progress.

II.From Economic Vitalization to the Emerging of People-to-People Libraries

I started my study of sociology from rural investigations in the middle of 1930s. Not only in Wujiang County, Jiangsu Province in the eastern China, known as a land of fish and rice, but also in mountain villages, in Dayaoshan Mountain, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in the southern China, what I personally saw and heard of is shocking:the mass of farmers were facing domestic trouble and foreig n invasion, and suffering from extreme poverty. It made me realize that the basic issue in China was the issue of farmers, who took up over 80% of China's total population; while the essential issue in the countryside was the problem of farmers' basic necessities of life. As a result, I defined my mission as dedicating myself to helping farmers relieve poverty and get wealthy, laying down a found ation for setting up later an aspiration of "devoting my life to making farmers wealthy". Therefore, my academic work during the rest of my life has been only dedicated to the fulfilment of my ideal.

In 1940s I put forward an argument of "transferring modern industrial technology to the countryside" and "building local industry" through my surveys and studies. In my opinion, Chinese countryside covered a vast area and had a large population, it was only developing industry that could make countryside prosperous, only urban transformation into rural areas to run industries that would help alle viate population pressure caused by industrialization, China should fulfil rural industrialization so as to achieve rural and urban modernization on the basis of "industry being complementary with agriculture" and "integration between urban and rural areas". This is a practical road suited to developing social economy according to China's conditions.

The founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 brought an end to the years of chaos caused by wars, China cast off semi-colonial status and entered into the state of maintaining independence and keeping initiative in its own hands. I was greatly excited about it for some time. But, due to all kinds of historical reasons, construction did not get onto the track of smooth development. In pa rticular, the mass of farmers did not extricate themselves from poverty at the end of 1970s. After over 40 years of pacing up and down, the Chinese government adopted the reform and opening-up policy in 1978, bringing great changes to the faces of rural areas and the whole country within only several years. In 1981 I was pleasantly surprised at seeing in Jiangcun Village, which I used to be very familiar with, its new face with great changes within only three years. Per capita income in the village increased from 114 yuan in 1977 to 300 yuan in 1980, among the highest of the country. The facts unfold before our eyes: household sideline production has renewed, small collectively-owned industry been run, there appeared integration and further development trends of agriculture, sideline and industry in the rural economic structure. The idea and opinions I recommended in 1930s have been finally valued and supported by the society and the government, and then came true. Since 1980s, I have made field visits continuously to townships across the country. In all those places I have visited, I was absolutely encouraged by the boom of township enterprises and become firmer in my convictio n, Chinese industrialization will only take place and develop on the basis of agriculture, and push forward further prosperity of agriculture and advancement side by side of agriculture and industry, leading towards modernization. I have noted from my series of social and economic surveys that one phenomenon has developed following economic development in rural areas, that is the development of r ural culture, as farmers are seeking knowledge and culture with great eagerness. All economically advanced rural areas, without exception, have invested into educational and cultural building. Especially, it is worth mentioning the development of township libraries. In the regions with advanced township economy, township libraries, rural reading rooms, and even farmers' private libraries are beco ming more and more flourishing. For example, the developments in Suzhou, Wuxi, Wujiang and Zhangjiagan and other cities in Jiangsu Province are the same. In Wuxi every village has a library with a collection of over 10,000 volumes. Changzhou Municipal Library comprises one million volumes, and takes the lead in the fulfilment of average one book owned by each person. In the Pearl River Delta, for example, in Shenzhen, 800,000 yuan were invested once into building a library with a collection of tens of hundreds of volumes. Such figures are too numerous to mention individually.

China has a population of 1.2 billion, most of whom live in the countryside. The nation has altogether over 50,000 townships and more than 600,000 villages. Rural libraries in townships undergoing rapid development have boundless prospects. I'm fully confident and never doubt that it will accelerate greatly regional economic and cultural development. In my life almost through the 20th century , I have seen the main process of the transition from traditional local culture to modernization. If I describe the development of Chinese culture from only my personal experience, I will cover the transformation from family studies of a few gentries to non-government libraries in the vast countryside, and from knowledge fields monopolized by a small num ber of people to the establishment of knowledge and information system shared among the public, without any doubt, the transformation and development have also reflected the future trends of social culture in China.

III.The Mission of Libraries in the New World Pattern

So far, our vision might as well go beyond myself and townships to the whole country, furthermore, we can look forward to the whole world entering into the 21st century. Nowadays, the world economy is growing fast, not only developed countries have developed greatly the world-wide market economy, but also developing countries are working for the development of market economy, socialist countries and former socialist countries are on the transition from planned economy system to market economy system. China is deepening reforms with full confidence so as to develop toward socialist market economy. The feature of market economy is commodity exchange, while commodity exchange is not subject to restriction of regions and national borders, but takes place throughout the world. Commodity econo mic development results in common interests among all regions and countries in the world, and formation of a tremendous force to push forward gradually the integration of the world. As what some people have described, the world is becoming smaller and smaller, and the globe is becoming a great village. Scientific and technological as well as economic advancements have created necessary conditions for the integration of the world.

In the meantime, we should realize that the increasing integration of the world economy has enhanced not only people's awareness of interrelation among them, but also personal self-consciousness, the whole nation's awareness of self-independence and democracy. In addition, due to the imbalance of political and economic development in the present world, and the great differences existing among cou ntries, nations and individuals, social and cultural multiplicity has taken shape, emerging and developing together with the world economic integration. As a kind of ideology, culture is under tremendous influence of historical inheritance, and relatively independent and unique, strengthening the existence and development of multiplicity. as a result, it is inevitable that the economically integr ated world presents magnificent colours of cultural diversity.

The world economic integration has emerged from cultural multiplicity, while the world cultural multiplicity has developed after being pushed forward by the world economic integration. They complement each other and help each other forward. Stress one aspect by denying another is harmful to world development. Seeking hegemonism on the excuse of centralization and pursuing splittism on the pretext of multiplicity will get us absolutely nowhere.

Centralization and multiplicity complement each other. Various types of economy and culture, in their contacts with each other during the process of development, should be communicating other than conflicting. Since economic integration is the requirement of objective development, why couldn't different kinds of culture communicate each other? The Chinese people have had deep awareness of the com munication from our own cultural development, namely the history of Chinese culture.

The Chinese nation has a history of over 5000 years. It owes the origin to the Yellow River valley, called China or Huaxia, merges with many other nationalities and forms the Chinese nation with Han nationality as its mainstay, together with economic and social development, creating brilliant Chinese culture and extending its influence to East Asia, South-east Asia, Europe and the whole world. At present, 56 nationalities live in harmony and are working together for the fulfilment of China's socialist modernization drive. The formation of the multiple, integrated, cultural pattern of its kind is the cornerstone of Chinese nation's existence and development, and makes a distinctive feature of the eastern civilization in the world.

The multiple, integrated pattern of Chinese civilization has taken shape thanks to not only economic, political, social and cultural factors, but also the important role of link obviously played by information spread and exchange. The Chinese people have always attached great importance to the role of knowledge and information, and roles of characters, books, papermaking, printing and libraries. Chinese ancients created characters 3000 years ago, and 2000 years ago residents in the mainland in Qin Dynasty used common characters understandable to each other, namely the "Shutongwen Character" according to historical records. That is to say, a tremendous information network had formed in the Chinese mainland; 1800 years ago Cailun invented papermaking techniques; 1300 years ago there appear ed engraving in Tang Dynasty; 800 years ago Bisheng invented letterpress printing technique, resulting in emergence of real books from then on; after books became the most effective information carriers, mutual understanding among various regions and nationalities had been greatly promoted, the process of multiplicity and integration pushed forward, bringing all people together to create brillian t Chinese civilization. Without information system commonly understood, it is inconceivable to seek understanding in terms of basic thought and basic life style and coordinate actions in such a vast land and among such a large population.

In the 21st century in prospect, the world will seek survival and development during the process of multiplicity and integration. The key is to eliminate estrangement and contradictions caused by economic, political, social and cultural imbalance and differences by means of more multiple cultural information spread and exchange. Nowadays, ideologically, there exist different views on human rights and women, different values and outlook on life, etc., you just talk about your own view, and I give only my own opinion, it shows that we lack understanding between us. Due to respectively different development history and national conditions, there exists a wide variety of solutions to diverse problems, no one can stick to one model, and go still one step further to force his views on others, the only practical solution is to enhance understanding and tolerance so as to enable billions of residents living on the same earth to understand each other and sympathize with each other. It depends on the more effective role of information in exchanges, and on the rapid development of librarianship in the world so as to meet common, urgent needs of the world people.

With a history of thousands of years, libraries are a treasure-house that mankind has invented to gather knowledge since ancient times, are a center for knowledge and information spread and exchange and an important ideological and cultural stronghold. At this turn of the centuries, we have seen not only that further reform and development of the traditional magic formula has become the urgent ne ed of human peaceful co-existence and advancement, but also that the need is being gradually met following the present scientific and technological advancements.

Libraries are facing significant changes. Computerization of information carriers and globalization of information expressway are pushing forward libraries to a new stage. Computerization of libraries will promote integration of global libraries; it will really go beyond restriction of geographical conditions and make every library an integral part of the world "large library", while every user w ill become one of library users in the world. Flourishing non-government libraries of Chinese townships and farmer households will surely become small terminals of world large library's networking information system.

We have seen the bright future of librarianship, but we still have a long way to go. On the way to our goal we will certainly encounter various kinds of difficulties which need to be respectively solved. The greatest difficulty might be that librarians across the world should define their primary task as setting up high aims and lofty aspirations of striving for creation of a global society in wh ich people enjoy peaceful co-existence and each is in a proper place, or each has a role to play. We are guardians of human knowledge, spreaders of human knowledge and information, and servers of providing the world-people with knowledge and information, and workers of striving for increasingly developing and rich human civilization. Let's encourage and urge each other to accomplish the sacred mi ssion.

Once again, I wish the 62nd IFLA General Conference a complete success.
Thank you for your attention.