Photo by Laura Benson. Perusing documents at the used book market in Tianjin, November 2004.


by Jeremy Brown

In 2004, sinologist Michael Schoenhals wrote that “we now have occasional access to caches of archive material and primary sources that come to us courtesy of the messy chaotic forces of China’s booming market economy.” Schoenhals was referring to “the discarded contents of filing cabinets in enterprises that have gone bankrupt and Party institutions that have been merged out of existence. This is ‘raw’ material, never intended to be preserved for any particular historian’s future purposes.”[1] In the more than a decade since Schoenhals pioneered what he would later call “Sinological garbology,”[2] documents gathered from flea markets and other unconventional places have become the source base for many books and articles about the history of the People's Republic of China, including my own work. 

When I cite unique grassroots sources, my footnotes provide as much bibliographic information as possible and indicate that they are held in the “author’s collection (AC).” The problem with this citation method is that readers cannot easily check the sources to determine whether they trust my conclusions. The PRC History Source Transparency Project addresses this issue by allowing readers to go directly from published footnotes to original sources.

Photo by Laura Benson. Used book market in Tianjin, November 2004.

This project shares sources cited in my own publications and welcomes future contributions from scholars who are willing to share sources they have previously cited. The first phase of original source uploads includes documents that do not mention nonpublic figures. A second, future phase will feature documents that may require redaction to protect the privacy of nonpublic figures. Researchers interested in viewing hard copies of such documents may request on-site access at Simon Fraser University by emailing

The PRC History Source Transparency Project is grateful for support from Simon Fraser University’s David Lam Centre for International Communication, SFU’s Work-Study Program, and the SFU Library’s Scholarly Digitization Fund.

[1] Michael Schoenhals, “Sinology and Historical Research on Mao’s China: Some Personal Observations.” Paper presented at Focus on Asia: Challenges in Politics and Research, National Network of Universities for East and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Helsinki, January 23, 2004, 5.
[2] Michael Schoenhals, Spying for the People: Mao’s Secret Agents, 1949–1967 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 12.