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.” In the more than a decade since Schoenhals pioneered what he would later call “Sinological garbology,” 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.