MacFarquhar Collection arrives at Ashoka University


Over 7,000 books were donated to Ashoka University from the personal library of the late Professor Roderick MacFarquhar

In November 2023, the Ashoka University Centre for China Studies, in collaboration with the Ashoka Archives of Contemporary India and the Ashoka Libraries, held a symposium to celebrate the recent acquisition of books donated from the personal library of Professor Roderick MacFarquhar, who passed away in February 2019. The collection consists of 7,183 books, in both Chinese and English, covering topics in political science, history, literature, philosophy, and other fields. While the majority of the books focus on contemporary China, the collection also includes books on the history, politics and culture of India, in addition to a small number of items from his personal archives.

Professor MacFarquhar was the Leroy B. Williams Professor of History and Political Science, Emeritus at Harvard University, where he taught for three decades.

The library, a two story building with several windows, is shown among tall green trees in the woods

At his vacation home in Jaffrey, New Hampshire (a small town located about an hour and a half from Cambridge), Professor MacFarquhar had custom built a wood-paneled library in the adjacent barn, overlooking Mt. Monadnock. The library contained the many thousands of books in his personal collection. Prior to his passing, he had expressed a wish for his books to be sent to India for future generations of scholars to use. His connection to India was personal – Professor MacFarquhar was born and spent the first 12 years of his life in British India, where his father served as a civil administrator. As HYI Director Elizabeth Perry notes, “Rod hoped that his books would help to encourage the development of Chinese studies in India. Born and raised in India but having devoted his career to the study of China, he hoped to bring the two Asian giants a little closer together through greater mutual understanding. Initially, the plan had been to send the books on China to India and to send the books on India to China, but current difficulties in exporting books to China meant that in the end the entire collection was donated to Ashoka.”

The Harvard-Yenching Institute’s involvement with the project ties into its larger efforts to further the study of China in India, and the study of India in China. These efforts date back to the Institute’s early years, when it supported a Sino-Indian research institute in Beijing, with a particular focus on Buddhism. In recent years, the Institute’s China-India programming has expanded its focus to a variety of fields in the humanities and social sciences, seeking to foster a cross-national network of scholars from the two countries. As Elizabeth Perry reflects, “I am sure Rod would be very pleased with any and all progress toward developing Chinese studies in India, despite his initial skepticism about the feasibility of such efforts. Upon my request, Prof. Prasenjit Duara of Duke University made the initial contact with the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS) in Delhi, after which I went to India to work directly with ICS on the details of a multi-year doctoral fellowship program. Some years later, Profs. Arunabh Ghosh of the Harvard History Department and Tansen Sen of NYU-Shanghai raised the idea of a postdoctoral teaching program for Chinese studies in India. I followed up on concrete details with Ashoka University (whose Vice-Chancellor at the time was Prof. Pratap Mehta). Although Rod was not personally involved in these developments, he was clearly happy to learn about them and asked whether I thought there would be interest in India for housing his China library. I raised the prospect with both ICS and Ashoka, which both indicated strong interest. Prof. Ghosh and I thought that Ashoka – which was then in the process of completing construction on a brand-new library – was the right choice and Rod readily agreed.”

several book stacks are shown, with a portrait of Rod MacFarquhar at the top of the stacks

In the fall of 2021 Professor MacFarquhar’s books were moved to the Institute’s offices where they were painstakingly cataloged by two graduate students. The books were then shipped to India. After additional preparation, the collection was made available to Ashoka University affiliates and visitors in November 2023.

The November 2023 symposium was a celebration of the collection’s arrival at Ashoka University and a tribute to Prof. MacFarquhar’s generosity toward future generations of scholars, particularly Indian students interested in learning about China.

The symposium included three panels during which Ashoka students and faculty presented research undertaken using some of the materials from the MacFarquhar collection: “On Fiction and Travel: Literature in Medieval and Modern China”; “On Class, Gender, and Religion in Chinese Society and Politics”; and “On 20th Century Views of China from India and the US.” The wide range of panel topics was noted by Elizabeth Perry: “In addition to the rich materials on Mao’s China, which was Rod’s own main research focus, his collection includes basic works on ancient and imperial Chinese history, literature, and thought. Interestingly, these were the sources that seem to have attracted the most attention from Ashoka undergraduates. It was heartening to hear a number of students express a commitment to learning Chinese language so that they could make better use of the collection.”

The event also included a keynote address by HYI Director Elizabeth Perry on “Campaign-style Governance in China: The Patriotic Health Campaign,” and a tour of the library collection as well as an exhibition to showcase the collection. Faculty, students, and scholars from Ashoka University and O.P. Jindal Global University, along with other invited scholars and guests, joined the event.

Nancy Hearst, librarian at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies in Harvard’s Fung Library also participated in the celebration. For the symposium, she was interviewed by archivists in the HDFC Archives about the strengths of the collection. Describing Professor MacFarquhar as a true “bookaholic,” she recounted her book-hunting experiences with Prof. MacFarquhar in Beijing. She noted, ”A number of the Chinese-language books in the collection have either been banned in China or are only available for very restricted circulation, so it is very likely that some titles are unique not only in India but also in the Western world.” She also met with Mr. Bibhuti Nath Jha, Senior Associate Librarian and his staff in the library, to discuss how to best access and catalog the collection.

Many individuals were involved in making arrangements for Prof. MacFarquhar’s books as they were transported, cataloged, and installed in their new home. Professor Arunabh Ghosh of the Harvard History Department was most helpful in making the initial contact with Ashoka and in ensuring that the collection would be properly curated in its new home. We also wish to thank Professor MacFarquhar’s family for their generosity and thoughtful coordination as we moved the books from New Hampshire to Cambridge. At Harvard, students James Ruan, Yirong Yao, and Addison Liu helped with cataloging. The involvement of HYI Director Elizabeth Perry and input from Fairbank Center Librarian Nancy Hearst were crucial to carrying out the project. Several HYI staff members, including Ruohong Li, Susan Scott, Lindsay Strogatz, and Francesca Coppola were involved at various stages of the project. At Ashoka University, with professional assistance from the dedicated librarians of the HDFC Library of Ashoka University and their interns, Ambassador Shivshankar Menon, Professors Sayantani Mukherjee, Saul Wilson, and Eloise Wright provided their full support to make this project possible.

From New Hampshire to India: Journey of the MacFarquhar Collection

Prof. MacFarquhar's library in New Hampshire

The interior of Prof. MacFarquhar's library

The interior of Prof. MacFarquhar's library

The interior of Prof. MacFarquhar's library

The books were kept at HYI's offices while they were catalogued

The books in HYI's office, ready to be shipped to India

The MacFarquhar collection at Ashoka University

The MacFarquhar collection at Ashoka University Library

Nancy Hearst speaks at the symposium at Ashoka University

At the Ashoka University symposium

At the Ashoka University symposium

Saul Wilson, Elizabeth Perry, and Nancy Hearst visit the collection

MacFarquhar collection books on India

MacFarquhar collection books in Chinese

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