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Columbia Opens Papers of Chinese Military Leader Peter H.L. Chang, Edith Chao Chang

By Lauren Marshall

Edith C. and Peter H.L. Chang

The papers and oral history of Peter H.L. Chang, the Chinese military leader believed to have altered the course of Chinese history by kidnapping Chiang Kai-shek to unite Chinese nationalists and communists in opposition to the 1936 Japanese invasion, are now available to scholars and the public at their new home, Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Included are papers of his wife, Edith C. Chang. The public opening of the Peter H.L. and Edith C. Chang Collection was celebrated with an intimate gathering attended by the friends and family of Peter H.L. Chang, Asian Studies scholars and Columbia Library officials on June 3rd.

"Our strong traditions in the areas of East Asian studies, special collections and oral history make this a fitting repository for such an important research collection," said James Neal, vice president of Information Services and University Librarian, who presided at the event held in the Peter H.L. and Edith C. Chang Reading Room. "Students and scholars at Columbia and from around the world will mine these collections for new insights into the history of such an important region of our world during such a dramatic period of its development. But as important will be the investigation of a man and a leader, his personal development and his historical impact."

"We are honored to be the repository of these treasured documents which are, and we assume will remain, among the most significant of our modern collections," added Jean Ashton, director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

The material in the Peter H. L. Chang and Edith C. Chang Research Collection includes some 5,000 items, most in Chinese, and spans more than 50 years of the Changs' lives -- from 1937, the year after the capture of Chiang Kai-shek, until 1999. It includes letters to and from important political and military leaders, publications, clippings, notes, unpublished poems, essays and diaries, and an extensive oral history of Chang, the longest in Columbia's Oral History collections, that has not been available to scholars until now. Chang, who died last year at the age of 100, left his papers and those of his wife, Edith, to Columbia in 1995.

"My father was a selfless person who as very concerned with the future of his nation. It was his desire to have these papers released this year and with the help of Columbia we are doing this," said Robert Chang, Peter H.L. Chang's son, who was joined by his wife Nora and sons Rob and Jeff.

Pictured from left: Jean Ashton, James Neal (behind), Robert Chang (son of Peter H.L. Chang) and his wife Nora S., Robert Chang and Jeff Chang (grandsons of Peter H.L. Chang)

An important figure in 20th century Chinese history, Chang (also known as the "Young Marshal") played a major role in the creation of the modern Chinese state after the fall of the Qing dynasty, and ruled Manchuria prior to the Japanese invasion of China and World War II.

Despite his earlier political achievements, he is best known for his role in the 1936 Xian Incident in which Chiang Kai-shek was asked to establish a united front between Nationalist and Communist forces to oppose the Japanese invasion of China. As punishment for his role in this event, Chang was placed under house arrest for more than 50 years, first in China and later in Taiwan before the Nationalist government moved to that island. During this period, he studied contemporary history and theology and developed a number of hobbies, including photography.

During Marshal Chang's 50-year incarceration, he corresponded with many of the most important political and military leaders of the era. The correspondence files in the collection measure approximately two linear feet. Major correspondents include President Chiang Kai-shek, Mme. Chiang Kai-shek, T.V. Soong, H.H. K'ung, William Donal and many others. A special album of significant correspondence, prepared by Marshal Chang himself, has been preserved in its original form. Mme. Chang's papers include correspondence with Mme. Chiang Kai-shek and with her personal teacher, Mrs. Paul Trinum.

Of equal interest are the numerous diaries and appointment books in the collection. The years covered by the multi-year diaries (1937-1990) overlap those described in the single year diaries (1937-1961). The appointment book entries extend from 1959-1975.

"While we still do not know what exactly is in them, I am confident that together the documents and the oral history transcripts will be very important in the way scholars view this time in history," said Andrew Nathan, professor of political science and Chinese specialist. "His and his wife's lives will live on through the impact that their materials will have on scholars and people's future understanding of this era."

The papers were opened to scholars on June 5th. There is a public gallery with only 10 items on display. The rest of the materials are for use by scholars by appointment only and are not visible to the general public. A Chinese-speaking curator will be available to assist non-English speakers on Fridays and by special arrangement. Proposals for publication projects will be considered after September 2002.

Information about the collection, access procedures, finding aid and indexes, and related collections is on Columbia's Library Web or may be obtained by calling the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at 854-5590.

Published: Jun 10, 2002
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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