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Local chronicles to play bigger role in B&R

Author  :  Yang Haifeng     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-08-07

Like regional encyclopedias, local chronicles preserve history, instruct the public and provide experience for governance.

As Chinese President Xi Jinping pointed out: “Compiling history books and local chronicles is of great value. It could revitalize cultural heritage and enlighten people on the wisdom from history passed down throughout the ages.” 

First of all, local chronicles play an essential part in the traditional culture of China, a country with a storied past and ancient civilization. Local chronicles, which document historical events and facts of different places, have a history of around 2,000 years. It is not an overstatement to say that no other country possesses such vast, rich historical materials that have endured for so many years.

The most fundamental function of local chronicles is to preserve history. These records document past episodes of history, providing a snapshot of a particular region’s landscape, economy, politics, social conditions, culture and local customs to be used as a reference for present and future generations. 

Local chronicles also play an edifying role, serving as source materials to instruct the public, especially the youth and teenagers, on patriotism and socialism and educate them about the national reality and local conditions of regions across the country.

In addition, local chronicles can act as reference materials and provide lessons to governments, which makes them a valuable resource to guide the decision-making of leaders, cadres and policy-making bodies. 

Containing plenty of historical materials that are relevant to the “Belt and Road” initiative, local chronicles provide a unique reference. The historical literature and classics scattered throughout places along the ancient Silk Road that were preserved throughout generations need to be further sorted out and studied.

Some of the work has already been done by scholars. The publishing of Historical Materials of Ceramics Recorded in Local Chronicles is an example. 

A new edition of the Overall Survey of the Ocean’s Shores by Ma Huan has also been published based on hand-copied editions from the Ming Dynasty. Ma was a voyager and translator who accompanied the Ming mariner Zheng He on three of his seven expeditions to the Western oceans.

Ma’s survey offers a valuable first-hand document for studying maritime Silk Road culture and provides a primary source for the history of Ming Dynasty naval exploration as well as diplomacy between China and foreign countries. Those who engage in writing local chronicles as a career should make full use of their advantages—the easier access to and immediacy of the information contained in relevant regional literature and records, and thus conduct in-depth research based on it. 

Furthermore, it is advisable to undertake large-scale history book and chronicle compilation programs related to the “Belt and Road” initiative such as the Complete Chronicle of “Belt and Road” or History of “Belt and Road” Civilization, which can be accomplished by taking down a general account of the history, culture, folk customs, ethnic religions, geography of the countries and regions along the initiative.

At present, what can be compiled beforehand are some chronicles focused on special subjects and topics, such as profiles of influential people, introduction of routes, scenery and writings themed on the Silk Road. This can be conducted by systematically narrating the story of traders, clergyman, soldiers, poets and other notable persons who left their footprints on the ancient Silk Road, and describing the cultural relics, historical sites and relevant folk customs along the routes. 

To summarize, the local chronicles of China convey stories of the country. Interpretations of historically important events and facts are conducive to strengthening the understanding between regions and countries involved in the “Belt and Road” initiative and demonstrating the uniquely Chinese discourse system at large.


Yang Haifeng is from the China Local Chronicle Digitization Research Society.

Editor: Yu Hui

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