30 Dec 2020

Open letter relating to the Universities Service Centre for China Studies (USC)

30 Dec 2020

Dear Friends of the Universities Service Centre for China Studies (USC), 

We deeply appreciate your genuine concern for USC’s future. The Chinese University of Hong Kong, after very careful deliberation, has decided to house the USC library collection in the University Library. Unfortunately, before the University could explain the rationale of its decision in an official announcement as we had planned, rumors spread, and misinformation ensued. 

We will address each of your concerns presently. However, we want to assure you at the outset that this administrative arrangement will not compromise the integrity of and access to the USC collection. On the contrary, this arrangement will enable USC to benefit from the University Library’s professional knowledge and resources in the preservation of precious material, knowledge management and open scholarship. 

Identity and Integrity of the Collection. Although the USC collection will be housed in the Library, its identity will be kept. The collection will not be merged with the main Library collection; it will be kept as a separate named collection in the Library, alongside other special collections, some of which are also devoted to China Studies. Researchers are welcome to consult these collections in the University Library.

Sustainability. Rare items will be carefully preserved in thermo- and humidity-controlled facilities. The USC collection will continue to grow, with advice from domain experts on acquisition. 

Easy Global Access. The USC collection will be digitized and rendered accessible to all China researchers after copyright issues are cleared. When completed, users can assess the digitized works easily online. The images will be in high resolution, and users can perform full-text search on the digitized material, as they will be turned into text files as well. They can also access the USC and other China Studies collections in the Library in a single search. Currently, the USC and the Library catalogues are not linked. 

Continuity of Services. Digitization and preservation will take time to complete, about 18 months in our estimation, but the USC collection will not be closed during this time. There will be no disruptions in our services to local and international researchers. Scholars are welcome to visit CUHK and make use of the USC and other collections at any time. They will continue to enjoy the high-quality library services provided by our current USC staff, whose work will not be affected by the enhancement exercise.

Hospitality. As always, CUHK welcomes academic visitors to use its research facilities. Current exchange and academic activities hosted by USC will continue at the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), the parent organization of USC. Like USC, ICS is also well known for its hospitality to China Studies scholars. Along with the current USC staff, ICS colleagues will be on hand to provide additional support.

Therefore, the plan to host the USC collection at the University Library will not weaken CUHK’s commitment to China research, which has been and will continue to be a pillar of CUHK research excellence. On the contrary, this plan signals CUHK’s increased commitment to engage local and international scholars in scholarly exchange. The community of scholars will expand, with added emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration, and the USC collection hopefully will generate more far-reaching impact. 

We concur that with the rising tension in international relations, China Studies scholars need to maintain objectivity in our judgments and not fall in the traps of divisive rumors. We appreciate your frankness in articulating your concerns, which we will seriously consider as we flesh out our plan. When it is safe to travel again, please visit us and use the enhanced USC collection at its new home. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. I hope your enriched experiences with the USC and other related collections in the University Library and the vibrant academic environment at ICS will help dismiss the frivolous speculations being circulated. 

Yours sincerely,
Alan K.L. Chan
J.S. Lee Professor of Chinese Culture
The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)



Current Services

Services after Reorganization

Identity of the Collection 

  • USC Collection  
  • USC Collection will be kept as a named collection in University Library  

Sustainability and preservation

  • Rare items are kept in ordinary air-conditioned rooms
  • Inadequate IT infrastructure 
  • Rare items will be preserved in facilities with controlled environment including temperature, relative humidity, air quality, lighting controls, security system, and a waterless fire suppression system (FM200)
  • A digitisation programme will enhance preservation
  • Support from the Library’s specialist IT team as well as the University’s IT service will update infrastructure and practices

Access to support scholarship

  • Overseas scholars have to come to Hong Kong to consult much of the USC collection in person 
  • Users who want to use the physical materials can continue come to Hong Kong to consult the collection in person
  • Digitisation can enhance access, with the University committed to open access wherever possible
  • Support from a wider pool of expertise at CUHK will open up the collection to even more digital scholarship projects 

Connection with other collections  

  • USC and the Library catalogues are not linked  
  • USC collection records will be included in the Library’s catalogue.
  • The USC collection will be discoverable not only as an identifiable collection, but also in the context of a wider search of CUHK Library’s holdings
  • Because the USC collection will be included in CUHK Library’s catalogue, the collection will also be discoverable to the wider academic community in Hong Kong through HKALL, and in WorldCat a global catalogue of library collections.


  • Exchange and academic activities hosted by USC 
  • Exchange and academic activities hosted by the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), the parent organization of USC