The Library’s collections concentrate on the humanities and social sciences. Materials range from full-text electronic databases, books, periodicals, and newspapers, to block-printed maps, manuscripts, rare Chinese, Japanese, and Korean imprints, and rubbings of some of the earliest inscriptions in the Chinese tradition.
The Library, whose holdings now number over 900,000 volumes, traces it origins to the deposit in 1896 of the private library of John Fryer, the University’s first holder of the Agassiz Chair of Oriental Languages and Literature. Other early gifts, such as the library of Kiang Kang-hu, the Horace G. Carpentier Endowment, and the collection of E. T. Williams, expanded the size and scope of the core collection.
The C. V. Starr East Asian Library possesses some particularly noteworthy special collections. The 100,000-volume Mitsui acquisition brought to Berkeley a handful of smaller collections, including the Asami, Chōhyōkaku, Gakken, Motoori, and Sōshin collections. The Asami Library contains 4,000 volumes of classical Korean imprints and Korean manuscripts, including a fine manuscript of the eighteenth-century anthology of Korean poetry, Haedong kayo, compiled by Kim Su-jang. The Chōhyōkaku collection of Chinese rubbings, which has been augmented by the East Asian Library over the years, is one of the largest and richest collections of its kind outside East Asia. The Gakken collection is noted for its kanshibun (Chinese verse and prose written by Japanese literati). The Motoori and Sōshin collections are rich in woodblock editions of the Tokugawa and early Meiji periods. The Mitsui acquisition also included approximately 7,000 manuscripts and some 2,500 early Japanese maps.
The Ho-Chiang collection of Buddhist sutras in manuscript and print documents the development of Buddhism in China, Japan, and Korea. The Mongolian and Manchu collections include an exceedingly rare seventeenth-century work, Tai sang-ni acabume karulara bithe. Among the pre-1949 xylographs of the Tibetan collection is a body of Tantric texts of the Nying-ma-pa sect and an eighteenth-century Narthang edition of the Kanjur section of the Buddhist canon.
The 8,850-volume Murakami Library is almost without rival even in Japan. Dedicated to belletristic writing of the Meiji and early Shōwa periods, the collection includes a large number of first editions, of particular interest not only for the illustrations and bindings, but also for the prefaces not reprinted in later editions. This and the collections above are housed in the Starr Library’s Fong Yun Wah Rare Book Room. The Library’s rare holdings range in subject matter and date from oracle bones of the Shang dynasty (17th–11th century BCE) to political posters of the Cultural Revolution.
Materials formerly in Berkeley’s Center for Chinese Studies Library and now in the Starr’s general collection provide a rich resource for the study of contemporary China: over 1,800 contemporary films on 4,000 discs; 6,000 volumes of provincial and local gazetteers; and, in the series Wen shi zi liao, over 11,000 volumes of first-person accounts of political movements, military actions, and economic conditions that China witnessed between the last years of the Qing dynasty and the early decades of the People’s Republic.
The Library also has extensive holdings in various non-print media—audio and video cassettes, microform, and CD-ROMs—and a growing offering of electronic resources.