The story behind a simple book tag: Arthur W. Hummel and the Library of Congress' Complete Atlas of Xinjiang

The story behind a simple book tag: Arthur W. Hummel and the Library of Congress' Complete Atlas of Xinjiang

In the US Library of Congress' collection is a Complete Atlas of Xinjiang (shown in Image 54) that comprises 18 folded paper maps featuring simple ink lines. The maps reflect the state of the mountains, waterways and roads throughout the whole of Xinjiang, as well as important focal regions such as Dihua (today known as Urumqi), Ili and Kuqa. Research suggests that its information relates to the Qianlong reign.

This atlas would not be of much interest were it not for a label in the bottom left corner of its leather cover, which reads "Hummel pur. '34 no. 6". This simple tag is the key to understanding the Complete Atlas' journey from China to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., as well as the experiences, diplomatic accomplishments and family of one of the library's most distinguished figures: Arthur W. Hummel.

Image 54: Cover of the Complete Atlas of Xinjiang

"Hummel pur. '34 no. 6" was a simple tag that the library added when the book was archived to show that it is the sixth item in a collection purchased and donated by Arthur W. Hummel in 1934. Hummel's entire life was tied to China: he had lived there for a long time and was deeply fascinated by Chinese culture. In particular, he enjoyed collecting local gazetteers (difangzhi), ancient maps, and old currency. Upon his return to the United States, he was appointed Chief of the Orientalia Division at the Library of Congress. There, he devoted 26 years of his life to collecting and organizing ancient Chinese texts. He was one of the key figures who asserted the Library of Congress' status as one of the most important collections of ancient Chinese texts in the West.

On 6 March 1884, Hummel was born in Warrenton, Missouri. In 1903, he finished high school and began his postsecondary education at the University of Chicago, graduating two years later. In 1911, he earned a master's degree, also from the University of Chicago. Subsequently, Hummel was hired as a history teacher at an advanced middle school in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Six months later, his former classmate Roy Smith, who at the time was teaching English at their alma mater, informed him of an opening for a teacher at the Kobe Higher Commercial School in Japan. An avid fan of the Far East, Hummel jumped on this opportunity. He borrowed 350 US dollars from his uncle for a boat ticket and arrived in Japan in March 1912.

Image 55: Arthur W. Hummel

During the two years in which he taught in Kobe, Hummel went on two trips to China. His twin brother, William Frederick Hummel, had been working as a history and theology lecturer at Nanjing University since 1908. These two trips ignited Hummel's passion for Chinese culture.

In 1914, Hummel returned to the United States and received a Bachelor of Divinity from his alma mater. On October 8 of the same year, he married Ruth Emily Bookwalter. A month later, Hummer traveled with the sponsorship of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to Beijing, where he would study Chinese for a year.

In 1915, Hummel and his wife moved to Fenzhou or Fen Prefecture (today known as the city of Fenyang) in Shanxi Province, where he taught English at the Fenzhou Christian Boys Middle School. In the decade that he spent in Fenzhou, Hummel continued to study Chinese and read a wealth of local gazetteers (a type of geographical and historical record kept by regional officials). In this way, he was able acquire a profound understanding of Chinese history, geography, customs, and folk beliefs. It was also in Fenzhou that Hummel developed a penchant for collecting ancient Chinese maps and currency. In total, he collected over 2000 old coins from different eras, as well as a vast array of maps. His son Arthur Millbourne Hummel (later known as Arthur W. Hummel Jr.) was born in 1920, in Fenzhou. In 1924, Hummel and his family moved to Beijing, where Hummel taught Chinese History and Civilization at the Yenching School of Chinese Studies. Three years later, however, they were forced to return to the United States due to growing turmoil in China.

Image 56: Map Spanning Oceans and Seas purchased by Hummel in 1930

Upon returning to the United States, at an exhibition of the ancient maps that he had collected in China, Hummel had a fortuitous meeting with the Director of the Library of Congress, Herbert Putnam, upon whom he left a favorable impression. A few months later, at the end of 1927, Hummel became a temporary archivist at the Library of Congress. The next year, he was appointed the Chief of the Chinese-Language Division (later called the Orientalia Division) — a position that he would maintain until his retirement, 26 years later, in 1954.

Hummel's professional achievements are nothing short of extraordinary. During his time as chief, the Library of Congress' collection of Chinese-language documents rose from approximately 100,000 volumes in 1928 to close to 300,000 by 1954. In 1930 and 1934, the Library of Congress carried out two initiatives to acquire an impressive number of Chinese maps. Hummel personally purchased some of the maps during the first expedition, while in 1934, he was responsible for the selection and importation of the second batch. One of the maps acquired in 1934 was the Complete Atlas of Xinjiang, labelled "Hummel pur. '34 no. 6".

Under Hummel's supervision, the Orientalia Division of the Library of Congress collected a multitude of Chinese-language maps, ranging from original painted copies and antique reprints of yutu from the Ming and Qing Dynasties; to maps produced with the use of modern surveying techniques during the early 20th Century. The Division currently has the most diverse collection of Chinese-language maps out of any archive in the world. Hummel played an indispensable role in establishing the Division's reputation as one of the most important collections of ancient maps in the West, in preserving Chinese-language maps, and in promoting dialogues between China and the United States.

Image 57: Overall map from the Complete Atlas of Xinjiang

His son, Hummel Jr., was born in Shanxi Province in 1920. In 1941, when the Pacific War broke out, Hummel Jr. was captured by the Japanese army and detained in a POW camp in Weifang. On 9 June 1944, with the aid of local Chinese armed forces, farmers, and waste collectors, Hummel Jr. was able to escape from the camp and join the forces fighting against the Japanese, making him somewhat of a war hero. Once the war was over, Hummel Jr. began his career as a foreign diplomat with the US Department of State. From 1981 to 1985, he acted as the United States Ambassador to China. One could say that, in the past 135 years, the Hummel family has developed inextricable ties with China.

The Complete Atlas of Xinjiang that Hummel purchased in 1934 is just one small reminder of this family's close relationship with China. Given Hummel's expertise on the subject of ancient maps, there was undoubtedly something about this particular atlas that inspired him to buy it.

As one can see in Image 57, the map is not particularly intricate — rather, features such as mountains, rivers, cities and roadways have been sketched in basic detail using simple lines. Although its composition is simple, the atlas nonetheless has great academic value, in that it is one of the oldest extant maps of Xinjiang from the Qing Dynasty. Given how rare maps of Xinjiang from the Qianlong reign are, one can imagine its value.

Image 58: Complete Map of the West Lake from the Complete Atlas of Xinjiang

One interesting aspect of the atlas is that, although it calls itself a map of Xinjiang, it begins with a Complete Map of the West Lake (in Hangzhou), shown in Image 58. This map features detailed illustrations of historical attractions on or near the lake, such as the "Three Pools Mirroring the Moon", "Pavilion at the Heart of Lake Xihu", Qianwang ("King Qian") Temple, and Tiantai ("Sky Platform") Mountain.

Readers will no doubt wonder: why on Earth would an atlas of Xinjiang include a map of the West Lake, situated all the way on the other side of China? If one compares this atlas to the other Complete Atlas of Xinjiang stored in Taipei (with which it shares certain origins), one can see that the Library of Congress' Complete Atlas of Xinjiang is missing information on its first two pages. We therefore have grounds to suspect that the completely unrelated Map of West Lake was thrown in to make up for the missing content.

Hummel and his family played crucial roles in promoting dialogues between the US and China. Hummel Sr's influence in the field of cultural exchanges would seem to be more lasting than his son's influence in the field of political diplomacy — at least, that certainly seems to be the case when we consider just how much history lies behind that simple label, “Hummel pur. '34 no. 6”.

Main references

Li Xiaocong: Summary of the US Library of Congress' Collection of Ancient Chinese Maps. Chinese Cultural Relics Publishing Press, 2004.

Wang Yao: A study of the Qing Dynasty Complete Atlas of Xinjiang stored in Taipei. Classical Literature and Culture of China. Vol. 3, 2014.