SOAS University of London is one of the few institutions to hold the Celestial Empire (Shanghai, China) in physical form.  Other collections of note are held by the British Library, the U.S. Library of Congress, and Harvard University.  SOAS holdings are among the most complete.     


China during the Celestial Empire's publication.

The Celestial Empire was the weekly edition of Shanghai’s best known English language newspapers, including the Evening Gazette, the Shanghai Courier and China Gazette, and the Mercury, and addressed to the international community in China from 1874 through 1929.

The  Celestial Empire documented a momentous period in Chinese history.  In eastern China 1874, Japan invaded and would later take control of Taiwan.  Simultaneously in western China, the Dungan or Tongzhi Hui Revolt, with the support of the United Kingdom and the Ottoman Empire, sprung up amongst the Qing Dynasty’s Muslim provinces.  The period also saw the Chinese populist Boxer Rebellion, against the Celestial Empire’s international readership, followed by a punitive indemnity paid by the Chinese.  New policies of reform subsequently laid the groundworks for the ideas of Sun Yat-sen, later Chiang Kai-shek and the rise of the Republic of China.  By 1929, the seeds of the civil war between Republicans and Communists were sown. The Celestial Empire, but for its attention to the western reader, is a tale of pre-modern China.

The name, Celestial Empire, comes from an ancient Chinese term, Tianchao, meaning ‘under heaven’.  It was said that whomever united the whole of China united everything under heaven. It is ironic, then, that the Celestial Empire newspaper brings together the timeline of this ancient China’s demise.

The Celestial Empire, nonetheless, embeds the stories of China and the Concession powers coming to terms with one another.  Issues, as of any newspaper, record the events of history that often make History. They record the details of trade and commerce, the comings and goings of ships, and the goods and the people they carry.

SOAS holds a wealth of Chinese history in Chinese, Manchu and English, documenting the Qing Empire and the rise of modern China.  The Celestial Empire, along with the documents of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs, collections of personal papers in the Special Collections, and missionary collections allow the researcher to weave rich tapestries of Chinese customs and history.


To help digitise.

The digitisation programme for the Celestial Empire includes conservation, digitsation and indexing.

Conservation will free issues from tight bindings, affording best image capture and, in turn, text generation for indexing and subsequent query.  The conservation programme will also deal with issues of embrittlement as well as flattening and minor repairs needed to ensure best image capture.  Issues found in this prototype are few because they represent the few that could be imaged without conservation.

Digitisation will include image capture and conversion of images into searchable text.  Image masters will be produced as uncompressed TIF files, at a resolution of 400 dpi in the sRGB colour-space.  Text generation will follow, generating page-for-page text (TXT) and issue-length searchable PDFs.  Text generated by this proto-type, whether of English or Chinese, is of relatively high accuracy not withstanding contrast issues presented by fading text against yellowing paper.

Indexing will ensure that all of the text is searchable.  Advanced indexing methods will identify the names of people and places as well as of named things: ships, monuments, battles and other events.  Together with SOAS's growing digital library of searchable Chinese texts and photographs, the Celestial Empire is a key in unlocking Qing history and the colonists' understanding of the Imperial Kingdom.

We welcome both individual and corporate giving.  To aid digitisation, we encourage gifts, donations and grants for individual issues, months or years as well as of the entire run. 

Contact SOAS Advancement at 

Your gift will be recognised in the catalogue record.  And, for those so willing, a clickable wordmark presented alongside page images and texts will link to an electronic bookplate, with text of your choice, to commemorate your advancement of this effort.