skip to content

Honorary Keeper of Chinese Collections

The office of Honorary Keeper has been associated with the Professorship of Chinese since the donation by Sir Thomas Wade of his collection in 1886, which preceded by two years his appointment as the first Professor of Chinese. He was followed in both roles by Herbert A. Giles who, by his own account, spent a portion of every day of his 35-year tenure among the Chinese books. His successor A.C. Moule donated books collected by his father, Bishop A.E. Moule, including one of the Library's most beautiful and valuable treasures, 十竹齋書畫譜 (see fully digitised copy at Cambridge Digital Library).

Moule relinquished the professorship to make way for Gustav Haloun, a political refugee from Germany and a distinguished bibliographer who had built up a fine collection at Göttingen (lost when a mine to which it had been evacuated during the war collapsed). He made some important purchases during a trip to China in 1948 funded by HM Treasury, and his personal collection was added to the Library after his early death in 1952.

The next significant incumbent, Piet van der Loon, originally a lecturer in Chinese, continued to select and purchase books for the Library for many years even after his appointment as Professor of Chinese at Oxford. For the first two years of my tenure he was still bringing books from his house on Old Boars Hill to Cambridge in the boot of his red Volvo. Many volumes purchased from the 1950s to 1980s bear his initials (PVL) on the flyleaf, and some of the collection's 'Schwerpunkte' (a favourite phrase) such as Chinese drama (FB.630-654) reflect his personal research interests. He also built up the best collection of Japanese Sinology in Europe, using lists provided by leading Japanese Sinologists.

The sixth Honorary Keeper, Dr Joseph P. McDermott (周绍明), who has published widely on the history of Chinese printing and publishing, has strong connections with Japan and is a Fellow of the Oriental Library (Toyo Bunko) in Tokyo. Since retiring as Reader in Chinese History he has continued to liaise actively with the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, ensuring that their requirements are met. In recent years he has made regular visits to the Far East, bringing back lists of recommendations seen in libraries and bookshops. Handling actual books, combined with familiarity with accessions policy, is a far better way of evaluation than reliance on online information alone. Dr McDermott's passed away in October 2022. We were saddened about our loss. Please read the tribute written by St. John's College and the Chinese tribute written by Peking University.

We are very happy to announce that Dr Roel Sterckx (胡司德) became our new Honorary Keeper since 2023. Dr Sterckx is Joseph Needham Professor of Chinese History, Science and Civilization and Chair of Chinese at Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. He read sinology at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium) , studied classical Chinese and philosophy at National Taiwan University, and came to Cambridge for his PhD (1997) at thefaculty then known as Faculty of Oriental Studies. After a research fellowship at Wolfson College Oxford and a stint at the University of Arizona, he returned to Cambridge in 2002. He was appointed to the Chair of Chinese in 2007 (see his inaugural lecture here). He has served as Faculty (co)-chair and Head of the Department of East Asian Studies (2007-10; 2014-17), is a longstanding trustee of the Needham Research Institute, and a Fellow of Clare College. In 2013 he was elected Fellow of the British Academy. Professor Sterckx is a leading expert in the fields of Chinese thought and cultural history with a focus on the pre-imperial and early imperial period, and classical and literary Chinese language and philology. 

Honorary Keeper of Chinese Books (Collections):

  • Sir Thomas Wade (1888-1895)
  • Herbert A. Giles (1896-1932)
  • A.C. Moule (1933-1938)
  • Gustav Haloun (1939-1951)
  • Piet van der Loon (1951-2002)
  • Joseph P. McDermott (2002-2022)
  • Roel Sterckx (2023- )