Pith Paintings

The National Library houses the largest collection of Chinese pith paintings in Australia. A number of the Library's collection of pith paintings featured in the 2016 exhibition Celestial Empire: Life in China 1644-1912 (associated exhibition book), and their vivid colours and depiction of a wide variety of scenes caught many visitors' attention.  

[婚宴 = A Chinese wedding banquet] nla.obj-300139263
婚宴 = A Chinese wedding banquet, nla.obj-300139263 

London Missionary Society collection

The London Missionary Society collection held in the National Library of Australia consists of 722 books, periodicals, pamphlets, leaflets, manuscripts, newspapers and maps, mostly published in the 19th and early 20th century and written in Chinese. The collection includes works covering a wide range of subjects, such as: religion, history, literature, politics, philosophy, Chinese language and sciences. It also contains a significant group of works relating to the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-64. 

Zhong xi wen jian lu 中西聞見錄 (1872) nla.cat-vn514067
Zhong xi wen jian lu 中西聞見錄 /1872 nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn514067

The best way to explore the Library’s Chinese collection is to use the catalogue. All items in the Chinese collection are catalogued and searchable through the catalogue.

Quick search

Use the catalogue to search for material in the Chinese collection by entering your search terms or key words to find titles, authors or subjects.

You can search the catalogue using English, Chinese (simplified or traditional characters) and Chinese Romanization Pinyin (拼音).

Once you run your search, you can limit your search results using the options listed under ‘Limit your search’ on the right-hand side of the results page. The filters include format, access, subject, time of publication (decade), language and geographic etc. The Language and Geographic filters can be very helpful, for example to limit to Chinese or China.

You can also search for works in Chinese in the catalogue Advanced Search by ticking ‘Chinese’ in the Language limit box. You may also wish to tick multiple languages to capture works that are classified as multilingual.

Search the catalogue by romanization

Searching by romanization is still the most effective way to locate Chinese-language materials. Simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese are inter-searchable in our catalogue. However, if you are unable to identify items by searching in English or Chinese (simplified or traditional characters), try searching by Pinyin.

Follow Library of Congress ALA-LC Romanization Rules when using Pinyin as keywords. Some basic principles are:

  • Separate the romanization of each Chinese character with a space, i.e. Ming Qing xiao shuo bi jiao yan jiu 明清小说比较研究
  • Join together given names of a person, i.e., Kang Youwei 康有為
  • Join together syllables associated with multi-character geographic names, but not the names of jurisdictions or topographical features to geographic names, i.e.:

                          Zhongguo 中国              

                          Zhonghua Minguo 中華民國

                          Guangdong Sheng 广州省

                          Zhonghua Renmin Guoheguo 中华人民共和国

Double quotation marks can be used to wrap multiple words into one phrase to help locate exact results.


Although you can’t browse the Library’s shelves in person, you can use the Catalogue to browse by title, author, subject or Dewey number.

To search for works relating to China, you can browse by subject. You can do so by opening the Catalogue advanced search and typing in subjects, or clicking the subject headings of an item in the collection to view further items by that subject. Some examples are:

One way to browse collection items from the Chinese collections is by using the call number prefixes. For example, a search of the call number prefix ‘LMS’ will reveal a list of items in the London Missionary Society collection and you can use the call number ‘CHN’ to browse books in the Chinese Australiana collection.

Trove for national discovery

Trove is a useful tool to explore resources and collections for China studies. As the national discovery service, Trove can search for items across the National Library and many other institutions, including state libraries and university libraries. For example, it searches the Australian National University Library, whose holding of Chinese scholarly materials are considered to be the most comprehensive among Australian university libraries. 

Collection highlight

Da ban ruo bo luo mi duo jing 大般若波羅蜜多經

The Library’s earliest printed book Da ban ruo bo luo mi duo jing 大般若波羅蜜多經 is a 12th century printing of the Buddhist scriptures in Chinese. 

Jian zhao 監照 nla.obj-138227180
Jian zhao 監照 (1522) nla.obj-138227180 

This is an Emperor Jiaqing's certificate of the member of the Imperial Academy. This certificate was issued in February 1522 to a fifty-three year old person, Guo Deyun who was from Pingyang Fu, Taiping Xian, Shanxi Province. It was verified that this person genuinely donated required amount of fees and therefore, accepted as a member of the Imperial Academy and was given this certificate that was ink-marked as 'certified'. 

Not sure where to start?