Newsletter No. 54 (July 2009)

Online Chinese Yearbook: A New Tool for Chinese Studies

Wayne W. Tian

Marketing Manager, International
Tongfang Knowledge Network Technology, Beijing.


 Annual Yearbooks (年鉴) are a unique reference tool for China scholars.  Published annually, they cover a broad range of topics and issues, such as significant events, statistical data and development trends during the preceding year. In addition to the national yearbook for the whole country, there are individual yearbooks for specific regions, such as Sichuan Province and Beijing Municipality, as well as industry yearbooks, such as a Health Yearbook. The source material for yearbooks typically comes from the statistical administration and includes census data, government gazettes, laws and regulations, leading newspaper reports, newsletters, statistics and annual reports.  Yearbooks offer an integrated and comprehensive account of information and data to assist researchers in understanding social and economic trends. Yearbooks are considered a reliable, authoritative and indispensable source of material to support academic research.

A Brief History of Chinese Yearbooks

China has a long tradition of administrative record keeping and local reports on social and economic trends, such as the Local Gazetteers and Almanacs, which date back to the Han Dynasty. However, the modern form of a yearbook first appeared in 1864, with the Sino-foreign Trade Customs Annual (Haiguan Zhongwai Maoyi Niankan). The New Translated World Statistics Yearbooks (Xinyi Shijie Tongji Nianjian), published in 1909 by Mukden Library, was considered the first book with the formal name of “yearbook” in China.  However, it was not until 1913 with the release of World Alamance was a yearbook edited and published by the Chinese themselves. Then in the 1930s, the Commercial Press of China published the first comprehensive China Yearbook to reflect the social conditions of the nation. Before 1949, there were a total of 270 yearbook titles published mostly concerned with social and economic data.  From 1949 to 1978, less than 10 titles were published in mainland China.  However since 1980, a uniform system of yearbook publishing and distribution was established and currently there are over 2,100 yearbooks in China.

Key Features of Chinese Yearbooks

Like most of the yearbooks published in other countries, yearbooks published in China are released annually and edited by publishing houses. They have the following special features.

1. Government guided.  Most Chinese yearbooks are compiled by government agencies and reflect the priorities of government policy. The majority of yearbooks come from government or subsidiary publishing houses. The top issuers include the National Bureau of Statistics of China (NBS), ministries of the State Council, provincial governments, cities and counties, professional associations and societies, corporations or institutions. Yearbooks have relatively regular publishing periods and most of the yearbook titles are published in the second half of the following year.  There are a limited number of yearbooks published by institutions and corporations.

2.  Accuracy The size, breadth and amount of statistics required for yearbooks requires an enormous undertaking. The pressures on governments to meet planning targets and achieve policy results often sees questions raised about the accuracy of the data due to the influence and censorship of the public sector. In recent years, statistical bureaus have improved survey sources and statistical methods to improve the spread, quality and accuracy of yearbooks. However, some caution is necessary, especially in comparing year on year changes particularly when definitions of categories can change.

3.    Limited distribution system. The distribution channel of yearbooks is mainly through China Post both domestically and internationally.  Only a few titles are available at Xinhua Bookstore or some online bookshops. Many researchers would have to go to the original source of the Yearbook to purchase a copy. The distribution of some Chinese yearbooks overseas remains restricted by China’s local laws and regulations.  As a serial publication, it has been a great challenge for East Asian Librarians in Western countries to obtain complete sets of yearbooks of current titles and suspended titles. Fortunately, this limited distribution system has changed a lot since the emergence of online yearbook providers such as Chinayearbook.com

4.  Complicated publication categories. The table below displays the types of yearbooks available in China and the number of titles published under each category.  ‘Local Comprehensive Yearbook’ is the major yearbook type published. According to the Outline of China Yearbook published by Chinayearbook.com, 2280 yearbooks were available in the market in 2004, 50% of these titles were serial publications. About 10% of yearbooks are published irregularly, and 10% have been suspended.

Type of yearbook (2004)

Title Number

Central Comprehensive Yearbook


Local Comprehensive Yearbook


Statistics Yearbook


Central Subject Yearbook


Local Subject Yearbook


Corporate Yearbook


University Yearbook


Subject and topic yearbook


Annual Report



The Marketplace of Online Yearbooks in China

Apabi, founded by Peking University’s Founder Group, released the first generation of online yearbooks as part of its E-book project in 2005. Since then, CNKI, a national knowledge project, initiated its yearbook program to bring together all CNKI products, such as journals, dissertations, newspapers in one platform. Since 2005, a number of database vendors have obtained the licenses from yearbook publishers to produce a variety of yearbook products.   

1. China Yearbook Full-text Database 中国年鉴全文数据库(CYFD) and China Statistics Yearbook Database 中国统计年鉴数据库(CSYD)

CYFD is a database consisting of over 1,800 yearbook titles and over 13,000 volumes (as of mid-2009). Most of the yearbooks date back to the 1980s. Being As part of the CNKI project, CYFD has the capacity to cross database searching with other CNKI products, such as journals, dissertations, reference works, newspapers, conference proceedings and other databases. CYFD consists of more than 300 statistical yearbooks, including all the central and provincial yearbooks, over 90% of city or county level yearbooks and 80% of industrial yearbook from both national and local levels. It also includes yearbooks from research institutions and corporations.  In 2008, 60% of research and higher education institutions in China have subscribed to this online resource to replace its print collections.

In 2009, a new era of E-yearbook emerged with CNKI introducing CSYD , a specially designed service to support economic research with the functionalities of searching, data and content management and full-text browsing. There are 449 yearbook titles and 2634 volumes of statistical materials in the database sourced from statistical yearbooks, analytical reports, censuses, investigation data and statistical digests. CSYD offers flexible indexing and has navigation systems [figure 1]which allow researchers to navigate the database by industry, region and type of material. The industry directory covers 18 main subjects including fixed assets investment, national economy accounting, population, finance, natural resources and energy, agriculture, construction, telecommunication and others.  There are 39 regional navigated items [figure 2].  It is the first time that a database can combine regions like Pearl River Delta, Yangtze River Delta, Bohai Coastal Region and the Western Development Region as independent regional economy entities.

Moreover, CSYD is a database of data management, rather than content management, which enables researchers to find relevant index information through the system and export defined reports in either Exel [figure 3]or Word format.  Results can be displayed in graph charts to describe trends in the fields associated with the search. By setting the region, index and year information, CSYD will automatically generate a report linking to multiple external protocols [figure 4].

CSYD Inteface
Figure 1: China Statistics Yearbook Database Interface

Data Mining Analysis Interface
Figure 2: Data Mining Analysis Interface by region, indicator and year


CSYD charts
Figure 3: CSYD generates data chart to reflect the trend of given topics(consumption of electricity)

Figure 4: Regional Development Assessment and Comparison

2. Full-text Chinese Yearbook Database (CYD)

CYD is owned by Apabi Company and distributed by overseas information services agencies like DA Direct. At the end of 2008, there were 743 titles and 7,743 volumes of yearbooks in CYD.  Among these titles, 38% of the yearbooks in CYD are from the state level, 7% from provincial levels, 28% from city and subject yearbooks, 14% from local industry yearbooks with 4% consisting of corporate yearbooks and almanacs.  CYD adds 150 new volumes of yearbooks onto the database each year. At the end of 2008, CYD claimed that the total titles of yearbooks had reached 1,100 titles and 90% of the titles were dated back to the first issue. CYD is built on a full-text format and requires Apabi Reader to view the yearbook contents in its original format. It does not have the capacity to support cross database searching.


3. China Statistics Database (CSD)

China Statistics Database (CSD) was developed by China InfoBank, a Hong Kong registered company with the mission of gathering, processing and delivering Chinese business and economic information since the earlier 2000s. It has built up a partnership with some central government agencies in China and worldwide financial information providers. China InfoBank provides economics news, business reports, China laws and regulations, China statistics, China public trade company information, product directory, Who’s who in China, public infrastructure projects in China and a further 14 databases. CSD covers both central and local level statistical yearbooks, customs statistics, monthly and annual reports from 1995 or earlier. Now it includes more than 300 yearbook titles, annual reports and other types of statistical publications. However, CSD can only distribute data. It would not be able to deliver the statistical contents compiled in its original format published by NBS’s publishing houses. 


With the development of China’s economy and its global influence, facts and figures from China obtained from yearbooks are a significant primary source in researching the nation.  The emergence of a variety of Chinese yearbook databases in the market place provides librarians with the choice of acquiring the online yearbook databases for their virtual collections. The issues of incomplete sets of yearbooks holdings in overseas libraries discussed earlier will no longer exist.  The functionalities and capacity of online yearbook databases are powerful with greater flexibility compared with the print version. They are an indispensable resource for researchers and practitioners.


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