The University Record, January 17, 2000

Gift of more than 700 classic Chinese books enhances U-M collection

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

A gift from the Kao family of more than 700 volumes of classic Chinese books enables the University’s Asia Library to continue as one of the premiere libraries of its kind outside Asia. The family has U-M connections that go back to the early 1900s.

The works in the collection cover history, fiction, Chinese calligraphy and poetry, as well as rare Chinese translations of works by Western authors such as Dickens, Dumas, Hugo, Defoe, Scott and others.

U-M’s connection with China was established during President Angell’s tenure (1871–1909). While those before him had concentrated on establishing the University first as a statewide and then nationwide power, Angell strove to establish worldwide recognition of the University. Angell began work toward this goal when he was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Peking. After returning to the United States in 1882, Angell’s connection to China made U-M a hub for Chinese students.

Among those students was Luen King Kao, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the U-M in 1912. He was one of the first Chinese scholars sponsored through a prestigious government scholarship. Later, Kao’s son, Irving Kao, a 1957 U-M graduate, served the Library as head of serial acquisitions for many years. Irving’s wife, Helen, also a U-M graduate, served as an editor of the Middle English Dictionary Project at the University. Finally, Irving Kao’s son Walter graduated from U-M in 1979.

The gift of the important and rare books was made by George and Irving Kao to honor their father Leun King Kao and their eldest brother, Keh Ding Kao, the family’s book collector. The gift also recognizes the commitment the University has made to Chinese students.

Weiying Wan, head of the Asia Library, has found the 15 classical fiction titles particularly important. One of the most impressive pieces is a 1695 first edition of the classic work Chin p’ing mei, which Wan describes as a “pioneering work of realistic literature, depicting the social life of 17th-century China. The work has long engaged scholarly interest in the West.”

For more information about the Kao Collection or the Asia Library visit the Web at