Largest Chinese library in Southern Hemisphere Xin Jin Shan set to open in Ballarat

In a historic bank building, 120 kilometers north-west of Melbourne, 16 rooms filled with bookshelves now house 140,000 Chinese language books.

The library, named Xin Jin Shan, based in the regional Victorian city of Ballarat, houses the largest collection of Chinese books in the Southern Hemisphere.

Some of the books are one-of-a-kind — the only copy in world.

A Chinese bible from 1857 used by Chinese goldminers, donated by the National Trust of South Australia, is the only copy in Australia.

Founder of the Xin Jin Shan library Haoliang Sun, a philosopher and educator, amassed his collection over more than 20 years and, following his retirement, has dedicated this latest chapter in his life to creating the library.

Every one of the 140,000 books in the library needs to be labeled, cataloged and sorted into a correct location. (ABC News: Rochelle Kirkham )

He donated 10,000 of his own books to the library after he closed his Chinese book shop in Melbourne’s Mount Waverley 20 years ago, and the rest have been donated by people in the Chinese community and Chinese book publishers.

Mr Sun has been spending every morning moving, sorting and cataloging books to prepare for the new library’s public opening later this month.

He aims to transform the historic building — on the corner of Lydiard and Sturt streets — into a major Chinese language, education, art, culture and history hub.

An historic building on the corner of two streets.
The new Xin Jin Shan Chinese Library in Ballarat will open after Chinese New Year. (ABC News: Rochelle Kirkham )

He expects the centre, set to open to the public after Chinese New Year celebrations on January 22, will attract thousands of people from across the world.

Academics, museums, national trusts and universities are already recognizing it as one of the most significant sites for Chinese culture in Australia.

New Gold Mountain

For Mr Sun, moving his collection of books from Melbourne to Ballarat made perfect sense, almost like coming full circle.

The library’s name, Xin Jin Shan, means New Gold Mountain, which was the nickname given to Ballarat by the Chinese during the 1850s gold rush.

A pencil drawing by Charles Lyall shows Chinese miners in 1854.
A drawing from 1854 shows Chinese miners walking to the goldfields.(Supplied: State Library of Victoria)

“I am very happy,” Mr Sun said.

“Ballarat’s Chinese community has given us big support.”

Chinese Australian Cultural Society Ballarat president Charles Zhang and Mr Sun formed a vision to create the best Chinese education and cultural center in Australia.

Two men stand in a doorway
Haoliang Sun and Charles Zhang are the driving forces behind the Chinese library. (ABC News: Rochelle Kirkham )

“We wanted to raise the library to another level … give it new life as a multi-function centre,” Mr Zhang said.

“This place will be the center for Chinese activity in Victoria.”

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Immigration and the gold rush: Chinese dragon

The society’s local vice-president, Michelle Phillips, said the center would be a huge asset to Ballarat, due to its strong Chinese history.

Ballarat became a thriving Chinese colony in 1854 when thousands of migrants flocked to the goldfields.

Tens of thousands of Chinese tourists already visit the city each year to learn and celebrate this history, at popular tourist attractions Sovereign Hill and the Gold Museum.

Two men and women stand in front of a painting with Chinese characters.
Charles Zhang, Michelle Phillips and Haoliang Sun are driving the massive volunteer effort. (ABC News: Rochelle Kirkham )

A visitor drawcard

There have already been many requests by Chinese groups, researchers and professors to search through the library’s shelves.

Mr Sun and Mr Zhang anticipate thousands of visitors will travel to the site from around the country and overseas to access books they cannot find anywhere else and admire the extensive collection.

The library is partnering with schools across regional Victoria to offer excursions for Chinese language students.

The center also houses significant artworks.

A painting of an Aboriginal man
A painting by artist Shen Jiawei is the first thing visitors see when they enter the library. (ABC News: Rochelle Kirkham )

A large striking painting is the first sight for visitors as they walk through the large timber doors into the building.

It is a depiction of New South Wales Aboriginal elder “Guboo” Ted Thomas, who had Chinese ancestry, by respected artist Shen Jiawei.

The work was donated by the Queensland State Library.

Along one wall of the building near the entrance is a display of items significant to Chinese history in Ballarat.

A team of 48 volunteers will staff the library once it officially opens its doors to the public later this month.

Western Sydney University education professor Jinghe Han said Australia was lucky to have Xin Jin Shan, and not just for its significant book collection.

“This library is a hub of intellectuals,” she said.

Two Chinese men look at a large Chinese book with book shelves behind them.
Charles Zhang and Haoliang Sun have a lot of knowledge to share with visitors. (ABC News: Rochelle Kirkham )

“Those who will serve in the library are retired professors, educators and other knowledgeable workers of Chinese background with some kind of expertise in this area.”

A team effort

Mr Sun first toured the old bank building in 2020, after COVID-19 forced the closure of the Melbourne library where the books were stored.

He said he immediately thought it was a perfect fit so he purchased the building as a gift to the community.

A plaque and a street number on a heritage wall
The heritage building is believed to be the oldest bank building in Ballarat. (ABC News: Rochelle Kirkham )

During a period of three weeks in mid-2022, a team of 30 volunteers moved tens of thousands of books from Melbourne to the library’s new home.

Mr Zhang, who drove a truck back and forth, said it was a remarkable team effort.

“They came in day and night to open the boxes and start sorting through the books,” he said.

“We were basically running 24 hours a day to be able to move all these books into this building.”

Volunteers have been working since to catalog all the books in a library system, put codes on them, and sort them into appropriate rooms and shelves.

There are sections on education, Chinese literature, world literature, biography, humanities, sociology and philosophy, which is Mr Sun’s favorite.

Chinese books
Chinese encyclopedias form part of the library’s collection. (ABC News: Rochelle Kirkham )

They still have a lot of work to do to prepare for the public opening.

“We have too many books,” Mr Sun said laughing.

Library’s new chapter

Mr Sun previously housed his collection of books in a Melbourne library while he worked in a voluntary position as chairperson of a Chinese language school — a position he retains.

The school, Xin Jin Shan Chinese Language and Culture School which is partially taxpayer-funded, came under scrutiny in 2019 after an independent audit uncovered financial mismanagement and called for further investigation.

Mr Sun was not responsible for day-to-day operations at the time of the 2019 audit.

A 2021 auditor’s report showed the language school was now compliant in all areas except two where recommendations for change were made.

The Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission lists the Xin Jin Shan Library as a separate entity from the Xin Jin Shan Chinese Language and Culture School.

Mr Sun said the library had always been a separate entity from the language school and he was confident the library committee had the correct governance processes in place to accept and record monetary donations in line with charity guidelines.


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