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Senior Correspondent

I'm not sure why, but the word "archive" once made me imagine a rather dark and dusty place, perhaps in a library basement, with an elderly librarian tending it. That image has changed significantly since I now have an archive being set up at the very special Hoover Institution in Stanford University.

That institution was founded in 1919 to embody Herbert Hoover's vision for "a dynamic institution offering effective guidance for the future of our people and of mankind everywhere." Now it is "one of the largest private libraries and archives in the world that affords scholars, researchers, and the public a rare opportunity to touch history." What I have personally contributed documents years of social change by those who experienced it first hand.

My understanding of archives began just months ago when I mentioned to someone that I had saved hundreds of precious letters from my former Chinese students. Written between 1988 up to the present, these letters eloquently put into words what was happening in their own lives during this period of dizzying, fast-paced changes in China. Because the letters span so many years and are written by the same people, they provide a historical treasure for researchers and writers.

One contact with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University was all it took for them to accept hundreds of letters written to me over 26 years, photos I had taken during my early years in China, a copy of my first book, "Memoirs of a Middle-aged Hummingbird" in English, the digital translation of that book, and one student's letters from me that he had saved. Hopefully, others will send any of my letters that they saved to include in the archive.

Establishing an archive has made me appreciate the value of preserving first hand history forever. In fact, "archive" has become my favorite word. The Suellen Zima Archive is more of a legacy than I ever dreamed of.

To find out more, watch the video on YouTube at tinyurl.com/zimaletter

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