The history of the St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies can be traced back to 1818, when the Asian Museum of the Imperial Academy of Sciences was founded in St. Petersburg. The Museum was keeping the Eastern antiquities and books of the famous collection of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great. The collection was enhanced during the XIX century through the voluntary donations of the personal libraries and archives of envoys, travellers, statesmen, merchants and scholars. In 1930 the Institute of Oriental studies was organized on the base of the Museum, in 1951 it moved to Moscow, keeping the Branch in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. From 1996 to 2003 St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies was headed by a famous specialist on history of China and Central Asia Professor Evgeny I. Kychanov.
Now the collection includes the manuscripts and early printed books (in total number of 100 000 items in 63 living and dead languages) and is one of 3—4 most prominent libraries on Eastern Studies outside Asia. Here one can find almost all known oriental scripts and a varied range of media, including stone, metal, wood, leather, papyrus, parchment, birch bark, palm leaf and different types of the paper. The most famous among the manuscript holdings in St. Petersburg are the Tunhuang materials which were acquired by S. F. Oldenburg (1863—1934) in the province of Kansu in North-West China during his expedition of 1914—15. The big Central Asian manuscripts collection, formed mainly in the beginning of the XX century, represents the unique texts from Central Asia in Sanskrit, Saka, Tokharian and Tibetan; the Tangut texts from Khara-Khoto etc.
The collection of the documents comprises the material on a great number of subjects like notes of Russian orientalists on history, literature, geography, folklore of the peoples of the East, the documents on their scholarly and social activities, their letters, photographs, plans etc. The archives keep the materials of various research institutions, congresses of orientalists, the Russian Palestine society, the Russian ecclesiastical mission in Beijing, drafts of some works, day-books, descriptions and reports of expeditions. Among the personal archives are materials of such famous scholars as N. Ya. Bichurin, V. A. Zhukovsky, O. M. Kovalevsky, I. P. Minaev, N. A. Nevsky, A. Ye. Snesarev and others. The earliest archives documents date back to the middle of 16th century. The Archives is divided into three categories, 131 collections including 60 thousand files.
Basic research areas. The main field of the scientific activities of St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies is the fundamental research of the countries and peoples of Asia and North Africa and the Pacific Region; the study of the ancient and medieval Orient, its history, philology, religion, philosophy, law. The many-sided research of the ancient manuscripts and books of rarity in the Eastern languages of the Institute’s collection. The scholars of the St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies have drawn heavily on the primary sources included in the Institution’s collection for their research. Since first days of the history of the Asian Museum the cataloguing of the collection, publication, translation and investigation of the concrete manuscripts and sources are of the primary importance for the Eastern studies and Sinology in St. Petersburg. At the same time there is no strong obligation for the work on the catalogues and texts, and the scholars have a free choice of individual research themes.
There are 9 departments in the Institute, 3 of them put emphasis on Chinese studies: the Department of the Far East, the Department of the Chinese and Central Asian Historiography and the Group of the Far Eastern textual criticism.
Main scientific achievements. The foundation of the unique branches of the science — the Dunhuang studies (L. N. Menshikov, L. I. Chuguevsky); the Tangut studies (N. A. Nevsky, E. I. Kychanov, K. B. Kepping); the Sabaean studies (A. G. Lundin); the Turkish Runes studies (S. G. Kliashtorny); the Kurdish studies (K. K. Kurdoev). The publication of the catalogues of the collections of the Asian Museum — St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies in Persian (O. F. Akimushkin); Arabian (A. B. Khalidov); Turkish (L. V. Dmitrieva); Mongolian (A. G. Sazykin); Japanese (V. N. Goregliad) and others languages; the compiling of the Chinese-Russian and the Mongolian-Russian dictionaries. The study of the fundamental problems of the Ancient East (V. V. Struve, I. M. Diakonov, M. A. Dandamaev); the Chinese studies (V. M. Alekseev); the Japanese studies (N. I. Konrad); the Korean studies (M. I. Nikitina, A. F. Trotsevich, D. D. Eliseev); the Sogdian studies (V. A. Livshits). The translation of “The Secret History of Mongols” (S. A. Kozin), of “The Ibn-Fadlan’s Trip” (A. I. Kovalevsky); “The Collection of the Annals” of Rashid Ad-din (O. I. Smirnova). The publication of V. V. Bartold’s works (N. N. Tumanovich).
Recent scientific achievements. The publication of 1—3 volumes of “The History of Caliphate” (in 2001 O. G. Bolshakov was awarded the State Prize of the Russian Federation for this work); the compiling of 4 issues of the reference book “Islam on the Territory of the Former Russian Empire” (S. M. Prozorov); the compiling of the computer catalogue of Tibetan manuscripts and block-prints (L. S. Savitsky); the compiling of the catalogue of the Christian manuscripts in Arabian of St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies (Val. V. Polosin, Vl. V. Polosin); the publication of the Eastern Christian apocrypha (E. N. Mescherskaya); the translation of the ancient Chinese treatise “The Discussion on the Salt and Iron” (Yu. L. Kroll).
International cooperation. The Institute has been cooperating with the Scientific Center “Toyo Bunko”, the State University in Kyoto (Japan); Institut de Recherches et d’Etudes sur le Monde Arabe et Musulman (France, Aix-en-Provence); Jewish National Library (Jerusalem); the Publishing House “The Ancient Book” (China); the Bible Society (USA); the Institute of Philology and History, Academia Sinica (Taiwan); the British Library.