Shanghai was sunlit and comfortably warm when I arrived there mid-October 2018, to attend the Conference of the China Society of Indexers (CSI) at Fudan University, the home base of the society. I did not only come for their indexing conference, but also to attend the Triennial ICRIS meeting, which the CSI was hosting, preceding their own conference.

What’ s ICRIS, you may be wondering? It stands for International Committee of Representatives of Indexing Societies. Its aim is to improve the relationship between indexing societies worldwide. Representatives of the member societies or networks[1] meet once every three years to discuss the International Agreement, which saw the light in 2000 in Cambridge.  I was the representative for the German Network of Indexers (DNI) for this meeting (I am a member of the NIN, DNI and SI). At the end of the meeting, Caroline Diepeveen and I were elected the new coordinators of ICRIS, taking over from Mary Russell. Mary has done a marvellous job these last 6 years and I hope we will do her proud.

The conference itself was packed with interesting talks and presentations, most of which were translated simultaneously into English.  The atmosphere was convivial, and we were treated as honoured guest. The food was abundant and splendid as well. What struck me as a bit comical was that photo sessions were part of the conference agenda. Every now and again we had to troop outside, so pictures could be taken on the steps in front of the Guang Hua building. Veteran Chinese conference visitors assured me that this was common practice and it left me with some delightful mementos. (above the attendees of the ICRIS meeting)

The two most interesting things I came away with, is that indexers in China don’t work as freelancers and they mostly are employ by the government to index the Chronicles (public records). Freelancing in China is virtually impossible because of tax regulations, as there is no individual tax return. But there was real interest in freelancing among the younger conference participants. They asked us, the foreign attendees, probing questions on how we obtain work, which persons or institutions hire us and how we get paid for our services.

Most of the presentations I attended had, one way or the other, to do with indices for the Chronicles. China’s 2,000-year long enthusiasm for record keeping is of course legendary, but I wasn’t aware of the way records are kept since 1950 (instigated by Mao Zedong). There are national, regional and even family chronicles. All these books need to be indexed and most Chinese indexers are employed in this huge enterprise.

This also explains why only 7% of the non-fiction books in China have an index. Not having a pool of freelancers to draw from, most publisher have difficulties finding suitable indexers to do the work. A possibility would of course be in-house indexers, but as most indexers already have a job indexing the Chronicles, it’s difficult to find people interested enough to work for a publisher. An acquaintance told me China recently introduced new legislation that will require publishers to include indexes in all textbooks. I haven’t found anything to corroborate this statement. If true, it could explain the interest of the younger generation in how freelancers work.

The visit to the conference certainly did kindle my interest in Chinese indexing. If the above assumptions are totally wrong or need adjusting, I hope someone will take the time to correct me.


[1] Members of ICRIS are: American Society of Indexers; Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers; Indexing Society of Canada, China Society of Indexers; Deutsches Netzwerk der Indexer; Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders & Indexers (Ireland); Nederlands Indexers Netwerk; Association of Southern African Indexers and Bibliographers; Society of Indexers (UK)