The East Asia Library is one of the major collections of East Asian materials in the United States. Yale has been engaged in teaching East Asian Studies and collecting relevant materials for well over a century, as evidenced in Samuel Wells Williams's appointment as Professor of Chinese Language and Literature in 1877. In the following year, the first collection of notable gifts of Chinese books was presented to Yale by the Honorable Yung Wing, Yale B.A. 1854, the first Chinese subject to graduate from an American college. Earlier in 1873, the first collection of outstanding Japanese books were donated by O.C. Marsh, Yale Professor of Paleontology and a connoisseur of Asian artifacts. Other gifts followed, and more systematic acquisitions began with the efforts of Kan'ichi Asakawa, who was commissioned to acquire Japanese materials for Yale and the Library of Congress during his eighteen-month stay in Japan in 1906-1907. Asakawa, whose teaching career at Yale spanned 36 years (from 1906 as Instructor in History of Japanese Civilization to retirement in 1942 as Professor of History), served as curator of the Chinese and Japanese Collection from 1906 to 1948 and oversaw acquisition of Western language materials relevant to East Asian Studies at Yale.
In the last several decades the Library has made remarkable, rapid expansion. The Council on East Asian Studies was established at Yale in May 1961 to oversee studies relating to China, Japan and Korea. External funding channeled through the Council has greatly increased the Library's book budgets. The primary goal of the Library in recent years is to support research and teaching in East Asian studies at Yale. In reflection of the programs, its emphasis has been on China and Japan. The Korean Studies collection is currently being developed.