Everyone has something with sentimental value: a movie ticket yellowed with age, a report card from primary school, or a first love letter.
In east China's Jiangsu Province, local archives are encouraging residents to collect these items, offering free file boxes and guidance on how to preserve them. The provincial archive bureau has developed free software for residents to manage and digitize the documents.
With the help of the archives, 64-year-old Xu Xiaozhen in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu, has sorted his belongings into 20 archive boxes and stowed them away on top of his bookshelves.
The oldest document was a letter he wrote to his father in 1961.
"I was in primary school while dad worked away from home," Xu recalled. At that time, educated young people like his father were encouraged to go to poor areas.
He wrote the letter just before Spring Festival on a page torn from his school workbook.
"You should take good care of yourself while alone," Xu had written, adding that the family had bought two ducks for the holiday.
Half a century later, his father gave the letter back to him.
Xu also kept the letter from his workplace required for his wedding trip, paper cuttings made for the wedding, and his father's graduation certificate.
Xu, a retired judge, said his most valuable collection consisted of meeting notices from the past decade.
"In one year we had to attend more than 100 meetings," he said. "It was sheer formalism. I knew it was going to change. Look, it's much better now," he said.
"What I have preserved are not just old things, but part of history," Xu said. "As time passes, we may form new ideas about old matters."
According to the Jiangsu archive bureau, about 2,000 households in Nanjing have consulted the bureau about starting their own family archives.
"We plan to add another 1,000 households by the end of this year," said Cui Liping with the Nanjing municipal archive bureau.
While most of the files are stored by residents at home, they may keep valuable ones at the archive bureau. The files could include diaries, letters, manuscripts, photographs, tapes, and diplomas.
"Documents from each family reflect the changes they went through over the decades, while the collections from many households taken together reflect the development of society," Cui said.
He Xingyun, 84, began keeping financial accounts for her own family in 1958, jotting down their income and expenditures every day. The 22 books hold records ranging from two cents for a needle to 600,000 yuan (about 88,019 U.S. dollars) for a house. During the past 59 years, the price of a steamed bun rose from 20 cents to one yuan.
"Thanks to the diary, we have never quarrelled about financial issues," she told Xinhua. "The books offer a small glance at China's economic growth."
Xu Yun, a retired teacher in her 70s, her daughter and granddaughter have all kept detailed records of their daily lives. Their diaries have been published as a set, showing the changes in the women's experiences from generation to generation.
"With the diaries I would like to tell people, our descendants in particular, about the loyalty and love in our family," said Xu.
Xu Xiaozhen has provided leaflets published during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) to the provincial archive bureau. He hopes his son will preserve the rest of his collection in the future.
"I don't expect that everything will be handed down," he said. "The later generations may lose something, and add other things to make the family archive timeless."
Of all the things he has saved, he hopes that an article written by his father will be passed on to his descendants. His father wrote the article during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), questioning a frenetic steel production campaign that was later acknowledged as unrealistic.
"He was honest and outspoken throughout his life, which I hope the younger generations can learn from," Xu said. "With the family archive, we are not only passing on memories, but also the merit of our ancestors."