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Personal Papers of Robert A. Burton

Call Number: PP 345


The collection contains personal and family photos, family history and artifacts, Robert Burton's teaching materials and correspondence as Chair of two university departments, press clippings, and two historical outlines that represent Burton's research on China and the history of its Communist Party.


  • Creation: 1873 - 1978


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of Robert Burton

Robert A. Burton was born on February 16, 1922 in Buenos Aires, Argentina where his father, Percy Burton, was working. Percy Burton was from Croydon, United Kingdom, and was a mason, bricklayer union member, and WWI veteran. He was a member of the American Legion for the rest of his life. Robert's mother, Mary Agnes Leaf, was from Evanston, Illinois where the family ultimately settled.

Burton was a talented artist and had an interest in herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians) prior to attending college at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. He graduated in 1943 and joined the United States Navy, serving in the Pacific theatre for the remainder of the Second World War. He attained the rank of Lieutenant (junior grade).

In 1947, Burton enrolled in graduate studies at the College of Chinese Studies, Peiping (Beijing) China. He witnessed student riots while there and was injured in one of the conflicts while covering it as a United Press Correspondent between 1946 and 1949. He was promoted to Peiping Bureau Chief, and observed the Communist Revolution of 1949, which placed Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-Tung) as leader of the People’s Republic of China.

Following the Revolution, Burton came to Chicago and worked as a lecturer of Chinese affairs at the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations from 1949-1951. He returned to China in 1951, working out of British-held Hong Kong for the United States Information Service, writing press releases, radio programs, and news broadcasts. During this same period, he worked for the United States Foreign Service and was stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong. In this capacity, he spent six months in Korea working with Chinese prisoners of war held by the United Nations Command. In 1953, Burton was awarded a Ford Foundation Grant to work with former communist party leaders who were in exile in Hong Kong, such as Chang Kuo-Tao, to help compose their memoirs. Burton was a research associate on this project until 1958 and was affiliated with the University of Washington, Far Eastern and Russian Institute. From 1958-1962 he was a Fellow at American Universities Field Staff working in Hong Kong, where he wrote monthly reports on the politics and economics of Communist China. He also was a guest lecturer on China at NATO Defense College, Paris in 1960.

In 1962, Burton came to the University of Kansas and established the Eastern Civilizations program, serving as its first Director. He taught courses in the Departments of Oriental Languages and Literatures and in Eastern Civilizations. He also became director of the Oriental Languages and Literatures Department. At KU until 1977, he contributed to the scholarly discourse on communism in China in books and articles. He edited the two volume memoir of Zhang, Guotao (Chang Kuo-Tao), which was published in 1970 and 1971 by University of Kansas Press. He was involved in campus debates and raising awareness about communism, helping dispel myths about the Mao regime. As a professor, he was able to undertake summer research trips (1962-1965) to Hong Kong to research Chinese Communist Party history, and a year-long trip to Paris, Hong Kong, and Taiwan (1966-1967). His notes on this research project compose almost half of the manuscript materials of this collection. In 1971, Burton was given a year leave from KU to work as Executive Director of Citizens to Change U.S. China Policy, in Washington D.C., lobbying Congress to adopt Nixon Administration policy.

After leaving KU, Burton returned to Hong Kong and worked as Vice President of International Distribution for Golden Harvest Film Company, until 1982. On his return to the United States, Burton became Chairman of Financial Systems and Equipment, Inc. in Lenexa, KS. Robert Burton died on December 10, 1987.

In memory and appreciation of Burton’s contributions to the University of Kansas, a Chinese Dragon Shield was dedicated to him on November 6, 1991 in Watson Library outside of the East Asian Library. See for more information.


4.5 Linear Feet (6 boxes + 1 oversize)

Language of Materials


Physical Location

PP 345

Physical Location

PP 564

Immediate Source of Acquisition


Related Materials

Consult library staff regarding the availability of related photographs, biographical files, and scrapbooks.

Preservation Note

Several items in the collection were frozen for mold abatement in July 2015.

Guide to the Robert A. Burton Collection
Personal Papers of Robert A. Burton
Finding aid prepared by ad, 2005; revised by msb, 2015. Finding aid encoded by ad, 2005. Finding aid revised by mwh, 2019.
2005; 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Robert A. Burton Collection, PP 345, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States