In 1935, the German sinologist and Divine Word missionary Father Dr. Franz Xaver Biallas (1878-1936) established Monumenta Serica - Journal of Oriental Studies at the Fu-jen Catholic University (in Beijing). The Journal was to provide a unique forum for studies of western scholars living in China and East Asia at that time, thus promoting a deeper understanding of Chinese culture in the West, and to further the exchange of ideas and close cooperation between Chinese and Western academics.
Monumenta Serica featured studies in the language and culture as well as ethnology and prehistory of China and the whole of East Asia. This twofold focus was expressed in the name of the Journal: While the Latin expression "Monumenta Serica" means "Chinese relics" or "Records of Chinese culture", the Chinese name Huayi xuezhi 華裔學志 can be translated as "Scholarly Journal on China and Neighbouring Countries". The later name was chosen by the then-president of Fu-jen University, Chen Yuan (1880-1971).
Fr. Biallas was succeed as editor by the Frs. Dr. Hermann Köster S.V.D. (1904-1978) and Dr. Rudolf Rahmann S.V.D. (1902-1985). With its board scope of scholarly activities, the editorial office of the Monumenta Serica journal soon developed into an Instiute of the same name. The political and social turmoil caused by the civil war between nationalist and communist factions forced the Monumenta Serica editorial staff to leave the Chinese mainland in 1948.
For more than four decades, from 1949 to 1991, Fr. Dr. Heinrich Busch S.V.D. served as editor-in-chief and director of the Institute. During this time the Institute moved from Tokyo (1949-1955) to the Catholic Nanzan University of Nagoya, Japan (1957-1962) and later to the campus of the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) before settling down on the S.V.D. campus in Sankt Augustin (near Bonn, Germany) in 1972. There, it is located close to several other scholarly institutions of the Society of the Divine Word: Anthropos Institute, Steyler Missionswissenschaftliches Institut e.V., Philosophisch-Theologische Hochschule, and Missionspriesterseminar.
Corresponding to an increasing interest in present-day issues, especially the situation of religions in China the bimonthly bulletin China heute. Informationen über Religionen und Christentum im chinesischen Raum was founded in the Monumenta Serica Institute in 1982. In the course of the publication activities the idea of a China Zentrum to promote contacts with China, especially the Chinese Christian Churches took shape. This was established as a separate institution on the S.V.D. campus in 1988 by members of the German Catholic Missionary Council. The Monumenta Serica Institute and the China Zentrum e.V. closely cooperate, e.g., in organizing conferences, publications and exhibitions.
In 1992, Fr. Prof. Dr. Roman Malek S.V.D. was appointed director of the Monumenta Serica Institute as well as editor-in-chief of the journal Monumenta Serica and the Monumenta Serica Monograph Series.
The historical ties between the Monumenta Serica Institute and the Fu-jen Catholic University, Taiwan were strengthened again in August 2002, when the two organizations established the Monumenta Serica Sinological Research Centre on the Fu-jen campus.