Yongle Encyclopedia


Yongle Encyclopedia

The "Yongle Dadian Encyclopedia" (zh-tsp|t=永樂大典|s=永乐大典|p=Yǒnglè Dàdiǎn; literally “The Great Canon or Vast Documents of the Yongle Era”) was a Chinese compilation commissioned by the Chinese Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle in 1403. It was then the world's largest known general encyclopedia, and one of the earliest.

Development of the work

Two thousand scholars worked on the project under the direction of the Yongle Emperor (reigned 1402–1424), incorporating eight thousand texts from ancient times up to the early Ming Dynasty. They covered an array of subjects, including agriculture, art, astronomy, drama, geology, history, literature, medicine, natural sciences, religion, and technology, as well as descriptions of unusual natural events. The Encyclopedia, which was completed in 1408 at Nanjing Guozijian (南京國子監; the ancient Nanjing University - Nanjing Imperial Central College), comprised 22,877 or 22,937 [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9078157/Yongle-dadian "Yongle dadian"] . "Encyclopædia Britannica".] manuscript rolls, or chapters in 11,095 volumes occupying roughly 40 cubic metres (1400 ft³) and using 50 million Chinese characters. [Ebrey (2006), 272.] It was designed to include all that had ever been written on the Confucian canon, history, philosophy, and the arts and sciences. It was a massive collation of excerpts and works from the mass of Chinese literature and knowledge.

Transcription and disappearance

Because of the vastness of the work, it could not be block-printed, and it is thought that only one other manuscript copy was made. In 1557, under the supervision of the Emperor Jiajing, the Encyclopedia was narrowly saved from being destroyed by a fire which burnt down three palaces in the Forbidden City. Afterwards, Emperor Jiajing ordered the transcription of another copy of the Encyclopedia.

Fewer than 400 volumes of the three manuscript copies of the set survived into modern times. The original copy has disappeared from the historical record. The second copy was gradually dissipated and lost from the late-18th century onwards, until the roughly 800 volumes remaining were burnt in a fire started by Chinese forces attacking the neighboring British legation, or looted by the Eight-Nation Alliance forces during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The surviving volumes are in libraries and private collections around the world.

What happened to the original is not known. There are four hypotheses:
* It was destroyed in the 1449 fire in Nanjing.
* It was burnt in the Palace of Heavenly Purity (in the Forbidden City) during the reign of Qing Dynasty emperor Jiaqing.
* It was destroyed with Wenyuange (the Imperial library in the Forbidden City) at the end of the Ming Dynasty.
* It was hidden.
** Some think that the Encyclopedia disappeared at the death of Jiajing, having been taken by the emperor to his grave, and it will yet be found hidden in the tomb complex of Yongling.

A 100-volume portion was published in Chinese in 1962.

ee also

*Four Great Books of Song
*Gujin Tushu Jicheng
*Siku Quanshu
*Chinese encyclopedias

Notes

References

*Ebrey, Patricia Buckley, Anne Walthall, James B. Palais. (2006). "East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History". Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-618-13384-4.

External links

* [http://www.ifla.org/IV/ifla62/62-davd.htm Destruction of Chinese Books in the Peking Siege of 1900] . IFLANET.
* [http://www.china.org.cn/Beijing-Review/Beijing/BeijingReview/2000Apr/bjr2000-14e-13.htm In Search of the Yongle Encyclopedia] . china.org.cn.
* [http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200204/18/print20020418_94330.html China to Digitalize World's Earliest Encyclopedia] . People's Daily Online.
* [http://www.chinaculture.org/gb/en_aboutchina/2003-09/24/content_26624.htm Biggest and Earliest Encyclopedia] . chinaculture.org.
* [http://china.org.cn/english/PP-e/31248.htm Experts Urge Collectors To Share World's Earliest Encyclopedia] . china.org.cn.


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