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Yongle Encyclopedia

yongle encyclopedia, yongle encyclopedia definition
The Yongle Encyclopedia or Yongle Dadian simplified Chinese: 永乐大典; traditional Chinese: 永樂大典; pinyin: Yǒnglè Dàdiǎn; Wade–Giles: Yung-lo Ta-tien; literally: "Great Canon of Yongle" was a Chinese leishu encyclopedia commissioned by the Yongle Emperor of the Ming dynasty in 1403 and completed by 1408 Its sheer scope and size made it the world's largest paper-based general encyclopedia


  • 1 Development
  • 2 Disappearance
  • 3 Current status
  • 4 See also
  • 5 Notes
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links


The Yongle Dadian was commissioned by the Yongle Emperor r 1402–24 and completed in 1408 2,169 scholars spent four years compiling the leishu encyclopedia, under the leadership of general editor Yao Guangxiao 姚廣孝

The scholars incorporated 8,000 texts from ancient times through the early Ming dynasty Many subjects were covered, including agriculture, art, astronomy, drama, geology, history, literature, medicine, natural sciences, religion and technology, as well as descriptions of unusual natural events

The encyclopedia was completed in 1408 at the Guozijian in Nanjing now Nanjing University It comprised 22,937 manuscript rolls or chapters, in 11,095 volumes, occupying roughly 40 cubic meters 1400 ft3, and using 370 million Chinese characters It was designed to include all that had been written on the Confucian canon, as well as all history, philosophy, arts and sciences It was a massive collation of excerpts and works from the entirety of Chinese literature and knowledge


The Yongle Dadian was not printed for the general public, because the treasury had run out of funds when it was completed in 1408 In 1557, during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor, the encyclopedia was narrowly saved from a fire that burnt down three palaces in the Forbidden City A manuscript copy was made in 1567

The original manuscript of the Yongle Dadian was almost completely lost by the end of the Ming dynasty, but 90 percent of the 1567 manuscript survived until the Second Opium War in the Qing dynasty In 1860, the Anglo-French invasion of Beijing resulted in extensive burning and looting of the city, with the British and French soldiers taking large portions of the manuscript as souvenirs 5,000 volumes remained by 1875, less than half of the original, which dwindled to 800 by 1894 During the Boxer Rebellion and the 1900 Eight-Nation Alliance occupation of Beijing, allied soldiers took hundreds of volumes, and many were destroyed in the Hanlin Academy fire Only 60 volumes remained in Beijing

Current status

Fewer than 400 volumes survive today, comprising about 800 chapters rolls, or 35 percent of the original work The most complete collection is kept at the National Library of China in Beijing, which holds 221 volumes The next largest collection is at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan which holds 62 volumes

51 volumes are in the United Kingdom held at the British Library, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London, and Cambridge University Library; The Library of Congress of the United States holds 41 volumes; Cornell University Library has 6 volumes; and 5 volumes are held in various libraries in Germany

See also

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


  1. ^ "Encyclopedias and Dictionaries" Encyclopedia Britannica 18 15th ed 2007 pp 257–286 
  2. ^ a b c d e Wilkinson, Endymion 2000 Chinese History: A Manual Harvard University Asia Center pp 604–5 ISBN 978-0-674-00249-4 
  3. ^ a b c d "Yongle Encyclopedia" World Digital Library Retrieved 24 January 2013 
  4. ^ a b Kathleen Kuiper 31 Aug 2006 "Yongle dadian Chinese encyclopaedia" Encyclopædia Britannica Online Chicago, Illinois Retrieved 9 May 2012  Encyclopædia Britannica Inc
  5. ^ 陈红彦 2008 "国家图书馆《永乐大典》收藏史话" PDF National Library of China Archived from the original PDF on December 26, 2016 
  6. ^ a b Foot, Sarah; Woolf, Daniel R; Robinson, Chase F 2012 The Oxford History of Historical Writing: Volume 2: 400-1400 Oxford University Press p 42 ISBN 978-0-19-923642-8 
  7. ^ Yung-lo ta-tien Vast Documents of the Yung-lo Era National Palace Museum
  8. ^ "Experts Urge Collectors To Share World's Earliest Encyclopedia" Xinhua News Agency April 2002 


  • 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
  • Guo Bogong 郭佰恭 Yongle dadian kao 永樂大典考 Shanghai, Commercial Press, 1937

External links

  • Destruction of Chinese Books in the Peking Siege of 1900 IFLANET
  • China to Digitalize World's Earliest Encyclopedia People's Daily Online April 2002 - aspirations, pending approval
  • Biggest and Earliest Encyclopedia chinacultureorg
  • Experts Urge Collectors To Share World's Earliest Encyclopedia chinaorgcn April 2002

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