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The Yongle Encyclopedia

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 general encyclopedia, an achievement unsurpassed until the 21st century Wikipedia.[1]


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).[2]

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.[3]

The encyclopedia was completed in 1408[4] at the Guozijian in Nanjing (now Nanjing University). It comprised 22,937 manuscript rolls[4] or chapters, in 11,095 volumes, occupying roughly 40 cubic meters (1400 ft3), and using 370 million Chinese characters.[3][5] 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, 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.[2]

The original manuscript of the Yongle Dadian was almost completely lost by the end of the Ming dynasty,[2] 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,[6] with the British and French soldiers taking a large portion of the manuscript as souvenirs.[2] 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.[2]

Current status[edit]

Fewer than 400 volumes survive today,[3] comprising about 800 chapters (rolls), or 3.5 percent of the original work.[6] The most complete collection is kept at the National Library of China in Beijing, which holds 221 volumes.[3] The next largest collection is at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, which holds 62 volumes.[7]

The Library of Congress of the United States holds 41 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; and 5 volumes are held in various libraries in Germany.[8]

See also[edit]


  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. 国家图书馆《永乐大典》收藏史话. (2008) "http://www.nlc.gov.cn/old2008/service/wjls/pdf/04/04_04_a4b7c3.pdf"[dead link]
  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[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yongle_Encyclopedia — Please support Wikipedia.
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39 news items


Tue, 01 Dec 2015 04:01:46 -0800

In Chinese Publishing, authors Hu Yang and Yang Xiao emphasize, “The scope of the Yongle Encyclopedia is simply enormous … includ[ing] an array of subjects such as agriculture, art, astronomy, drama, geology, history, literature, medicine, natural ...


Thu, 14 Jan 2016 11:07:22 -0800

... seventh most-visited website in the world. 24 pc of all education-related web traffic goes to Wikipedia.Before Wikipedia was created, the largest record of knowledge was reportedly the Yongle Encyclopedia of 1408, which contained 22,937 manuscript ...

Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times
Thu, 16 Oct 2014 10:01:07 -0700

Pages from section 10,270 of the Yongle Encyclopedia, 1562-1567, recently discovered among the stacks at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. (The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens).


Thu, 21 Mar 2013 04:44:28 -0700

Chinese scholars have been working through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to reconstruct the lost encyclopedia. It's not as hopeless a task as it sounds: other works quoted the Yongle Encyclopedia at length, and by going through them ...

The Atlantic

The Atlantic
Wed, 09 Dec 2015 08:54:23 -0800

Or China's 15th-century Yongle Encyclopedia. For 600 years it was the world's largest, but the only two copies were owned by the emperor. Medieval encyclopedias were not for the common people; they were for priests and kings. That changed in 1751 with ...


Thu, 14 Jan 2016 18:14:55 -0800

ഏതാണ്ട് ആറ് നൂറ്റാണ്ടായി ആ പദവി കൈയാളിയിരുന്നത് ചൈനയിലെ 'യോംഗിള്‍ എന്‍സൈക്ലോപീഡിയ' ( Yongle Encyclopedia ) ആയിരുന്നു. മാതൃസംരംഭം ആരംഭിച്ച് ഏതാണ്ട് രണ്ട് വര്‍ഷം കഴിഞ്ഞ്, 2002 ...


Tue, 07 Apr 2015 00:15:44 -0700

The original manuscript of the Yongle Encyclopedia was lost by the end of the 17th century. In 1860 most of the sole manuscript copy of the work (dating to 1567) was lost during the looting and burning of Beijing by Anglo-French forces during the ...


Mon, 02 Nov 2015 02:03:05 -0800

Before Wikipedia came around, the biggest record of human knowledge was reportedly the Yongle Encyclopedia of 1408, which took five years to create and contained 22,937 manuscript rolls. Wikipedia's english articles - Highcharts Cloud English articles ...

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