Yongle da dian chinese
The Great Standard of Yongle
or Encyclopedia Maxima

These volumes constitute five of the surviving 400 volumes of the original Yongle da dian, the Encyclopedia Maxima, bearing the emperor Yongle's chinese (1402-1424) reign name. The original edition of this large work was comprised of 917,480 pages—in 11,100 bound volumes chinese divided into 22,877 sections chinese. Produced by a commission of over two thousand scholars in 1408, it purported to record all knowledge of the Confucian canon, Buddhism, history, philosophy, astronomy, geography, medicine, and the arts. The subject headings are written on the outer edges of the pages. Although a printed edition was intended—indeed, the Chinese had been printing block books since the tenth century—multiple production of such a massive text proved prohibitive. Instead, two manuscript copies were made in 1567.

In the 17th century, the original and one copy of the text were lost in a fire. Then, during the Boxer Rebellion (the Siege of Peking) in 1900, the Han-Lin Academy, where the first copy had been housed since the late Ming dynasty, was set on fire. Its library—along with the Yongle da dian—was almost entirely destroyed.


Gift of Charles Wason.

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