Yongle Encyclopedia


The Yongle Encyclopedia is a large-scale encyclopedia–the largest in pre-modern China--arranged by subject categories traditionally used in China. The entire work is comprised of 22,877 juan (sections) of text proper and a prolegomenon and index in 60 juan, all bound in 11,095 volumes, amounting to about 370 million characters in all. The encyclopedia preserved textual information from about 8,000 texts of all kinds, from pre-Qin times to the early Ming dynasty, covering the works of famous specialists in such areas as astronomy, geography, human affairs, famous objects, yin-yang philosophy, Buddhism and Daoism, crafts, and so forth. In addition to being large in scale and broad in scope, the Yongle Encyclopedia was neatly transcribed and finely illustrated, making it a true treasure among manuscripts. The work itself dropped into oblivion with the fall of the Ming. Many copies met unfortunate fates in the Ming and Qing dynasties, and parts of the encyclopedia were scattered about the world. Only some 400 volumes are extant, distributed among more than 30 collections in eight countries or territories. The National Library of China owns 221 volumes, over half the volumes in the world, making it the largest holder of any institution.

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Publication Information

Zhu Di (Chengzu, the Yongle Emperor), Nanjing


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Physical Description

One volume, 50 × 30 centimeters

Last updated: January 3, 2018