The Siku Quanshu, variously translated as the Complete Library in Four Sections, Imperial Collection of Four, Emperor’s Four Treasuries, Complete Library in Four Branches of Literature, or Complete Library of the Four Treasuries, is the largest collection of books in Chinese history.

During the height of the Qing dynasty in the 18th century, the Qianlong Emperor commissioned the Siku Quanshu to demonstrate that the Qing dynasty could surpass the Ming dynasty’s 1403 Yongle Encyclopedia, which was the world’s largest encyclopedia at the time.

The Siku Quanshu collection is divided into four (库; “warehouse; storehouse; treasury; repository”) parts, in reference to the imperial library divisions.

  • Jīng (经 “Classics”) Chinese classic texts
  • Shǐ (史 “Histories”) histories and geographies from Chinese history
  • (子 “Masters”) philosophy, arts, sciences from Chinese philosophy
  • (集 “Collections”) anthologies from Chinese literature

In her book Too Much To Know, historian Ann M. Blair has discussed the size of the Siku Quanshu:

“The Siku Quanshu comprised 79,000 chapters in 36,000 volumes and was produced in seven manuscript copies between 1773 and 1782 (by more than 3,800 copyists); of these, one copy survived intact in the Forbidden City, from which the work was photolithographically reprinted in the 1980s and is now available online. At 800 million words it has been only recently surpassed by the English Wikipedia (over 1 billion words as of June 2010), but in the eighteenth century it far surpassed the 40 million words in the fifteenth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.”

Edited from Wikipedia


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