Yongle Encyclopedia (Chinese:永乐大典), China’s largest encyclopedia, covers a variety of subjects, including literature, art, medicine and agriculture.
The compilation began in 1403 and was first completed in 1404. Originally named Document Compilation (Wenxian Dacheng), it was disapproved by Emperor Zhu Di (1360-1424), due to lack of content. One of the emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) then ordered more scholars to write the encyclopedia, which was finished in 1408 with 22,900 chapters and 11,095 volumes. The set of books was named the Yongle Encyclopedia.
The encyclopedia contains large historic documents marked with clear attributions. The content of the books has been frequently quoted in historic works such as Siku Quanshu, the largest collection of books completed during Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Siku Quanshu, literally translated as the Complete Library of the Four, quoted 4,926 chapters from the Yongle Encyclopedia.
The encyclopedia has only manuscript copies, although two transcription copies were completed during the reign of Ming Emperor Jiajing (1507-1567). Many of the copies were looted by the Eight-Nation Alliance forces in 1900, and only 64 volumes were left during the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1871-1908). In 1959, Zhonghua Book Company published 730 volumes of the encyclopedia that had either been donated or returned by collectors. The content of the printed copies accounts for only three percent of the original version. After that, Zhonghua Book Company continued publishing 60 volumes.