Siku Quanshu

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Siku Quanshu
Traditional Chinese 四庫全書
Simplified Chinese 四库全书
Literal meaning complete books of the four [imperial] repositories

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.


Five of the books from Siku Quanshu

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 editorial board included 361 scholars, with Ji Yun and Lu Xixiong (陸錫熊) as chief editors. They began compilation in 1773 and completed it in 1782. The editors collected and annotated over 10,000 manuscripts from the imperial collections and other libraries, destroyed some 3,000 titles, or works, that were considered to be anti-Manchu, and selected 3,461 titles, or works, for inclusion into the Siku Quanshu. They were bound in 36,381 volumes () with more than 79,000 chapters (), comprising about 2.3 million pages, and approximately 800 million Chinese characters.

Scribes copied every word by hand, and according to Wilkinson (2000: 274), "The copyists (of whom there were 3,826) were not paid in cash but rewarded with official posts after they had transcribed a given number of words within a set time." Four copies for the emperor were placed in specially constructed libraries in the Forbidden City, Old Summer Palace, Shenyang, and Wenjin Chamber, Chengde. Three additional copies for the public were deposited in Siku Quanshu libraries in Hangzhou, Zhenjiang, and Yangzhou. All seven libraries also received copies of the 1725 imperial encyclopedia Gujin tushu jicheng.

The Siku Quanshu copies kept in Zhenjiang and Yangzhou were destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion. In 1860, during the Second Opium War, an Anglo-French expedition force burned most of the copy kept at the Old Summer Palace. The four remaining copies suffered some damage during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Today, the four remaining copies are kept at the National Library of China in Beijing, the National Palace Museum in Taipei, the Gansu Library in Lanzhou, and the Zhejiang Library in Hangzhou.

Timeline of the collection of books

  • In the first month of the 37th year of the Qianlong Emperor, people were requested by imperial decree to hand in their private book collections for use in the compilation of the Siku Quanshu. However, only a small number of people actually did so at this time, partly in fear of possible persecutions due to Literary Inquisition such as in the case of Treason by the Book.
  • In October of the same year, seeing that only a limited number of people actually handed in books, the Qianlong Emperor issued further imperial decrees stressing that books would be returned to their owners once the compilation was finished and book owners would not be persecuted even if their books contained "bad" words. Less than three months after the issue of this decree, four to five thousand different books were handed in.
  • Apart from reassuring the book owners that they would be free from persecution, the Qianlong Emperor also made promises and gave rewards to book owners, such as that he would perform personal calligraphy on their books. By this time, 10,000 books had been handed in.[1]

Siku Jinshu

Siku Jinshu (Chinese: 四库禁书) is the catalogue of all the books that were rejected and banned by the order of the Qianlong Emperor. The catalogue contained up to 2855 titles of books, which were then subsequently burned. The banned and destroyed 2855 titles were comparable to the 3,461 titles of the catalogue of the Siku Quanshu.

According to some sources, a famous encyclopedia, Tiangong Kaiwu (Chinese: 天工開物), was banned by the Qing court, resulting in its disappearance from China for 300 years, and was discovered later that some original copies were preserved intact in Japan.[2]

Many Siku series, including the Siku Jinshu were published as books or CD.[3][4]


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

The books are divided into 44 categories, or lèi (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ), and include the Analects of Confucius, Mencius, Great Learning, Doctrine of the Mean, I Ching, Rites of Zhou, Classic of Rites, Classic of Poetry, Spring and Autumn Annals, Shuowen Jiezi, Records of the Grand Historian, Zizhi Tongjian, The Art of War, Guoyu, Stratagems of the Warring States, Compendium of Materia Medica, and other classics.

The Siku Quanshu collection includes most major Chinese texts, from the ancient Zhou Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, covering all domains of academia.

Authors in the Siku Quanshu

Two of Zhao Yiguang's works are housed in the Wang Qishu, they were the Jiuhuan Shitu (九圜史圖) and the Liuhe Mantu (六匌曼圖). They were part of the Siku Quanshu Cunmu Congshu (四庫全書存目叢書).[5]

Size comparisons

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.

See also


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  3. 近年出版的《四库全书》与“四库”系列丛书
  4. 中国(北京)保护知识产权网北京市高院著作权案例选登(八九六)
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  • Guy, R. Kent, The Emperor's Four Treasuries: Scholars and the State in the Late Ch'ien-lung Era. Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press, 1987 (Harvard East Asian Monographs 129), ISBN 0-674-25115-6.
  • Hong, William. "Preface to an Index to Ssu-k'u ch'üan-shu tsung-mu and Wei-shou shu-mu", in: Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 4 (1939): pp. 47–58.
  • Wilkinson, Endymion, Chinese History. A Manual, Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press, 2000 (Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series, 52), ISBN 0-674-00247-4, pp. 273–277.
  • Yue, P.Y. Title Index to the Si ku chuan shu, Beiping (Standard Press) 1934.
  • Crossley, Pamela. A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999, ISBN 0-520-21566-4 (or ISBN 978-0-520-23424-6)
  • The Cambridge History of China by Fairbank on Literary inquisition

Additional sources

External links