Siku Quanshu

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Siku Quanshu
The Complete Library in Four Sections (Siku Quanshu) WDL3020.jpg
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 四庫全書
Simplified Chinese 四库全书
Literal meaning complete books of the four [imperial] repositories
Manchu name
Manchu script ᡩᡠᡳᠨ
ᠨᠠᠮᡠᠨ ᡳ
Möllendorff duin namun i yooni bithe

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. The complete encyclopedia contains an annotated catalogue of 10,680 titles along with a compendiums of 3,593 titles[1]. The Siku Quanshu ended up surpassing the Ming dynasty's 1403 Yongle Encyclopedia in size, which was China's largest encyclopedia prior to the creation of the Siku Quanshu.



Late in the 18th Century, Qing dynasty set about a momentous task, the creation of the Siku Quanshu. The Qianlong Emperor ordered the creation of the Siku Quanshu in 1772. Local and Provincial officers were in charge of locating and collecting important books. The Qianlong Emperor encouraged owners of rare or valuable books to send them to the capital, however few actually did due to concerns about the Literary Inquisition. Towards the end of 1772, seeing that only a limited number of people actually handed in books, the Qianlong Emperor issued imperial decrees stressing that books would be returned to their owners once the compilation was finished and that owners of the books would not be persecuted if their books contained anti-Manchu sentiment. Less than three months after the issue of this decree, four to five thousand books were handed in.

By March of 1773, an editorial board (composed of hundreds of editors, collators, and copyists) was created in Beijing to gather and review books brought to them[1]. This board included over 361 scholars, with Ji Yun and Lu Xixiong (陸錫熊) as chief editors[2]. There was around 3,826 scribes who copied every word by hand. These copyists were not paid in coinage but in government positions after they had transcribed a set amount of the encyclopedia[3]. It took over a decade until the encyclopedia was competed and all seven copies were distributed.


The Qianlong Emperor commissioned seven copies of the Siku Quanshu to be made. The first four copies were for the Emperor and were kept in the north. The Qianlong Emperor constructed special libraries for them. They were located in the Forbidden City, Old Summer Palace, Shenyang, and Chengde. The remaining three copies were sent to the south. They were deposited into libraries within the cities of Hangzhou, Zhenjiang, and Yangzhou[2]. All seven libraries also received copies of the 1725 imperial encyclopedia Gujin tushu jicheng.

The copy kept in the Old Summer Palace was destroyed during the Second Opium War in 1860. During the fight against the English and the French, the Old Summer Palace copy was burned. The two copies kept in Zhenjang and Yangzhou were completed destroyed while the copy kept in Hangzhou was only about 70 to 80 percent destroyed, during the Taiping Rebellion. The four remaining copies suffered some damage during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Today, the those copies can be located in the National Library of China in Beijing, the National Palace Museum in Taipei, the Gansu Library in Lanzhou, and the Zhejiang Library in Hangzhou[2].


The Qianlong Emperor did not make good on his promises to return the books. Any books that did not make it into the Siku Quanshu risked becoming part of the Siku Jinshu (Chinese: 四库禁书). The Siku Jinshu is a catalogue of over 2,855 books that were rejected and banned during the completion of the Siku Quanshu. An additional four to five hundred other books were edited and censored. A majority of the books that were banned were written towards the end of the Ming Dynasty and contained anti-Manchu sentiment. The Siku Jinshu was the Qianlong Emperor's attempt to rid the Qing Dynasty of any Ming Loyalists by executing scholars and burned any books that gave direct or implied political attacks against the Manchu.[1]


A page from the Siku Quanshu.

Each copy of the Siku Quanshu was bound into 36,381 volumes (册), with more than 79,000 chapters (卷). In total, each copy is around 2.3 million pages, and has approximately 800 million Chinese characters.

Complete Catalogue[edit]

The scholars working on the Siku Quanshu wrote a descriptive note for each book which detailed the author’s name along with their place and year of birth. Next, after they determined what parts of the author’s work would go into the compilation, they would analyzed the main points of the author’s argument. This short annotation, which reflected their own opinion, would be put in the beginning of the Siku Quanshu and formed the Complete Catalogue. The Complete Catalogue was divided into four sections or (; translated to "warehouse; storehouse; treasury; repository"), in reference to the imperial library divisions. The name, Siku Quanshu, is a reference to these four sections[2]. These four sections are:

44 Sub-Categories[edit]

The books are then divided into 44 sub-categories, or lèi (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ). The Siku Quanshu collection includes most major Chinese texts, from the ancient Zhou Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, covering all domains of academia[2]. It also lacks any Western or Japanese texts[1]. Included within these 44 sub-categories are: 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.

Authors in the Siku Quanshu[edit]

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).[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d 1948-, Guy, R. Kent, (1987). The emperor's four treasuries : scholars and the state in the late Chʻien-lung era. Cambridge, Mass.: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University. ISBN 0674251156. OCLC 15133087. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Hung, William (1939). "Preface to an Index to Ssu-k'u ch'uan-shu tsung-mu and Wei-shou shu-mu". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 4 (1): 47–58. doi:10.2307/2717904. 
  3. ^ Porter., Wilkinson, Endymion (2000). Chinese history : a manual (Rev. and enl ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: Published by the Harvard University Asia Center for the Harvard-Yenching Institute. ISBN 0674002474. OCLC 42772193. 
  4. ^ Florence Bretelle-Establet (2010). Florence Bretelle-Establet, ed. Looking at it from Asia: the processes that shaped the sources of history of science. Volume 265 of Boston studies in the philosophy of science (illustrated ed.). Springer. ISBN 90-481-3675-X. Retrieved 14 December 2011. Jiangsu Governor Wang qishu Li Shouqian na Zhejiang Governor 董說 Ming 明 Zhu Zhongfu 朱仲福 Ming 明 Wei Rui 魏濬 Ming 明 Ke Zhongjung 柯仲炯 Ming 明 Zhao Yiguang 趙宧光 Ming 明 Xu Xuchen 許胥臣 Ming 明 Dong Yue 

Additional Reading[edit]

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