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 meaningcomplete 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, the 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 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 completed and all seven copies were distributed.

By 1782, the special guide to the Siku Quanshu was completed Siku Quanshu Zongmu Tiyao, which contents contains accurate information of bibliography of the 3,593 titles in the Siku Quanshu itself. Additionally, it also contains bibliography information of 6,793 other books that are not available in the Siku Quanshu. [4] The Siku Quanshu Zongmu Tiyao would not be published until 1793 and when released, the Siku Quanshu Zongmu Tiyao became the largest Chinese book catalog of the time.


The compilation of the Siku Quanshu started with the Siku Quanshu Zongmu Tiyao. Fully compiled in 1773, editing would begin shortly, with the first workable drafts being completed in 1781.This would include bibliographic explanation of all the works fully included in the final Siku Quanshu, as well as a large number of works that are included in title only. [5] The Siku Quanshu contains 4 series: Confucian Classic which contains important works of Confucius, Belles-Lettres which contain literary works ranging from personal letters to poetry or writing meant for the masses, and finally Historiography and Masters which houses works from scholar and the content can range from scientific works and military works. [6]

A large number of these edits were made to limit the effects of embellishments and other inaccuracies found in local records. Personal documents, often entailing the actions noteworthy local people, that could be verified through preexisting government documents were often included into the Siku Quanshu Zongmu Tiyao for consideration for inclusion into the finished Siku Quanshu. However, documents that could not be verified were often included in title only, and were criticized by the compilers as unfit for full inclusion into the finished collection. Not even officially sponsored writers, such as local gazetteers, were safe from the scrutiny of the official compilers, leading to criticisms of adding or using ambiguous sources to elevate local figures to be more significant than they actually were. [5]

Medical knowledge was often documented through case-style narratives first seen in twenty-five instances in Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian. These instances would form prototypical templates for future medical accounts. Medical accounts from then on took a narrative voice with a secondary analytical tone focusing on a blend of storytelling, vocational knowledge, and historical recording. However, as time progressed, the vocabulary used to record the medical cases started to differ from author to author. By the time of the Qing dynasty, however, the language used to create and define the medical cases had begun to resettle, allowing for ease of inclusion of these texts into the Siku Quanshu. [7]

Case-based recording and discourse of philosophy also was a target for compilation. Similar to how medical knowledge had a prototypical template for future works, Huang Zongxi's writings in the field had largely served a similar purpose. However, despite popular discourse among scholars of this era, philosophical writing had suffered immensely from two problems. Firstly, was a lack of clear definition regarding philosophical writings as a whole, giving rise to two separate, but equal definitions. "Archival" would mean that the philosophical work would be defined as a scholarly article. Whereas, "cultural" would mean the literature would be rearranged as a Buddhist Kōan, though any writing presented this way would be interpreted in a more literal fashion as compared to the traditional rhetorical question. Chinese philosophical writing's other problem at this time would be a lack of bibliographical classification, largely in part due to authors and previous compilers not considering any philosophical work as part of a historical record. As such, compilers for the Siku Quanshu redefined the classifications of several compilations that made it into the published copies, and set boundaries based on the author's biographical history and intent of their writing in an attempt to remedy these dilemmas. [7]

The Qianlong Emperor made reviews on works that were currently being compiled, and that their opinions on the work reviewed were often conveyed through direct comments or imperial edicts. This, in turn, colored the official compilers criteria for works suitable for inclusion in the Siku Quanshu, to more closely align with those of the emperor. However, the emperor often commented poorly on works from or about their political rivals, especially opponents holding Anti-Manchu sentiments, running in contrast to stories from locally published sources. [5] This can be exemplified in the compilers' handling of the story of Zhang Shicheng, and his rival Zhu Yuanzhang. In this particular case, the Qianlong Emperor sought to discredit the previous dynasty by highlighting the cruelty of early Ming dynasty rule. Ming-era rule would be contrasted by comparison to Qing-era policies, which appeared more palatable in comparison to harsh judgement. The Qing dynasty acknowledged the legitimacy of the former Hongwu Emperor, but by portraying him in this way, sought to solidify the legitimacy of their own dynasty by raising doubts of the latter dynasty's rule. Moreover, the compilers did not see Zhang Shicheng's rule as legitimate, but as a natural response to the narrative tyranny of the people under the Ming dynasty. [5]


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. The two copies kept in Zhenjang and Yangzhou were completely 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, 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 keep 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. Siku 1.png
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

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 analyze 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

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

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). [8]

See also

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Further reading