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Biggest and Earliest Encyclopedia


The biggest and earliest encyclopedia in the world is the Yongle Encyclopedia (Yongle Da Dian in Chinese), complied between 1403 and 1408 in the Ming Dynasty by more than 2,000 scholars. It consists of 22,937 volumes.

Yongle is the reign name of the Ming emperor Yongle (1402-1424). The original edition of this large work was comprised of 917,480 pages -- in 11,095 bound books divided into 22,937 volumes. Produced by a commission of over two thousand scholars in 1408, it purported to record all knowledge of the Confucian canon, Buddhism, history, philosophy, astronomy, geography, medicine, and the arts. Although a printed edition was intended, multiple production of such a massive text proved prohibitive. Instead, one manuscript copy was made in 1567.

Later, the original book was lost. Some say it was buried with the Ming emperor. Then, during the Boxer Rebellion (the Siege of Peking) in 1900, the Han-Lin Academy, where the copy had been housed since the late Ming Dynasty, was set on fire. The Yongle Encyclopedia -- along with the library -- was almost entirely destroyed. It is estimated that only about 400 books remain in the world, in eight different countries and regions.



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