Qinding gujin tushu jicheng

100 million words, 80,000 pages printed in copper movable type in 1726

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Illustration from Qinding gujin tushu jicheng, 1726, printed in copper movable type

British Library, Oriental and India Office Collections, 15023.b.1
Copyright 1999, The British Library Board

The illustration showing two rabbits is taken from Qinding gujin tushu jicheng ('Synthesis of books and illustrations of ancient and modern times') held in the British Library's Chinese collections. The Library is in possessing a complete, homogeneous set of the first edition of this monumental work.

Originally conceived by Emperor Kangxi 康 熙 and placed under the direction of the brilliant scholar Chen Menglei (b. 1651), it was finally published during the reign of the Emperor Yongzheng 雍 正 in 1726.

Divided into six categories, the work comprises some 10,000 juan ('book sections') with about 100 million characters printed on approximately 800,000 pages. Thirty-two subsections were designed to provide a comprehensive survey of all branches of knowledge. It was planned that pictures should play an important role in some descriptions, an intention conveyed by the incorporation of the character tu ('picture') into the title.

Reference works on science, technology and the arts had been produced in China for over two thousand years by the time that this encyclopaedia was compiled in the 18th century, but none on such a grand scale. The text is printed in copper movable type (reported as subsequently having been melted down for coinage). This enterprise possibly represents the greatest typographical feat the world has ever witnessed.


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