An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Sancai tuhui 三才圖會

Jan 21, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Sancai tuhui 三才圖會 "Collected illustrations of the Three Realms", also called Sancai tushuo 三才圖說, is a richly illustrated encyclopedia compiled by the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Wang Qi 王圻 and his son Wang Siyi 王思義. Wang Qi, courtesy name Wang Yuanhao 王元翰, came from Shanghai and obtained his jinshi degree in 1565. His highest office was that of assistant administration commissioner (canyi 布政司參議) in Shaanxi.
The "Three Realms" of the title are Heaven, Earth, and man. The book was finished and printed in 1607. It is divided into 106 juan "scrolls", and the themes are arranged in 14 fields covering themes from Heaven and astronomy to geography, personalities, agricultural activities through the year, palaces, tools and implements, the human body, clothing, human affairs, rites and etiquette, jewels, writing, and finally animals and plants. The core part of the book are the countless illustrations, of which each is accompanied by an explanatory text. The illustrations are of scientific character, and the Sancai tuhui is one of the few books of traditional China providing the reader which an ample amount of illustrations (another is, for example, the Tiangong kaiwu 天工開物). The objective of Wang Qi was to bring together the illustrations dispersed in many different books which are often hidden between many text pages and thus not easy to find. The illustrations are presented first and then described with a short text. Altough the collection Sancai tuhui presents a vast amount of knowledge from different fields, the weakness lies just in its overemphasizing the illustrations and neglecting the text.
The earliest surviving prints date from the Wanli 萬曆 (1573-1619) and the Qianlong 乾隆 (1736-1795) reigns. The Chinese Acadmy of Sciences 中國科學院 keeps a printed edition from the late 19th century. In 1970 the Chengwen press 成文書社 in Taipeh published it as a six-volume edition, in 1987 the Guangling guji press 廣陵古籍刻印社 has published a downscaled reprint, and in 1988 the Shanghai guji press 上海古籍出版社 published another facsimile edition.

Chapters of the Sancai tuhui
I 天文 Tianwen Astronomy 1-4
II 地理 Dili Administrative geography 1-16
III 人物 Renwu Personalities 1-14
IV 時令 Shiling Commancs concerning the seasons 1-4
V 宮室 Gongshi Palaces and houses 1-4
VI 器用 Qiyong Tools 1-12
VII 身體 Shenti The body 1-7
VIII 衣服 Yifu Clothes 1-3
IX 人事 Renshi Human affairs 1-10
X 儀制 Yizhi Ritual system 1-8
XI 珍寶 Zhenbao Precious objects 1-2
XII 文史 Wenshi Cultural objects 1-4
XIII 鳥獸 Niaoshou Fauna 1-6
XIV 草木 Caomu Flora 1-12
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 2052.
Wang Xingya 王興亞 (1992). "Sancai tuhui 三才圖會", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 866.
Zhao Hankun 趙含坤, ed. (2005). Zhongguo leishu 中國類書 (Shijiazhuang: Hebei renmin chubanshe), 261-262.