An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Siku quanshu 四庫全書

Oct 15, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Siku quanshu 四庫全書 "Complete books of the Four Storehouses" is one of the largest series of collectanea (congshu 叢書) of Chinese writings. It dates from the Qing period 清 (1644-1911). The title suggests that it is a complete collection of all Chinese literature, yet the copy from the Wenjin Hall 文津閣 stored in the Beijing Library 北京圖書館 contains a selection of "only" 3,503 books with a total length of 79,337 juan, distributed over 36,304 thread-bound volumes (ce 冊).

In 1773 the Qianlong Emperor 乾隆帝 (r. 1735-1795) decreed the compilation of a series embracing the most important books of all types of Chinese literature. A special bureau, the Siku quanshu guan 四庫全書館, was established which had the sole task to take over this tremendous task. The chief ministers in charge of the imperial editing staff (zongcai 總裁) were Yu Minzhong 于敏中 (1714-1779), Peng Yuanrui 彭元瑞 (1731-1803) and Zhu Gui 朱珪 (1731-1807). The chief compilers (zongzuanguan 縂纂官) were Ji Yun 紀昀 (1724-1805) and Lu Xixiong 陸錫熊 (1734-1792). Among the compilers the names of important personalities are to be found, like Dai Zhen 戴震 (1724-1777), Shao Jinhan 邵晉涵 (1743-1796), Zhou Yongnian 周永年 (1730-1791), Weng Fanggang 翁方綱 (1733-1818) or Yao Nai 姚鼐 (1732-1815). The task of the staff was to comb all libraries throughout the provinces for interesting material to be included in the series. After ten years of work the first full copy of the series was finished. The compilation of other copies and a revision took a further decade, and the task was not finished until 1792.

The compilation of the Siku quanshu

In 1781 a special guide and descriptive catalogue to the Siku quanshu was finished, the Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 四庫全書總目提要. It is 200-juan-long and was printed in 1793. It contains detailed bibliographic descriptions of 10,254 books in 172,860 juan, of which in fact only 3,461 books in 79,309 juan (compare the different figures above) were included in the main series. For 6,793 other books, or 93,551 juan, only descriptions are given. The latter are called the "available and checked books" (cunmu 存目).

The whole series is arranged according to the system of the "four storehouses" or "four parts" (siku 四庫 or sibu 四部) into which literature was traditionally divided since the Former Han period 前 (206 BCE-8 CE). The four categories are: Confucian classics (jing 經) and commentaries to these, historiography (shi 史), masters, philosophers, and other specialized treatises (zi 子), and belles-lettres, anthologies and collections (ji 集). This system is apparently derived from an arrangement in the imperial libraries.

The compilers of the Siku quanshu refined this system and created some hitherto not used sub-categories (lei 類) and third-level categories (shu 屬). There are 44 sub-categories. Inside the categories books are arranged in chronological order. Each category and sub-category in the Zongmu tiyao is introduced by a preface (xu 序), while each of the "four storehouses" is introduced by a general preface (zongxu 總序). The catalogue is headed by the imperial edict (shengyu 聖諭) on the compilation, a list of the compilers and the dedication to the emperor (biaowen 表文) and the principles of the compilation (fanli 凡例). An abbreviated version of the Zongmu tiyao in 20 juan was also compiled to make orientation in this vast compendium easier to do. This version is called Siku quanshu jianming mulu 四庫全書簡明目錄. A copy of this short version was printed in 1784 by Zhao Huaiyu 趙懷玉 (1747-1823) in Hangzhou.

The Zongmu tiyao is a very important handbook for the study of virtually all books in traditional China. There is a copy in the Wuyingdian Library 武英殿 in the Forbidden City, as well as a print from 1795 created in Hangzhou and a print from 1868 made in Guangzhou. In 1965 the Zhonghua Shuju Press 中華書局 published a text-critical version based on the Hangzhou version. This edition also includes detailed descriptions of the books eliminated or annihilated during the compilation process, the Siku chehui shu tiyao 四庫撤毀書提要, and Ruan Yuan's 阮元 (1764-1849) description of books not checked by the compilers, the Siku weishou shu tiyao 四庫未收書提要. There are also two supplements correcting errors in the Zongmu tiyao, namely Yu Jiaxi's 余嘉錫 (1884-1955) Siku tiyao zhengbian 四庫提要辯證, and the Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao buzheng 四庫全書總目提要補正 by Hu Yujin 胡玉縉 (1859-1940) and Wang Xinfu 王欣夫 (1901-1966).

During the compilation process 473 books were selected to be assembled in a kind of extract called Siku quanshu huiyao 四庫全書薈要 compiled by Cinggui 慶桂 (1737-1816). It is included in the series Songlin congshu 松鄰叢書.

The Siku quanshu does not only contain Chinese book from ancient times to the beginning of the Qing period, but also a few Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese books, all written in Chinese, as well as Chinese writings by or translations from Jesuit missionaries from the late Ming 明 (1368-1644) and early Qing periods.

The texts are written on folded papers in thread-bound booklets. Each page has a red frame and is divided into to halves, each of the two sections divided into eight columns to be inscribed with 21 characters. The texts are hand-written in kaishu-style 楷書 script. The booklets are covered with coloured silk and are included in cases. The books of each section are hold in a different colour: The Classics in green, the history books in red, the masters in blue, and the belles-lettres in gray.

The emperor was impressed by the private library of the Tianyige Hall 天一閣 of the Fan family 范氏 in Ningbo 寧波, Zhejiang, and ordered to imitate their category system.

The seven copies of the Siku quanshu

Seven copies were made of the Siku quanshu which were then distributed in especially built library halls in all important palaces so that the emperor would have access to the series wherever he dwelt: the Wenjin Hall 文津閣 in the Summer Palace (Bishu Shanzhuang 避暑山莊) of Chengde 承德 (built in 1774-1775), the Wenyuan1 Hall 文源閣 in the Yuanmingyuan Palace 圓明園 (built in 1774), the Wenyuan2 Hall 文淵閣 in the Forbidden City (built in 1775), and the Wensu Hall 文溯閣 of the palace in Shengjing (Mukden) 盛京 (built in 1782). Three of these "four northern halls" (beifang sige 北方四閣) or "four palace halls" (neiting sige 內廷四閣) were finished earlier than the Siku quanshu was. The Qianlong Emperor therefore ordered to produce imitations of the boxes of the encyclopaedia Gujin tushu jicheng 古今圖書集成 to be put into the shelves of the three libraries.

The first copy of the Siku quanshu was finished in 1782 and was deposited in the Wenyuan1 Hall. The second copy was to be sent to the Wenshuo Hall, together with one original copy of the Gujin tushu jicheng inserted into the empty boxes. The third copy was stored in the Wenyuan2 Hall in 1784, and a fourth copy was sent to the Summer Palace in 1785. Three other copies were stored in the Wenzong Hall 文宗閣 of Jinshan Monastery 金山寺 in Zhenjiang 鎮江 (built in 1779), the Wenhui Hall 文匯閣 in the Daguan Library 大觀堂 in Yangzhou 揚州 (built in 1780), and the Wenlan Hall 文瀾閣 of the Xinggong Palace 行宮 at the Western Lake in Hangzhou (built in 1783). These are the so-called Jiang-Zhe san ge 江浙三閣 or Jiangnan san ge 江南三閣 "Three Libraries of the South". In all halls, there was also a copy of the Gujin tushu jicheng. These seven copies were all manuscripts. There was also a further reserve copy stored in the Hanlin Academy 翰林院 in Beijing.

The copies in the Wenyuan2, the Wenzong and the Wenhui Libraries, as well as the reserve copy in the Hanlin Academy were destroyed by war influence or fire. The copy of the Wenyuan1 Library is now stored in the Palace Museum (Gugong Bowuyuan 故宮博物院) in Taipeh. The Wenshu copy was kept in the Liaoning Library 遼寧圖書館 in the early years of the People's Republic and in 1966 moved to Lanzhou 蘭州. It is housed in the Gansu Library 甘肅省圖書館. The Wenyuan2 copy was destroyed when the British and French destroyed the Summer Palace in 1860. The Wenjin copy was moved to Beijing in 1914 and was stored from then on in the Jingshi Library 京師圖書館 (now Beijing Library 北京圖書館). The Wenzong copy in Zhenjiang was damaged by the British during the First Opium War in 1842 and then utterly destroyed by the Taiping 太平 rebels in 1853. The Wenhui copy from Yangzhou was likewise destroyed by the Taiping in 1854. The Wenlan copy from Hangzhou was also dissipated during the Taiping chaos but the brothers Ding Shen 丁申 (1829-1887) and Ding Bing 丁丙 (1832-1899) were able to recollect and rebuy at least part of it, which is now stored in the Zhejiang Library 浙江省圖書館.

In 1935 the Shangwu Yinshu Press 商務印書館 reprinted a facsimile of 231 books, based on the Wenyuan1 copy, in 1960 volumes. This is the so-called Siku quanshu zhenben chuji 四庫全書珍本初集; parts 2 to 5 of this edition were published between 1969 and 1975, parts 6 to 12 between 1976 and 1982. The first series, the Chuji, was reprinted in 1969 by the Taiwan Shangwu Yinshu Press. In 1975 the same editor published a selection of books in the Siku quanshu extracted from the encyclopaedia Yongle dadian 永樂大典, the Siku quanshu ji zi Yongle dadian zhu yi shu 四庫全書輯自永樂大典諸佚書, also called Siku quanshu zhenben bieji 四庫全書珍本別輯. The Taiwan Shangwu yinshuguan published during the same time 13 series of Siku quanshu books, with 1,878 books.

In 1986 the whole Wenyuan copy of the Siku quanshu was reproduced in an edition of 1,500 volumes, of which 1,490 are the main text, a description (zongmu tiyao 總目提要) in 5 volumes, an index in 1 volume, and corrigenda (kaozheng 考證) in 4 volumes. Meanwhile digitalized versions are widely available of this edition.

Forbidden and destroyed texts

The compilation of the Siku quanshu was not only done to assemble the most important books but also to gain an overview of what books existed throughout the empire. At this occasion books not desired to be in circulation were either prohibited (chouhui 抽毀) or destroyed (quanhui 全毀). The Siku quanshu project can thus be dubbed a "literary inquisition" (Goodrich 1935). It is not clear yet how many books were destroyed, but its number must have been considerable. There exist some registers of destroyed books in some provinces, like the Jinshu zongmu 禁書總目 of Zhejiang, and the Wei'ai shumu 違礙書目 of Henan. Books prone to annihilation were mainly such from the late Ming period denouncing the Manchus and hailing the wishful Southern Ming 南明 (1644-1661) emperors.

Lists of forbidden or annihilated texts were compiled by the Yao Jinguan 姚覲光, Qingdai jinhui shumu si zhong 清代禁燬書目四種 (Shanghai: Shangwu Yinshuguan, 1937), including Quanhui shumu 全燬書目, Chouhui shumu 抽燬書目, Jinshu zongmu 禁書總目, and Wei'ai shumu 違碍書目; furthermore Yao Jinyuan 姚覲元, Qingdai jinhui shumu (buyi) 清代禁燬書目(補遺) (Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1957), and An Pingqiu 安平秋 and Zhang Peiheng 章培恆, Zhongguo jinshu daguan 中國禁書大觀 (Shanghai: Shanghai wenhua chubanshe, 1990).

A continuation and supplement to the Siku quanshu was published in 1995 with the title Xuxiu siku quanshu 續修四庫全書 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe).

Table 1. Categories of the Siku quanshu 四庫全書
總目 Zongmu General index

1. 經部 Jingbu Confucian Classics

1.1. 易類 Yi The Book of Changes, commentaries and exegesis
1.2. 書類 Shu The Book of Documents, commentaries and exegesis
1.3. 詩類 Shi The Book of Songs, commentaries and exegesis
1.4. 禮類 Li The ritual classics, commentaries and exegesis
1.4.1. 周禮之屬 Zhouli The Rites of the Zhou
1.4.2. 儀禮之屬 Yili Etiquette and Ceremonies
1.4.3. 禮記之屬 Liji Records of Rites
1.4.4. 三禮總義之屬 Sanli zongyi Commentaries on the three ritual classics
1.4.5. 通禮之屬 Tongli Comprehensive books on rituals
1.4.6. 雜禮書之屬 Zalishu Miscellaneous books on rituals
1.5. 春秋類 Chunqiu The Spring and Autumn Annals, commentaries and exegesis
1.6. 孝經類 Xiaojing The Classic of Filial Piety, commentaries and exegesis
1.7. 五經總義類 Wujing zongyi Commentaries on the Five Classics corpus
1.8. 四書類 Sishu The Four Books, commentaries and exegesis
1.9. 樂類 Yue Books on music
1.10. 小學類 Xiaoxue Lexicography
1.10.1. 訓詁之屬 Xungu Etymology (glossaries)
1.10.2. 字書之屬 Zishu Glyphology (dictionaries arranged graphically)
1.10.3. 韻書之屬 Yunshu Phonology (dictionaries arranged phonetically)

2. 史部 Shibu Historiography

2.1. 正史類 Zhengshi Official dynastic histories
2.2. 編年類 Biannian Annals and chronicles
2.3. 紀事本末類 Jishi benmo Historical events in their entirety
2.4. 別史類 Bieshi Alternative histories
2.5. 雜史類 Zashi Miscellaneous histories
2.6. 詔令奏議類 Zhaoling zouyi Edicts and memorials
2.6.1. 詔令之屬 Zhaoling Edicts
2.6.2. 奏議之屬 Zouyi Memorials
2.7. 傳記類 Zhuanji Biographies
2.7.1. 聖賢之屬 Shengxian Saints and worthies
2.7.2. 名人之屬 Mingren Famous persons
2.7.3. 總錄之屬 Zonglu Collective records
2.7.4. 雜錄之屬 Zalu Miscellaneous records
2.8. 史鈔類 Shichao Excerpts of history books
2.9. 載記類 Zaiji Regional histories
2.10. 時令類 Shiling Edicts concerned with the seasons
2.11. 地理類 Dili Geography
2.11.1. 宮殿簿之屬 Gongdianpu Palaces
2.11.2. 總志之屬 Zongzhi Imperial geographies
2.11.3. 都會郡縣之 Duhui junxian Capital cities, large cities, commanderies and counties
2.11.4. 河渠之屬 Hequ Rivers and canals
2.11.5. 邊防之屬 Bianfang Frontier defence
2.11.6. 山水之屬 Shanshui Mountains and lakes
2.11.7. 古跡之屬 Guji Historic places
2.11.8. 雜記之屬 Zaji Miscellaneous geographies
2.11.9. 游記之屬 Youji Travels
2.11.10. 外紀之屬 Waiji Descriptions of foreign countries
2.12. 職官類 Zhiguan State offices
2.12.1. 官制之屬 Guanzhi Government officials system
2.12.2. 官箴之屬 Guanzhen Admonitions to state officials
2.13. 政書類 Zhengshu Statecraft and administration
2.13.1. 通制之屬 Tongzhi Comprehensive regulations
2.13.2. 儀制之屬 Yizhi Regulations of rituals and ceremonies
2.13.3. 邦計之屬 Bangji Administrative regulations
2.13.4. 軍政之屬 Junzheng Military regulations
2.13.5. 法令之屬 Faling Jurisdictional regulations
2.13.6. 考工之屬 Kaogong Regulations concerning state-operated construction
2.14. 目錄類 Mulu Bibliographies and catalogues
2.14.1. 經籍之屬 Jingji Bibliographies of [books on the] Confucian Classics and non-canonical writings
2.14.2. 金石之屬 Jinshi Catalogues of antiques, inscriptions on such, and ancient calligraphies
2.15. 史評類 Shiping Historical critique

3. 子部 Zibu Masters and philosophers

3.1. 儒家類 Rujia Confucian books
3.2. 兵家類 Bingjia Military books
3.3. 法家類 Fajia Legalist treatises
3.4. 農家類 Nongjia Agriculture and agronomy
3.5. 醫家類 Yijia Medicine and pharmacology
3.6. 天文算法類 Tianwen suanfa Astronomy and mathematics
3.6.1. 推步之屬 Tuibu Astronomy
3.6.2. 算書之屬 Suanshu Mathematics
3.7. 術數類 Shushu Divination books
3.7.1. 數學之屬 Shuxue Divination by numerology
3.7.2. 占候之屬 Zhanhou Divination of time
3.7.3. 相宅相墓之屬 Xiangzhai xiangmu Geomancy
3.7.4. 占卜之屬 Zhanbu Divination by hexagrams
3.7.5. 命書相書之屬 Mingshu xiangshu Divination by various other methods
3.7.6. 陰陽五行之屬 Yinyang wuxing Yin-Yang and the Five-Agents theory
3.8. 藝術類 Yishu Treatises on art
3.8.1. 書畫之屬 Shuhua Calligraphy and painting
3.8.2. 琴譜之屬 Qinpu Zither music
3.8.3. 篆刻之屬 Zhuanke Seal carving
3.8.4. 雜技之屬 Zaji Miscellaneous arts
3.9. 譜錄類 Pulu Material culture and nature studies
3.9.1. 器物之屬 Qiwu Tools and objects
3.9.2. 飲饌之屬 Yinxuan Eating and drinking
3.9.3. 草木禽魚之屬 Caomu qinyu Plants and animals
3.10. 雜家類 Zajia Books on miscellaneous issues
3.10.1. 雜學之屬 Zaxue Miscellaneous teachings
3.10.2. 雜考之屬 Zakao Miscellaneous investigations
3.10.3. 雜說之屬 Zashuo Miscellaneous explanations
3.10.4. 雜品之屬 Zapin Miscellaneous classifications
3.10.5. 雜纂之屬 Zazuan Miscellaneous compositions
3.10.6. 雜編之屬 Zabian Miscellaneous compilations
3.11. 類書類 Leishu Encyclopaedias and handbooks
3.12. 小說家類 Xiaoshuojia Novellas and stories
3.12.1. 雜事之屬 Zashi Miscellaneous affairs
3.12.2. 異聞之屬 Yiwen Strange tales
3.12.3. 瑣記之屬 Suoji Trivial reports
3.13. 釋家類 Shijia Buddhist books
3.14. 道家類 Daojia Daoist books

4. 集部 Jibu Belles-lettres and collections

4.1. 楚辭類 Chuci Poetry of the South
4.2. 別集類 Bieji Collections of individual writers
4.2.1. 漢至五代 Han to Five Dynasties periods
4.2.2. 北宋建隆至靖康 Northern Song period (Jianlong to Jingkang reign-periods)
4.2.3. 南宋建炎至德佑 Southern Song period (Jianyan to Deyou reign-periods)
4.2.4. 金至元 Jin and Yuan empires
4.2.5. 明洪武開至崇禎 Ming period (Hongwu to Chongzhen reign-periods)
4.2.6. 清代 Qing period
4.3. 總集類 Zongji Anthologies and collections
4.4. 詩文評類 Shi-wenping Literary critique
4.5. 詞曲類 Ciqu Lyric-metre portry and arias
4.5.1. 詞集之屬 Ciji Collected lyric-metre poetry
4.5.2. 詞選之屬 Cixuan Selected lyric-metre poetry
4.5.3. 詞話之屬 Cihua Explanations of poems
4.5.4. 詞譜韻之屬 Cipuyun Remarks, notes and treatises on the rhymes of lyric-metre poetry
4.5.5. 南北曲之屬 Nanbeiqu Arias from the south and the north
考證 Kaozheng Corrigenda
Dai Shuying 冀淑英 (1993). "Qing Qianlong neifu chaoben Siku quanshu 清乾隆内府抄本四庫全書", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Wenwu bowuguan 文物•博物館 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 435-436.
Guy, R. Kent (1987). The Emperor's Four Treasuries: Scholars and the State in the Late Ch'ien-lung Era (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).
Goodrich, Luther Carrington (1937). The Literary Inquisition of Ch'ien-Lung (Baltimore: Waverley).
Guo Songyi 郭松義 (1992). "Siku quanshu 四庫全書", 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, 966.
Ji Shuying 冀淑英 (1993). "Siku qige 四庫七閣", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Tushuguanxue qingbaoxue dang'anxue 圖書館學•情報學•檔案學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 394.
Mao Ruifang (2014). "The anyu of Siku quanshu zongmu", Journal of East Asian Libraries, 159: 23-39.
Wu Chengxue & Wang Hui (2010). "Siku Quanshu and the Study of Commentary", Frontiers of Literary Studies in China, 4 (1): 138-159.
Zhu Tianjun 朱天俊 (1993). "Siku quanshu zongmu 四庫全書總目", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Tushuguanxue qingbaoxue dang'anxue 圖書館學•情報學•檔案學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 395.