Ssu-k'u ch'uan-shu (Complete Library of the Four Treasuries)
Collated by Chi Yun, et. al, under imperial order
Handwritten copy from the Wen-yuan-ko Library (Ch'ien-lung Era, 1736-1795)
Throughout China's history, scholars and emperors have searched the
land to collect together ancient texts and books. "Ssu-k'u ch'uan-shu"
was one of the latest and grandest of such projects. This collectanea
gathers together more than 3,400 texts of importance throughout the
ages, and they are bound into more than 36,000 volumes. It is divided
into four sections which are further divided into many categories. Books
published under a variety of auspices were gathered, studied, selected,
and republished in this exhaustive project.
The impetus for "Ssu-k'u ch'uan-shu" was the "Yung-lo ta-tien" classified book project of the preceding Ming dynasty. Early in 1772, the Ch'ien-lung Emperor had books submitted from all over the land and stored in the Library of the Four Treasuries. In 1787, the process of collating and transcribing was complete, taking fifteen years and the work of more than 3,800 people to create seven copies of this massive collectanea (in addition to the original). However, less than 200 years later, three of the copies already were completely destroyed, one partially destroyed, and the original scattered. The copy in the National Palace Museum (from the Wen-yuan-ko Library at the inner court) was the earliest one made. It includes 3,461 texts bound in 36,381 volumes with more than 79,000 chapters, making it the most complete and exquisite of the copies.