The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens announced Thursday that it has portions of a rare and important Chinese manuscript called the Yongle Encyclopedia — with 11,095 volumes, the largest book ever written in China.
The book was commissioned by the Yongle Emperor of the Ming Dynasty in 1403 in an attempt to gather in one place a broad range of Chinese knowledge, including astronomy, geography, medicine, religion, technology and art.
In 1562, years after the Yongle Emperor’s death, the Jiajing Emperor commissioned 109 scribes to transcribe the entire encyclopedia as a backup copy. It took them five years to complete the work.
“That was the only copy made,” Yang said. “Eventually the original copy disappeared, and there is lots of speculation about what happened.”
No conclusive evidence of its fate ever emerged.