China’s Imperial Encyclopedia from the Sung Dynasty

September 11, 2010

In 986 A.D., a Sung Dynasty emperor ordered that an encyclopedia be written.

This ancient encyclopedia is known as the Four Great Books of Song (宋四大书), which was compiled by Li Fang (925 – 996 A.D.) and other scholars during the Sung Dynasty (960–1279 A.D.).

The last book (Cefu Yuangui) was finished during the 11th century. The four encyclopedias were published with the intent to collect all known knowledge of the time. Source: History Cultural China

There were one thousand scrolls with 2,200 biographical entries.

This ancient example of the literary world printed about a thousand years ago was commissioned by Vice Primer Zhou Bida (Sung Dynasty), who had a group of scholars proof read the original copy of the encyclopedia before block printing it. 

Surviving copies are kept in China’s national library. Bookworms, who over the years fed on the paper, scarred the original encyclopedias.

Although there are textual errors, the work is still valuable for historical research.

See China’s Three “Journeys to the West”


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

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