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UPDATED: 08:20, October 26, 2004
China to auction grand ancient encyclopedia with real emperor's seals
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Seven complete copies of the Chinese literary classic Encyclopedia Sinica (Si Ku Quan Shu) carrying real imperial seals of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) will be auctioned off around the world.

The seven copies, each containing 1,184 volumes, bear the stamps of two real jade seals once used by Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795), who himself organized the composition of the massive encyclopedia, officials from the Palace Museum (The Forbidden City) said on Monday.

The seven collections are among the 300 complete sets of the encyclopedia's "Wen Yuan Ge" edition, recently completed by approximately 100 scholars and technicians. "Wen Yuan Ge" is the name of an ancient library used to house the encyclopedia.

It took four years using traditional thread-binding methods to produce the copies of China's magnum opus, Palace Museum experts said.

To restore the authenticity of the ancient work, technicians used handmade Xuan paper -- a kind of high-quality paper for traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy -- and printed and bound the texts by hand, the experts said.

First edited from 1773 to 1784 under the direct auspices of Emperor Qianlong, the encyclopedia contains the collection and transcription efforts of more than 3,800 upper-class intellectuals of that time. It took 15 years to complete.

The collection, also called the Complete Library of the Four Branches of Literature, covers a wide range of knowledge and expertise. At the time it claimed to encompass all of the significant works from various schools of thought throughout the history (though in fact it omitted the work of certain scholars thought to be overly critical of the Qing).

Containing 79,309 volumes and 770 million Chinese characters, the encyclopedia arranges some 3,460 titles on the nation's literature and history into four categories: classics, history, philosophy and belles-lettres.

There were only seven handwritten copies of the original works, and Qianlong ordered that they be stored in seven imperial libraries around the country, resulting in seven editions. Only four survive today, the "Wen Yuan Ge," "Wen Jin Ge," "Wen Su Ge" and "Wen Lan Ge," all names of the libraries.

The original encyclopedia in the "Wen Yuan Ge" library was diverted from Beijing's Forbidden City to the south in 1933 to protect it from destruction by Japanese invaders. The Kuomingtang government later brought it to Taiwan. The newly printed collections are based on a photocopy of this edition.

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