Copy of important 16th century manuscript gifted to the National Library of China

The University of Aberdeen will gift a digital copy of an important 16th century manuscript to the National Library of China.

The University’s Special Collections became custodians of the manuscript – part of a great encyclopaedia known as the Yongle Dadian – in 1922.

Still in its original binding, it was donated to the University by Aberdeen graduate, James Russell Brazier, who was Chief Secretary in the Consular Service of the Chinese government during the Boxer Uprising and who witnessed the destruction in 1900 of the Hanlin Academy where the encyclopaedia was kept.

The original Yongle Dadian was compiled in the 15th century under the direction of Yung Lo (1403-1425), the third Ming Emperor. It was one of the biggest bibliographical enterprises ever undertaken by any civilisation. Over 2,000 scholars worked to complete the work which consisted of 22,877 jűan (chapters) in 11,095 volumes.

In 1567 a copy was made which survived the collapse of the Ming Dynasty in 1644 and was preserved at the Hanlin Academy until the fire which destroyed the building in 1900 with the loss of many hundred volumes.

Siobhán Convery, Head of Special Collections at the University of Aberdeen, said: “The Yongle Dadian is of great cultural importance and we are sure Aberdeen’s chapter will be of considerable textual interest to sinologists across the world.

“In recent years it has been carefully conserved by specialist conservators and digitised to ensure its preservation for future generations.

“The survival of the Aberdeen section - jűan 11907 – was unknown to sinologists until recent years and so we are delighted to be able to gift a high quality copy to the National Library where it will be digitally reunited with other chapters from libraries across the world and made available to scholars.”

Dr Christopher Kee, Dean of Chinese Affairs at the University of Aberdeen, added:  “We are delighted that the University of Aberdeen has been able to contribute to the National Library of China's ongoing project to reunite the volumes of the Yongle Dadian, and we look forward to collaborating with the Library on other projects in the future.”