[A-Z April Blogging] [Y] Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia
The writers of the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia incorporated 7,000 to 8,000 earlier works, cutting them down into single-themed excerpts, and re-arranging them under single word entries, like a modern encyclopaedia. This was in complete contradiction with earlier standard Chinese practice, which was based on classifying encyclopaedia entries by broad subjects such as language, government, music, etc.
The Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia is named so because it was compiled under the express orders of the Míng Emperor Yǒnglè (永樂). His requirements were that the work should encompass all pre-existing knowledge, that its compilers should not "be afraid" of length, and that no expenses should be spared to purchase the rare Sòng and Yuán manuscripts deemed necessary for the compilation work.
Work itself started in 1403 at Nánjīng University (Nánjīng Guózǐjiàn 南京國子監), and was mostly carried out by unknown scholars with a reputation for vast knowledge, rather than by court scholars. Research work was carried out by over 2,000 literati until 1407, and the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia was finished in 1408. It consisted of 11,095 books, occupying roughly 40 cubic metres. Many of the scholars involved were eventually rewarded with high-profile offices, although some others fell into disgrace.
Because of the sheer size of the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia, it wasn't block-printed but hand-copied, with very few copies available. These hand-written copies were lost or displaced by the end of the 16th century. However, many fragments remained available throughout China, as well as many of the earlier works that had been used to compile the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia, and which had been archived in various imperial libraries. It is assumed that the equivalent of 90% of the Encyclopaedia was still extant under the Qīng, who started collecting the fragments in the Hànlín Academy in Běijīng for their own purpose of writing a Qīng-era encyclopaedia. Alas, the Hànlín Academy was destroyed by fire during the looting of Běijīng by Western troops at the end of the Boxer Uprising, and the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia was definitely lost.
- (Míng) The PCs are paid by a scholar involved in the compilation of the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia to recover the only version left of a rare Sòng book. They must travel to a remote mansion where the eccentric owner of the manuscript lives, convince him to sell it, and then bring it to Nánjīng. On their way to Nánjīng, a band of outlaws paid by a rival scholar try to steal, or even destroy, the book.
- (Míng) Two ancient texts used to write the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia entry on a rare medicinal plant are contradictory. The PCs must travel to a forlorn place and bring back to Nánjīng, under pain of death, an old Daoist hermit believed to know the definitive answer on the subject. The problem is that the hermit is long dead...
- (Qīng) Emperor Qiánlóng wants his own encyclopaedia! The PCs must travel throughout China to find the missing fragments of the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia. This could be the MacGuffin of a larger capaign game with several unrelated episodes set in different cities.
- (Qīng) The Foreign Devils are burning the city! The PCs are a group of devout Confucians who try to save the remaining books of the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia from the inferno of the Hànlín Academy.