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date: 23 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses two major ways of organizing and disseminating knowledge in premodern China, namely, compiling an encyclopedia and making an epitome. An encyclopedia, leishu, consists of extracts taken from a variety of earlier works and classified under different categories. It is supposed to present an organized system of knowledge of the world, reflecting an orderly universe in its comprehensive, structured arrangement of ideas, concepts, and things. The imperial commissioning of a large-scale encyclopedia is also a way of demonstrating the state’s cultural power and political legitimacy. An epitome (chao or shuchao) is usually based on either one work or one type of work; it includes what are considered key passages from a work, and sometimes summarizes or paraphrases the content of a work. The making and circulating of encyclopedia and epitome raise important questions about what, and how, people read in medieval Chinese society.

Keywords: encyclopedia (leishu), epitome (chao/shuchao), epitome-making (chaoshu), knowledge organization, knowledge transmission, history of reading, history of the book

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