Speak to describe the preservation of the centuries-old Chinese encyclopedia

Famous for building the architectural wonder of the Forbidden City in Beijing in the early 15th century, Emperor Zhu Di (known by his imperial name of Yongle) also ordered the creation of a monument made of ink and paper: a handwritten encyclopedia of all forms of Chinese knowledge, from Confucian philosophy to medicine.

Known as the Yongle Dadian consisting of 11,095 volumes bound in gold silk, the original corpus has been lost over the centuries, and only 420 volumes of manuscript copies made in 1567 still exist today in a handful of museums and libraries around the world .

On September 27, from noon to 1 p.m., the Cornell community and the general public can get a glimpse of the Library of Congress’s efforts to preserve and digitize 41 Yongle Dadian volumes in its collection, at a lecture by its principal conservator Dan Paterson in Room 2B48 of the Carl A. Kroch Library. The presentation is sponsored by Cornell University Library Conservation, and it will also be broadcast live on Zoom.

During his presentation, Paterson will discuss the unique construction of the Yongle Dadian, its preservation challenges, and the benefits of digitization.

Paterson’s talk is part of a two-day workshop on book binding and conservation in East Asia, also sponsored by the library’s conservation department and involving its staff as well as graduate conservation students. books from New York University and the University of Delaware.

“We have this opportunity for our conservators and technicians to be trained by Dan,” said Trina Parks, conservator of rare and distinctive collections at the library. “And it’s a professional service for us to share Cornell resources and educate the next generation of book conservators.”

The conference and workshop will also support the library’s efforts to preserve and make accessible its important collections of Chinese, Japanese and Korean rare books in Asian Collections of the Kroch LibraryParks said.

Highlights from Cornell’s collection include five volumes of the Yongle Dadian housed in the Rare and Manuscript Collections Division.

Three volumes come from Charles W. Wasonclass of 1876, who bequeathed his library to establish the collection on East Asiaand two were donated by Alfred Sao-ke SzeClass of 1901, who later became a Chinese diplomat to the United States, said Liren Zheng, curator of the Charles W. Wason East Asia Collection.

Yongle Dadian volumes are available for on-site playback on demand.

Public conference attendees should follow Cornell health and safety guidelines. Places are limited on the site and Zoom participants must register in advance.

Jose Beduya is a writer, editor, and social media coordinator for the Cornell University Library.

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