Siku Quanshu

A silk painting gifted to The Canadian Encyclopedia from the President of The Chinese Encyclopedia, Gong Li.

The Canadian Encyclopedia is an overwhelming accomplishment. We can learn so much from you.” – Gong Li, president of the Chinese Encyclopedia. 

If the Chinese did not compile the first encyclopedia, as they did by some accounts, they did create the biggest. The 18th-century Siku Quanshu, a at is 2.3 million pages long, consists of over 36,000 volumes, required 300 editors and more than 4000 scribes, and has been described as “probably the most ambitious editorial enterprise in the history of the world.” Our Canadian Encyclopedia is so much younger (and smaller!) to it was a great honour for us to host a delegation from the current, 93-volume Chinese Encyclopedia.

I had acted as chief consultant to the Taiwanese Encyclopedia some years ago and the chief editor there recommended that the Chinese come to Canada to meet me and share information. It was a great success, as a delegation of five from Beijing came armed with many questions, and we had a lively discussion for almost 5 hours. Topics were far ranging but ultimately focused on our administration software (written by Snapmx)—with which they were greatly impressed and particularly on our progress into the world of mobile and apps.

The Chinese Encyclopedia (CE) is organized very differently, as any comparison of our languages would suggest. Also the CE is a private enterprise (supported by the government) and one must pay to use it. Remarkably, the CE is still in print and has many related publications; such as a book they gave me on Tibetan temples. Ultimately, the CE aspires to be an encyclopedia of the whole world, quite a different goal form our aspiration to portray Canada.


The meeting of Encyclopedias, from L to R: Tian Ye, Guo Jiyan, Jiang Lijun, Gong Li, James Marsh, Andy Joy, Davina Choy, Marshall Letcher, Alexandra Ho

It was gratifying to spend a day with fellow “encyclopedists”—we are few and far between, in the true sense, however that might be disputed by anyone who contributes to a Wiki. We were gratified with the appraisal of Gong Li that The Canadian Encyclopedia is “an overwhelming accomplishment,” and that the CE “can learn so much from us.” We parted with promises to stay in touch and to meet again in Beijing to discuss our mutual goals.


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About James Marsh

James Marsh was born in Toronto and has spent most of his working life in publishing as an editor and writer. He has edited over 200 books in Canadian history and social science and is the author of several books and over 100 articles on Canadian history. James was editor in chief of all three print editions of The Canadian Encyclopedia (1985, 1988 and 1999) and of The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada and guided the encyclopedias into the digital world with numerous editions on CD-ROM. He remains Editor Emeritus of The Canadian Encyclopedia. James is a member of the Order of Canada and recipient of the Centenary Lorne Dawson Chauveau Medal of the Royal Society of Canada in recognition of his achievement of producing The Canadian Encyclopedia.


Education, Inside TCE


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