Organizing knowledge the Chinese way



This paper examines an approach to knowledge organization that is fundamentally different from the analytic model evolved from ancient Greek philosophy. The classification being studied is the scheme used in a catalog, entitled the Seven Epitomes (Qilue), for organizing the Chinese imperial library collection in the Former Han dynasty over 2,000 years ago. Its knowledge organization model influenced almost all bibliographic classifications throughout imperial China. By applying a multidimensional framework to place the target scheme in its own cultural and historical context, the study identifies and discusses three key aspects of the Chinese classificatory approach. First, the scheme purposefully embraces a ru classicist ideology as its guiding principle. Second, it presents the knowledge universe as an integrated whole. Third, it applies correlative, rather than analytic, thinking to organizing textual categories, with the so-called ru Classics in the center of all major relationships. In conclusion, suggestions are made to identify additional aspects of the Chinese tradition in knowledge organization, to incorporate this way of thinking and test how it can work in constantly evolving information environments, and to understand categories and relationships in cultural contexts.