Organizer: Joanna Handlin Smith, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies
Chair: John E. Wills, Jr., University of Southern California
Discussant: Lynn A. Struve, Indiana University
A full twenty years have passed since a panel at an AAS annual conference took stock of Ming studies (Toronto, 1976). The occasion then was to celebrate the publication of The Dictionary of Ming Biography, a project that stimulated a new era of Ming research. Previously, China scholars had dismissed the Ming dynasty as a mere adumbration of the Ch'ing and unworthy, therefore, of close attention. Since then, Ming studies have dramatically advanced. We now have a clear overview of the basic contours of Ming terrain and have enlarged our thinking to accommodate information that once seemed anomalous. Ledgers of merit, Buddhist fervor, the ideal of knight-errantry, and military achievement have found places in our understanding of "Confucian" literati and China as a whole.
New challenges now replace the old. As hitherto rare books and documents are reprinted and made available, the onslaught of information makes it urgent that we carefully deliberate agendas for research and identify questions of significance. As the community of Ming scholars expands, the threat of becoming fragmented and over-specialized makes it urgent that we share and consolidate our findings.
Each panelist will survey what has been thus far accomplished in his/her area of expertise and specify areas awaiting exploration. (For the benefit of attendees, and to secure a common point of reference, the panelists will contribute to the preparation of a brief bibliography of outstanding works on the Ming.) More important, each panelist will use this stock-taking to push the theoretical discussion of the Ming forward. Regrettably, we still tend to stick to paradigms adopted from Western thinking (whether models of economic stages of development, or dichotomies between popular and elite culture and between state and society). Yet we have in fact reached a point where, with a little effort, we might tease out of the Ming materials themselves fresh categories of analysis that will free us from Western paradigms and help us to revise what Tim Brook here calls the "master narrative." Thus each panelist will pay special attention to what is idiosyncratic about the Ming and what scholars outside Ming studies might learn from the Ming.
The concerns of the two back-to-back panels overlap considerably. Joseph Lam's study of Ming music speaks to and is informed by social historians; Ann Waltner's look at gendered history draws on and touches the fields of literature and art etc.
Nonetheless a division of labor has been devised so as to facilitate our exploration. The first panel will address questions of change and periodization, and consider the relation between Ming history and Chinese history as a whole. With this concern in mind, Lynn Struve-who, in her extensive work on the Ming-Ch'ing transition, has confronted questions about continuity and rupture-will be the discussant.
Members of the second panel will apply their expertise in music, art history, literature, and religion/thought to the Ming, while reminding us that disciplinary boundaries are artificial and do injustice to the complexity of their subject matter. Joanna Handlin Smith, whose recent work on charity has prompted her to recognize this last point, will be the discussant.
Why Study the Ming as a Dynasty?
Edward L. Farmer, University of Minnesota
Is it time to stop talking about Ming history? Should historical scholarship be constrained by dynastic boundaries just because the Chinese have made use of such conventions? Historical change over the long duration-economic, technological, or demographic-needs to be conceptualized in terms that span dynastic periods. Changes that occurred during shorter periods, such as the major transformation of Chinese society in the middle of the 15th century, bear no obvious relationship to the Ming dynasty as a whole.
Nonetheless, some topics are intimately related to dynastic periodization, especially those having to do with Chinese cultural identity. My paper will make four points: (1) The Ming was markedly different from the Yuan and Qing in terms of territory, institutions, and governing authorities. To lump the three dynasties together as periods or phases in "Chinese" history muddies the definitions of China and the Chinese; (2) The Ming was under Han Chinese rule and controlled only the Chinese heartland where the dynastic founder attempted to foster a distinct Han cultural identity; (3) During the Qing, the Han Chinese spent more than two centuries encapsulated within a Manchu conquest empire. That experience has greatly complicated the search for a national identity in the 20th century; (4) As a block of time prior to the Manchu conquest or Western invasion the Ming offers a prime field for topical, comparative, and interactive study of the early modern world.
Ming Social History
John W. Dardess, University of Kansas
We have a good picture of Song social history, thanks to Robert Hartwell, Robert Hymes, Patricia Ebrey, John Chaffee, and several other scholars. We also have some idea of the social history of the Jiangnan area for the period straddling the Ming-Qing transition, from the seventeenth century on. But concerning the three hundred years between Song and late Ming, we have only a dim understanding.
Political scientists and scholars of military strategy (Arthur Waldron and Alastair Johnston) have been among the first to exploit the rich documentary record that this "black hole" has to offer. For them pre-seventeenth century Ming provides closer historical analogies to modern and contemporary China than does either Song or Manchu China.
Whether Ming social history has relevance for present-day China or not, it is richly documented and invites exploration. What do the 276 years of the Ming show about such topics as: demography, lineage, family, local community, the formation of the national community of shi (literati), the local impact of what Edward Farmer calls "early Ming legislation," the interface between county government and society, the social effects of the examination system. Bondservants, the social meaning of the quojia/junfu ideal, and so on? The beauty about exploring primary sources is that one finds unexpected things there. The way to go about Ming social history is to devour those sources, and rather than forcing those sources to confirm to our alien rubrics, to let them force us to rethink our questions and categories.
The Study of the Ming Economy
Martin J. Heijdra, Princeton University
During the past few decades the textbook description of the Ming economy has changed dramatically. Instead of being described as stagnant, agricultural, and stifled by unchanging rules and heavy taxation, it is now often seen, especially in its later stages, as increasingly free and commercially vibrant, laying the foundation for the exceptionally open and diverse society portrayed elsewhere. However, both views mainly treat similar government-centered records, local or otherwise, accepting them uncritically or dismissing them disdainfully, and the obvious change is one of opinion and rhetoric rather than the result of a steady accumulation of new facts. Moreover, the current view does not fit comfortably with received views on Ding politics, on the one hand, and the Qing economy, on the other. To a large extent, such discrepancies are a result of the (partly unavoidable) reliance on different types of source material; while the Chinese economy might not march with dynastic steps, many kinds of sources do. Therefore, to place scholarship on the Ming economy on a more solid footing one urgent need is the critical investigation into how our data actually functioned in their local environment. Ming administrative writings were much less susceptible to change than the actual economy and its context. Fortunately, new types of records facilitating this research are slowly becoming available. By paying attention to such matters, now only historians of the Ming economy will have to rethink their received wisdom, but historians of other periods as well.
Gendering Ming History
Ann Waltner, University of Minnesota
This paper will both review recent work on gender in the Ming and suggest ways in which that work has the potential to transform our views of Chinese society from the fourteenth through the seventeenth centuries It will also show that the sources for the study of women in the Ming, including poetry by women and eulogies of women, are particularly rich.
The paper will briefly survey recent work in five areas of inquiry: (l) the world of learned women, both gentry wives and courtesans, and their participation in the broader culture; (2) the function of religion in the lives of women of various social classes; (3) the various constructions of sexuality (masculine as well as feminine), as revealed in both literary and medical texts; (4) the impact of state policy on women's lives; and finally (5) the variety of ways in which women performed both productive and reproductive labor.
But in spite of all of the work we have done, we still have not made enough progress in integrating studies of women and gender with models of historical change. A gendered history of the Ming might begin by examining two historical moments: (l) the early fourteenth century, when state rewards for widow chastity were first implemented and when there were important changes in laws pertaining to dowry; and (2) the late sixteenth century, when commercialization, urbanization and the spread of printing changed the cultural landscape and the role of women in that landscape.