2005 Annual Meeting: Border-Crossing Sessions


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Session 54: Roundtable: A Reign of Great Significance: Recasting Wanli and his Era from an Interdisciplinary Perspective: Sponsored by the Society for Ming Studies

Organizer: Kenneth M. Swope, Ball State University

Discussants: Katherine Carlitz, University of Pittsburgh; Joseph S. C. Lam, University of Michigan; Harry S. Miller, University of South Alabama; Kathleen Ryor, Carleton College; Kenneth M. Swope, Ball State University

Keywords: Ming China, historiography, interdisciplinary history.

The late Ray Huang published his enormously influential 1587: A Year of No Significance in 1981. As the author of a recent survey text notes, "It is almost superfluous to write at any length about the Wanli reign (1573–1620) because it has been so effectively portrayed and analyzed in the writings of Ray Huang." Yet, despite its many merits, the book, echoing charges leveled in The Official History of the Ming Dynasty of 1739, offers a highly negative portrayal of not only the Wanli emperor, but also the society in which he lived. Such accounts obscure the fact that this was a time of great dynamism marked by impressive efforts at fiscal and military reform, as well as a flourescence of art, literature, and music. The purpose of this roundtable is to suggest how scholars working in different disciplines can inform and augment one another’s work. For example, how did the political battles of the Wanli era play out in the cultural arena and what repercussions did these have for art history? What role did music play in shaping the image of a monarch generally portrayed as distant and self-indulgent? How did the emperor’s own preferences in art and literature reflect larger trends of the times? Does art from the time reflect the deepening sense of crisis one finds in memorials concerning military affairs? How did literary works portray political concerns? In a broader sense we hope to encourage cross-fertilization amongst specialists from various disciplines in order to arrive at a fuller understanding of any state’s past.