Ming Dynasty

David Robinson

in Chinese Studies

ISBN: 9780199920082
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Ming Dynasty

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Relative to other time periods in Chinese history, modern scholarly research came late to the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), which was often held in ill odor. The charges against the Ming were legion: its rulers were vicious autocrats; it wasted its technological lead over the rest of the globe; it myopically turned inward just when western Europe began its Age of Discovery; the state and a complacent literati elite allowed the “sprouts of capitalism” to wither before they could bloom; and, finally, Ming’s incompetence led to a foreign occupation that lasted into the 20th century. Focusing on the humanist tradition, much post–World War II Western scholarship, in contrast, saw much that merited exploration—the place of the individual in society, the growth of vernacular literature and theater, and fascinating developments in art, thought, and belief. Although Chinese and Japanese scholars shared such interests, they devoted greater attention to socioeconomic developments such as a growing commercial economy, increasingly commoditized economic relations, urbanization, and regional and even national market integration. For those interested in long-term socioeconomic and intellectual trends, whether socioeconomic or intellectual questions, dynastic divisions seemed artificial and superficial. Thus many cast the Ming as one half, often the humbler half, of the Ming-Qing period, stretching from the 14th to 19th centuries. More recently, some scholars have instead argued that the early 12th to early 15th centuries constituted a distinct historical epoch, the “Song-Yuan-Ming transition.” Yet others see the Ming, like Muscovite Rus, the Timurids, and the Ottomans, as one among many successor states to the Mongol Empire, highlighting synchronic ties across Eurasia over diachronic continuity with previous dynasties. Such contending conceptualizations result both from divergent research foci and from the lack of consensus about the wider significance of the Ming period in Chinese and global history.

Article.  16119 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Studies ; Asian History ; East Asian Philosophy ; East Asian Religions

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