Things in Between: Splendour and Excess in Ming China

Craig Clunas

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Consumption

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199561216
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

 Things in Between: Splendour and Excess in Ming China

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There is plenty of evidence that, during the Ming dynasty in China, the enjoyment of the fruits of commerce was not so frowned upon as the texts of orthodox morality and political economy might imply. The enormous quantities of surviving Ming material culture, which are continuously being augmented by archaeology (since people were buried with goods for use in the afterlife), range from secular and religious buildings, the paintings and calligraphy produced and consumed by the elite, through printed books, furniture, metalwork, textiles, jewellery, carving in a variety of materials from jade to bamboo, and ceramics to weapons and tools. What we find in Ming texts are ways of talking about what we now call ‘consumption’ in ways that are either negative or positive, but which are never detached from a discourse of morality, of good (or bad) governance, and ultimately of a universal order that links humanity and its actions to wider cosmic matters of harmony or disjointedness. This article discusses splendour and excess in Ming China.

Keywords: China; consumption; Ming dynasty; splendour; excess; material culture; morality; political economy; commerce; universal order

Article.  9460 words. 

Subjects: History ; Asian History

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