Week 9: Currents of Change

Lecture 1: The Culture of Commerce

I. Ming Dynasty at a Glance (recap)

  1. “Guesstimates”—85 millions (1393; official record: 60m) … 155m (1500) … 231m (1600) … 268m (1650)
  2. Organization—provinces (13+2), prefectures (159) … subprefectures (234) … counties (1171)
  3. Villages—”village compact” … li jia 里甲 system

II. Commercialization and Urbanization

  1. Expansion of trade—domestic … international
  2. Merchant networks—salt and other commodities
  3. Urban culture—vernacular literature … Tang Xianzu 湯顯祖 (1550–1616) … Peony Pavilion … Feng Menglong 馮夢龍 (1574–1646) … “The Four Masterworks” (The Water Margin … Romance of the Three Kingdoms … Journey to the West … Plum in the Golden Vase)

III. Literati Life

  1. Civil service examinations—”Four Books” … Eight-legged essay (1487) … provincial quota … sheng yuan 生員 (government students; 100,000 in the 16th century) … ju ren 舉人 (provincial degree) … jin shi 進士 (highest degree; 2,000–4,000 at any given time; 1 out of 10,000 adult males)
  2. Symbiotic relationship between wealth and status—e.g. in one county in the lower Yangzi region, 19 of the 85 jin shi degrees came from 3 family lines.
  3. A matter of taste—antiques … gardens … amateur ideals


Lecture 2: Intellectual Reorientation

I. Zhu Xi’s Orthodoxy

  1. li 理 (principle; pattern) and qi 氣 (energy; “psycho-physical stuff”)
  2. “Investigation of things” (ge wu 格物)
  3. Four Books“—Analects 論語, Mencius 孟子, Doctrine of the Mean 中庸, Great Learning 大學

II. Wang Yangming 王陽明 (1472–1529)—scholar …philosopher… official …military general

  1. Background—Zhejiang … jin shi (1499) … political exile (1507–10) … suppression of rebellions (1516, 1519, 1527-28) … Confucian Temple (1584)
  2. Innate knowing (liang zhi 良知)
  3. Unity of thoughts and actions

III. Wang’s Followers

  1. Wang Ji 王畿 (1498-1583)—”I saw the streets were filled with sage humans.”
  2. Wang Gen 王艮 (1483–1540)—public lectures
  3. Li Zhi 李贄 (1527–1602)


  1. What is the point of Monkey? Is it a satire, an allegory, or a mindless farce?
  2. How are the Three Teachings represented in the story?
  3. Though the story is set in the Tang dynasty, what can it tell us about Ming society?


Ming China

Physical Map

Map of Modern China: Physical Geography

Source: National Museum of Chinese History, ed., A Journey into China's Antiquity, vol. 1 (Beijing: Morning Glory Publishers, 1997), pp. 8–9.


Physical Map by Satellite

Map of Modern China: Physical Geography

Administrative Map

Map of Modern China: Administrative Divisions

Source: SACU



External Links to Images:

Met Collection | Garment | Peony Pavillion


  • Brook, Timothy. The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998.
  • Dardess, John W. A Ming Society: T'ai-ho County, Kiangsi, Fourteenth to Seventeenth Centuries. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996.
  • de Bary, Wm. Theodore, ed. Self and Society in Ming Thought. New York: Columbia University Press, 1970.
  • Plaks, Andrew H. The Four Masterworks of the Ming Novel. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.
  • Twitchett, Denis, and Frederick W. Mote, eds. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 8: The Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644, Part 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.


Spam prevention powered by Akismet