This book is a study of social and cultural change in the lower Yangzi delta. This region, Ming China’s economic heartland, flourished commercially and culturally during the sixteenth century, and its elites maintained strong political ties with the central government at Beijing. Drawing upon a large body of contemporary writings, the author discusses important socio-economic and cultural trends wherein scholars and scholar-officials entered the marketplace while the merchant class improved its status and importance.
For all the benefits they brought about, these developments sowed the seeds of trouble. The author explains how unconstrained profit-seeking eroded the social and moral fabric of society and widened the gap between rich and poor. Toward the end of the sixteenth century, economic conditions worsened. Bitter resentments gave rise to popular riots against predatory great families. Eventually, mass revolts across the empire and Manchu’s invasion dealt a crushing blow to the region’s economy. In the 1630s and 1640s, the region plunged into depression and despair.
Jie Zhao is Associate Professor of History at the University of Southern Maine. Her work on Ming thought and society has appeared in T’oung Pao and Ming Studies.
This book is an in-depth study of social and cultural changes in sixteenth-century China. The author focuses on the lower Yangzi delta, then, as now, a thriving commercial and cultural region. She has mined an enormous and diverse body of regional literati writings. Making ingenious use of these primary sources and of modern scholarship, the author renders the late Ming changes completely intelligible by identifying the background forces at work. Brush, Seal and Abacus makes a significant contribution to our understanding of late Imperial China.
―Yu Yingshi, Professor Emeritus, Princeton University
This book is an outstanding descriptive profile of late Ming society in a key region of southeast China that was noted for its wealth and cultural sophistication. It is based upon a very wide reading both of the plentiful Ming sources, many of them rare, and of modern scholarship. Especially compelling are the living descriptions of the extreme inequalities in the distribution of wealth, of the immense power achieved by some bondsmen in the service of rich families and lineages, and of the ethical and intellectual contamination of the whole. The book should appeal to a wide readership of students, specialists, and general readers.
―John W. Dardess, Professor Emeritus, The University of Kansas
This work draws on many diverse Chinese primary sources and some secondary scholarship in Chinese and English to describe the lives and perspectives of key members of the elite in Ming China in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It concludes that they acted in a wide variety of ways in efforts to cope with their highly mobile and everchanging society. It will contribute to important discussions about the structures of Chinese and world history.
―Roger Des Forges, Professor of History Emeritus, University at Buffalo, State University of New York