The Magnitude of Ming: Command, Allotment, and Fate in Chinese Culture

Article excerpt

The Magnitude of Ming: Command, Allotment, and Fate in Chinese Culture, edited by Christopher Lupke. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2005. xii + 377 pp. US$48.00 (hardcover).

A potential reader perusing this book's title on a bookshop or library shelf and not getting to its more explanatory subtitle might reasonably assume it to be a work of historical geography concerned with the extent of the Ming empire, addressing such issues as the reality of claimed borders, the patterns of local administration far from the capital, the flow of trade goods from the periphery and so on. Instead, this collection of essays focuses on another ming, the one variously referred to as giving orders, or a person's lifespan, or what may happen to someone over their life, and represented in the words of the subtitle: "command", "allotment" and "fate". This is an excellent idea for the theme of a collection of scholarly essays, as the word is ubiquitous in Chinese philosophical, religious, literary and especially divinatory discourses from the earliest times until the present, as well as in both popular and élite contexts. This gives the book both a broad scope and a consistency sometimes lacking in volumes ultimately derived from conferences.

The Magnitude of Ming is divided into four sections: "The Foundations of Fate: Early Chinese Conceptions of Ming", "Escape Attempts from Finitude: Ming in the Later Han and Six Dynasties Period", "Reversals of Fortune and Reversals of Reality: The Literary Career of Ming in Late Imperial Fiction and Drama", and finally, "Determinism's Progress: Voluntarism, Gender, and the Fate of the Nation in Modern China". The three essays in this final section will be of most interest to readers of The China Journal but it would be remiss not to note in passing that many of the essays in the first three sections are excellent contributions by outstanding scholars and should be recommended for the light they shed, indirect though it might be, on topics of contemporary relevance.

The first of the essays in the fourth section, by Woei Lien Chong, is entitled "Hubris in Chinese Thought: A Theme in Post-Mao Cultural Criticism". Woei is specifically interested in the ideas of three contemporary thinkers, Li Zehou, Liu Xiaofeng and Liu Xiaobo, and in particular their different critical views on the deleterious effect of "the exaggerated belief in the efficacy of the human will, or hubris" in modern China as evidenced, in particular, by the Cultural Revolution-she understands this tendency to be opposed to the more traditional "belief in fate, ming''' (p. 245). …