The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China

The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China

The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China

The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China

Synopsis

The Ming dynasty was the last great Chinese dynasty before the Manchu conquest in 1644. During that time, China, not Europe, was the center of the world: the European voyages of exploration were searching not just for new lands but also for new trade routes to the Far East. In this book, Timothy Brook eloquently narrates the changing landscape of life over the three centuries of the Ming (1368-1644), when China was transformed from a closely administered agrarian realm into a place of commercial profits and intense competition for status.

The Confusions of Pleasure marks a significant departure from the conventional ways in which Chinese history has been written. Rather than recounting the Ming dynasty in a series of political events and philosophical achievements, it narrates this longue durée in terms of the habits and strains of everyday life. Peppered with stories of real people and their negotiations of a rapidly changing world, this book provides a new way of seeing the Ming dynasty that not only contributes to the scholarly understanding of the period but also provides an entertaining and accessible introduction to Chinese history for anyone.

Excerpt

ZHANG TAO (js. 1586), native of Huguang; capital official sidelined for attacking the chief grand secretary; magistrate and chronicler of Sheh county, the home of many Huizhou merchants; critic of Sheh’s commercial customs; our guide to the fortunes of the dynasty

ZHU YUANZHANG (1318-98), orphan from the poor north end of South Zhili; founder of the dynasty; keen and sometimes desperate emperor for the three decades of the Hongwu reign (1368—98); imperial ancestor to whom Zhang Tao looked back with nostalgic respect

CH’OE PU (1454-1504), Korean official; head of a group shipwrecked on the Zhejiang coast in 1488; diarist of the homeward journey up the Grand Canal and back to Korea; enthusiast of wealthy Jiangnan and disparager of the comfortless north

ZHANG YUE (1492-1553), scholar from coastal Fujian; prominent provincial official and statecraft activist; editor of his native county’s gazetteer of 1530

YE CHUNJI (1532-95), native of Guangdong; first-time magistrate in Zhang Yue’s home county; first official to draw county maps on the basis of on-site topographical surveys; victim of local political vengeance that sidelined his career for seventeen years . . .

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