Disorder under Heaven: Collective Violence in the Ming Dynasty

Disorder under Heaven: Collective Violence in the Ming Dynasty

Disorder under Heaven: Collective Violence in the Ming Dynasty

Disorder under Heaven: Collective Violence in the Ming Dynasty

Synopsis

"A monumental study of collective violence in the premodern world, this book analyzes all instances of rebellion and banditry recorded in 1,097 counties in China during the 277 years of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The assembled evidence constitutes the largest annual, county-level time-series on collective violence events in any part of the world, and the 630 recorded cases are used to test the major social science theories on the origins of collective violence. Using systematic data collected from local gazetteers on natural calamities, size of harvests, famine relief, physical terrain, local construction, and troop deployment, the author advances and validates a rational-choice argument that violence increased when survival in a subsistence economy became uncertain and the likelihood of punishment was low. Analyzing the administrative effectiveness and coercive capacity of the Ming state, the author also finds evidence to support a complementary structuralist explanation for increased collective violence in times of lax rulers, state insolvency, and inadequate tax policies. After an introductory chapter, the author explicates the main theoretical and methodological issues of collective violence and sketches the empirical pattern of rebellions and banditry, differentiating them by the level of threat they posed to the regime and by the sociopolitical profile of participating groups. In the next four chapters, he relates the Ming empirical configuration to four theoretical frameworks for collective violence: rational choice, which includes the issue of motive and choice--why people chose to become bandits; opportunity, in which the level of Ming collective violence is related to variations in a regime's coercive capacity; social change, which is used to shed light on food riots, anti-tax rebellions, and conflicts between employers and employees and between natives and outsiders; and class conflict, which prompts the author to assess the Marxist explanation for collective violence by investigating revolts of commoners against imperial clansmen, bondservants against masters, and tenants against landlords. The final chapter presents the author's conclusions on why and how the people became outlaws in the Ming and points to questions for future research." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Lunar New Year's Day fell on February 12 in 1584, the twelfth year in the reign of Emperor Shenzong (1573- 1620). At the suggestion of the Ministry of Rites, the 21-year-old emperor dispatched three earls and three marquises to visit the tombs of ten Ming emperors who had reigned before him as well as an assistant regional military commissioner to the tombs of two imperial heirs who had died before they were enthroned and a director of the palace eunuchs to the tombs of two empresses. As for the emperor himself, custom dictated that he should hold court at the Hall of Imperial Supremacy within the Forbidden City to receive greetings from the bureaucracy. By dawn, the Embroidered Guards had already positioned themselves outside and around the hall, while the director of imperial husbandry and his deputies chaperoned the welltamed and twice-groomed horses, rhinoceroses, and elephants that lined both sides of the processional. Outside the Meridian Gate, civilian and military bureaucrats wearing ceremonial garb waited in formation, until their small talk was interrupted by a drum beat announcing the arrival of the emperor. Proceeded by the master of ceremonies and the bearer of the imperial seal and carried on the imperial palanquin with its shades open and blinds furled, the emperor was used to these displays of imperial grandeur. He probably never turned and marveled at the Imperial Band of 99 musicians playing an assortment of thirteen types of string, woodwind, and percussion instruments that had enchanted him so much during his coronation twelve years earlier when he was only nine years old. He probably found stale the piece called Music for Eternal Peace (Wansuile), with its lyrics:

'Tis a year of celestial peace,
When winds will hush and storms will ease . . .

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