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The Confusions of Pleasure

The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China

Timothy Brook
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: 1
Pages: 345
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  • Book Info
    The Confusions of Pleasure
    Book Description:

    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 Pleasuremarks 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 thislongue duréein 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92407-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. ii-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. A Ming Chronology
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. A Genealogy of Ming Emperors
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  7. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
  8. Introduction: Seasons of the Ming (1609)
    (pp. 1-14)

    The Ming dynasty began with the peace of the winter season. Or so our late-Ming author (we’ll leave him nameless for the moment) thought as he stood in the opening decade of the seventeenth century and looked all the way back to the fourteenth. The first half of the dynasty seemed to him the very picture of sensible order and settled life. “Every family was self-sufficient,” he was sure, “with a house to live in, land to cultivate, hills from which to cut firewood, gardens in which to grow vegetables. Taxes were collected without harassment and bandits did not appear....

  9. Dramatis Personae in order of appearance
    (pp. 15-16)

    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 (1328–98), 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 ancesror to whom Zhang Tao looked back with nostalgic respect

    Ch’oe Pu (1454–1504). Korean officia l; head of a group shipwrecked on the Zhejiang coast...

  10. Winter: The First Century (1368–1450)
    (pp. 17-85)

    The first Spring Festival of the Ming dynasty ushered in a year of the monkey. By Western reckoning, the festival was celebrated on 20 January 1368. Then as today, the first day of spring was the most joyful and noisiest annual holiday. Accounts having been settled the day before, people went out to greet relatives, meet friends, and launch each other into the bustle of the coming planting and business year. In Zhang Tao’s home county of Huangpi, the highlight of the day was a procession of musicians who fluted and clanged their way out to the eastern suburb, led...

  11. Spring: The Middle Century (1450–1550)
    (pp. 86-152)

    It was in the restless spring of the dynasty, according to Zhang Tao, that the stable repetitions of agrarian life in the early-Ming winter starred to unravel as trade lured men from their fields, disrupting the foundation of wealth and disordering community life. Disorder was indeed on the minds of those alive in 1450, but disorder of a more tangible kind. The previous September the twenty-one-year-old Zhengtong emperor had been captured by the Mongol khan during an ill-considered campaign on the northern border. It is a terrible thing for an imperial system to lose its emperor: all of a sudden...

  12. Summer: The Last Century (1550–1644)
    (pp. 153-237)

    As they crossed into the latter half of the sixteenth century, many felt they were entering a new world, Zhang Tao among them. They saw the old models coming apart in the flux of change that more people, more money, and more competition were bringing about. They found the experience of being Chinese less predictable and less uniform. For upper gentry, large landowners, and rich merchants, the late Ming was a time of cultural brilliance, innovative ideas, and endless pleasure—also a time of confusion and anxiety. At the other end of the social scale, the anxious poor survived at...

  13. Fall: The Lord of Silver (1642–1644)
    (pp. 238-262)

    Or so it seemed to one earnest Confucian scholar who came out of political oblivion in the late Ming with an appointment as magistrate to the county of Sheh. Sheh was the wrong point of reentry for a moralist like Zhang Tao. How could he greet the commercial world into which he had been released from his forced retirement with anything but disapproval? Sheh was at such distance from Confucian ideals. It was the home of the great trading empires of the late Ming, the inner sanctum of the successful Huizhou merchants, where money was the prime standard of value...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 263-294)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 295-312)
  16. Glossary and Index
    (pp. 313-320)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 321-322)