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2002 Minutes

Ming Studies Evening Meeting, 9:00pm April 5, 2002, AAS Conference, Washington D.C.

The meeting was called to order by President Kim Besio.

  1. Katy Carlitz gave a report on the journal of Ming Studies. The double issue, numbers 45 and 46 are at the compositing stage. Number 47 has a complete set of articles and is being edited. Number 48 is beginning to accumulate submissions.
  2. Katy Carlitz also asked if anyone would be interested in replacing Ken Hammond as book-review editor for Ming Studies. (NOTE: Since then Philip Kafalas has agreed to take the job.)
  3. Ted Farmer invited submissions for the monograph series published by Ming Studies.
  4. Martin Heijdra indicated that he would attempt to provide information on new books on Ming topics on the Minglist and that others were invited to do so as well.
  5. Kim Besio reminded everyone to sign up for the Minglist. She also reminded people who move or change addresses to unsubscribe their old address and re-subscribe to their new address. Those who wish to subscribe to the Minglist should e-mail majordomo@colby.edu with the phrase subscribe minglist and their e-mail address in the message section. (Instructions are posted on the Ming Studies web page at http://www.hist.umn.edu/ming/society.htm)
  6. Kim Besio opened the floor for nominations for Ming Studies board nominations. (Six members are chosen to serve 3 year-terms each.) She also noted that Martin Heijdra will start his term as president beginning next year. Ken Hammond nominated Ina Asim and Katy Ryor Nominated Jennifer Purtle. All voted in favor of these two candidates.
  7. Martin Heijdra announced the establishment of the Jim Geiss Foundation, with grant money for conferences, research and other activities. The grant will sponsor a conference on the Ming court in the summer of 2003, organized by David Robinson. Starting in 2003, grants of $2500 will be made available for research on the Ming. Starting in 2005, a grant of $30,000 will become available. Other plans include collecting material on popular subjects in Ming history and culture to make available on the internet for teaching and other purposes. This web-site will be organized by David Robinson. John Wills Jr. suggested that the web-site be announced on the H-WORLD and H-ASIA lists. Martin also stressed that the Jim Geiss Foundation is not affiliated with Princeton University.
  8. Hsiung Ping-chen passed out information on the Ming-Ch’ing Studies Web-site and Email Discussion Group at the Academia Sinica in Taipei. The address of this web-site is http://www.sinica.edu.tw/~mingching.
  9. Wu Yanhong 吳艷紅 from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has been visiting at Princeton this past year. She gave a presentation on the current state of Ming studies in the People’s Republic of China. She said that this field has been developing in recent years and that there are currently about 10 books and over 400 articles published each year. She recommended the annual review article published in Zhongguo shi yanjiu dongtai(中國史研究動態). Dr. Wu wrote the articles for 1999 and 2000. She also recommended Nan Bingwen’s Ershi shiji Zhongguo mingshi yanjiu huigu (南炳文,二十世紀中國明史研究回顧, Tianjin: Renmin, 2001).
    Below is a summary of her presentation:

    From the 1950s on, Chinese scholars focussed on political, economic and social history. But in recent years, some of the topics (sprouts of capitalism, rebellions, class struggle, political institutions) have become less attractive. Only a few articles on these subjects have been published in the last 2 years.

    Scholars in political, economic and social history have recently begun to use archival research more broadly and in new ways, employing psychological analysis and quantitative analysis to economic history, for example.

    Scholars in these areas have turned to new areas of interest that include social change in the Ming-Qing transition, and social change in the Jiajing and Wanli reigns. There is an increasing interest in taking the whole of Ming society into account. Did change occur at all levels? What changed and what didn’t? What is the significance of change?

    There is a new interest in mentality, ideas, and social circles. In the past, the elite were studied primarily as an influential force in political history. Now there are studied as a group in their own right.

    New fields of Ming history now include the study of social structures and the functions, origins, influences and identities of social organizations. There is a growing interest in the power and significance of non-governmental organizations.

    Scholars are now more interest in studying fashion, customs and other types of social activities and how these change over time. The Suzhou area is a primary area of interest, but scholars are more broadly interest in regional variation and the extent to which change in places like Suzhou is representative of larger trends in Ming society.

    There is an increasing interest in ordinary life, with a greater focus on change that is from the bottom upwards, rather than top down. This is partly due to the influences of western scholarship, but it also comes from a shifting consciousness among historians of the Ming as a reflection of changes in China today. With the increasing influence of commerce in Chinese society since the 1990s, scholars are now more interested in studying the place of merchants in Ming society and the activities and consciousness of these merchants. There is also a greater variety of sources used for the study of merchants. Scholars are examining the function of markets at different levels of the economy as well as commodity development in different regions.

    Historians are now more interested in foreign relations (also a reflection of China’s concerns since the 1990s). Formerly scholars were only interested in Ming relations with Japan and Korea. Now there is a renewed interest in the Portuguese, the Jesuits, and other westerners. Macao has been a hot topic since the time of its return to the PRC.

    There is an increase in the study of women. Women’s studies have been under-represented in the Ming, partly on the belief that women’s status was much lower in the Ming than in other periods. There is a new interest in the daily lives of women, in their consciousness and in their world-view.

    Scholars are now employing more interdisciplinary approaches that include the fields of law, art, religion and other areas.

    In summary, there is generally great progress in recent years in developing new fields of study, new methods and new perspectives.

  10. Sarah Schneewind moderated a discussion of sources for studying the Ming, “Possibilities and Pitfalls.”
    Below is a summary of the panel discussion.

    Tom Nimick discussed his work on administrators. He pointed out the unreliability of some “facsimile reprints.” He has found frequent cases where editors have hand-written characters in where the reprinting has been illegible, resulting in some errors.

    Tom noted that gazetteers vary considerably in terms of the information they provide and that authorship is a key issue. All gazetteers are political documents and represent particular dynamics of political partisanship at the local level.

    Tom discussed his use of administrative handbooks and their problems. Many of these include material copied from earlier handbooks, and tracing the filiation of these materials is difficult.

    In his studies of records of administrators, Tom has found that these materials are frequently doctored by the disciples of an individual, by local people seeking leverage or ingratiation, or by those seeking to tarnish his image.

    Tom also discussed the problems of legal case-files, including model case files, hypothetical model case files, case files within memorials, etc. Some of these bear close resemblance to stories from popular fiction.

    Ann Waltner recommended an article by Joe Dennis on the politics of gazetteer-writing. (“Between Lineage and State: Extended Family and Gazetteer Compilation in Xincheng County,” forthcoming in Ming Studies).

    Ann discussed the larger questions of determining whether one’s sources are fictional or not, and the ways in which the status of the text determines how we read it. Difficulties emerge particularly with texts that lie on the borders, such as memoirs, funerary inscriptions, etc.

    Maram Epstein discussed the study of fiction. She pointed out that reading Ming novels present similar problems to reading historical documents. To what extent can cultural history be drawn out of fiction? What are the discursive limits of these texts? How realistic are the images presented?

    One example of these issues lies in the aesthetics of qing (emotion) as opposed to the aesthetics of ritual propriety. Maram suggests that filial piety is the locus of concern for issues surrounding sex, gender, the body, etc. and therefore is malleable as a trope. There are different types of filial piety in different types of texts. Work such as that of Matthew Sommer has shown social practices that differ significantly from those represented in fiction.

    Maram suggests that all of this suggests the utility of reading across genres and examining the interplay between fiction and other types of discourse.

    Katy Ryor discussed the use of art objects as sources that are as useful and as problematic as other types of historical sources.

    Katy discussed the ways in which the study of these sources often leads one in different directions than one intended. She cited the example of her studies on the playwright Xu Wei. It was pointed out to her that Xu received considerable patronage from military officials and that this needs to be taken into account in examining his place in the world of art, literature and patronage in the late Ming. This points out the utility of discussing one’s work with people in other disciplines.

  11. It was moved that next year the Ming Studies evening meeting be scheduled for Friday at 7:00pm, instead of the usual 9:00 slot. The measure passed.

Respectfully submitted,

Peter Ditmanson, Secretary for the Society of Ming Studies

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