2010 Minutes

Ming Studies Evening Meeting, 7:00pm., March 26, 2010, AAS Conference, Philadelphia, PA

The meeting was called to order by President Jiang Yonglin. Approximately 34 people attended the meeting.

Part I: Society Business

Peter Bol introduced the Chinese Biographical Database Project, which originated with the work of Robert M. Hartwell (1932 – 1996), and now a joint project of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University, the Institute of History and Philology of Academia Sinica, and the Center for Research on Ancient Chinese History at Peking University. He invited members of the Society of Ming Studies to get involved in the project and to consider ways in which the database can be expanded into the Ming period. (For more information, see the project website at http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k16229.)

  • Kim Besio and Fei Siyan were elected as representatives of the Board of Ming Studies to replace Roland Higgins and Maram Epstein who are stepping down.
  • The Treasurer Ted Farmer reported that the Ming Studies budget is healthy and that the transition of the journal to Maney Publications has gone smoothly. For more information, see the Maney Ming Studies webpage at http://maney.co.uk/index.php/journals/mng/).
  • Ken Hammond reported that Volume #60 of the Journal of Ming Studies will be coming out soon, and that #61 is underway.
  • Martin Heijdra announced that the Geiss Foundation continues to support research on Ming Dynasty topics. The Foundation will be sponsoring a conference on Ming princely estates in 2011 at Colgate University, presided over by David Robinson. The Foundation is also offering 2-4 grants per year of up to $7500 to help subsidize the publication of books on Ming topics. It is expected that most of these grants will be applied for by the publisher.

Part II: Panel on Late Ming Urban Life

“Spaces of Leisure and Consumption in Late Ming Jiangnan Cities”

By Wu Jen-shu 巫仁恕 of the Academia Sinica

Jen-shu discussed the evolution of urban space in terms of leisure and consumption in the late Ming, arguing that this evolution was shaped not just by economic factors, but also by cultural factors, moral values and human behavior. Jen-shu discussed the various sources used for this kind of research and a variety of observations.

  1. Paintings: Late Ming paintings such as the urban scenes painted by Qiu Ying(仇英) indicate more crowded conditions in cities but also more elaborate commodities available for consumption.
  2. Private leisure spaces were increasingly made accessible to the public as urban gentry opened up their gardens to display their wealth and achievement. From the mid-Ming onward, trends indicated a growing perception of the need for public space.
  3. At the same time that public leisure space was emphasized, gentry also increasingly sought to create space that was not crowded with commoners. With disdain for places that were too popular, the elite sought out or created spaces that ordinary people couldn’t go.
  4. Gender: Consumption and leisure trends had important gender implications, as city women often went touring. Some traders (often female peddlers) brought merchandise to women’s homes, so that they could shop in private.

Leisure consumption was an important feature of late Ming urbanity and a major driving force in the transformation of urban space.

“Urban environment, crimes, and the rootless in late imperial China”

By Wu Yanhong 吴艳红, Adrian College.

Yanhong discussed data on “rootlessness” as a social category of unregistered persons or persons outside of the officially sanctioned categories in the Ming period. She began by referring to an edict from the Chenghua era (1465-87) that raised concerns about dangerous and unregistered persons in the capital region, and she examined the extent to which these concerns were a response to real conditions or a more generalized stereotype. Yanhong indicated that one of the challenges with such studies is that Chinese and western categories of urban and rural population are often different.

Yanhong examined regulations and court cases in an attempt to measure the realities of crimes caused by the unregistered populace, particularly in urban areas. She found that only a small number of regulations were promulgated to deal specifically with urban crime, suggesting that it was not perceived to be a serious problem. Legal casebooks reported only a small amount of crime in urban areas. Nor did the “rootless” category of persons figure significantly in legal documents or casebooks.

“`Actually Full of Want and Distress’?–Reputation and Reality in Late Ming Suzhou”

By Michael Marme, Fordham University.

Michael presented his perceptions of wealth and poverty in late Ming Suzhou, partly in response to reviews of his own work by other scholars. He raised some of the issues in estimating the population of Suzhou, a “world-class city” whose population, including suburbs, stood around ½ million in 1600.

Michael discussed the clashing images that prevail about living conditions in Suzhou in the 16th and 17th centuries—a city of great affluence or a city of great poverty. Suzhou affluence emerged in the late 15th and early 16thcentury, with the wealthy benefiting from a large labor force. Amidst this affluence, however, there was significant anxiety as clans often found it difficult to sustain their economic stature. In particular, statistical data indicates that reproducing examination success was extremely difficult.

Michael also discussed the problems that the local administration faced in keeping order in the city of Suzhou.

“Urbanization and late Ming Nanjing: theories of urban life in Ming China”

By Fei Siyen 費絲言, University of Pennsylvania.

Siyen discussed the need to expand our theoretical paradigms for thinking about urban life in the Ming period, moving beyond the narratives of the silver trade and the monetization and commercialization of life in the cities. In her talk, she offered four examples of ways in which the development of urban life can be explored:

  1. Tax reforms. The populist efforts to reform the Nanjing tax system in the early 17thcentury reflect a shifting urban identity and a shift towards collection action on the part of city dwellers.
  2. Protests against the construction of city-walls and the conversion of a market-town to an administrative city. Such protests indicate an urban social class emerging with a unique urban consciousness.
  3. Urban guidebooks in Nanjing, maps, poetry collections and other publications indicate new ways of envisioning cities and their social networks.
  4. Urban biji 筆記 included important news and gossip that crossed social boundaries, spreading popular culture and discussing issues that were particular to urban life.

Siyen noted that we have studies that explore the ways in which the gentry migration to cities in the late Ming led to the deterioration of the rural order, but we still know little about how this migration affected urban life.

Discussion with the audience:

What about comparative studies of different Ming cities? Michael indicated that we still do not have thorough studies of enough Ming cities to do this properly.

Harriet Zurndorfer referred to a current GIS project in Hong Kong to study population and markets in Ming China, testing the thesis that markets increased while population did not.

What about the urban “soundscape”? Michael discussed the fact that dialects for reading Mandarin aloud emerge in urban materials.

There was further discussion of the “rootless” category in various contexts, including the movement of people through pilgrimage sites.

There were questions about urban prisons, though there seems to be a lack of data on this.

The meeting was adjourned for drinks.

Submitted by Peter Ditmanson, Secretary of Ming Studies.

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