In This Article Ming Dynasty

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Guide to Sources and Scholarship
  • Collections of Source Materials
  • Specialized Journals
  • The Fall of the Ming

Chinese Studies Ming Dynasty
by
David Robinson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0072

Introduction

Relative to other time periods in Chinese history, modern scholarly research came late to the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), which was often held in ill odor. The charges against the Ming were legion: its rulers were vicious autocrats; it wasted its technological lead over the rest of the globe; it myopically turned inward just when western Europe began its Age of Discovery; the state and a complacent literati elite allowed the “sprouts of capitalism” to wither before they could bloom; and, finally, Ming’s incompetence led to a foreign occupation that lasted into the 20th century. Focusing on the humanist tradition, much post–World War II Western scholarship, in contrast, saw much that merited exploration—the place of the individual in society, the growth of vernacular literature and theater, and fascinating developments in art, thought, and belief. Although Chinese and Japanese scholars shared such interests, they devoted greater attention to socioeconomic developments such as a growing commercial economy, increasingly commoditized economic relations, urbanization, and regional and even national market integration. For those interested in long-term socioeconomic and intellectual trends, whether socioeconomic or intellectual questions, dynastic divisions seemed artificial and superficial. Thus many cast the Ming as one half, often the humbler half, of the Ming-Qing period, stretching from the 14th to 19th centuries. More recently, some scholars have instead argued that the early 12th to early 15th centuries constituted a distinct historical epoch, the “Song-Yuan-Ming transition.” Yet others see the Ming, like Muscovite Rus, the Timurids, and the Ottomans, as one among many successor states to the Mongol Empire, highlighting synchronic ties across Eurasia over diachronic continuity with previous dynasties. Such contending conceptualizations result both from divergent research foci and from the lack of consensus about the wider significance of the Ming period in Chinese and global history.

Introductory Works

The best single-volume introduction to the Ming period is Dardess 2012. Slightly more detailed but still engaging are the relevant chapters of Mote 1999. Mote and Twitchett 1988 and Mote and Twitchett 1998 are invaluable points of departure for those who want greater depth; both contain an extensive bibliography of works in Western and East Asian languages that include primary sources and secondary scholarship. In contrast to the preceding works, which feature political narrative, Brook 2010 places greater stress on climate, commerce, and social/cultural history. Goodrich and Fang 1976 provides biographical notes on hundreds of important figures from the Ming period.

  • Brook, Timothy. The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. History of Imperial China. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2010.

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    A leading historian of the Ming dynasty, Brook supplements his expertise in commerce, trade, transportation, and administrative structures with attention to climate change and its consequences to illustrate patterns of underlying continuity between the Yuan and Ming periods.

  • Dardess, John W. Ming China, 1368–1644: A Concise History of a Resilient Empire. Critical Issues in World and International History. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012.

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    A concise and insightful synthesis of a lifetime of teaching and research by a leading scholar of the Ming period. Intended for undergraduate courses but useful for specialists too.

  • Goodrich, Luther Carrington, and Fang Chaoying. Dictionary of Ming Biography, 1368–1644: The Ming Biographical Project of the Association for Asian Studies. 2 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976.

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    Written by leading figures in the field, each entry provides essential biographical and bibliographical information on hundreds of key figures from the Ming period.

  • Mote, Frederick W. Imperial China, 900–1800. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

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    Another readable and insightful synthesis of a lifetime of teaching and research. Nearly a third of the book is devoted to the Ming. Mote also provides an excellent bibliography of the best secondary scholarship.

  • Mote, Frederick W., and Denis Twitchett. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 7, The Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644, Part 1. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

    E-mail Citation »

    A detailed political narrative history divided by the reigns of individual emperors and written by leading specialists.

  • Mote, Frederick W., and Denis Twitchett. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 8, The Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644, Part 2. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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    This volume is organized thematically, including chapters on government, socioeconomic changes, foreign relations, religion, intellectual history, and sources.

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