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1587, A Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-0300028843 ISBN-10: 0300028849 Edition: 8.11.1982

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 8.11.1982 edition (September 10, 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300028849
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300028843
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #286,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Yet this book was certainly written with an eye on contemporary Chinese and China.
It just happened that I was mentoring one of their ex-alumni when I stumbled on this book and I could not let it go- I had to have my own copy.
Jean-pierre Petits
Although 1587 happened to be a year in the Ming Dynasty, this book in fact provides a great point of view to the macro history of China.
Ning Zhao

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

167 of 169 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 17, 1997
Format: Paperback
Para1: A scholarly work that is easily accessible to non-specialists, historian Ray Huang's ironically subtitled 1587: A Year of No Significance focuses on the Ming Emperor Wan-li--who rose to the throne and the age of eight and who reigned for 48 years--and five other figures in the court of the decadent, doomed Ming Dynasty. This is an off-beat masterpiece of both history and biography, learned yet chatty, steeped in the dense, ancient imperial chronicles yet surprisingly contemporary in its oblique illuminations of contemporary Chinese political culture through the prism of history.

Para2: Huang's approach is is reminiscent of Kurosawa's in Roshomon, employing multiple points of view from the imperial court in seeking to expose and foreshadow the demise of the Ming. We meet archetypes from the drama of Chinese history: the Machiavellian chief minister, the perceptive but disregarded general, the anguished philosopher, and, at the story's center, the eccentric Wan-li emperor himself. In choosing to write about Wan-li, Huang is able to create a measure of narrative tension unusual in Chinese historical writing, because by the Year of the Pig, 1587, the emperor has ceased to fulfill his prescribed role in rite and ritual as the embodiment of moral order. Wan-li's behavior causes great agitation among his courtiers, bureaucrats, retainers, imperial wives and concubines, eunuchs, and slaves, each of whom occupies a carefully defined place in the regimented life inside the walls of the Imperial Compound and who, without punctilious observances by the emperor, is without a fixed point of reference.

Para3: A special feature of this book is the wonderful chapter on the incorruptible censor Hai Rui, who dared impeach the Emperor.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By macktheknife on June 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
A reviewer below has already done an excellent job of summarizing the book, so I can only hope that my review can serve as a complement. "1587" is essentially an examination of why the Ming dynasty--an institution that commanded great wealth and governed a vast nation--was already showing signs of decay and its impending collapse under the reign of the Wanli emperor. Ray Huang does an excellent job to show how cultural inertia and an institution that governed miserably effectively neutralized the voice and power of individual participants. The Ming dynastic system did not tolerate loyal opposition and was not designed for ministers or individuals to discuss opposing views in an orderly manner, which meant that power struggles were bound to be ugly as rival ministers and bureaucrat employed moral arguments to tarnish each others' reputation. Avenues for advancement within government amounted to a zero-sum game in which an official's effectiveness in governance was a barometer of his morality (bound with tradition and Confucian precepts open to interpretation). Imagine if your local mayor was judged not on his or her effectiveness or merit, but on whether he or she was a morally upright individual who was adhering to both the spirit and traditions of the past.
The Ming imperial system also placed a greater value on the institution and sought to dehumanize the emperor. The emperor was the emperor--he was not Wanli, not Jiajing, etc. The bureaucrats and officials--whose power was constrained individually--exercised great power as a group, effectively dictating how the emperor should act, behave, and present himself to the public.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Ning Zhao on January 3, 2007
Format: Paperback
The history of China is long and it is very difficult to get a clear idea about the logic behind the countless events happened during the last several thousand years in China. I've read many books on China's history, both Chinese ones and English ones. This book has been the most inspiring one among those I've read.

In this book, Dr. Ray Huang showed the readers the picture of the Chinese people's life around the year 1587: from the emperor's depression caused by lacking of freedom due to the structure of China's politics, to officers' rise and fall, to the common people's mundane life. As the big picture rolling out little by little, the logic behind China's history was clearer and clearer. There was a fatal problem in Chinese politics: the politic structure was premature but the administrative methods to support the structure never grew up and never based on sensible mathematics. Technologies were never paid enough attention to. When the population and economic developed and developed, the naive administrative methods could not sustain the whole economic system any more. However, any technical innovation for supporting the economic grow was hardly allowed due to moral or philosophical tradition. Some officers had been very smart, the emperor had been very ambitious, the Chinese people had been very diligent. However due to many problems, these individual efforts never really worked out to save the dynasty from declining. Dr. Huang saw these problems based on his decades of research on Ming Dynasty's taxing system. In this book he showed the readers how these problem impacted all aspects of life of the people from different classes.

Dr. Huang's research method is scientific and the conclusion is convincing.
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