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By H. Miller

This booklet seems on the sour factionalism within the final days of China's Ming Dynasty as an ideological fight among scholar-officials who believed that sovereignty resided within the imperial country and those that believed that it resided with the realized gentry.

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Additional resources for State versus Gentry in Late Ming Dynasty China, 1572–1644

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With the fiscal situation unimproved, more voices complain of gentry recalcitrance, while the Restoration Society members accuse the state of avarice. Higher taxes, levied by the state and evaded by the gentry, lead to popular uprisings, which destroy the dynasty. Many Restoration Society members appear to sacrifice themselves for the Ming lost cause, but this heroism is in itself yet another claim of sovereignty. It is hoped that this narrative, describing the six alternating phases of ascendancy of two philosophically demarcated factions, might lend some much-needed structure to the history of late Ming faction, which often appears as a formless, chaotic melee.

Zhang’s ten-year hold on power was the first of six alternating regimes (or subregimes, since they tended to be shorter than the reigns of the various emperors), in which either the Legalist idea of the sovereignty of the state or the Confucian idea of the sovereignty of the gentry prevailed. These alternating ideological regimes have suggested the chapter organization for this book, the synopsis of which is as follows: Chapter I—Zhang Juzheng, 1572–1582: Ruling as de facto prime minister during the minority of the Wanli emperor, Zhang endeavors to subordinate the gentry to the state.

Gao Gong was concerned that bureaucratic postings had become little better than sinecures. “When the country (guojia) employs someone,” he declared, “it is with the expectation that he will assist the government. ” Zhang’s remarks allude to the idea of bureaucratic performance evaluations by which he hoped (and would succeed in doing, after 1572) to improve government efficiency. The grand secretaries’ other major policy objective was to stabilize the frontiers, against both the Mongols in the north and the Sino-Japanese pirates in the south.

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