A Political Life in Ming China: A Grand Secretary and His Times

Overview

This fascinating history uncovers the hidden political world of Ming China, exploring how the most powerful man in mid-sixteenth-century China steered the empire through the worst crises it had ever faced. Distinguished scholar John W. Dardess traces the life of Chief Grand Secretary Xu Jie (1503?1583), the leading politician-statesman in the China of his time. Drawing on years of research, Dardess uses Xu Jie?s extensive letters to officials in the field and reports of conversations with the emperors he served ...

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A Political Life in Ming China: A Grand Secretary and His Times

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Overview

This fascinating history uncovers the hidden political world of Ming China, exploring how the most powerful man in mid-sixteenth-century China steered the empire through the worst crises it had ever faced. Distinguished scholar John W. Dardess traces the life of Chief Grand Secretary Xu Jie (1503–1583), the leading politician-statesman in the China of his time. Drawing on years of research, Dardess uses Xu Jie’s extensive letters to officials in the field and reports of conversations with the emperors he served to show just how difficult it was to defend the empire. His correspondence vividly shows how he organized its defenses and shepherded it through the twin crises of raids along the thousands of miles of continental and maritime frontiers in the 1550s and 1560s. The book traces his origins, his rise to power, and his engagement with the leading Confucian school of his time, that of Wang Yangming and his electrifying ethical teachings. Dardess describes how Xu used those teachings to build a following and leverage his way up the Ming bureaucracy. He shows how Xu was able both to suppress corruption and liberalize bureaucratic procedures. At the same time, the book highlights the psychological strain Xu suffered as a result and the vindictive and nearly lethal attacks directed at him after his retirement. Arguing that Xu was instrumental to the survival of the Ming dynasty through a long period of severe stress, Dardess tells his long-neglected story in rich and engrossing detail.

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Editorial Reviews

Peter Bol
John Dardess has once again shown that he is a master of Ming history. Now he has resurrected the genre of political biography in a study of Grand Secretary Xu Jie and, through the contextualization of his letters, given us a string of insights into the workings of sixteenth-century politics.
Kenneth J. Hammond
A strong original contribution to the field of Ming history, and indeed of imperial Chinese history more broadly. It is a treasure trove of research. John Dardess’s use of Xu Jie’s letters is phenomenal, and his familiarity with Chinese scholarship, both classical and contemporary, is masterful. He not only illuminates the basic concerns of the Ming state, but also shows in compelling detail how officials managed affairs and how personal ambition and policy differences combined to animate imperial political life. His book will be very welcome for scholars and students of the Ming and of imperial Chinese history overall.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442223776
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/25/2013
  • Pages: 220
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

John W. Dardess is professor emeritus of history at the University of Kansas.

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Table of Contents

Introducing Xu Jie
Chapter 1: A Star Ascending
Chapter 2: As Grand Secretary: On Jiangxue and on War in the North
Chapter 3: The Coast
Chapter 4: Chief Grand Secretary
Chapter 5: Bowing Out

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