Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Asian History. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 15 May 2021

Silver, Piracy, Conspicuous Consumption, and the Transformation of Ming China in the 16th Centuryfree

  • Harriet ZurndorferHarriet ZurndorferLeiden Institute for Area Studies, Leiden University


China historians have long recognized that the 16th century marked a significant shift in the economic, social, and cultural development of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). By then the program of the Ming founder Zhu Yuanzhang (also known as Emperor Hongwu, r. 1368–1398) to recreate the autarkic village economy envisioned by early Confucian thinkers, had crumbled. During the first decades of the 16th century, China experienced a flourishing commercialized economy of urban and rural markets, cash-cropping, specialized handicraft industries, and extensive interregional and illegal overseas trade that also allowed merchants easier access to wealth and status. Nevertheless, two major problems originating in Emperor Hongwu’s governing strategies continued to affect the well-being of the empire at this point. Both his policies, that is, to promote the use of paper money and thereby exclude silver as a medium of viable exchange, and to prohibit maritime commerce, meant that the economy operated under severe monetary constraints and that illicit trade along China’s littoral thrived. The Emperor himself had exacerbated the latter situation by utilizing the ship-building and nautical skills of southern Fujianese, known as Hokkien, to help streamline the Ryukyu islands into the Chinese tribute system for his own benefit, with the result that by the end of the 15th century, a complex trade system that stretched to both Southeast and Northeast Asia became the backdrop to 16th-century maritime disorder and mayhem.

Piracy up and down the coasts of Guangdong, Fujian, and Zhejiang provinces, was endemic in the 16th century, and drew all strata of coastal society, from fishermen and sailors to merchants and gentry, into a web of smuggling, trafficking, and illegal protection rackets. With the discovery of silver in Japan during the 1530s piracy intensified, and the littoral’s illicit trade expanded into stealthy commerce centered on the island Shuangyu (near Ningbo, Zhejiang) where merchants covertly exchanged large amounts of Jiangnan-made high-quality silks and other textiles for Japan’s precious ore, while Portuguese venturers supplied arms and goods from Southeast Asia to multiethnic (but mainly of Chinese origin) pirate gangs, known as wokou. The silver, however much wanted and needed in China, could not enter the country legally because the Ming government had suspended all trade with Japan in 1523. Attempts by the Ming authorities in the following decades to wipe out the wokou failed until 1566 when fighting ended, the maritime ban was lifted, and China became “flooded with money.”

With more silver available than ever before, the fortunes of the landed gentry elite as well as merchants steadily increased, leading them to engage in heightened levels of conspicuous consumption of goods and services. Commerce and connoisseurship fed off each other, as more and more rich people were able to acquire “things” and thereby distinguish themselves socially from others less well-off. While a small percentage of the literati elite engaged in discourses highlighting the market’s erosion of traditional mores, most people, including scholar-officials and the landed gentry, enjoyed their riches and pleasures. Their exuberant lifestyle would endure beyond the end of the 16th century.

Sixteenth-Century Ming China and the Hongwu Emperor’s Legacy

China historians have long recognized that the 16th century marked a significant shift in the economic, social, and cultural development of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).1 By then the policy of the Ming founder Zhu Yuanzhang (also known as Ming Taizu, or Emperor Hongwu [“Vast Martiality”]; r. 1368–1398) to recreate the autarkic village economy envisioned by early Confucian thinkers and thereby curtail (and potentially even eliminate) the market economy, had crumbled.2 Within 150 years of its formation, Ming Taizu’s fiscal system encompassing in-kind tax payments, conscripted labor service, and remuneration to officials and soldiers in goods rather than money gave way to a thriving commercialized economy of urban and rural markets, cash-cropping, specialized handicraft industries, and extensive interregional and illegal overseas trade, as well as a certain social fluidity that allowed merchants easier access to wealth and status.3 Nevertheless, despite these economic and social changes, the vitality and growing prosperity of 16th-century China faced a number of challenges which proved to be major sites of political debate and, eventually, violent conflict.

At the beginning of the 16th century two major problems originating in Emperor Hongwu’s governing strategies continued to affect the well-being of the empire. In 1371 the Emperor had decreed the haijin (maritime prohibitions) which forbade private sea trade and confined all foreign exchange to formal tribute trade missions.4 Given that maritime trade had been an important source of revenue during the Tang (618–907), Song (960–1279), and Yuan (1279–1368) dynasties, the Ming fiat against sea commerce seems an anomaly.5 One reason for the haijin proclamation may have been the upsurge in piracy along the Chinese coast where Japanese pirates known as wakō, in collaboration with local people, caused havoc during the Yuan–Ming transition period, compelling Emperor Hongwu to consolidate and strengthen his power over the littoral.6 But it is also likely that another reason for the sanction was the Emperor’s motivation to prevent the flight of precious metals and coins to foreign countries at a time when the Ming government was trying to establish a fiduciary monetary system.7

Both policies, that is, to prohibit maritime commerce and to create a paper currency, failed. The inconvertible paper currency (banchao), which in effect banned the use of gold and silver as well as state-issued bronze coin as money, could not function as a viable means of exchange, and by 1425 the notes were worth only 2 percent of their face value.8 Meanwhile, clandestine exchange along the Chinese littoral as well as overseas trade to and from Southeast Asia and the Ryukyu islands, continued unabatedly and intensified the numbers of ever-expanding smuggling enterprises that defied the control of local coastal authorities. By the close of the 15th century, with state-sponsored silver mining dwindling to insignificant levels,9 but rising levels of commerce that increased the demand for silver as currency, the economy was operating under severe monetary constraints. Un-coined silver which had deeply infiltrated the private economy already by the 1430s had become the principal means of exchange.10

It would take decades before the haijin was finally lifted in 1567 until which time the Chinese littoral experienced the first of three “great waves” of piracy, from 1522 to 1567, the age of the so-called wokou (wakō in Japanese).11 Unlike the earlier piratic incursions of the 14th century along the coasts of northern China and southern Korea, these later expeditions were much more widespread: the frequency of incidents and the geographical extent of these forays, that included inland pillaging, made a mockery of the official maritime policy.12 By the mid-16th century piracy had become endemic, and drew all strata of coastal society, from fishermen and sailors to merchants and gentry, into a web of smuggling, trafficking, and illegal protection rackets along the coasts of Guangdong, Fujian, and Zhejiang provinces. “Pirates in caps and gowns” (yiguan zhi dao) became a common expression in contemporaneous writings which analyzed how the same persons shifted from trade to plunder back to commerce, with the protection of local gentry and related officials.13 With the discovery of silver in Japan during the 1530s smuggling and piracy intensified, and the littoral’s illicit network expanded into large-scale stealthy enterprises exporting large amounts of high-quality silks and other textiles from Jiangnan (literally, ‘South of the Yangzi; i.e., what is modern Shanghai and surrounding localities) in exchange for Japan’s precious ore.14

The influx of silver into China boosted the mid-Ming economy and helped launch what one scholar has termed “China’s second commercial revolution” whereby regional specialty products reached markets all over China, and peripheral locales were absorbed into far-reaching commercial networks.15 With more silver available than ever before, the fortunes of the landed gentry elite as well as merchants steadily advanced, leading them to engage in increased levels of conspicuous consumption of goods and services. Commerce and connoisseurship fed off each other, as more and more rich people were able to acquire things and thereby distinguish themselves socially from others less well-off.16 At the same time the trappings of conspicuous consumption impelled a segment of Confucian-oriented literati to engage in discourses highlighting the market’s erosion of traditional mores.17 By mid-16th century this learned elite wrote explicitly about how the fruits of commerce—greater social mobility, rising living standards, easier access to luxuries, including the symbols of refinement—had more appeal to people of all classes than Emperor Hongwu’s dream of well-being based on frugal customs and a stable social hierarchy.18

Commercial profit in both the agricultural and handicraft sectors propelling ever-increasing levels of economic prosperity and social fluidity became the hallmark of 16th-century China despite the Ming government’s refusal to revoke the haijin and to legitimize foreign trade, thereby insuring a regular supply of silver. Such obstinacy on the part of the regime calls into question what barriers prevented policy changes. To be sure, the two emperors who ruled the first seven decades of that century were not exactly adept figures capable of coping within a changing world. Both the Zhengde (“Upright and Virtuous”) Emperor (r. 1506–1521), and the Jiajing (“Excellent and Serene”) Emperor (r. 1522–1566) gained reputations in their lifetimes for alcoholic excess and self-indulgence, respectively.19 And yet, notwithstanding sixteen years of the Zhengde Emperor’s irresponsible free-living style that drew him to Muslim girls and Tibetan monks while arranging for the abduction of hundreds of Chinese women for his Beijing harem but dying heirless,20 and forty-five years of the Jiajing Emperor’s autocratic mismanagement of the court that tolerated no interference by his bureaucratic advisers which left him in the long term without counsel and the government prey to ambitious officials protecting their littoral-based relatives involved in smuggling and brigandage, the imperial administration survived and maintained its resilience for another seventy years or so.21 Where the Ming government failed was to exploit for its own revenue the silver windfall that would have boosted imperial finances, and perhaps added yet another seventy years to the 276-year regime.

China’s Transition to a Silver Economy

China’s transition to a silver economy is a watershed in its long-term development, but its genesis began well before the 16th century during the time when large amounts of silver, first from Japan and then during the 1570s from the New World, penetrated the country and increased monetization and commerce. According to Richard von Glahn, it was the monetary changes China experienced from the 12th to the 14th centuries that primed the Ming dynasty’s turn to silver as the basis of its financial system. He argues that as the Southern Song (1127–1279) and Yuan governments initiated “moneys of account,” that is, multiple currency systems that allowed weights of silver as the basis of the fiscal regime, the foundation of a silver monetary standard was established.22 Both the bronze coins issued by the Song regime and the paper money of the Yuan government were backed by silver as a hard currency reserve, a condition which ultimately facilitated the shift to a silver unit as a standard money account in both public finance and private trade during the Ming.

The fiscal system inaugurated by Emperor Hongwu, which focused on the use of inconvertible paper money, was not altered by his successor the Yongle Emperor (r. 1402–1425). He overspent government revenue for foreign ventures—for example, Zheng He’s seven maritime expeditions, the invasion and occupation of northern Vietnam, and repeated military campaigns against Mongols on the northern border—all of which helped erode the value of paper currency even further. By the 1430s, the Ming government could no longer rely on its paper money system. Increasing amounts of the grain tribute tax from rich areas such as Jiangnan were commuted to payments of silver, and un-coined silver became a new monetary standard.23 During the 15th century, domestic peace and a relatively efficient communications infrastructure (canals and courier systems) ensured the movement of goods and services, and helped eradicate rural self-sufficiency, but it would still take decades before the Ming government conceded to accommodate its fiscal system in response to these changes. Even the attempt by the Ming statecraft scholar Qiu Jun (1420–1495) to convince fellow policymakers, based on his reading of the classical text Guanzi, that currency reform would facilitate commerce as well as increase state revenues, failed.24 He could not persuade others to recognize the central role of silver as a measure and store of value.

The discovery of copious silver deposits in Japan at Iwami and Sado in western Japan during the 1530s inaugurated East Asia’s “silver century,” and changed Ming China’s monetary system.25 Silver output in Japan grew dramatically after a Kyushu-based merchant Kamiya Jutei engaged Korean mining experts familiar with a Chinese cupellation technique to extract silver from ore.26 But the silver, however much wanted and needed in China, could not enter the country legally because the Ming government had suspended all trade with Japan in 1523, and thus the only way the silver could permeate China was by smuggling. It was at this point that bands of pirates, known as wokou, originating in southwest Japan, Korea, and China, and supported by Portuguese seafarers with sophisticated weaponry, built up extensive trading networks that exported raw silk, silk fabrics, lacquerware, and ingredients for Chinese medicine to Japan in exchange for silver.27 At Shuangyu, an island near Ningbo, the Europeans, who had been barred from China since 1522 after trying some five years first peacefully and then belligerently to engage in trade at Guangzhou, built a trading emporium with their Chinese allies, facilitating the exchange of Chinese wares for the Japanese precious metal.28

In 1548 government forces destroyed Shuangyu, propelling the smuggler pirates (including the Portuguese) back to southern coastal Fujian at Zhangzhou’s infamous port Yuegang, which for decades had “funneled” Southeast Asian exotic goods into a market there, attracting Jiangnan merchants eager to exchange raw silk and silk textiles for these items. The Portuguese who had reached Japan in 1543 thanks to their close ties with Wang Zhi (?–1560), the so-called “pirate king” of Japan, started to import guns and other weaponry (along with Chinese saltpeter and textiles) in exchange for Japanese silver, which they exported to Shuangyu until its annihilation. Thereafter they too switched their smuggling operation to Zhangzhou. In the next seven years or so, however, they tried and succeeded to distance themselves from Chinese pirates, transferring their enterprises to Shangchuan and Langbaigang, small islands off the coast of Guangdong province.29 It was from there that the Europeans were able to negotiate with the authorities in Guangzhou and secure a permanent leasehold in 1557 at Macao, which became their East Asian trading hub for the next 442 years. Their so-called “black ships” (kurofune) regularly sailed from Macao laden with Chinese silks to western Japan in exchange for Japanese silver, and thus the Portuguese became China’s monetary envoi. Such largesse on the part of the Ming government to allow a foreign power to convey the precious ore and thereby deny Chinese traders the same privilege is indicative of the Jiajing court’s bungling of its financial administration. Fiscal mismanagement throughout the Jiajing reign along with tremendous costs for frontier defense had left the imperial treasury completely depleted.30 Meanwhile, at Yuegang tens of thousands of inhabitants continued their smuggling businesses as the Chinese appeal for silver vastly exceeded the capacities of the Portuguese to meet the demand for the metal. Arguably too, the expansion of China’s commercial economy, “by raising the demand for media of exchange, attracted silver from abroad and promoted foreign trade.”31

The influx of silver into China added to the country’s already burgeoning commercial expansion, prompting changes in agricultural production from rice to cash crops for export, including silk, sugar, and later tea and tobacco.32 Ming popular literature registers the triumphs of ordinary people who expanded their business networking, in Jiangnan’s mercantile hubs: selling Songjiang-made cloth in Yangzhou and buying grain there to market in Suzhou, and thereby profiting by the silver-fed commercial economy.33 The place of silver in 16th-century China also entered the discourses of the scholar-literati. In his essay “The Silver Obsession,” the Hangzhou-born writer Tian Yiheng (1524–?) wrote about the allure as well as the toxicity of silver which he thought sent men to “self-destruction.”34 Tian Yiheng was not alone with his critique of silver imports—another outspoken critic included Feng Zhang (jinshi 1538) who was convinced that foreign trade furnished little of value. In 1551, he memorialized to the court: “What we get from the trade is nothing but some cheap and useless things.”35 Such remarks, however well meant to buttress the value of self-sufficiency and to discourage smuggling practices, would become rare once the repeal of the haijin in 1567, one year after the Jiajing Emperor’s death, came into effect. But the lifting of the ban brought other worries to the fore concerning counterfeit specie and the authenticity of silver ingots.36

By the 1570s, China also acquired silver from the New World via Manila where Chinese merchants brought silk and silk products, other textile fineries, metals, and porcelain in exchange for the silver produced in Mexico and Peru and shipped to the Philippines.37 The arrival of Latin American silver carried by Chinese merchants from Manila to Chinese ports would only add to Portuguese deliveries of the Japanese product. The peak of the heyday of silver importation from the Philippines to China was 1595 to 1615. With soaring amounts of silver entering China from both Japan and Manila, late 16th-century China was, as one historian writes, “awash with money.”38 Von Glahn estimates that in the second half of the 16th century, China imported at least fifty tons of silver per year, but during the first four decades of the 17th century, the annual import reached 115 tons or more, with Japanese silver overtaking that from Latin America after 1620.39 Silver also had great arbitrage value: in 16th-century China, the market value of silver was double its value elsewhere.40 During the “silver century” gold flowed out from China, and with an average gold/silver ratio of 1:6,41 while silver rushed in. Arbitrage also meant that 100 catties (1 catty = 0.6 kg) of silk might be sold for 100 ounces of silver in China, but the same amount of silk sold in Manila would fetch 200 ounces from Spanish buyers.42

Such silver riches did not cause a reorganization of the Ming economy in the interests of the state, however. Despite the expansion of agriculture and commerce, the government did not inaugurate any new kinds of taxes to generate extra revenue nor did it incorporate the vast silver quantities of silver importation into its fiscal strategies. Although the Ming authorities did replace many in-kind taxes with silver payments, tax rates remained the same as those established in the first decades of the dynasty.43 One may argue, as does Von Glahn, that with the falling purchasing power of silver as imports of the metal flooded China’s domestic market, the value of silver revenues actually declined compared to the 15th century.44 This situation may have directed Ming fiscal authorities to fear a dependency on foreign silver and to distrust the ability of precious metals, or any commodity money, to fulfill the necessary functions of money.45 In any event, the tide of illicit maritime trade and piracy that had spurred the illegal importation of silver in the first place came to an end by 1570 and Ming China’s silver economy “flowered” for the next fifty years.

Piracy and China’s Silver Economy

The wave of piracy that hit the Chinese littoral starting in the 1520s began on a small scale, with local merchant-smugglers from Guangdong and Fujian provinces joining Portuguese and other foreigners based in Southeast Asia and Japan, taking advantage of the irregular coastal terrain of narrow coves, inlets, and offshore islands, to hide both exotic goods and daily necessities, and from there to deliver these items to offshore communities economically dependent on these cargoes. The seemingly sudden rise of piracy along the Chinese coast after nearly 125 years of relative peace and stability may be attributed to three events:46 the expulsion of the Portuguese from China in 1522 and the prohibition of Chinese people engaging in trade with them;47 the 1523 Ningbo incident whereby rival Japanese trade missions vied with each other to present tribute which resulted in widespread pillage to the city, a naval battle between Chinese and Japanese forces ending in Chinese defeat, and the expulsion of all Japanese;48 and the creation of the international smuggling emporium circa 1523 at Shuangyu island, which served maritime traders from Portugal (and their international crews), Japan, Southeast Asia, and China.49 One should also add to this list the installation of the Jiajing Emperor who came to the throne at age thirteen with little grasp of maritime issues and thereby fell easily under the sway of the court’s anti-trade faction persuading him to enforce the haijin strictly.50

These occurrences highlight several universal political, economic, and cultural facets of piracy: first, piracy is closely related to commerce; second, piracy is tied to the actions of states anxious to prevent political disorder; and third, piracy interacts with cultural claims to legitimacy, that is, piracy may represent a challenge to the norms of traditional authority.51 The close connection between commerce and piracy is summed up in the observation by Chinese literati pronounced even before the 1520s: “Pirates and traders are the same people. When trade flourishes, pirates become traders; and when trade is banned, traders become pirates.”52 The ambiguity of this distinction intersects with the history of one of China’s most eminent trading groups, the Hokkien merchants of southern Fujian (mainly the prefectures of Zhangzhou and Quanzhou), who since the 10th century had built up extensive maritime commercial networks all over Southeast and East Asia, from Sumatra to Korea, and continued to flourish, although in certain cases clandestinely, during the 15th century.53

The covert trade in which Hokkiens engaged during the 15th century relates to Emperor Hongwu’s move to turn the Ryukyu kingdom into a tributary state of China in 1372.54 The Emperor’s goal here was twofold: to channel the smuggling activities of the Kyushu-based wakō, who during the 14th century used Naha, the harbor of what is now Okinawa, as an operating station, into the lawful framework of tribute trade; and to dampen the effects of the haijin policy for his own household and military needs. The Ryukyu tribute offerings included horses and sulfur obtained from Japan for use in gunpowder-making, as well as precious goods such as sappan wood, pepper, and ambergris (used for making perfume and aphrodisiacs) from Southeast Asia, in exchange for Chinese gold silk brocades, permission to use the Chinese calendar, and most importantly, thirty Chinese-built ships and well-trained officers (of Hokkien descent) to direct these vessels.55 From the southern Fujian port Quanzhou, which was the official entry site of the Ryukyu tribute mission,56 the Ryukyu traders (and their Hokkien collaborators) carried Chinese medicinal herbs, minted coins, glazed ceramics, brocades, and textiles to Southeast Asian ports, including Malacca, Gresik (Java), Kalapa (Sunda), Palembang, Pattani, Ayutthaya—all Hokkien trading posts—and returned not only with these tribute items, but also rhino horn, tin, sugar, iron, Indian ivory, and Arabian frankincense.57 Thus, the Ming government outsourced foreign trade to Ryukyu, allowing that kingdom both access to the riches of Southeast Asia and the rights to convey Japanese goods such as swords to China, thereby serving as a diplomatic intermediary with Japan, while it officially censured the seafaring exploits of the Hokkien traders as smugglers. In sum, the trading activities of the Ryukyu kingdom demonstrate the economic integration of the East and South China Seas into a series of maritime networks but also the incongruities between Ming state policy and the realities of commercial exchange.

By the last quarter of the 15th century, however, the golden age of Ryukyu “tribute trade” began fading, and so the Hokkien merchants could no longer count on safe passage via the kingdom’s profitable “tribute missions.”58 During the 1520s, with the illegal infiltration of Portuguese along the Fujian coast, smuggling became more frequent while coastal security relaxed. The Ming dynasty Veritable Records document hundreds of instances of military men of all ranks not only disregarding those who engaged in smuggling and piracy but also participating in such illegal practices themselves.59 Coastal fortifications and patrol ships were in disrepair, while troop desertion and even mutiny became more frequent.60 The 1520s also saw the first established cartels of “maritime trade-cum-piracy” whereby Fujian natives banded with other well-known smuggling groups such as the infamous Xu brothers from Huizhou (Anhui province) who had extensive trading operations in Southeast Asia. This alliance helped lead the Portuguese to the international smuggling entrepȏt Shuangyu island. Here local gentry and merchants collaborated with Portuguese traders who supplied exotic items from Southeast Asia and employed Chinese intermediaries to oversee transactions between themselves and their customers. Besides sappan wood, spices, and ivory, the Europeans delivered weapons, including muskets, swords, and even naval cannon, and used bribes to procure government-regulated commodities such as rice and other necessities from local people.61 The Portuguese also received support from local magnates, including Lin Xiyuan (c. 1480–1560; js 1517), who became a wealthy and powerful “sea overlord,” operating from his southern Fujian base after having been a once respected official.62

One may consider these developments in relation to what is known as the “pirate cycle” whereby piracy slowly drifts from small and independent groups of individuals to a more complex organized hierarchy involving alliances with diversified peoples, and finally a powerful structure bonding with a recognized political state.63 Until the 1540s, the pirate depredations along the Chinese littoral featured diverse merchant-pirates, the wokou (or wakō; literally, “dwarf bandits”), the same pejorative name given by Chinese and Koreans to Japanese maritime raiders in the 14th century, but who in the 16th century were predominantly Chinese. At Shuangyu Japanese brought silver and weapons in exchange for Chinese silk, silk brocade, porcelain, fans, and pearls. As the wokou became more numerous and violent, their smuggling more intense and widespread, and their support from coastal gentry and local officials more vociferous and resolute, a number of court officials debated the virtues and vices of the haijin, which resulted in the decision to execute a military solution (as opposed to the lifting of the ban) to punish violators of the law.64 Grand Secretary Xia Yan (1482–1548) appointed an experienced career bureaucrat Zhu Wan (1494–1550) as Grand Coordinator (xunfu) of Zhejiang and, concurrently, Superintendent of Military Affairs for Zhejiang and Fujian Coastal Defense, to restore order along the littoral and rid the sea borders of smugglers, pirates, and their powerful supporters.65

Zhu began his mission in late 1547 in Zhangzhou where local officials refused to cooperate with him, despite an incursion by Portuguese there. In February 1548 while Zhu was still in Fujian, a large band of pirates raided Ningbo and Taizhou, “killing, burning, and looting without encountering any effective opposition from imperial forces.”66 This incident revealed the complexity of the relations between the pirates and the local elite: in exchange for their offer of warehouses to store their goods (which could be quite valuable), the trader-pirates gave cash deposits to local gentry in advance of their maritime expeditions. But often the local elite would refuse to return the deposits to the traders, and called in government troops to drive them away. In retaliation, on this particular occasion, the pirate-merchants raided these areas, destroying government buildings and private homes and killing their former business associates. According to the local officials’ point of view, they might turn a blind eye to the illegal trade itself, but as the violence grew worse, they recognized the need for help from the central government forces to prevent further conflict.

Zhu Wan attacked Shuangyu in June 1548, a time of the early southern monsoon when trading ships departed for Japan. Although Zhu destroyed the trading enclave, many of the pirates were able to escape to Japan, including the leading figures Li Guangtou and Wang Zhi. The Ming government approved Zhu’s actions, but local gentry and their political allies did not, and thus, not surprisingly, when Zhu’s own political ally Xia Yan was executed, he himself fell into difficulties, accused of exceeding his authority by executing a number of pirates in Fujian. After Zhu Wan committed suicide, a military vacuum ensued, unleashing the wokou’s large-scale attacks on Chinese cities and even long-distance expeditions inland along the Yangzi River.67 The wokou plunderers (estimated in the tens of thousands), said to have originated from Zhangzhou, Quanzhou, Fuzhou (Fujian), and Ningbo and Shaoxing (Zhejiang) wreaked havoc during the 1550s.68 In the meantime Wang Zhi had established his Japanese bases on the Goto islands and Hirado where there was already a Hokkien community present since 1535.69 With the support of several powerful daimyo groups, Wang Zhi directed his Chinese and Japanese followers to pillage the Chinese littoral. By 1555 his raiding parties were approaching the Jiangnan’s economic centers, Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Nanjing, with the entire region south of Hangzhou out of control.70

Wang Zhi’s motive was to convince the Ming authorities to revoke the haijin. Wang commanded a large trading fleet that was well armed, which he could turn into a private navy if need be. But his primary business was commerce, and thus it was in his interest to reduce piracy along the Chinese littoral. As a former minor military official, he had become familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of military leadership, while he had a keen sense how to mediate in business as well as among political-power holders.71 From 1555 Wang Zhi was in contact with Hu Zongxian (1512–1565), the most powerful civil and military official in the southeast at the time, and the leading figure in the campaign against him. Hu’s confidence to rid the littoral of pirates was raised after he defeated one of the most formidable wokou, Xu Hai, whom he tricked into believing he was on his side.72 Hu, who was aligned with government officials open to amending coastal trade policies, including Grand Secretary Yan Song (1480–1567), negotiated with Wang a proposal to open trade on the condition that Wang would help the government fight the remaining wokou.73 Wang Zhi returned to China aboard a large Japanese fleet led by Ōtomo Sōrin (1530–1587), considered the most aggressive of the Kyushu daimyo involved in maritime trade, who believed China was now ready to engage in regular trade with Japan.74 But after Wang turned himself over to the authorities, the Beijing court changed its mind about any kind of cooperation with him, and had him executed. Hu Zongxian went on to defeat those wokou remaining in Zhejiang and chased them to Fujian with support of the generals Yu Dayou (1503–1579) and Qi Jiguang (1528–1588), who were directing campaigns against the pirates.75 From 1563 to 1566 Ming forces were able to crush the remaining wokou forces, and soon after the Jiajing Emperor died in January 1567, the government set in motion a number of decrees repealing the haijin and introducing a number of statutes legalizing trade, including that entering Fujian’s main port Yuegang (Moon Harbor) now called Haicheng (Clear Seas), and re-establishing maritime customs offices and taxation and tariffs,76 although direct trade with Japan was still forbidden to Chinese shipping. Portuguese vessels operating from Macao provided the major conduit of Japanese silver in exchange for Chinese silk.77

The heyday of the pirate incursions during the 1550s and 1560s coincided with difficulties along China’s northern border where a Mongol federation under the leadership of Altan Khan raided frontier regions in order to obtain silk and foodstuffs, and forced the Ming government to defend itself in a costly military campaign.78 Despite the differences in terrain and the invaders themselves, the Ming state considered both problems in terms of boundary violations leading to lawlessness and violence. In both instances, the Ming government did not see the northern frontier and the littoral as opportunities for gaining revenue, and instead enacted military solutions which heightened ever greater levels of conflict and tension at court as well as along the peripheries.79 But once the government was able to put down the worst excesses of both incursions, and military security was assured,80 it could choose to innovate, and in the case of the littoral, move forward toward the legalization of maritime trade at Haicheng, allowing a certain number of Chinese ships to sail to foreign ports, mainly to Southeast Asia each year, on the condition they paid license, customs, and cargo fees to the state.81 For the next fifty years, peace and prosperity brought ever more rising wealth to China, and with the influx of American silver, its greater importance to the global economy.

Conspicuous Consumption

Sixteenth-century China’s affluence manifested itself in myriad ways: in clothing and accessories, food and drink, houses and gardens, as well as art and book collections.82 What distinguished this phase of material opulence from earlier episodes of rising prosperity in China were twofold. First, the degree by which those with wealth indulged their desires and fantasies from the mid-Ming onward defied the scale of earlier manifestations of extravagant lifestyles, even those originating in the Song dynasty, as described by Marco Polo. The second way Ming conspicuous consumption differed from earlier displays of luxury and riches was its violation of government regulations concerning such spectacle: Ming sumptuary legislation, originating once again in the same dirigistic ambitions of Emperor Hongwu, aimed to maintain the symbols of the Ming hierarchical social order and to curb “useless luxury,” notably by members of the ruling elite. In the second part of Emperor Hongwu’s Great Proclamation (Ta kao) of 1386, there is a section “Going Beyond One’s Status in Life” in which the Emperor criticizes “those who ought to use silver tableware and yet use gold, those who ought to dress in cotton but prefer to wear brocaded silk, or those who wear golden jewelry when they should not.”83 Ming Taizu was particularly concerned with sartorial rules. Not only did he see clothing as a means to re-establish Han Chinese identity after the Yuan Mongol regime’s violation of Confucian dress and ritual prescriptions, he also considered the regulation of attire a tool to maintain social class structure, and thereby ensure social stability.84

But just like the original fiats that curbed the use of silver in the economy and prohibited overseas trade, Ming sumptuary rules were no longer enforceable in the 16th century. And like these two matters that transcended Emperor Hongwu’s visions, conspicuous consumption was discussed in the writings of 16th-century contemporaries in terms of moral discourse. On the one hand, there were those writers who saw “economic justification for spending,” such as Lu Ji (1515–1552), a Songjiang scholar who defended conspicuous consumption with the premise that those who supply the luxury market profit too through payment for their labor.85 Thinking of the weavers and sellers of fine silk textiles, or those who provide services, such as steering sightseeing boats, carrying sedan chairs, or selling sex (i.e., singsong boys and dancing girls) to the wealthy, Lu Ji argues for the economic utility of lavish spending because it boosts the incomes of producers and purveyors of goods and services. Similarly, the Huizhou scholar Ye Quan (1522–1578) considered the economic lifeline of Hangzhou’s West Lake to be the rich and indulgent people who frequented the place as a tourist spot and gave work and income to the local people.86 On the other hand, some 16th-century contemporaries wrote about their displeasure with men whose passion for “things” contradicted traditional values and ways of life. For example, Fang Feng (js 1508), critiqued the social decadence and, by implication, moral turpitude of pursuing wealth and luxury, extravagant fashion and sexual pleasures, and overspending on entertainment and family occasions such as weddings in his native Suzhou.87 Also, Tian Yiheng, mentioned for his negative comments on the impact of silver, expressed his disapproval of those who flagrantly disregarded the Ming sumptuary laws governing private home decoration and women’s clothing, complaining that even “singsong girls” were known to dress in brocaded silks and embroidered gowns.88

Changing clothing fashions were, in particular, an obvious rebuke of the Great Proclamation, which regulated dress according to sex, class, and occupation. Sixteenth-century China was an age and place when and where the cut of a hat, the style of a tunic, or the length of an over-gown expressed great significance for the both wearer and the observer.89 Various editions of the Collected Statutes of the Great Ming (Da Ming huidian) perpetuated the rules of dress in minute detail for each social rank—from scholar-official to peasant, from empress to common woman—styles and materials for tops and skirts, and decorations (including rank emblems), jewelry, and headdresses. By the mid-16th century women of the lower classes were emulating the sartorial privileges of the scholar-gentry class and dressing in silk and fur.90 In China’s wealthiest cities, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, and Yangzhou, commoner and merchant families flaunted their wealth in clothing and accessories which demonstrated how they too had profited from the technological improvements in textile-making and its commercialization.91 One of the best portrayals of what was wrong with such fashion displays, as well as other facets of conspicuous consumption in food, housing, and not least erotic behavior, is in the novel The Plum in the Golden Vase (Jin Ping Mei).92 This work is a powerful critique of materialism and social fluidity in 16th-century China.

The mid-Ming thrust to obtain “things” was also accompanied by a desire to demonstrate the ability to procure the unusual, the exotic, which preferably came from afar. The products smuggled by the pirates at Shuangyu for sale to the Jiangnan elite included the precious goods of Southeast Asia that were once delivered as tribute by the Ryukyu kingdom: tropical woods (favored by the Suzhou elite for their furniture), ambergris, perfumes, and rare aphrodisiacs. The acquisition of such items by Jiangnan-based buyers was an indication not only of their wealth but also the stature of their knowledge about imperial preferences and household inventories. Thus, not only how to behave as a consumer of things mattered to the rich and well endowed, but also how to gain possession of particular items with cachet was important for their self-identification. As such, those in the know about what was genuine and what was fake propelled some scholar individuals to compile handbooks for members of the elite to guide them along in the discourse according judgments of aesthetic taste and connoisseurship, a kind of “exercise in the invention of taste,” meant to soothe their anxieties over their place in the wealth-driven fluctuating Ming social hierarchy. As art historian Craig Clunas writes in his investigation of Ming-era connoisseurship literature, it was just not enough for the elite to own “superfluous things”—paintings, calligraphy, bronzes, ceramics, carved jade—members of this stratum also had to know how to talk about them, as a means to establish their superior knowledge vis-à-vis others within this rank. For their enlightenment, a number of writers “in the know” produced a series of texts beginning around 1550 to help restrict the downward extension of knowledge about “things” to the hoi-polloi.93

The diffusion of wealth and material prosperity in 16th-century China, born out of the inflow of silver, greater agricultural prosperity, the expansion of silk and cotton textile production, the increasing availability of specialized handicraft and luxury products, and not least, a relatively efficient transportation system that could move goods and people from both far away and nearby and thereby serve both local and interregional markets, prompted members of the learned elite to engage in debate about notions of frugality (jian) and extravagance (she), with the orthodox position: “only frugality ensured a fair dispersion of wealth.”94 But given that the most powerful men at court and beyond, such as the onetime Senior Grand Secretary Yan Song accumulated so much wealth—an exact list of which survived after his political downfall—it would seem moral torpor outweighed censure, and more and more 16th-century scholars and officials enjoyed the fruits of commerce and the marketplace.95 While the claim made by the scholar official Zhang Han (1511–1593) in 1593 that “the customs of the present age have reached an extreme of extravagance” was endorsed by others96—especially those like the scholar-gentleman He Liangjun (1506–1573) who wrote about the vulgarity of over-ostentation97—the power to display was never curtailed either by existing legislation or social rebuke. And one may argue, as does Clunas based on comments by Tian Yiheng, that “unrestrained hedonism,” typified in gambling, the procurement of handsome boy prostitutes favored by Beijing-based high officials, or the lavish meals enjoyed in expensive urban restaurants, had become the norm among those who could afford such pleasures.98


The influx of large quantities of silver, the pacification of the wokou, and the consumption of luxury goods and services all contributed to a certain magnetism and dynamism that distinguished 16th-century Ming China from the regime’s earlier history. How conscious contemporaries were aware of the differences between their age and that before may be assessed in both local gazetteer writing and personal memoirs expressing nostalgia for the “old days,” that is, before the Zhengde era when, according to these writers, “decay” had set in and “the moral conventions governing social life began to erode.”99 The decline of standards, according to some observers, originated in the growing gap between simple countryside life where chunhou fengsu (good and simple customs) prevailed and urban excess lured the uninitiated into easy ruin.100 Some writers mourned the old days of strict society hierarchy, when everyone knew his or her place and did not go above their station dressed in expensive fineries, riding in sedan chairs, and attending lavish banquets with innumerable courses of food and drink. On a local level, there was nostalgia for the years of peaceful trading (however illegal) between Fujian ports and Southeast Asia before 1522 when the Zhengde Emperor’s successor the Jiajing Emperor closed down foreign trade. Such action unleashed decades of smuggling, political discord at court, and violence along the littoral. And even after the import of silver was legalized and the economy stabilized, numbers of observers such as the Grand Secretary Xu Jie (1503–1583) who was one of Jiangnan’s richest landlords, lamented the decline of owner-cultivators and the rise in the numbers of tenant farmers. No doubt the old elite stratum who gained their wealth principally through land-holding felt under threat in the “commercializing whirl of the mid-Ming . . .”101

What is missing in these analyses is any expression of doubt about the consistency of Ming governance, which, during the period under review, revealed contradictory policies and strategies. For example, in less than thirty-five years, Portugal went from the status of foe to that of friend—how does one explain that after barring Portuguese traders from China and even recognizing their close alliance with the wokou, the Ming government granted them the license to import silver from Japan, and a few years later a leasehold (Macao) on Chinese territory? And earlier, during the 15th century when the haijin officially banned any private maritime commerce, how can one explain the Ming authorities employing Hokkien merchant seafarers to foster the Ryukyu tribute mission into a viable (and lawful) enterprise that supplied the imperial household with exotica and rarities from Southeast Asia as well as desirable goods from Japan, but turning a blind eye to the extensive (illegal) maritime networks these Fujian traders had built up in Northeast and Southeast Asia thanks to this arrangement? And finally, how could the Ming authorities for such a long time ignore the need for a regular supply of silver, and then once in possession of the precious ore not revise its own financial system to gain revenue from its importation and the commerce it spurred? In answer to these questions, one may reflect upon the regime’s weak ties between center and periphery, which, ironically, explain the strength of the Ming Empire’s resilience—the search for a viable currency and then the illegal importation of Japanese silver, the Ming court’s fluctuating policies on piracy between accommodative gestures toward gentry involvement and harsh putative military action against the marauders, and not least, a lax attitude toward the wealth and social mobility spawned by commercialization of the economy, demonstrate that whatever challenges Ming rulership faced during the 16th century, there was enough room within the polity to allow for inappropriate and even illegitimate local power suzerainty while the day-to-day business of running the central government persevered and survived.102

Discussion of the Literature

Early 21st-century scholarship on silver, piracy, and conspicuous consumption during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) may be considered the outcome of several decades of historiographical shifts in research about that era’s socioeconomic development. Until the second half of the 1970s, the Ming dynasty did not receive the same amount of attention in the academy as that afforded to the earliest periods by classical sinology, or to the last regime, that is, the Qing (1644–1912), by American scholarship under the aegis of John K. Fairbank (1907–1991) and his students, who became the first postwar generation to communicate the importance of the study of Chinese history.103 With the establishment of the journal Ming Studies in 1975 and plans made during the 1980s for two Ming volumes in the Cambridge History of China series, the “field” of Ming studies rapidly began to take on its own identity, with social-economic development now one particular facet of a broader interdisciplinary panorama of historical writing that drew from philosophy and thought, religion, and literature to construct new ways to analyze this era.104

During the 1980s too, the central narrative in Chinese-language scholarship that had dominated studies on Ming socioeconomic development, that is, the “sprouts of capitalism,” originating in a Marxist paradigm which identified the robust commercial energy of the late Ming and early Qing but argued its failure to reach fruition into capitalism because of the forcible intrusion of the West, began to lose its allure. While China historians throughout the world appreciated the detailed specific studies, the large compendia of relevant primary sources, and the extensive debates published in Chinese-language journals and books the “sprouts” viewpoint had generated, historians based in North America and Europe in the last decades of the 20th century tended to be less convinced of the idea that the Ming period was on the threshold of some kind of capitalist transformation. Many of these West-based scholars were also familiar with a somewhat similar Marxist approach to Chinese history in Japanese academic circles that claimed the Ming period as “feudal,” after what had been the “medieval economic revolution” in the late Tang–Song eras but which did not produce further changes, and even in some local cases intensified servile rural labor relations from the 14th century.105 Ideas of Japanese Marxist scholars, known as the “Tokyo school,” were assimilated by Mark Elvin into his 1973 book The Pattern of the Chinese Past, which captivated a large reading public and argued the 14th century was a turning point because by then the Chinese economy’s structural and cultural constraints inhibited a breakthrough to self-sustaining growth: China had become stuck in what he termed a “high equilibrium trap.”106

In the second half of the 1980s, as historians both in China and EuroAmerica began to turn away from Marxist slavery-feudalism paradigms, they paid more attention to modes of local control and governance, and in particular, the role of the so-called gentry local elite, which became the focus of demographic studies by Robert Hartwell and spatial analyses by G. W. Skinner who mapped China’s long-term regional economic cycles.107 China scholars also took note that commerce was integral to economic growth from the Song era onward, and that during the Ming dynasty, contra-Elvin’s claims, both domestic and overseas trade boomed, merchants thrived, and the economy expanded thanks to large quantities of imported silver from Japan and the New World. The opening of archives in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) during the 1980s also allowed researchers to investigate new kinds of sources, including those writings about Ming merchants and their relations with their gentry relatives.108

By the 1990s Ming specialists focused on key elements in the economic, social, and cultural history of the dynasty that reflected the enormous changes the regime began to experience in the 16th century, including the import of foreign silver on a large scale. The first Western scholar to attempt to quantify the amount of silver entering China in the 16th century was William Atwell, who already in the 1970s and 1980s began publishing about the impact of foreign silver on the domestic Chinese economy.109 Atwell also linked late Ming economic decline with a fall in the amount of imported silver, economic depression, and ultimately the fall of the dynasty because by the 17th century China was integrated into a monolithic global economy, and thus subject to the general economic and political crises that engulfed the world in the first decades of that century. Challenging Atwell’s analysis of the available quantitative data and his monetary theory of the crisis idea, Richard von Glahn, in his 1996 book Fountain of Fortune, calculated that silver imports did not drop so significantly after 1630, and that China’s foreign trade and silver imports remained vibrant until 1642. Like the Taiwan scholar Li Longsheng, who had also studied the economics of the Ming collapse, von Glahn argued in his 2016 volume The Economic History of China that poor harvests due to climate change bringing cold weather which sparked off subsistence crises, popular rebellions, and epidemic diseases were all more relevant to the Ming regime’s final days than certain fluctuations in the amount of imported silver.110

The study of Ming piracy has deep roots in China’s modern struggles with Japan; Chinese historians writing in the 1930s likened the wokou attacks to their then ongoing experiences with Japanese colonialism, while Japanese scholars around the same time dwelt on the failures of the Ming tribute system which only increased smuggling and violence.111 Postwar Chinese scholarship on the littoral disturbances emphasized the proto-capitalist state of China’s economic development, which was thwarted by the anti-feudal piracy struggles. From the 1980s Japanese scholarship on the wokou contextualized the phenomenon in terms of competing maritime societies of East Asia.112 In the meantime, So Kwan-wai published his important 1975 study Japanese Piracy in Ming China during the 16th Century, which narrated the history of the incursions and offered copious translations from the relevant primary sources. In his 2003 book Like Froth Floating on the Sea, Robert Antony considered the wokou as social actors who were forced to endure the tensions that overall prosperity had brought to the marginal elements of seafaring society, but later studies, such as those by Ivy Marie Lim and Michael Szonyi, have stressed the connections between local lineage society along the littoral and the central government’s ideological and practical aims to control coastal defense.113 Lim demonstrates how Confucian-inspired temple-building in Haining (Zhejiang) increased local lineage solidarity in the face of piracy, which ultimately goaded lineage leaders to finance the military campaigns to defend the prefecture. Szonyi shows how the central government’s military guards system along the Fujian littoral competed with individual lineages’ own material and social needs which piracy met and delivered. Both volumes indicate how people on the periphery engaged with the web of local institutions that both supported and disavowed the aims of the Ming court.

The theme of conspicuous consumption has attracted different kinds of disciplinary treatment, and has raised questions about how Western ideas may influence the study of Chinese history. While both Timothy Brook’s publication The Confusions of Pleasure and Craig Clunas’s book Superfluous Things examine the “new wealth” and material abundance of the Ming, and demonstrate how the acquisition of “things” deepened anxiety over the corrosive influence of prosperity on social hierarchy and boundaries, Clunas argues that the achievements of Ming material culture and the commoditization of knowledge are not unlike similar realizations of the “early modern period” (1500–1800) in Europe, a particular idea of periodization that first evolved within the French Annales school of scholarship. But unlike Europe, according to Clunas, where “early modern” shifted into “modern” by 1800, China’s “early modern” ended with the Qing conquest which produced a discourse that evoked the decadence and rottenness of the Ming, and “so consumption went out of fashion . . . and talking about things had become superfluous.”114 By the beginning of this millennium the use of the “early modern” paradigm to analyze cultural changes in the Ming dynasty also became “superfluous,” and nowadays scholars are inclined to utilize the expression “late imperial China,” referring to Ming China from its origins to c.1930s. This periodization challenges the idea that modern China began with the Opium War, and signifies the roles of the market economy, urbanization, rising literacy, and the informal character of local society governance, in China’s long-term development.115 Nevertheless, whatever conceptual freedom the idea of “late imperial China” has exuded, the situation remains that the consequences of commerce and the market economy in China from the 16th century onward are still not completely understood and await further examination.

Primary Sources

On Ming dynasty financial administration and the problem of silver:

  • He Qiaoyuan (1558–1632). Jingshan quanji. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1986.
  • Qiu Jin (1420–1495). Daxue yanyi bu. 1487. Siku quanshu ed. Taibei, Taiwan: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1971.

Sixteenth-century piracy is the focus of the following sources:

  • Cai Jiude (fl. 1574). Wobian shilue. Preface 1558. Guangzhou: Guangzhou chubanshe, 2015.
  • Wang Shiqi (1589 js). Huang Ming yowu lu. MS, Library of Congress.
  • Zhang Xie (1574–1640). Dongxi yang kao. Reprint. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1981.
  • Zheng Ruozeng (1503–1570), comp. Chouhai tubian. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2007.

Zheng Shungong (16th century). Riben yi jian. MS microfilm, Princeton University Library.

Other Ming-era sources focused on the wokou are listed in Wolfgang Franke, An Introduction to the Sources of Ming History. Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 1968. Section 7.8, 222–227. See also Zheng Liangsheng, Mingdai wokou shiliao. Taibei, Taiwan: Wenshizhe chubanshe, 1987.

For works discussing practices of conspicuous consumption, see:

  • He Qiaoyuan (1558–1632). Mingshan cang. Reprint. Taibei, Taiwan: Chengwen chubanshe, 1971.
  • Lu Ji (1515–1552). Jianjiatang zazhu zhaichao. Reprint. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1985.
  • Tian Yiheng (1524–1574?). Liuqing ri zha. Guangzhou: Guangzhou chubanshe, 2015.
  • Zhang Han (1510–1593). Songchuang mengyu. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1986.

Links to Digital Materials

Selections from the Bibliography “China Studies” in the Oxford Bibliographies Online series, including Anne Gerritsen on “Material Culture,” Stephen Roddy on “Literati Culture,” and Tim Wright on “Late Imperial Economy.”

  • Wade, Geoff, trans. Southeast Asia in the Ming shilu. Singapore: National University of Singapore E-Press, 2005.

Further Reading

  • Brook, Timothy. The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
  • Brook, Timothy. The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.
  • Chin, James K. “Junk Trade, Business Networks, and Sojourning Communities: Hokkien Communities in Early Maritime Asia.” Journal of Chinese Overseas 6 (2010): 157–215.
  • Clunas, Craig. Superfluous Things: Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1991.
  • Dardess, John W. Ming China 1368–1644: A Concise History of a Resilient Empire. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012.
  • Li, Kangying. The Ming Maritime Trade Policy in Transition, 1368 to 1567. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010.
  • Lim, Ivy Maria. Lineage Society on the Southeastern Coast of China: The Impact of Japanese Piracy in the 16th Century. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2010.
  • So, Kwan-wai. Japanese Piracy in Ming China during the 16th Century. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1975.
  • Szonyi, Michael. The Art of Being Governed: Everyday Politics in Late Imperial China. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.
  • Von Glahn, Richard. Fountain of Fortune: Money and Monetary Policy in China, 1000–1700. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
  • Von Glahn, Richard. The Economic History of China: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
  • Zhao, Jie. Brush, Seal and Abacus: Troubled Vitality in Late Ming China’s Economic Heartland, 1500–1644. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2018.
  • Zurndorfer, Harriet. Change and Continuity in Chinese Local History: The Development of Hui-chou Prefecture, 800 to 1800. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1989.
  • Zurndorfer, Harriet. “Oceans of History, Seas of Change: Recent Revisionist Writing in Western Languages about China and East Asian Maritime History during the Period 1500–1630.” International Journal of Asian Studies 13, no. 1 (2016): 61–94.


  • 1. Evelyn Rawski, “Economic and Social Foundations of Late Imperial Culture,” in Popular Culture in Late Imperial China, eds. David Johnson, Andrew J. Nathan, and Evelyn Rawski (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 3–33; William T. Rowe, “Approaches to Modern Chinese Social History,” in Reliving the Past: The Worlds of Social History, ed. Oliver Kunz (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985), 236–296; for Chinese and Japanese scholarship on transitions in East Asia, see Richard von Glahn, “Imagining Pre-modern China,” in The Song-Yuan-Ming Transition in Chinese History, eds. Paul Jakov Smith and Richard von Glahn (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2003), 71–110.

  • 2. Richard von Glahn, The Economic History of China: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 285; and Richard von Glahn, “Ming Taizu ex Nihilo,” Ming Studies 55 (2007): 113–141.

  • 3. Timothy Brook, The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

  • 4. The tribute trade system referred to a foreign court sending envoys and exotic products to the Chinese emperor who in return gave gifts to the envoys and permission to trade with China at designated ports where taxes were collected on these goods. On the execution of the system during the Ming dynasty, see the article “China and the Asian World, 1500–1900,” in particular 13–15, on the concept of “tribute trade” in the historiography of China studies.

  • 5. The prohibition also locked out the seafaring Arab, Persian, and Indian merchants who had engaged in private commerce at China’s ports for centuries. See Li Kangying, The Ming Maritime Trade Policy in Transition, 1368 to 1567 (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010), 3–20. Perhaps even more of an anomaly was Emperor Hongwu’s 1384 order to build 180 oceangoing ships to carry troops and ships to Southeast Asia and beyond. See the article “Zheng He and Ming China’s Voyages in the Early 15th Century,” 2.

  • 6. The article “Japanese Pirates and the East Asian Maritime World, 1200–1600,” 9–10, makes careful distinctions between the Japanese words for pirates, kaizoku, and the Korean expression waegu from which the Japanese term wakō evolved. See also Wang Yong, “Realistic and Fantastic Images of ‘Dwarf Pirates’: The Evolution of Ming Dynasty Perceptions of the Japanese,” in Sagacious Monks and Bloodthirsty Warriors: Chinese Views of Japan in the Ming-Qing Period, ed. Joshua A. Fogel (Norwalk, CT: Eastbridge, 2002), 24–27.

  • 7. Von Glahn, Economic History, 287; and Richard von Glahn, Fountain of Fortune: Money and Monetary Policy in China, 1000–1700 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 70–73.

  • 8. Von Glahn, Fountain of Fortune, 74.

  • 9. William Atwell, “Ming China and the Emerging World Economy, c.1470–1650,” in The Cambridge History of China, vol. 8, ed. Frederick Mote and Denis Twitchett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 386.

  • 10. Von Glahn, Economic History, 289; see Brook, Confusions of Pleasure, 82, for an illustration of silver banditry.

  • 11. Robert Antony, Like Froth Floating on the Sea: The World of Pirates and Seafarers in Late Imperial South China (Berkeley, CA: Institute of East Asian Studies, 2003), 19. The other periods of heightened piracy were 1620–1684 and 1780–1820. For in-depth coverage of the first piracy era, see Kwan-wai So, Japanese Piracy in Ming China during the 16th Century (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1975); and Fan Zhongyi and Tong Xigang, Mingdai wokou shilue (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2004). For an overview of published studies on Ming maritime history, see Harriet Zurndorfer, “Oceans of History, Seas of Change: Recent Revisionist Writing in Western Languages about China and East Asian Maritime History during the Period 1500–1630,” International Journal of Asian Studies 13, no. 1 (2016): 61–94.

  • 12. Antony, Like Froth, 25, lists the leadership of the most significant pirate groups in chronological order. See also Chao Zhongchen, Mingdai haijin yu haiwai maoyi (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2005).

  • 13. Michael Szonyi, The Art of Being Governed: Everyday Politics in Late Imperial China (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017), 92–93.

  • 14. James Kai-sing Kung and Chicheng Ma, “Autarky and the Rise and Fall of Piracy in Ming China,” Journal of Economic History 74, no. 2 (2014): 509–534.

  • 15. Rowe, “Approaches,” 273; Brook, Confusions of Pleasure, 112.

  • 16. The first study to address cultural issues in relation to the Ming economy was Craig Clunas, Superfluous Things: Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1991). Clunas comments upon other scholars, both Ming contemporaries and modern historians, who have studied China’s material culture from an economic and social perspective in his essay, “Things in Between: Splendour and Excess in Ming China,” in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Consumption, ed. Frank Trentmann (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 47–66.

  • 17. Jie Zhao, Brush, Seal and Abacus: Troubled Vitality in Late Ming China’s Economic Heartland, 1500–1644 (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2018), 106–116.

  • 18. The dream analogy is fully pursued by Lynn Struve in her book The Dreaming Mind and the End of the Ming World (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2019).

  • 19. The translations of the emperors’ reign names originates in John W. Dardess, Ming China 1368–1644: A Concise History of a Resilient Empire (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012), xi; for biographical histories of the Zhengde and Jiajing Emperors, see James Geiss, “The Cheng-te Reign, 1506–1521,” and “The Chia-ching Reign, 1522–1566,” in The Cambridge History of China, vol. 7, ed. Frederick Mote and Denis Twitchett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 403–439 and 440–510.

  • 20. Geiss, “Cheng-te Reign,” 433.

  • 21. Dardess, Ming China, 49–52; for information about the four grand secretaries who served the Jiajing Emperor, see John Dardess, A Ming Emperor and His Grand Secretaries in Sixteenth-Century China (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).

  • 22. Richard von Glahn, “Monies of Account and Monetary Transition in China, Twelfth to Fourteenth Centuries,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 53 (2010): 463–505.

  • 23. Von Glahn, Economic History, 289.

  • 24. Qiu Yun’s proposals are discussed by von Glahn, Fountain of Fortune, 80–82; and Brook, Confusions of Pleasure, 101–104.

  • 25. Von Glahn, Fountain of Fortune, 114.

  • 26. Gakushō Nakajima and Yu Hashimoto, “Competing for the Sea, from 1500 to 1600,” in A Maritime History of East Asia, eds. Masashi Haneda and Mihoko Oka (Kyoto, Japan: Kyoto University Press, 2019), 158.

  • 27. James K. Chin, “Merchants, Smugglers, and Pirates: Multinational Clandestine Trade on the South China Coast, 1520–50,” in Elusive Pirates, Pervasive Smugglers: Violence and Clandestine Trade in the Greater China Seas, ed. Robert J. Antony (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010), 27–41.

  • 28. On Sino-Portuguese clashes, see Tonio Andrade, The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016), 124–131. The history of Portugal’s first attempts to gain access to China trade is discussed by John Wills, Jr., “Maritime Europe and the Ming,” in China and Maritime Europe, 1500–1800: Trade, Settlement, Diplomacy, and Missions, ed. John Wills, Jr. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 25–32.

  • 29. Roderich Ptak, “Sino-Japanese Maritime Trade, circa 1550: Merchants, Ports and Networks,” in China and the Asian Seas: Trade, Travel, and Visions of the Other (1400–1750), ed. Roderich Ptak (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Variorum, 1998), part 7, 281–311.

  • 30. Von Glahn, Fountain of Fortune, 142–143; Li Kangying, Ming Maritime Policy, 158–159.

  • 31. Von Glahn, Fountain of Fortune, 142. See also Dennis O. Flynn and Arturo Giraldez, “Born with a ‘Silver Spoon’: World Trade’s Origins in 1571,” Journal of World History 6, no. 2 (1995): 201–221.

  • 32. Von Glahn, Economic History, 308.

  • 33. See stories in the collection Pai’an jingji by Ling Mengchu (1580–1644), now available in translation: Shuhui Yang and Yunqin Yang, Slapping the Table in Amazement: A Ming Dynasty Story Collection (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2018).

  • 34. Jie Zhao, Brush, Seal and Abacus, 116.

  • 35. Von Glahn, Fountain of Fortune, 126.

  • 36. See Bruce Rusk, “Seeing through Silver in Late Imperial China,” in Powerful Arguments: Standards of Validity in Late Imperial China, eds. Martin Hofmann, Joachim Kurtz, and Ari Daniel Levine (Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2020), 471–500.

  • 37. Brook, Confusions of Pleasure, 205–206, recounts what goods from the Chinese domestic market were available for sale in Manila.

  • 38. Timothy Brook, The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 231.

  • 39. Von Glahn, Economic History, 308.

  • 40. Dennis O. Flynn and Arturo Giraldez, “Arbitrage, China and World Trade in the Early Modern Period,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 38, no. 4 (1995): 429–458.

  • 41. Von Glahn, Fountain of Fortune, 127.

  • 42. Brook, Troubled Empire, 230.

  • 43. Von Glahn, Economic History, 309.

  • 44. Von Glahn, Economic History, 309.

  • 45. Von Glahn, Fountain of Fortune, 143.

  • 46. The stability of the eastern and southern littoral in the 15th century may in part be attributed to the success of the Zheng He expeditions to regularize the trade tribute system, according to Brook, Troubled Empire, 221. For further reference to the relative peacefulness of the 15th century in the East Asian maritime world, see article “Japanese Pirates and the East Asian Maritime World, 1200–1600,” 8. On the Zhengde Emperor’s policies toward maritime trade, see Zheng Yongchang, Lai zi Haiyang de tiaozhan: Mingdai haimao zhengce yanbian yanjiu (Taibei, Taiwan: Daoxiang chubanshe, 2004), 113–114.

  • 47. Andrade, Gunpowder Age, 124–131.

  • 48. Geiss, “Chia-ching Reign,” 491–492.

  • 49. Chin, “Merchants, Smugglers, and Pirates,” 44–46.

  • 50. Timothy Brook, “Trade and Conflict in the South China Sea: China and Portugal, 1514–1523,” in A Global History of Trade and Conflict since 1500, eds. Lucia Coppolaro and Francine McKenzie (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 33.

  • 51. See article “Asian Piracy,” 2.

  • 52. Li Kangying, Ming Maritime Trade Policy, 17, attributes the quote made in 1516 to Tang Shu (1497–1574), the Grand Coordinator of Fujian.

  • 53. The term Hokkien derives from the romanization of Fujian pronounced in the southern Fujianese dialect. James K. Chin, “Junk Trade, Business Networks, and Sojourning Communities: Hokkien Communities in Early Maritime Asia,” Journal of Chinese Overseas 6 (2010): 157–215; James K. Chin, “Merchants, Envoys, Brokers, and Pirates: Hokkien Connections in Pre-modern Maritime Asia,” in Offshore Asia: Maritime Interactions in Eastern Asia before Steamships, eds. Kayoko Fujita, Shiro Momoki, and Anthony Reid (Singapore: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute, 2013), 53–75; and Wang Gungwu, “Merchants without Empire: The Hokkien Sojourning Communities,” in The Rise of Merchant Empires: Long-Distance Trade in the Early Modern World 1350–1750, ed. James D. Tracy (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 400–421.

  • 54. Gregory Smits, Maritime Ryukyu 1050–1650 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2019), 60–103; Geoff Wade, “Ryukyu in the Ming Reign Annals 1380s–1580s,” Working Paper No. 93 (Singapore: Asia Research Institute, 2007). See also Mamoru Akamine, The Ryukyu Kingdom: Cornerstone of East Asia, trans. Lina Terrell, ed. Robert Huey (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2017).

  • 55. Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, 64–67.

  • 56. From the 7th to 14th centuries, Quanzhou was the eastern terminus of the maritime silk road. Quanzhou served as the entry point for the Ryukyu tribute mission until 1465 when its harbor silted and Fuzhou (in northern Fujian) replaced it.

  • 57. Compare the discussion on Ryukyu trade in Southeast Asia in Takeshi Hamashita, “The Rekidai hōan and the Ryukyu Maritime Tributary Trade Network with China and Southeast Asia, the Fourteenth to the Seventeenth Century,” in Chinese Circulations: Capital, Commodities, and Networks in Southeast Asia, eds. Wen-Chin Chang and Eric Tagliacozzo (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 107–129; on the sojourning Hokkien communities in Southeast Asia, see Chang Pin-tsun, “The First Diaspora in Southeast Asia in the Fifteenth Century,” in Emporia, Commodities and Entrepreneurs in Asian Maritime Trade, c.1400–1750, eds. Roderich Ptak and Dietmar Rothermund (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1991), 13–28.

  • 58. The Ming government found the Ryukyu missions were becoming too expensive. See Roderich Ptak, “Ming Maritime Trade to Southeast Asia, 1368–1567: Visions of a System,” in China, the Portuguese, and the Nanyang: Oceans and Routes, Regions and Trade (c.1000–1600), ed. Roderich Ptak (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Variorum, 2004), part 1, 157–191.

  • 59. Szonyi, Art of Being Governed, 100–103, discusses the biography of Jiang Jishi, a Fuquan (Fujian) battalion commander, active in the 1520s and charged with defending the coast from pirate raids. According to his lineage’s genealogy Jiang had close relations not only with the prominent and well-respected general Yu Dayou (1503–1579) but also with the leading bandit chief Li Wenxin and his sister, with whom he had an amorous liaison.

  • 60. Szonyi, Art of Being Governed, 83, refers to a situation in 1529 when several hundred soldiers from the Panshi Guard in southern Zhejiang kidnapped a local official to press for their pay.

  • 61. Chin, “Merchants, Smugglers, and Pirates,” 53–54.

  • 62. Bodo Wiethoff, “Lin Hsi-yüan,” in Dictionary of Ming Biography, eds. L. Carrington Goodrich and Chaoying Fang (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976), 919–922; on Lin Xiyuan’s activities as an official in Vietnam, see Kathleen Baldanza, “A State Agent at Odds with the State: Lin Xiyuan and the Ming Recovery of the Four Dong,” in China’s Encounters on the South and Southwest: Reforging the Fiery Frontier over Two Millennia, eds. James A. Anderson and John K. Whitmore (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015), 169–190.

  • 63. John L. Anderson, “Piracy and World History: An Economic Perspective on Maritime Predation,” Journal of World History 6, no. 2 (1995): 175–199, esp. 183.

  • 64. On the debates, see Li Kangying, Ming Maritime Trade Policy, 97–135.

  • 65. On Zhu Wan, see Bodo Wiethoff, “Chu Wan,” in Dictionary of Ming Biography, eds. Goodrich and Fang, 372–375; and Kwan-wai So, Japanese Piracy, 50–68.

  • 66. Geiss, “Chia-ching Reign,” 494.

  • 67. Wills, “Maritime Europe and the Ming,” 34.

  • 68. For a rich description and analysis of the attack and its aftermath on the prosperous prefecture of Songjiang by a local literatus Fan Lian (1540–?), see John Meskill, Gentlemanly Interests and Wealth on the Yangtze Delta (Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Asian Studies, 1994), 81–119. For further information about the impact of the wokou raids in Songjiang, see Timothy Brook, “Japan in the Late Ming: The View from Shanghai,” in Sagacious Monks and Bloodthirsty Warriors, ed. Fogel, 42–62.

  • 69. James K. Chin, “The Junk Trade and Hokkien Merchant Networks in Maritime Asia, 1570–1635,” in Picturing Commerce in and from the East Asian Maritime Circuits, 1550–1800, ed. Tamara H. Bentley (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2019), 83–112. On page 85, Chin argues that the Japanese wokou captured 200 to 300 Hokkien people in Fujian and shipped them to Kyushu as slaves under the aegis of the Shimazu family.

  • 70. Geiss, “Chai-ching Reign,” 496.

  • 71. John Wills, Jr., “Maritime China from Wang Chih to Shih Lang: Themes in Peripheral History,” in From Ming to Ch’ing: Conquest, Region, and Continuity in Seventeenth Century China, eds. Jonathan Spence and John Wills, Jr. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979), 203–238.

  • 72. Charles Hucker, “Hu Tsung-hsien’s Campaign against Hsu Hai, 1556,” in Two Studies on Ming History, ed. Charles Hucker (Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Chinese Studies, 1971), 1–40; and Ivy Maria Lim, Lineage Society on the Southeastern Coast of China: The Impact of Japanese Piracy in the 16th Century (Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2010), 77–107.

  • 73. Ptak, “Sino-Japanese Maritime Trade,” 289.

  • 74. Richard von Glahn, “The Maritime Trading World of East Asia from the Thirteenth to the Seventeenth Centuries,” in Picturing Commerce, ed. Bentley, 55–82.

  • 75. On the controversies about Qi Jiguang and Hu Zongxian during and after the wokou raids, see Ivy Maria Lim, “Qi Jiguang and Hu Zongxian’s Anti-wokou Campaign,” in The Maritime Defense of China: Ming General Qi Jiguang and Beyond, ed. Teddy Sim (Singapore: Springer, 2017), 23–41.

  • 76. Eduard Vermeer, “Up to the Mountain and Out to the Sea: The Expansion of the Fukienese in the Late Ming Period,” in Taiwan: A History, 1660–1994, ed. Murray Rubinstein (Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 1999), 45–83; and Wills, “Maritime Europe and the Ming,” 40–41.

  • 77. Von Glahn, Fountain of Fortune, 118; on officials who dissented about the idea of the Portuguese given the right to conduct business via Macao, see Kai C. Fok, “The Ming Debate on How to Accommodate the Portuguese and the Emergence of the Macao Formula: The Portuguese Settlement and Early Chinese Reactions,” Revista de Cultura 13/14 (1991): 328–344.

  • 78. Two 21st-century accounts of this predicament known in Chinese as beilu nanwo (Mongols in the north and Japanese in the south) are Peter Perdue, “1557: A Year of Some Significance,” in Asia Inside Out: Changing Times, eds. Peter Perdue, Helen Siu, and Eric Tagliacozzo (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015), 90–111; and Roland Higgins, “Deserts and Islands: The Politics of Border Control, 1547–49,” in The Ming World, ed. Kenneth Swope (Abington, UK, and New York: Routledge, 2019), 102–123.

  • 79. Higgins, “Deserts and Islands,” 118, assigns the blame to the Jiajing Emperor and Grand Secretary Yan Song for not bringing the border problems to some kind of peaceful solution but instead engaging in military action.

  • 80. On the ending of the wokou raids, see Kwan-wai So, Japanese Piracy, 145–160; this work argues Qi Jiguang’s military renewal program, the use of Portuguese weaponry in coastal battles, an increase in the number of walls built around cities, and the responsible management of Hu Zongxian all contributed to the closing stages of 16th-century piracy.

  • 81. This transformation of the tribute trade structure is what the Japanese scholar Gakushō Nakajima calls the 1570s system. See his study “The Structure and Transformation of the Ming Tribute Trade System,” in Global History and New Polycentric Approaches: Europe, Asia and the Americas in a World Network System, eds. Manuel Garcia and Lucio de Sousa (Singapore: Palgrave, 2018), 137–161.

  • 82. For a general introduction to 16th-century prosperity and the collection of things, see Brook, Troubled Empire, 187–212.

  • 83. Craig Clunas, “Regulation of Consumption and the Institution of Correct Morality by the Ming State,” in Norms and the State in China, eds. Chun-chieh Huang and Erik Zürcher (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1993), 39–49.

  • 84. Yuan Zujie, “Dressing for Power: Rite, Costume, and State Authority in Ming Dynasty China,” Frontiers of History in China 2, no. 2 (2007): 181–212.

  • 85. Lu Ji’s essay “Economic Justification for Spending” was translated in full in the study by Lien-sheng Yang, “Economic Justification for Spending: An Uncommon Idea in Traditional China,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 20 (1957): 36–52. See also Jie Zhao, Brush, Seal and Abacus, 102–103.

  • 86. Jie Zhao, Brush, Seal and Abacus, 103.

  • 87. Jie Zhao, Brush, Seal and Abacus, 106–107.

  • 88. Clunas, “Regulation of Consumption,” 45.

  • 89. On both men’s and women’s changing fashions in the Ming era, see Antonia Finnane, Changing Clothes in China: Fashion, History, Nation (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 44–52; Wu Renshu, Pinwei shehua: Wan Ming de xiaofei shehui yu shidafu (Taibei, Taiwan: Lianjing chubanshe, 2007). On clothing and social climbing, see Craig Clunas, “The Art of Social Climbing in Sixteenth-Century China,” The Burlington Magazine 133, no. 1059 (1991): 368–375.

  • 90. Wu Renshu, Shehui de nüren: Ming Qing shiqi Jiangnan funü de xiaofei wenhua (Beijing: Shangwu yingshuguan, 2016).

  • 91. On cities and consumption, see Wu Renshu, You you fang xiang: Ming Qing Jiangnan chengshi de xiuxian xiaofei yu kongjian bianqian (Taibei, Taiwan: Institute of Modern History, 2016).

  • 92. See the excellent translation of this novel by David Roy, trans., The Plum in the Golden Vase or Chin P’ing Mei, 5 vols. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993–2013). For an in-depth investigation of how clothing and fashion are key to the novel, see Sarah Dauncey, “Illusions of Grandeur: Perceptions of Power and Wealth in Late Ming Female Clothing and Ornamentation,” East Asian History 25/26 (2003): 43–68.

  • 93. See Clunas, Superfluous Things, 34–36, for the relevant texts. The “hoi-polloi” means literally, in Chinese, those who become fuyong fengya (parasitic on (the scholar’s) cultural elegance). See the discussion in Harriet Zurndorfer, “Old and New Visions of Ming Society and Culture,” T’oung Pao 88 (2002): 155–169.

  • 94. Margharita Zanasi, “Frugality and Luxury: Morality, Market, and Consumption in Late Imperial China,” Frontiers of History in China 10, no. 3 (2015): 457–485.

  • 95. For a list of Yan Song’s possessions, see Brook, Troubled Empire, 187–188.

  • 96. Clunas, Superfluous Things, 153.

  • 97. Brook, Confusions of Pleasure, 223–224.

  • 98. Clunas, Superfluous Things, 155.

  • 99. Brook, Confusions of Pleasure, 144.

  • 100. Harriet Zurndorfer, Change and Continuity in Chinese Local History: The Development of Hui-chou Prefecture, 800 to 1800 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1989), 105–121.

  • 101. Brook, Confusions of Pleasure, 151.

  • 102. On Ming governance and resilience, see Dardess, Ming China, 61–85.

  • 103. Martin Heijdra, “Ming History: Three Hundred Years of History Still Searching for Recognition,” in A Scholarly Review of Chinese Studies in North America, eds. Haihui Zhang et al. (Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Asian Studies, 2013), 79–98.

  • 104. Anne Gerritsen and Harriet Zurndorfer, “A Conversation with Harriet Zurndorfer,” Ming Studies 76 (2017): 80–83.

  • 105. For translations of Japanese-language scholarship representing this viewpoint, see Linda Grove and Christian Daniels, eds., State and Society in China: Japanese Perspectives on Ming–Qing Social and Economic History (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1984).

  • 106. Mark Elvin, The Pattern of the Chinese Past: A Social and Economic Interpretation (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1973). Von Glahn, “Imagining Pre-modern China,” 36–37, indicates specific problems with Elvin’s interpretations of Chinese socioeconomic development.

  • 107. Harriet Zurndorfer, “Meta-Narratives of Song Dynasty Regional Society: An Historiographical Analysis of Western Language Scholarship since 1950,” in Chugoku Sōdai no chiiki-zō: Hikaku-shi kara mita sensei kokka to chiiki, ed. Ihara Hiroshi (Tokyo: Iwata-shoin, 2013), 55–86.

  • 108. Zurndorfer, Change and Continuity.

  • 109. For Atwell’s publications, see those listed in his study “Ming China and the Emerging World Economy.” In East Asia, study of foreign silver’s impact on the Chinese economy was pioneered by Kobata Atsushi (1905–2001), Liang Fangzhong (1908–1970), and Quan Hansheng (1912–2001).

  • 110. Von Glahn, Economic History, 310–311; Li Longsheng, Wan Ming haiwai maoyi shuliangde yanjiu: jian lun Jiangnan sichou chanye yu baiyin liurude yingxiang (Taibei, Taiwan: Xiuwei zixun keji, 2005).

  • 111. Boyi Chen, “Borders and Beyond: Contested Power and Discourse around Southeast Coastal China in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” International Journal of Asian Studies 15, no. 1 (2018): 85–116; Ivy Marie Lim, “From Haijin to Kaihai: The Jiajing Court’s Search for a Modus Operandi along the Southeastern Coast (1522–1566),” Journal of the British Association for Chinese Studies 2 (2013): 1–26.

  • 112. See article “Japanese Pirates and the East Asian Maritime World, 1200–1600,” 20–21.

  • 113. Lim, Lineage Society; Szonyi, The Art of Being Governed.

  • 114. Clunas, Superfluous Things, 173.

  • 115. Von Glahn, “Imagining Pre-modern China,” 35, 44–45.