Ming China: Courts and Contacts, 1400-1450

Ming China : courts and contacts, 1400-1450. Edited by Craig Clunas, Jessica Harrison-Hall and Luk Yu-ping. London : The British Museum, 2016. 312 p. ISBN : 978-0-8615-9205-0. [En ligne] URL : http://www.britishmuseum.org/pdf/205_Ming_China_Courts_and_Contacts.pdf (consulté le 9 juin 2017)

Actes du colloque organisé au British Museum de Londres du 9 au 11 octobre 2014. Ce colloque accompagnait l’exposition Ming: 50 years that changed the world (septembre 2014-janvier 2015).

Introduction, par Craig Clunas (extrait)

The exhibition held at the British Museum from 18 September 2014 to 5 January 2015, and entitled Ming: 50 years that changed China, had as one of its central aims that of bringing before a wide public some elements of the recent revolution in scholarly perception of the early Ming dynasty (1368–1644). This has moved away from the tendency in older scholarship of viewing the period essentially as a nativist reaction to the Mongol conquest and the years of Yuan rule, and one which saw China pulling down the shutters on the outside world, in a ‘turning away from the outside world [which] was accompanied by a growing  introspection within Chinese life’. Although the emerging new paradigm still requires further work (which this volume is a contribution to), many scholars now see the early Ming as a distinctive example among a group of states across Eurasia which descended from the era of Chinggis Khan, with its courtly culture in particular captured by the cosmopolitan glamour of Mongol styles of rulership. Almost all now see it as an age of unprecedented engagement, in both peaceful and violent forms, with the world beyond the borders of the Ming empire, the first period when (as in the Tang dynasty), Chinese power was projected deep intoCentral Asia, while at the same time (as in the Song dynasty) the possibilities of a maritime hegemony were also explored.
The conference which was held at the British Museum on 9–11 October 2014 under the title ‘Ming: courts and contacts 1400–1450’, sought in its turn to bring together a body of scholars working on the period from a range of disciplinary perspectives, to examine in particular the ways in which the material culture, visual culture and art of the (loosely defined) half century from around 1400 to around 1450 might help in advancing an understanding of the changes taking place in China at this time. The period chosen for investigation here requires a degree of justification. At one point in the study of Chinese history, both in China and beyond its borders, the prestige of the long historiographical tradition of taking the dynasty as a unit of analysis led to a ‘history of the Ming’ (or at most the early Ming, mid-Ming, late Ming) seeming like a natural, indeed an inevitable task. It was possible to write histories of more than one dynasty, and while earlier scholarship preferred Ming–Qing (1368–1911) as a unit, the most recent account by the Western doyen of Ming historians prefers to take Yuan–Ming (1271–1644) as its framework, perhaps thus implicitly endorsing the view of the continuities between Yuan and Ming as being at least as important as the many ruptures. More recently too scholars have been willing to disregard dynastic boundaries in constructing frameworks of analysis; so for example Paul Jakov Smith and Richard von Glahn have assembled a body of studies on the period 1300–1550 (one they describe as ‘a historiographical black hole’), with a view to understanding what they term the ‘Song–Yuan–Ming transition’ as a whole. It seems evident that we need both these large-scale accounts and the more focused look at a briefer period presented by this volume and the research project/exhibition which it accompanied, if we are to deepen understanding of China’s history beyond the large generalisations which were deemed sufficient in the past.

Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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