The Social Status and Thought of Merchants in Ming China, 1368-1644: a Foray in Clarifying the Social Effects of the Commercialization of Ming China

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Tam, Kat Tai
China, History , Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644
Recent proponents of non-Eurocentric approaches to the study of development in non-Western areas in the early modern period have seized on late imperial China (1368-1911) as an example of an indigenous trajectory of development that disputes the primacy of early modern Europe in some theories. The commercialization of Ming China (1368-1644) is sometimes appropriated in their arguments. But at times the term “commercialization” is not particularly well-defined in the case of sixteenth and seventeenth century China. In order to strengthen the arguments against Eurocentric assessments of non-Western development, this thesis covers some aspects of Ming commerce and society that are sometimes not captured by the term commercialization. In particular, it focuses on more ‘personal’ dimensions often neglected by references to the commercialization of China’s economy and society in the latter half of the Ming period. Aspects that will be discussed include: social change and social mobility, higher-ranking officials’ views of commerce and merchants, and the identity of merchants as seen in merchant manuals. The application of some recent research by other scholars of Ming China and my readings of some sources dating from the period, I hope, will add nuances to our understanding of Ming commerce and society and furthermore contribute to a detailed approach to the non-Eurocentric writing of a comparative history of development in the early modern world.
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