The predecessor to this volume, State versus Gentry in Late Ming Dynasty China, 1572–1644, argued that the rise of commerce and its attendant social fluidity in the sixteenth century compelled many members of China’s amalgamated scholar-gentry bureaucratic elite to take refuge in one of two philosophical sureties: a chauvinistic Legalism, which insisted that sovereignty resided in the imperial state; or an equally fundamentalist Confucianism, which held that sovereignty resided with the gentry class itself. While individuals proceeded to band together in cliques, either as zealous operatives of the state or as gentlemanly civilizers of it, the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) lost its governmental effectiveness and, with it, its capacity for dealing with internal and external threats. The Ming finally succumbed to both, eviscerated by roving bandits of the interior and then finished off by alien Manchus from north of the Great Wall. The new Manchu, or Qing, dynasty (1644–1911) would be engaged in the difficult task of reconstruction for most of the latter half of the seventeenth century. As the new dynasty labored to establish itself and restore order, it grappled with many of the same bureaucratic, fiscal, and other difficulties that had doomed its predecessor. The questions therefore raise themselves: Did the dispute over sovereignty, which had played such a huge role in the unraveling of the Ming, continue to rage in the early years of the Qing?
KeywordsSeventeenth Century Imperial State Ming Dynasty Common People Confucian Scholar
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