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The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China [Paperback]

Timothy Brook

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Book Description

12 Aug 1999
The Ming dynasty was the last great Chinese dynasty before the Manchu conquest in 1644. During that time, China, not Europe, was the center of the world: the European voyages of exploration were searching not just for new lands but also for new trade routes to the Far East. In this book, Timothy Brook eloquently narrates the changing landscape of life over the three centuries of the Ming (1368-1644), when China was transformed from a closely administered agrarian realm into a place of commercial profits and intense competition for status. "The Confusions of Pleasure" marks a significant departure from the conventional ways in which Chinese history has been written. Rather than recounting the Ming dynasty in a series of political events and philosophical achievements, it narrates this longue duree in terms of the habits and strains of everyday life. Peppered with stories of real people and their negotiations of a rapidly changing world, this book provides a new way of seeing the Ming dynasty that not only contributes to the scholarly understanding of the period but also provides an entertaining and accessible introduction to Chinese history for anyone.

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"The book looks at changing attitudes to the inter-relationship of commerce and culture or leisure activities over the course of the Ming dynasty. . . . One of the strengths of the book . . . is the way in which much of the story is told through the words of contemporary, often little-known, observers, whose sometimes quirky views are skillfully translated. The vividness with which these distant figures and their world are presented to the reader, in the author's very readable style, should make this book accessible to non-China specialists and indeed to anyone who is interested in the ways in which a traditional, agricultural society-then or now-reacts to dramatic economic change."--"China Quarterly

About the Author

Timothy Brook is Professor of History at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Praying for Power: Buddhism and the Formation of Gentry Society in Late-Ming China (1993), and Quelling the People: The Military Suppression of the Beijing Democracy Movement (1992), and the coeditor of Nation Work: Asian Elites and National Identities (1999) and China and Historical Capitalism: Genealogies of Sinological Knowledge (1999).

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The Ming dynasty began with the peace of the winter season. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An internal view of an understudied dynasty 7 Sep 2000
By Read Taylor - Published on
The Ming dynasty in China does not receive much attention since it mostly lacks the bloodshed or philosophical grandeur of the Qing, the Tang or the Han. Brook is one of the leading authorities on this era, and this book is, I believe, his most accessible. Beginning with documents written late in the dynasty, Brook shows how the elite of that time feared the collapse of the imagined golden past into what was then considered an immorally secular present. The massive economic changes in the globe in this era (14th to 17th centuries) changed the Chinese society and the Confucian elites place in it. Obviously less exciting to laymen than his work on Tiananmen, 1989, this is a clear book for students who have a general grasp of Chinese history and want to begin to grab details without losing the easy flow found in well written introductory books.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seasons of a Dynasty 17 Oct 2012
By Peter Braden - Published on
A clear and lively account of the transformation and constancy of Chinese society during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Brook shares his insights on the increased role of silver in the economy, the competitive connoisseurship of gentry and merchants, and a variety of other aspects of daily life. His central thesis is that, while the Ming saw the expansion of the market economy, it did not entail the destruction of the educated elite class. Rather, the scholarly gentry and the nouveau riche merchant classes became interwoven. This transition caused status anxiety and nostalgia on the part of many of the Chinese diarists Brook cites, but it also allowed Chinese elites to weather the bloody and traumatic Ming-Qing transition.

The book is cleverly structured as a progression of seasons, from Ming Taizu's austere, idealized Daoist Winter through the gaudy extravagance and debauchery of late Ming Summer and finally the ill winds of dynastic collapse in Autumn.

Highly recommended as a window on a fascinating era in history, with many thought-provoking parallels to the current situations in both China and the West.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good book 10 May 2013
By Denise - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had to use this book for class. it wasn't the most phenomenal book I have ever read but it wasn't dead boring like some required readings I've had.
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