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Non-fiction books on everyday common life in Ming China?


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Yohei72

Hi, all. New member, first post. Nice place you've got here.

 

I'm a fiction writer (no, you definitely haven't heard of me), and am considering a story set in Ming-dynasty China, in a rural village. I have a long-time interest in Chinese history and culture and have done lots of reading on the subject. But most of that concentrates, of course, on larger historical currents and on elite people like emperors, officials, etc. Can anyone recommend any good history books that portray the ordinary life of common people? Their daily routines, their housing and clothing and food, social and religious institutions, games and hobbies, etc. etc. - all that mundane stuff?

 

I know historians in recent generations have begun to do more work on such matters, and there are quite a few books out there like, say, "Everyday Life in Ancient Rome," etc. There must be some resources out there on Ming China, but some searching online and at Amazon hasn't come up with much. And I suppose books on Yuan or early Qing life would be helpful as well, as I can't imagine the daily life of your average peasant really changed enormously from one dynasty to the following one.

 

Thanks for any assistance you can give. 

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This may sound weird, but: the Jin Ping Mei. It's a novel and a pornographic one at that, but it also has a ton of very detailed descriptions of everyday life: dinners, gardens, festivities...

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Agree on the Jin Ping Mei (translated in English with the title "The Plum in the Golden Vase").

 

Also another classical novel, 红楼梦, translated under different titles, including "Dream of Red Chambers" and "Story of the Stone", great details about daily life in aristocratic circles, but also quite a lot about the life of their servants and other less privileged people. This is actually a Qing dynasty novel, set in the Ming dynasty.

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roddy

Or books like the Time Travellers Guides.

 

Not the right period, but right type of book: 假如生活在清朝. Right period, but not the right kind of book: 大清后宫生存指南. There's 呀!原来如此:古代人的日常生活, which looks too general and may possibly for children.

 

Ah, sorry, you'll be wanting English...

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Spence's Death of Woman Wang borrowed heavily from Liaozhai IIRC, not sure if it's late Ming or early Qing but probably worth a look too.

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Yohei72

Ah, just noticed I got a bunch of responses on Saturday. I appreciate it very much - these are all helpful. Jim, that book you linked is particularly tantalizing - nice find. And the Spence is one I've meant to read for a long time anyway, but it hadn't occurred to me as a source for this topic.

 

889 - That also sounds like a fascinating book in general - wish there was a complete English translation!

 

I've... tried to read Dream of the Red Chamber. It's a tough one. And Plum in the Golden Vase is on my to-try-to-read list as well.

 

Thanks again to everyone.

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9 hours ago, Yohei72 said:

've... tried to read Dream of the Red Chamber. It's a tough one

 

Second best, you can watch the TV series. There are 2, 1987 and 2010, both in You Tube, the 1987 version has full English subtitles, not sure about the one from 2010 (which is a little bit strange and wasn't terribly popular). Both are meticulously true to the book and to the historical period.

 

Chinese TV period drama series from the mid-1980s onwards are an excellent and often neglected source of historical information.

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Yohei72

Ah, interesting idea, Luxi. Thanks for the pointers. I might give that a try. As a film buff, I'm also interested in some of the many feature film adaptations that have been made - more out of academic curiosity than out of an expectation they'd be satisfying renditions of the story.

 

I do have a one-volume abridgement somewhere under one of these piles of books, though I haven't read it. I stumbled across a used copy for US$1 (well, $5 with shipping), and thought, Why not? Though as a writer and former literature major, I do feel a little guilty about settling for a heavily abridged version of one of the world's classic books.

 

I did read "War and Peace" a couple years ago, so there is that.

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On 2/23/2021 at 8:24 PM, Yohei72 said:

As a film buff, I'm also interested in some of the many feature film adaptations that have been made

 

Then you may also be interested in this Chinese series. Some critics say it's one of the best, if not the best, period drama series ever produced in China although it's very little known outside. It got an incredible 9.7 rating in Douban. I agree with the critics, it is a superbly detailed study of the Ming Dynasty imperial court and provincial level politics. It focuses on a single  year nearing the end of the reign of the rather eccentric Emperor Jiajing : 1566.

 

Ming Dynasty 1566 (大明王朝1566) - English Captions and Annotations
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLyED3III7lHNdhHi0UjE6FVrx-pudgYDV

 

The 50 episodes have been beautifully subtitled by someone called Vick (all I know about him is that he may be Swiss), who also appended annotations and references to every episode in his Dinner Monologues blog :

https://dinnermonologues.wordpress.com/category/chinese-shows-translated/ming-dynasty-1566/?order=asc

 

The script was later made into a 2 volumes novel by Lu Heping. This has now been translated by Wen Huang (for which I'm grateful as I found the Chinese original rather impenetrable):

 

Heping Liu and Wen Huang (2020) The 1566 Series (Book 1): The Taoist Emperor (1) and  1566 Series (Book Two): The Imperial Governor (February 2021)
 

 


 

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Yohei72

I thought it would be worthwhile sharing a few of the books I've come across this week in my searching. Not all of them are directly relevant to my original question, but they're at least tangentially so, and probably of interest to people here if you aren't already aware of them. Fortunately for me, most are available at the library here in New York City.

 

Land and Lineage in China: A Study of T'Ung-Ch'eng County, Anhwei, in the Ming and Ch'ing Dynasties

 

Confucian Rituals and Chinese Villagers - Ritual Change and Social Transformation in a Southeastern Chinese Community, 1368-1949

 

Women in Ming China

 

DAILY LIFE IN CHINA: ON THE EVE OF THE MONGOL INVASION, 1250-1276

 

The Adventures of Wu: The Life Cycle of a Peking Man

 

And here's a fascinating discussion of Chinese naming conventions, the most detailed and nuanced I've ever come across. I have to name my characters, after all. It looks a bit daunting. I should probably try out whichever ones I devise on actual Chinese speakers I know to see if they have to stifle laughter.

 

 

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