How to dodge the draft and succeed as a pirate in the Ming dynasty: everyday politics in late imperial China

Talk by Michael Szonyi, Harvard University

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The army of China’s Ming dynasty (1368-1644) was staffed by men from hereditary military households, some of whom wrote detailed records about how they fulfilled, or didn’t fulfill, their obligations. These sources, preserved in clan genealogies, reveal that even ordinary families in the Ming developed sophisticated strategies to deal with the state institutions that shaped but did not determine their lives. We can use these strategies to better understand ordinary, everyday political behavior not only in the Ming but in other contexts as well.

Michael Szonyi is Director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and Frank Wen-Hsiung Wu Memorial Professor of Chinese History at Harvard University. He is a social historian of late imperial and modern China who studies local society in southeast China using a combination of traditional textual sources and ethnographic-style fieldwork.
His books include The Art of Being Governed: Everyday Politics in Late Imperial China (2017); A Companion to Chinese History (2017), Cold War Island: Quemoy on the Front Line (2008; Chinese edition 2016) and, with Jennifer Rudolph, The China Questions: Critical Insights on a Rising Power (2018).

A frequent commentator on Chinese affairs, Szonyi is a Fellow of the Public Intellectuals Program of the National Committee on US-China relations. He received his BA from the University of Toronto and his D.Phil from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He has also studied at National Taiwan University and Xiamen University.

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Published: Thursday, February 14, 2019