Like most empires, the Ming court sponsored grand displays of dynastic strength and military prowess. Covering the first two centuries of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), Martial Spectacles of the Ming Court explores how the royal hunt, polo matches, archery contests, equestrian demonstrations, and the imperial menagerie were represented in poetry, prose, and portraiture. This study reveals that martial spectacles were highly charged sites of contestation, where Ming emperors and senior court ministers staked claims about rulership, ruler-minister relations, and the role of the military in the polity. Simultaneously colorful entertainment, prestigious social events, and statements of power, martial spectacles were intended to make manifest the ruler’s personal generosity, keen discernment, and respect for family tradition. They were, however, subject to competing interpretations that were often beyond the emperor’s control or even knowledge. By situating Ming martial spectacles in the wider context of Eurasia, David Robinson brings to light the commensurability of the Ming court with both the Mongols and Manchus but more broadly with other early modern courts such as the Timurids, the Mughals, and the Ottomans.
Martial Spectacles of the Ming Court contributes greatly to our knowledge of Ming rulership, the relations of Ming emperors and their ministers, and the place of the Ming in Eurasian patterns of rulership. In examining this neglected but major aspect of Ming governance, David Robinson has gathered an impressive array of sources, including Korean records of the Ming court, and placed them in their proper contexts. This work continues Robinson’s project of breaking down the scholarly Great Wall mentality by incorporating the Ming into Eurasian historiography in a way that facilitates comparisons between the Ming and other early modern empires.
Martial Spectacles of the Ming Court properly situates the Ming within the broader scope of Eurasian history and highlights the important roles played by martial culture in sustaining the Ming imperium. David Robinson illuminates how martial culture has been obscured in the historical record by disapproving civil officials who, after all, wrote most of the surviving accounts. Such an exercise requires a careful reading of sources and a deep understanding of the political context in each case, and Robinson is to be commended for his erudition and breadth of knowledge in this regard. This book fills a very important void in the existing scholarship and substantially advances our knowledge of martial displays and their importance for the manifestation of Ming power both within and without the empire.
- 437 pages
- 6 x 9 inches
- Harvard University Asia Center
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