Jonathan D. Spence. The Search for Modern China

Jonathan Spence –  biography

Audio Lectures

Reading Assignments

  1. Late Ming Dynasty. Spence: 7-16.  Make 2 comments, specifically ask 2 questions (inquiry, i.e. ‘wondering’ questions).
  2. Late Ming and Collapse: Spence: 16-25.  Make at least one Inquiry Question.  Make at least 1 comment. (see Huai River)
  3. Confucian Teachings: In Dropbox.


1.  What were the reasons for the fall of the Ming Dynasty?


18 responses to “Jonathan D. Spence. The Search for Modern China

  1. Pingback: Grade 10: CHINA | History of Stuff

  2. For me, this reading was kind of hard. After reading Wild Swans which is an autobiographical story where you can still see elements of how the Chinese people live, it’s hard to go back to reading from a textbook source. I think that it’s easier for me to learn by having the author create a more illustrational picture through their words, where you become familiar with specific characters too, rather than just the statistics of a general population.

    I read that they also made women literate, not only men, since it would help improve their overall society. When was this text written in relations to the book, Wild Swans? In the book it seemed like they did not give women this satisfaction of also learning. Or am I wrong?

    This reading also made me realise something. We always think that the girls have had a harder life because they weren’t educated and could only learn the ‘womanly’ duties. But I don’t think that many people realise that it wasn’t easy for boys either. It described here how much the boys had to study in order to prepare for their examinations. They would start at age 6 and then study non-stop for the examinations which would take place only when they were in their late 20’s or early 30’s. That’s a lot of studying, don’t you think?

  3. Good observations, Anna! You put such impressive thought into your comments. Your writing is clear and provocative.

    I had some similar thoughts. Do you think that the Ming leaders and writers were interested in women’s issues, or is it that we of the 21st century and from our own cultural values view the lifestyle of women differently than they did? Are our values universal, more just, more correct?

  4. Yes, I agree with you Anna. I also agree with you on the part about Men having tough lives as well but the reason why women were portrayed as having harder lives was, firstly, because women complain a lot…hahaha :D. No i was just kidding, but the real reason is that not only did they have female duties, but they were also placed on a much lower level in society, since the country was male-dominated. They had fewer rights and men had power over them and their daily lives. Women having bound feet and remaining in pain for the rest of their lives is purely a result from Chinese men having weird fetishes. This unfairness made their lives hard.

    I also thought that for a country in 1600 A.D., making women literate is a very advanced thought. Other countries in this phase wouldn’t concentrate on making women literate, that comes later. The book states, “In a
    society that was largely male-dominated, they also indicate a growing audience of literate women”. I’d say this fact shows that China had a relatively advanced government and intelligent ideas.

  5. How do you think the Ming leaders came to recognize that women being literate would benefit the society, much faster than any other country/dynasty would?

  6. One thing that I found intriguing is how the difference between town and country is not large at all in Ming. How some farmers have their farms behind city walls. Why do you guys think it is like this?

    Another thing I found very interesting is how eunuchs in China have a lot of importance, while in India they are absolutely on the lowest end of the social system, although they are necessary for one particular religious ceremony.

  7. I totally agree with Anna. It felt like I was reading some kind of statistic. I cannot even compare this reading with the Wild Swans-reading, this was much harder in every aspect. I guess that I am the same type as Anna, I am also sure that it is easier for me to read an autobiographical story as Wild Swans than this weekend’s reading.

    I got quite fascinated of how the peasants came up with different solutions during sudden natural calamities which brought extreme deprivation and times of drought or flood for example. The peasants created together a very modern society where were various forms of mutual aid, loans and relief grain supplies was not rare at all. Notice that this occur on the early 1600s!
    Even if this was not enough help, they had other solutions as part time labor as a porter or an irrigation worker for example.
    Sometimes even this was not enough, in that case they had to use their children for help. The children often got indentured, on either a short- or a long-term contract. The work that the children were signed to was often domestic service with the rich. But sometimes something as we sees today as impossible happened. A female child could be sold in the cities, it was also common that the once that got sold in the cities ended up in a brothel.

    I do not have a good answer to Ash’s question. But sometimes it does not need to be that complicated. The Chinese maybe did some math and realized that one man + one woman was at least equal to more than 1?

  8. After reading the first pages of this book, I found that Jonathan D. Spence was more positive about China than the author in “Wild Swans”. Here you understand that China was the most advanced empire (at this time) of the whole world! They were already developing thoughts, creating thoughtful pieces, having a great economy; this kind of why they are so advanced in everything now! The only point where they are a little bit behind is politically: they still have a communist system.
    Coming back to the books, in “Wild Swans”, it showed how hard women lived and were treated, how a person with money can control and rule nearly all the country etc… The “real life” in China at this time. Also, I want to come back to the point that they were more advanced than the others, at the beginning of the reading, they said that China already had separated the bureaucracy in several parts: this was quite interesting because at this time in Europe, the countries were fighting all the time and now we can understand why China is ahead of Europe, for example, in today’s news, China is buying the debts of certain countries in Europe (as Ireland, Greece and Portugal), can you imagine? Buying debt? It is amazing how much money they have. But, the good point in this is that they maybe think that Europe is useful and that they should help in maintaining it.

  9. Now, my question is: What factor(s) made China a very powerful and wealthy country? Is do you think that making the citizens and people work a lot in the old time to habituate them for the future? Do you think is it thanks to their political system? What do you think?

  10. Like Erik and Anna thought, I think this reading was very difficult to understand and the reading in Wild Swans was so more interesting and easier to fallow.
    However the things I did understand was and thought was interesting was the fact that it seems like China has always been two steps ahead of Europe and other countries, how come? And do you guys think it will always be like that?
    I think that one of the many things is thanks to Chinas government and how they’ve been handling their political system and changed it during the last decades. Witch made companies from other countries go there to establish business because the labor is so cheap.

  11. I did some research on Ash’s question about why women started to get education. It told me that people started to question the hierarchy within the Chinese society and stated that women were equal to men and thought that women should get a good education as well, and that’s how it started.

  12. After finishing the first paragraph of this book, one thing struck me, when the rebels, in 1644, invaded Peking. It started by assembling forces (rebels) because of the bad ruling of the leader.But, it was exactly what happened for the French Revolution, the French rebels assembled in the country-side, then went to Paris to overthrow Louis the 14th. Both of them worked. Also, I remembered that in class we said that the people from the north would migrate to the south because of the conditions, and, page 21, the first sentence is:”Famines became common, especially in north China, worsened by unusually cold and dry weather that shortened the growing season for crops by as much as two weeks”. We were right! Also, we can understand why the rebels succeeded, it was also for the previous assignment (Chinese geography factors), China is so big!, and on the map page 19, we can clearly see that they have three main opponents, and not coming from the same place, which makes easier to enter the country, China’s forces had to split in three to protect China from them.

  13. After the end of this chapter, my question is that: What are the factors of the growth of China’s economy, they were the one in advance at this time and still now. But why?

  14. During Emperor Wanli’s resign and when his successors took over the peasants of China seemed to come in the middle of it all. The peasants had been paid for their harvests in copper but now, they had to pay their taxes with silver. This caused a problem since they did not have any silver. Now, what I don’t understand is why they couldn’t just start selling their harvests for silver? Also, what would happen if they didn’t pay their taxes?

  15. I agree with Charles about the similarities with the rebels assembling forces and the french rebels assembling as I went to one of the 9th grades history presentation about the French Revolution. I guess that’s what they mean by History repeats itself. 😀

    And to answer Charles’ question. I think they were the most advanced at this time as they had a stable bureaucracy (as stated before) and the large population. Though I wonder whether the Chinese businesses were capitalistic at that time? If they were would that have advanced China in some ways?

  16. I think that I might have an answer to your question Hannah. I think that this occurred after the Chinese had get rid of the Portuguese. The Portuguese had bought the Chinese silk on local markets, then transported it to Japan where the Japanese bought it of the Portuguese with silver as payment from the Japanese’s mines. When the Portuguese got kicked out of the Chinese, the silver flow that had occurred with help of the Portuguese’s import/export business plan stopped. And that is the answer to your question, I think. It simply did not occur enough silver in the nation China to have the silver as the general payment in the nation. So the once that wanted to buy the peasants harvest, could not pay in silver, just in copper.

  17. “And in many areas the wealthy local elites recruited and armed their own militia forces so that they could defend their estates and hometowns from rebel assaults.”
    We have learned that one of the most important things if you want to lead a succesful and working country is to be the only one with a militia or at least, have control over the once that exists in your country.
    How was it possible for the “wealthy elites” to pay their militia when it occurred a lack of silver, and the copper was barley worth nothing?

  18. Pingback: READINGS & Assignments | History of Stuff

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