logo top header humanities west header
logo bottom

2011-2012 Season

mata   The Power and Glory of China's Ming Dynasty
February 10 and 11, 2012
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

In 1368, a military genius born a peasant reunited China and drove the once-invincible Mongol cavalry back to the homeland of Genghis Khan. The Hongwu emperor revitalized the world's largest economy yet eschewed both military and commercial adventurism. But his half-Mongol son, the Yongle emperor, rebuilt the Mongol capital at Beijing and lavished resources on vast fleets led by the Muslim eunuch Zheng He. Decades before Columbus sailed, maritime power extended Ming military and diplomatic influence to Southeast Asia, India and East Africa. Trade flourished, spurred by Ming productivity, the unquenchable European thirst for porcelain, and the vast silver reserves of Mexico and Peru. Ming urban culture transmuted that silver into a blossoming of arts, crafts, literature, and drama that rivaled the cultural riches of the Renaissance. By 1644, desperation among the rural poor, declining fiscal control, and a renewed challenge from the north brought down the Ming dynasty, leaving the less exuberant Qing regime to warily fend off ever-increasing European maritime power and arrogance.

In collaboration with the UC Berkeley Institute of East Asian Studies and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Learn more about this program's presenters

> View our Suggested Reading and Resources for this program

> Donors: make reservations to Dine with Presenters (pdf document)

> Download the Ming brochure (pdf document)

Friday, February 10, 2012, 7:30 to 10:00 pm

Welcome and Overview of Program. Moderator, Wen-hsin Yeh (Director, Institute of East Asian Studies, UC Berkeley)

Melody of Chinaperformers Yangqin Zhao and Gangqin Zhao of San Francisco perform on the Yangqin and Guzheng.

Ming China and the Larger World. Timothy Brook (Chinese History, Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia). The Ming founder came to power by defeating the Mongol occupation and declaring that he would restore China to its original character as a village society. That he failed was not for want of trying. But the world had changed since the Song dynasty, and the Ming had to change with it. There would be no return to arcadia when goods could be traded, trade routes followed, and money made. His son Yongle would be more aggressive in casting the Ming as a maritime power, famously sending his Muslim eunuch Zheng He on diplomatic excursions into the Indian Ocean. But the bigger story is that Chinese, slowly but surely, were discovering profitable links with economies elsewhere. The flood of trade was unstoppable, fueling a prosperity that Chinese had not known for centuries and drawing Europeans around the world in unprecedented numbers. A global economy was on the horizon.

Art and Visual Culture at the Ming Court. Michael Knight (Chinese Art, Asian Art Museum, SF). Great changes occurred in court arts during the 276 years of the Ming dynasty. In the early decades of the dynasty, the main concerns were building an appropriate imperial capital and demonstrating the legitimacy of the emperor. By the end of the dynasty some estimates place the number of members of the imperial family as high as 60,000; each member both a drain on state resources and a potential consumer of art. Throughout the dynasty, a vast array of objects was required to serve the needs of the court; these ranged from the simplest bowl for serving rice to items used in the most elaborate court rituals. This lecture provides an overview of the function of art at the Ming court in four sections: the court environment at the primary capital of Beijing and the secondary capital at Nanjing; daily life and entertainment at court; visual symbols of hierarchy and rank; and court religion.

Saturday, February 11, 2012, 10:00 am to noon and 1:30 to 4:00 pm

Welcome. Wen-hsin Yeh, Moderator

Manifesting Heaven's Mandate: the Yongle Emperor's Fight for Legitimacy. Sarah Schneewind (History, UC San Diego). The Ming founder passed over his fourth son, Zhu Di, for the succession, choosing instead a peaceable grandson likely to change the violent tenor of his own reign. But Zhu Di usurped his nephew's throne in a bloody civil war and alienated the allegiance of the most respected literati men. His power, as the Yongle emperor, was not in question, but throughout his reign, he strove in numerous and dramatic ways to assert his legitimacy to the broad public, within the framework of the venerable Mandate of Heaven ideology. The dramatic pre-Columbian sea voyages led by the Muslim eunuch Zheng He were part of that effort. While his successors ended the voyages, Yongle's legitimation strategies affected the Ming path forward, and the way historians have understood the Ming period.

Late Ming Drama. Sophie Volpp. The late Ming (roughly 1570-1644) ushered in the golden age of the Chinese literary drama, when a gentleman might be expected to have some skill as a playwright. Literati composed plays in unprecedented numbers and owned private acting troupes, often coaching the actors themselves. The stage so dominated the cultural sensibility of the period that theatricality came to occupy an important ideological niche in diverse genres of cultural production. This lecture focuses on the particular quality of relations among literati and actors in the privileged and precarious world of the late Ming. The Peach Blossom Fan (1698) is not a late-Ming play, but we include it here not only because it dramatizes the fall of the Ming but because it provides a fully-realized incarnation of the concerns regarding theatricality that are so dominant in late-Ming drama.

Lunch. Theatre closes from noon to 1 pm. Program resumes at 1:30 pm

Late Ming Drama:  The Peony Pavilion in Performance. Sheila Melvin. Late Ming drama has had a renaissance in China and Taiwan after the revival in 2004-05 of Tang Xianzu's Peony Pavilion (Mudan ting) in a "Youth edition" by producer Pai Hsien-yung performed at China's top universities (and UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall). Kunqu --the style of opera--had been a dying art with an aging audience of cognoscenti. Pai Hsien-yung's production revived it with a production that featured vivid staging on lavish sets and starred young actors with rigorous training. Kunqu became popular among younger audiences, and a host of Ming plays were revived. Most recently, small-scale chamber opera has become fashionable, in response to the block-buster productions of the kunqu revival. This presentation considers Pai Hsien-yung's production of Peony Pavilion against the backdrop of two East-West collaborations: Chen Shizheng's 1999 Lincoln Center production, which showcased traditional Chinese popular arts, and Peter Sellars's 1998 experimental version, which featured music by experimental composer Tan Dun, best known for his score for the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

The Ming in Retrospect. Lynn Struve (History, Indiana University). Members of the educated social stratum who faced the collapse of the "Great Ming" were filled with conflicted feelings about the impending demise. On one hand, they were acutely aware of the dynasty's numerous present problems, which typically signaled the end of Heaven's patience with any Chinese ruling order. On the other, the two fatal challenges to the dynasty's existence—insurrections of commoners and invasions by "barbarians"—brought directly to mind the principal reasons why the Ming founder, Taizu, had never ceased to be revered as a great dynastic progenitor. Ironically, many placed blame for the dynasty's difficulties on the emperor who actually had brought the Ming to the pinnacle of its geopolitical greatness, the third emperor Chengzu. He increasingly was seen to have marred the dynasty's cosmic moral legitimacy in his fratricidal usurpation of the throne—a violation that was being finally paid for in the seventeenth century.

Panel Discussion with all Presenters
and written questions from the Audience.

Related Events:

Humanities West Book Discussion with Lynn Harris
Ming China 1368 - 1649: A Concise History of a Resilient Empire
by John Dardess

January 11, 2012
5:30 to 6:30 pm
Board Room, Commonwealth Club of San Francisco
595 Market Street.

In this engaging book, John Dardess examines how the Ming dynasty was able to endure for 276 years, focusing on its foreign relations, the lives of its 16 emperors, its system of governance, the literati who served it, and the mass outlawry that allowed the Manchu invasions to succeed. Lynn Harris will moderate the discussion. The author will not be present.

RSVP: commonwealthclub.org
Co-Sponsored by the Humanities Member-Led Forum
Free to Members of Commonwealth Club
$5 for non-members

Fireside Chat with George Hammond
The Power and Glory of China's Ming Dynasty Preview

>Note New time:
February 7, 2012
6:30 pm
Orinda Library, Orinda

The Dreaming Mind and the End of the Ming World
Lynn Struve

February 8, 4 pm
Institute of East Asian Studies Conference Room
2223 Fulton Street, 6th Floor, Rm 603, Berkeley
(510) 643-6492

The mid-sixteenth through the mid-seventeenth century saw a notable efflorescence in attention to dreams and dreaming among Chinese intellectuals and constituted a distinct phase in the long history of Chinese "dream culture." The reasons for this are intimately related to virtually every trend-in philosophy, religion, the literary arts, examination competition, politics, and the fate of the country-that affected the subjective consciousness of literati during the late Ming. This efflorescence was carried into the very early Qing period by survivors of the Ming collapse but petered out when the "conquest generation" passed away. It lost salience with the decline of the cultural matrix that uniquely identifies the late Ming, but it sent certain significant influences onward into the middle Qing period.

Sponsored by the Institute of East Asian Studies.

Art from the Ming Dynasty Reign of Eternal Happiness
(Yongle Emperor, 1403-24)
Curator Michael Knight

February 9, 2012
6:30 pm
Asian Art Museum, Education Studios
200 Larkin Street, San Francisco

This lecture provides an overview of the role of art during the reign Zhu Di, who ruled during the Yongle reign of the Ming dynasty. Certainly among the most dynamic of the emperors of the Ming, Zhu Di was also among the most active in the arts. During his reign art played key roles within China and in diplomatic relations with other nations. Among Zhu Di's many great domestic accomplishments were the completion of many buildings in imperial capitals in Nanjing and Beijing, transfer of the primary capital to Beijing, and the rebuilding of the Grand Canal. Massive amounts of art were required for decorating the interiors of the great new buildings and for the ceremonies and rituals performed within them. A complex system was developed to commission these objects from their often distant points of manufacture and to deliver the works to the imperial capitals. Art also played a role in maintaining relations with the Ming Empire's allies and courting favor with its enemies. As the Son of Heaven with a divine right to rule, Zhu Di did not stoop to buying and selling art, instead he received tribute and presented gifts.

Free with general museum admission ($5 after 5:00 pm)

Humanities West Book Discussion with Lynn Harris
Mission to China: Matteo Ricci & the Jesuit Encounter with the East
by Mary Laven

February 29, 2012
5:30 to 6:30 pm
Board Room, Commonwealth Club of San Francisco
595 Market Street

In the 16th century, the vast and sophisticated empire of China remained almost unknown to the West. As global trade expanded, legends fed the fantasies of European merchants and the Catholic Church imagined the saving of millions of souls, but the first Jesuits in China confronted
enormous challenges when they settled in the fabled Forbidden City. Lynn Harris will moderate the discussion. The author will not be present.

RSVP: commonwealthclub.org
Co-Sponsored by the Humanities Member-Led Forum
Free to Members of Commonwealth Club
$5 for non-members

Presented with support from Grants for the Arts/SF Hotel Tax fund; George and Judy Marcus Family Foundation; Bank of the West; Stanford Humanities Center; the UC Berkeley Institute of East Asian Studies, USF Center for the Pacific Rim; Marines Memorial Theatre; Asian Art Museum, and individual donors.

In cooperation with American Decorative Arts Forum Northern California; California Academy of Sciences; Center for the Art of Translation; Commonwealth Club of SF; Docents Council, Fine Arts Museum of SF; Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning; Humanities Department, SF State University; Mechanics' Institute; Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), UC Berkeley; SF and Oakland Unified School Districts; Stanford Arts Initiative; Stanford University Libraries; Townsend Center for the Humanities, UC Berkeley.

> return to the current season page