An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Ming jingshi wenbian 明經世文編

Jul 11, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Ming jingshi wenbian 明經世文編 "Collected writings about statecraft from the Ming dynasty", original title Huang-Ming jingshi wenbian 皇明經世文編, is a collection of political essays compiled by the late Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholars Chen Zilong 陳子龍 (1608-1647), Xu Fuyuan 徐孚遠 (1599-1665), Song Zhengbi 宋徵璧 (jinshi degree 1642), and others, in total 24 persons. The book was compiled in 1638. The compilers belong to a group of Ming loyalists who established the Jishe Society 幾社. Chen Zilong, who later committed suicide, has compiled a handful of other books, among those Shiwenlüe 詩問略, Baiyun caolu ju 白雲草廬居, and Xiangzhenge 湘真閣. Xu Fuyan served the Ming loyalist Zheng Chenggong 鄭成功 in Taiwan, where he died. Song Zhengbi change side and became an official of the Qing dynasty 清 (1644-1911).
The Ming jingshi wenbian was written with the objective to provide an anthology of the best written "speeches" on politics. With the help of this compilation, it should be demonstrated that the Ming dynasty did indeed have able ministers, loyal subjects, and practical politicians. The book is 504 juan "scrolls" long, plus a supplement (Buyi 補遺) of 4 juan. It assembles nearly 3,000 essays, poems and memorials of 430 officials and scholars of the Ming period. The writings are arranged chronologically, with authors as chapter headlines. It is therefore not very easy to find writings about a particular problem or topic. The writings cover all fields of statecraft, like calendar adjustment, state rituals, ancestral temples, state offices, history, soldiers' pay, military supply, border defence, maritime defence, tributes, grain transport, disaster relief, agriculture, river conservancy, dykes and dams, maritime transport, fiscal and monetary policy, salt policy, penal and administrative law, tax system, labour corvée, education, selection and appointment of state officials, the system of memorials to the throne, and much more. It should be demonstrated how the Ming dynasty was able to reign peacefully for such a long time, regardless of all chaos and disaster which befell the country. The compilers did even include writings of notoriously corrupt persons like Yan Song 嚴嵩 or Xiong Tingbi 熊廷弼, if only their policy proved to be good. The Ming jingshi wenbian provides an excellent insight into the first stages of decision making by including suggestions from several sides, and not only that of the prevailing party. About one third of the book consists of documents on warfare and defence, which makes it possible to study in details an aspect of the Ming dynasty's politics often simply dismissed as unspectacular because the Ming military was rated as impotent.
Among the most enlightening writings are the following: Ye Boju's 葉伯巨 letter (Wanyanshu 萬言書) to the tyrannic Hongwu Emperor 洪武 (r. 1368-1398), criticizing him for the abundant apanages to his princes and the excessive use of capital punishment. In a memorial (Zao zhu jianxian qiaoning zeichen shu 早誅奸險巧佞賊臣疏), Yang Jisheng 楊繼盛 accused Yan Song, the powerful Counsellor-in-chief. Hai Rui 海瑞 submitted his famous memorial (Zhi'anshu 治安疏) criticizing the Jiajing Emperor 嘉靖 (r. 1522-1566). Yang Lian 楊漣 presented to the throne a memorial (Jiucan nidang shu 糾參逆璫疏) revealing the machinations of the almighty and corrupt eunuch Wei Zhongxian 魏忠賢. All these writings expose the critical system of the Ming period autocracy and the role of the eunuchs as mediators between the emperor and the court officials.
Although the Ming jingshi wenbian was forbidden to circulate, it exerted a great influence on the compilation of similar books of the Qing period, in first place the Qing jingshi wenbian 清經世文編. There is a very late Ming period print by the Pinglu Studio 平露堂. During the Qing period, the Ming jingshi wenbian was prohibited from circulation. In 1962, the Zhonghua shuju press 中華書局 made a modern print on the base of the Pinglu edition, with punctuation marks and an index of persons.

Guo Jian 郭建 (1996). "Huang-Ming jingshi wenbian 皇明經世文編", in Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Zhengzhi falü 政治法律 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 402.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, ed. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 2594.
Zhang Dexin 張德信 (1992). "Ming jingshi wenbian 明經世文編", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Vol. Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 689-960.