Natural machines

Material Information

Natural machines social reform, science, and industry in late Ming China
Whitesides, J. G
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
xvi, 232 leaves : ; 28 cm


Subjects / Keywords:
Technology -- Social aspects -- China ( lcsh )
History -- China -- Ming dynasty, 1368-1644 ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 225-232).
General Note:
Department of History
Statement of Responsibility:
by J.G. Whitesides.

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Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
44096516 ( OCLC )
LD1190.L57 1999m .W45 ( lcc )

Full Text
J. G. Whitesides
B.A., James Madison University, 1994
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts

This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
J.G. Whitesides
has been approved
Pamela Laird
Mark Foster

Whitesides, J.G. (M.A., History)
Natural Machines: Social Reform, Science, and Industry in late Ming China
Thesis directed by Professor Lionel M. Jensen
Few works can offer the complexity and insight of the Tiangong kaiwu, a
seventeenth century Ming technical encyclopedia written by Song Yingxing.
Ostensibly a simple work on agricultural and industrial techniques, the Tiangong
kaiwu illustrates the intricate dialectic between technology and culture during a
period of intense turmoil and change. The seventeenth century witnessed far more
than the transition to a new foreign regime in China, as latent economic and social
currents combined with Western intrusions to upset the traditional social hierarchy.
In the Tiangong kaiwu, Song Yingxing, a zhuren scholar native to the burgeoning
industrial province of Jiangxi, offered a philosophy of pragmatic syncretism
designed to naturalize technology and repair the rifts in late Ming society.
Combining a desire for practicality with a method foreshadowing the work of the
later kaozheng scholars, Song Yingxings encyclopedia mixed social reform with
precise, didactic instructions and illustrations on contemporary technics. Yet as one
of the few surviving technical works from the late Ming era, the Tiangong kaiwu has

also achieved a unique historiographic status that surpasses either its context or
Given the complexity of this remarkable work, the purpose of this thesis is
twofold: to explore the generative social context of the Tiangong kaiwu to uncover
its relationship to late Ming society; and to probe the historiography of the work to
determine its relevance to current scholarship on Chinese science, technology and
economic development. By juxtaposing these two approaches, it is hoped that this
thesis will present the first complete, sophisticated analysis of this important
technical treatise. Far more than a mere inventory of seventeenth century technology,
the Tiangong kaiwu is a window into Chinese society and Western historiography
spanning three centuries.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.

I would like to thank the entire history faculty of the University of Colorado at
Denver, particularly Dr. Frederick Allen, Dr: Mark Foster, Dr. Pamela Laird, and Dr.
James Whiteside for their encouragement and support. I also wish to express my
deepest gratitude to my thesis advisor, Dr. Lionel Jensen, for his extraordinary
inspiration and guidance.

1. SOCIAL CONTEXT AS PHILOSOPHY................................1
Involutionary Economy....................................4
Social Structures and Reform............................10
Pragmatic Syncretism....................................15
The Primacy of Practical Knowledge......................33
The Naturalization of Technology through Text.........43
The Naturalization of Technology through Illustration.51
Figures 3.1 3.20......................................60
The Elevation of Agricultural and Commercial status.....91
Criticism of the Culture of Conoisseurship............99
Criticism of the State.................................106
4. INDIGENOUS INDUSTRIES................................... 134
Ceramic and Porcelain Production.......................135
Cotton and Silk Production.............................145
Agricultural Involution................................152

Economic Development and Science.........................169
Science, Technology and Society..........................172
The Chinese Language and the Development of Science.177
The Textual and Pictorial History of the Tiangong kaiwu..191
The Tiangong kaiwu and Science and Civilization in China.197
Figures 7.1 -7.8.........................................207
7. CONCLUSION..................................................220

3.1 Crossbow production.................................................60
3.2 Warp frame..........................................................61
3.3 Waterwheel for irrigation...........................................62
3.4 Wang Zhengs windmill [from Zhuqi tushuo]...........................63
3.5 Diderots Windmill [from the Encyclopedic]..........................64
3.6 Beating rice grains.................................................65
3.7 Foot weeding........................................................66
3.8 Hand cranked wheel..................................................67
3.9 Plough-seeder.......................................................68
3.10 Refining silver.....................................................69
3.11 Smelting tin ore....................................................70
3.12 Mature silkworms spinning cocoons...................................71
3.13 Hand-operated spinning wheel........................................72
3.14 Woman spinning silk [from Nongshu]..................................73
3.15 Reeling silk fibers.................................................74
3.16 Pulley wheel [Qing Addition*].......................................75
3.17 Separating cocoons [Qing Addition*].................................76

3.18 Lowering bamboo [Qing Addition*]..........................................77
3.19 Raising brine [Qing Addition*]............................................78
3.20 Boiling and crystallizing brine [Qing Addition*]..........................79
3.21 Transporting salt [Qing Addition*]........................................80
7.1 Grinding and hydraulic classification of mercury ore.....................207
7.2 Grinding and classification of mercury ore [Qing Addition*]..............208
7.3 Final steps in making needles............................................209
7.4 Final steps in making needles [Qing Addition*]...........................210
7.5 Winnowing by tossing [from Peiwenzhei gengzhitu].........................211
7.6 Winnowing by tossing [Qing Addition*]....................................212
7.7 Irrigation channels [Qing Addition*].....................................213
7.8 Reaping Rice [from Peiwenzhei gengzhitu].................................214
* These illustrations, taken from a variety of sources, were added to subsequent
editions of the Tiangong kaiwu during the Qing era (1644-1912). A detailed history
of this interpolation is included in Chapter six, entitled The Historiography of the
Tiangong kaiwu.

NOTE: Thepinyin system of romanization will be used throughout this thesis. In
addition, unless otherwise noted, all translations and illustrations from the Tiangong
kaiwu are taken from Sun and Sun, eds., Tien KungKai Wu [Tiangong kaiwu]:
Chinese Technology in the Seventeenth Century. University Park: Pennsylvania State
Press, 1966.

During a famine in Jiangxi province in 1637, for example, people stripped the
trees of anything that even approached edibility, and then when that was gone
they filled their stomachs with fine soil dug deep from the ground. They
called it Guanyins flour, in the hope that the Buddhist goddess of mercy
would save them in their extremity Timothy Brook1
That same year, Song Yingxing, a native of Jiangxi, completed the Tiangong
The seventeenth century witnessed far more than the transition to a new
foreign regime in China, as latent economic and social currents combined with
Western intrusions to upset the established hierarchical society.2 New modes of
production, lucrative commercial opportunities, political extravagance, and increased
social mobility strained the fabric of society while reformers, desiring a return to an
idealized past, denounced the contemporary moral decay.3 The Tiangong kaiwu,
ostensibly a simple work on agricultural and industrial production, illustrates the
intricate dialectic between technology and society during a period of intense turmoil
and change while encompassing the aforementioned trends under the umbrella of
technology. In addition, as one of the few surviving technical

encyclopedias from the late-Ming period, the Tiangong kaiwu has attained a unique
historiographic status that surpasses either its context or contents.
Published during the fall of the Ming dynasty and suppressed by the Qing
dynasty, the Tiangong kaiwu resurfaced in the twentieth century to play a
substantive, albeit oblique, role in the contemporary discussion of Chinese science,
technology, and development.4 The esteemed sinologist Joseph Needham considered
Song Yingxing the Diderot of China high praise from such a distinguished
scholar and an excellent measure of the works historiographic significance.5
Reprinted in over fifty editions since 1912, the work appears in numerous academic
publications and maintains its position as one of the most extensive primary sources
on Chinese technology in the seventeenth century.6
Given the complexity of this remarkable work, the purpose of this thesis is
twofold: to explore the generative social context of the Tiangong Kaiwu to uncover
its relationship to late Ming society; and to probe the historiography of the work to
determine its relevance to current scholarship on Chinese science, technology, and
economic development. There are several advantages to such an approach.
The re-contextualization allows for re-interpretation of the Tiangong kaiwu,
replacing the traditionally technical reading with a more illuminating understanding
of the impetus behind the work and its relation to its society. Unfortunately,
contemporary academia often relegates technical manuals to mere inventories of
discoveries and inventions, locating individual machines and processes along a

static, comparative timeline. As Francesca Bray advises in Technology and Gender:
Fabrics of Power in late Imperial China, historians need to integrate technology into
cultural analysis by re-embedding technology in its social context to make the jump
from the material form to the social and mental world.7 Such an approach is
particularly fruitful when applied to the Tiangong kaiwu, revealing a number of
social trends familiar to both sinologists and comparative historians. Specifically,
Songs encyclopedia addresses the challenges presented to traditional hierarchies and
social systems by the appearance of new technical classes, increases in mercantile
activity, and the expansion of women into a commercial, commoditized economy.
Song, who hoped to naturalize technology by imagining the machine as an
extension of the natural landscape, exemplifies the reformers of the seventeenth
century who denounced Chinas moral decline and ascribed fault to the metaphysical
speculations of xinxue (Learning of the Mind), monetarization, imperial
extravagance, and the culture of conspicuous consumption that accompanied
innovations in production.8 Indeed, Songs method of re-evaluating the traditional
imperial canon with an emphasis on practicality and accuracy foreshadows the
work of later kaozheng (Evidentiary Text) scholars who sought to inject
historicism and empiricism into their re-interpretation of the classics.9
Complementing this socio-historical perspective, the thesis will also consider
the works depiction of seventeenth century Chinese science and economy as well as
its more recent historiographic significance. Given Song Yingxings position in the

complicated economy and culture of the Jiangnan region, the Tiangong kaiwu offers
a remarkable perspective that influences the long-standing Sprouts of Capitalism
debate and our understanding of the development of science and technology in
imperial China. In addition, the works convoluted publication history illustrates the
process of textual interpolation and interpretation that accompanies the passage of
most historical texts through time, as each era reads itself into the narrative. Not
surprisingly, the revival of interest in the Tiangong kaiwu in the mid-twentieth
century coincided with the advent of new approaches in Western and Japanese
sinology as well as the Chinese Communist Partys Great Leap Forward. Finally,
the abundance of references to Songs technical encyclopedia in Needhams seminal
Science and Civilization series, which dictated that hundreds of later scholars would
appropriate concepts from the Tiangong kaiwu, demonstrates the importance of
reconstructing the works academic history.
By combining these two approaches, it is hoped that this thesis will present
the first complete analysis of this important technological treatise. Far more than a
mere inventory of seventeenth century technology, the Tiangong kaiwu is a window
into Chinese society and Western historiography spanning three centuries.

1. Timothy Brook, The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming
China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 163.
2. Latent economic and social currents includes such trends as increasing
urbanization, commodification of the agricultural and handicraft economies,
monetarization (specifically the Ming states use of silver for tax payments), the
growth of individualism (exemplified by the novel, private academies and
xinxue), and other factors. Western intrusions refers to the arrival of Christian
missionaries, the growing international trade (and importation of silver), as well
as the arrival of Western astronomy and mathematics.
3. By new modes of production and commercial opportunities, I am referring to
the industrialization of sericulture and cotton production (aided by household
handicraft production), the privatization of state industries such as iron and salt,
and the burgeoning international trade. The increase in social mobility is detailed
in Ping-ti Ho, The Ladder of Success in Imperial China: Aspects of Social
Mobility, 1368-1911 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962), which
argues that social mobility expanded dining the late-Ming period and the Qing
period due to lack of official restrictions, although much of the movement was
downward. The Donglin Shuyuan and the Fushe society exemplify the reform
movement that multiplied during the 1620s andl630s. A detailed exposition of
one contemporary observers (Shen county magistrate Zhang Tao) views on
cultural degradation is found in Brook, Confusions.
4. Given the various definitions of science, technology and development, further
clarification is needed. Technology will include mechanical and technical
knowledge as well as rationalized systems of knowledge. Technologies will
refer to mechanics and processes only, while Science will be defined as
systematized positive knowledge. Development is used to connote both
economic development and scientific development conceptions that will be
addressed in greater detail later in the work.
5. Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China, Vol. IV:3(Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1971), 382.
6. It should be noted that the majority of these editions are either in Chinese or in
Japanese; indeed only two editions are translated into English: the Pennsylvania

State Press edition published in 1966, and the 1997 Dover Publications
unabridged reprint of the same work.
7. Francesca Bray, Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in late Imperial
China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 21.
8. His desire to naturalize technology involves his use of mythology, illustration,
and his valorization of the technical and merchant classes. Critically, Song
castigated those elites whom, regardless of occupation, indulged in a culture of
conoisseurship a culture detailed in Craig Clunas, Superfluous Things: Material
Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China (Urbana, IL: University of
Illinois Press, 1991) and Brook, Confusions. Finally, Song criticized the Mings
inefficiency, extravagance, reliance on Western firearms, and appointment of
9. Practical is used here to connote capable of being put to use or account;
useful a definition appropriated from Merriam Websters Collegiate
Dictionary, Tenth Ed. (1997), s.v. Practical. Song consistently championed
information he regarded as practical, regardless of whether that information was
derived from ancient or recent sources. Regarding empricism in Qing thought,
see Joseph R. Levenson, The Abortiveness of Empiricism in Early Ching
[Qing] Thought, Far Eastern Quarterly 13 (Feb. 1954), 155-165. Regarding
historicism in Qing thought, see On-cho Ng, A Tension in Ching [Qing]
Thought: Historicism in Seventeenth-and-Eighteenth-Century Chinese
Thought, Journal of the History of Ideas 54 (Oct. 1993), 561-583.

One early 17th-century gazetteer, for instance, contrasted the moral and
economic tranquility of the Hongzhi reign (1488-1505) when arable fields
were plentiful, houses were abundant, mountains forested, villages peaceful,
and bandits absent with the turmoil and social disruption of the Jiajing
period (1522-1566) when property frequently changed hands, prices
fluctuated, rich and poor grew socially apart, and market conditions grew
complicated. Frederic Wakeman Jr.1
[the] Tien Kung Kai Wu [Tiangong kaiwu] resulted from both the
intellectual climate and an immediate background in late-Ming China.
E-Tu Zen Sun2
Song Yingxings philosophy and work, borne forward by a tumultuous world
of commercial, political, and social change, were a product of his era. Like many
literary works, the Tiangong kaiwu reflects the society and conditions native to its
author, from the collapse of traditional agricultural production in Jiangxi to the rise
of monetarization, household handicraft production and a culture of conoisseurship.
Each of these trends shaped Songs philosophy, illustrated by the following passage
from one of the authors earlier works:

Wealth generally refers to the various and sundry goods. By no means should
wealth be regarded as exclusively referring to money. How can it be that
today in the empire there is a scarcity of silver! Rather, we suffer from
shortages of fields cultivated with the five grains, mountain forests thick with
timber, hillocks of mulberry, and ponds brimming with fish. If the empire
abounds in these things, then silver and gold can be summoned in an instant;
merchants carrying satchels and money-belts bulging with bullion will
trample each other in their rush to come and trade.3
Published in 1636, this selection from Songs Yeyi, Lunqi, Tantian, Silamhi details
his emphasis on production as well as his distaste for the rampant mercantilism of
the seventeenth century. Writing during a period of financial crisis, Song invoked a
labor theory of value, arguing that while wealth is created by heaven, it is only
through human effort that the raw wealth existing in nature can be put to productive
use.4 Stressing agriculture (the five grains) and household industries (hillocks of
mulberry for sericulture and ponds brimming with fish for pisciculture), Song
noted that extravagances like silver and gold can be summoned in an instant once
production is restored to significance. At the same time, he criticized the mad rush
for silver that distinguished the seventeenth century economy while approving of the
commercial travel of merchants. While this passage offers only an inkling of Songs
philosophy, it does propose a number of worthwhile avenues for contextual
exploration; specifically, the decline of agricultural production, the rise of household
and commercial industries, the increase in government extravagance, both the

plasticity and rigidity of class structures, and the growth of political and social
reformism. Taken together, the first three interrelated trends will help to reconstitute
the involutionary economy, defined as growth without development or innovation,
that characterized the Jiangnan region in the late Ming period, while the last two
reflect the social and intellectual movements that influenced Song Yingxing.
Figure 2.1 -Reprinted from Li and Watt, The Chinese Scholars Studio, xi.

Involutionary Economy
The imposition of the yitiao bianfa (single-whip tax method), which
effectively merged labor-services into the land taxes and required payment in silver,
had substantial repercussions across all levels of Chinese society. Already in full-
swing by the mid-sixteenth century, the system taxed both the number of ting (able-
bodied adult males between 16 and 60) and the amount of land owned
simultaneously.5 Seen as means to stifle the growth of large, powerful estates while
increasing the convenience of tax collection, the system provoked resistance from
many landowners.6 Unwilling to meet the new requirements, landowners often
consolidated their holdings under the dominion of scholar-officials, whose tax-
exempt status allowed them to escape the heavy obligations.7 These landowners,
released from the constraints of taxation, often became de-facto landlords,
employing managers to oversee agricultural production while they congregated in
urban and commercial centers in the Jiangnan region. At the end of the sixteenth
century, as capital began to move away from land and towards commercial and craft
industries, land prices collapsed, a phenomenon particularly noticeable in the
maritime provinces of the south and in the area from Hangchow [Hangzhou] to
north-eastern Kiangsi [Jiangxi] everywhere in fact where the monetary economy
based on ingots and imported coins was in the ascendant.8 The extravagant and
greedy policies of the Wanli emperor (r. 1572-1619) exacerbated this collapse, as he
ordered fresh land assessments.. .with the result that by 1602 the total amount of

taxed land registered an increase of 14.2 per cent over the traditional ceiling...fixed
in 1368.9 At the same time, the monetarization of tax payments in silver further
oppressed the lower-classes, forcing them to rely on usurious money-changers and
creditors for the required silver.
By the seventeenth century, population pressures and excessive taxation
threatened the subsistence of large numbers of peasants. Rapid population growth
fueled by additions to the traditional crops coupled with negligible advances in
agricultural efficiency to increase the productive pressures on land. Partible
inheritance added yet another burden on the over-worked agricultural economy,
eventually causing many peasants to supplement their traditional income with
household handcraft industries.10 As Frederic Wakeman notes, the incentive to shift
from food production to production for the textile market was very high.11 Indeed,
as more and more land in Jiangnan was turned over to cash crops such as cotton,
and as absentee landlords replaced resident tax chiefs who had once assumed
responsibility for waterworks maintenance, the irrigation system required for rice
cultivation dried up from neglect.12 Simply put, as rice yields topped out under
traditional cultivation, many peasants turned to sericulture and cotton production,
two of the primary household and commercial industries in Songs home province of
Jiangxi and in the entire region south of the Yangzi.13
This shift towards a semi-industrialized (and southern) economy can be
traced to the late Song dynasty, although the process increased markedly during the

Ming.14 Throughout the sixteenth century, regional economic specialization became
apparent as areas south of the Yangzi adapted to expanding commerce and industry.15
New market towns, routes, and canals constituted a transport network between the
Yangzi delta and the southeast coast, allowing for a high degree of involutionary
commercialization.16 While sericulture and cotton production dominated the lands
of the Jiangnan region in the seventeenth century, the area was also home to
numerous commercial industries involving ceramics, paper, and cast-metal
manufacture. In particular, Songs home province, Jiangxi, functioned as one of the
commercial hubs of the Jiangnan economy.
In the preface to the English translation of the Tiangong kaiwu, E-tu Zen Sun
observed that Sungs [Songs] home province might have provided much stimulus
to his interest in matters industrial and technological.17 This is certainly accurate, as
Song matured in a region known for centuries for its rich products: rice and other
agricultural goods, and above all for its fine porcelain and certain minerals, coal and
copper among others.18 Throughout his lifetime, Jiangxi was a printing, publishing
and technological mecca, features clearly relevant to the future author of an
encyclopedia of agricultural and industrial production. As Evelyn S. Rawski writes,
For size of printings, Kiangsi [Jiangxi] and Kwantung [Guandong] [were] the
greatest, and that the marketing of books in urban areas seems to have been
dominated by merchants from the lower Yangtze [Yangzi] centers and Kiangsi
[Jiangxi].19 By the close of the sixteenth century, Jiangxis paper industry employed

over 50,000 workers in thirty paper factories. The city of Jingdezhen (in Jiangxi),
known as the town that thunders and lightens through the four seasons because of
its constant ceramic production, contained two to three hundred private porcelain
factories and an equal number of imperial workshops.20 The growth of such large-
scale industries dramatically affected the social hierarchy, as many transients and
dispossessed peasants entered the emerging industrial trades, often clashing with
merchants, state regulators and local authorities. As Richard Von Glahn notes, the
rapid rise in numbers of people dependent on the vicissitudes of wage labor injected
a new element of instability into the urban milieu of Hangzhou and other Jiangnan
cities.21 Indeed, between 1590 and 1626, over 25 urban riots occurred in commercial
centers of the Jiangnan region, including the revolt of over 10,000 potters in
Jingdezhen in 1601, as the society struggled to absorb and adjust to the pressures of a
new economic class.22 Yet even as the society struggled to adapt to these sweeping
changes, the state increasingly relied on the region for taxation, goods, and grain.
During the early Wanli era, the prosperous southeast maintained a level of
autonomy from the Ming state as a result of an ineffectual bureaucracy and the
development of a semi-independent citizenry.23 However, as dynastic military and
funerary expenditures exceeded the imperial coffers at the end of the sixteenth
century, the state raised commercial and peasant taxes, and established customs
posts on the Yangzi and Grand Canal.24 Zhu Weizheng argues that the over-
centralization of autocratic power led to the squeezing of economically prosperous

regions to support the extravagances of the imperial house and the aristocracy, as
well as the huge outlays needed by the imperial bureaucracy and the army.25 From
1618 to 1644, the Ming state levied massive land surcharges to pay for military
defense along the northern border and debased the imperial currency through
seiniorage, instigating political resistance.26 With the southern-based Donglin
Shuyuan (Eastern Grove Academy) spearheading the opposition, conflict between
civil servants and eunuchs marked the years between 1615 and 1627.27 Following the
rise of the eunuch Wei Zhongxian (1568-1627) between 1624 and 1627, imperial
power crumbled, canceling the carrier-post system and increasing commercial
taxes.28 As the dynasty continued to plummet economically and politically, its
dependence on the Jiangnan region increased, so that by the beginning of the Qing
dynasty nearly sixty percent of state revenues came from grain, handicraft, and
commercial taxes from the southeastern regions.29 This profligate spending and
taxation certainly contributed to the phenomenon known as the involutionary
economy, although Ming extravagance was but one of the primary factors.
The development of an involutionary economy stemmed from a variety of
causes, including the decline in agricultural production, the rise of household
handicraft production and imperial extravagance. Household handicrafts
supplemented agricultural production, but offered only subsistence with little
opportunity for development, as pointed out by Ramon Myers:

Rural people, including many women, outnumbered the jobs available in the
labor market and so barely supported themselves by intensifying the
cultivation of their tiny plots, carrying out home industries, and marketing
what they produced, but usually without obtaining a per capita income equal
to the salaries available in the limited job market... However many were the
new economic opportunities, the rural folk continued to outnumber the slots
in the job markets, and so more and more of them, without hope of ever
matching the salaries offered by off-farm employers, could subsist only by
intensifying household activities... Such was the nature of the rise of cotton
growing, cotton processing, mulberry planting, and silk production in the
delta during the Ming-Ching [Qing] period.30
This economic situation worsened as the Ming state attempted to control the
spiraling silver economy and compensate the military through increased commercial
and land taxes, and seinoirage profits reaped from debased currency. Unable to
control the economy, panic ensued, as credit became virtually impossible to obtain,
food prices soared, and, for a time at least, the market for many cash crops and
manufactured goods collapsed.31 Unfortunately, at the same time, climate and
disease took their toll. Unusually severe weather struck China during the period
1626-1640, with extreme droughts being followed by major floods. Frequent
famines, accompanied by plagues of locusts and smallpox, produced starvation and
mass death during this same period.32 By 1635, two years before Song Yingxing

published the Tiangong kaiwu, the situation was grim, leading a young Chinese
scholar to write:
Today the distress of the people in Chiang-nan [Jiangnan] is extreme. There
are those who die from the pressure of taxes, those who die because of the
labor service obligations, those who die of starvation, those who die because
of the forced exactions of corrupt officials, and those who die from the
perverse and unreasonable activities of powerful local families.33
Yet, involution is not completely attributable to harsh taxes, corruption and state
extravagance, for the phenomenon was also attributed to a systemic breakdown
affecting the entire social order.34
Social Structures and Reform
Class structures provide ample opportunity for frustration in academic
analysis, often defying simple characterizations and generalizations, and offering
contradictory evidence for both plasticity and rigidity simultaneously. This is
particularly accurate regarding seventeenth century China, which witnessed the rise
of new classes nested within the old hierarchical order, as well as increasing
opportunities for social mobility and social differentiation. For a society composed
of a network of relationships with the individuals position defined by examinations,
kin, and the established hereditary hierarchy, the mere presence of new classes posed
difficulties. Merchants, scholar-officials, craftsmen, and peasants attempted both to

define and to escape their roles in society, leading one mid-sixteenth century Jiangxi
gazetteer to conclude wistfully nowadays some of these characteristics [of the
classes] are gradually changing.35 In particular, the status and occupation of many
scholars and merchants, whether in official service or not, became fungible
throughout the last century of the Ming dynasty.
The civil service examination system provided the means for social advance
and status during the Ming dynasty, offering enterprising young men from wealthy
or scholarly families access to the highest imperial positions via the ladder of
success. Ho Ping-ti writes that, In the Ming-Ching [Qing] period as a whole, the
status system was fluid and flexible and there were no effective legal and social
barriers which prevented the movement of individuals and families from one status
to another.36 This lack of official restraints allowed wealthy merchant families to
gain status through the examination success of the younger generation and offered
few official provisions to slow the downward mobility of the elite families.37 To
equalize the benefits of wealth, areas with heavy commercialization and
industrialization (like Jiangxi) often maintained community chests to aid the
education of local scholars a clear indication of the relationship between
merchants, the power of money, the examination system and the attainment of social
status.38 At the same time, the imposition of regional quotas restricted the number of
degree holders from a given area, especially among the highest level jinshi
(metropolitan) degrees. Conversely, the purchase of and sheer number of lower

degree holders degraded their official status, relegating shengyuan (local) to the
position of elevated commoners while zhuren (provincial) glutted the lower levels
of the bureaucracy.39 The glut of scholar-officials was particularly noticeable in the
Jiangnan region (especially Jiangxi), which produced the majority of jinshi but
remained inundated with unemployed, low ranking degree holders.40 This abundance
of unemployed scholars and wealthy merchants in the Jiangnan region contributed to
the rise of a leisurely consumer class dedicated to pursuit of elegant living and
Describing this newly emergent class, Ho Ping-ti writes that the leisured
class in Ming-Ching [Qing] China consisted of active and retired officials, scholars
from families of independent means, and nouveaux riches, who, after making their
fortunes in trade or elsewhere, joined the ranks of the elite.41 Regarding the rise of
the noveaux riches, Frederic Wakeman observes that:
As the middle ranks of society filled out with the new commercial and landed
wealth that arose during the 16th and early 17th centuries, there grew both a
greater degree of envy for the wealthiest people (because such affluence did
not seem so far out of reach in this relatively mobile society), and a greater
need for separating those within the highest orders by economic display.
Among contemporary observers, at least, there was certainly the growing
sense that society was not merely divided between rich and poor; it was also
divided between rich and very rich.42

This increased wealth at the top was often funneled into consumption rather than
innovation, land-holding, or trade, as consumption expressed social distinctions
within the upper class of Ming society.43 By the late sixteenth century, an urban
consumer class, complete with manuals of taste and style, depended upon
differentiation through clothing, ornament, and text which came to prevail over
the re-absorption of differences into a solidary social unity that had still been
possible in the early Ming.44 As the lines between merchants, wealthy gentry and
scholars blurred, each stratum of society hastened to define its distinct status,
culminating in a variety of exclusive gentry clubs, literary societies, and displays
of extravagance.45 For traditionalists, the outlandish behavior of lower degree
holders contributed to the moral decay of society, as frustrated shengyucm or xiucai
(district degree-holders) formed a newly expanded and eminently visible stratum in
the cities of the Yangzi river delta, cultivating a flamboyant dandyism that was often
associated in contemporaries eyes with sexual and social deviance.46 And while
some members of the gentry enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle, other more
traditional members of the gentry organized into reformist groups dedicated to
restoring proper moral society and government.47
Beginning in the early 1600s there was a mounting current of reaction to late
Ming corruptions, especially urban luxury, the monetary influence in government,
and the intellectual non-conformism associated with the Taizhou school of xinxue.**
Reformist groups, like the Donglin shuyuan, opposed the xinxue extremism rampant

in the cities while advocating measures to rebuild the economy and society. Indeed,
the few economic pronouncements of the Donglin shuyuan resonate with mercantile
interests, calling for relaxed government restraints, curbing official exactions and
eliminating eunuchs as state tax collectors.49 Widespread throughout the lower
Yangzi region, reformist groups often merged the interests of traditional scholars,
merchants, and the land-owning elite (or local gentry) through a practical
philosophy aimed at restoring elements of an idyllic past within the current social
hierarchy a philosophy that influenced the private academies in Jiangxi in the
seventeenth century.
The growth of a reform movement in private academies had a unique impact
on Jiangxi, as the province became the heart of the movement in Ming times.50
Jiangxis two major private academies, Bailudong and Bailuzhou, served as
counterparts to the Donglin movement and considered themselves the sole defenders
of true Confucian values.51 Distancing themselves from the Wang Yangming
school of xinxue by the late sixteenth century, these academies aimed mainly at
disciplined, moral conduct on the part of the students as a more practical goal than
that encouraged by the speculative propositions of the recent past.52 This goal is
exemplified by the Steps in Learning from Bailudong in 1592, which argued that
practical learning... depended on compromising, by syncretism of a sort, the
philosophical disputes of the past, a process that included rigorous behavioral
standards and acknowledged that the entering pathway to learning is the

investigation of things and extension of knowledge.53 This syncretic philosophy,
combining traditional morality, natural investigation, practical goals, and an
acceptance of commerce, substantially influenced the thought of Song Yingxing,
leading him to develop a philosophy that might be characterized as pragmatic
Pragmatic Syncretism
Pragmatic syncretism is a term I have employed to characterize the
philosophy subtly outlined in the Tiangong kaiwu, a philosophy dedicated to
resolving social turmoil by merging select elements of the past and present.54 A
product of his era, Song Yingxings philosophy reflects his contemporary
surroundings, society, and upbringing. The great-grandson of Song Qing, a jinshi
who rose to President of the Censorate under the Jiajing emperor (1522-1567), Song
Yingxing inherited a reverence for moral government and the desire to attain a
similar position.55 While little is known about his childhood, he must have been
cognizant of the commercial and industrial nature of his province, and may have
benefited from either the community chests or the private Academies created to aid
classical education in Jiangxi. In 1615, both Song and his brother (Song Yingsheng)
became zhuren with high honors, but after five attempts Song Yingxing failed to
qualify for the jinshi degree.56 Finally, in 1634, the state appointed him Director of
Studies for Fenyi in Jiangxi, a typical bureaucratic appointment reserved for the glut

of zhuren scholars in the lower Yangzi region.57 It was during this period that Song
authored the Tiangong kaiwu.
Divided into three books or sections, and subdivided into sixteen chapters,
the Tiangong kaiwu details a wide spectrum of technologies and techniques involved
in agriculture, sericulture, metallurgy, paper-making, transportation, martial
technology, and textile and ceramic production essentially those industries native
to the lower Yangzi and Jiangxi regions. Demonstrating his concern with matters
related to subsistence (food, clothing, and shelter), the first book includes the
growing and preparation of grains as well as information on cotton and silk
production (those household industries whose income supplemented agricultural
production.) The second book, detailing industrial processes, opens with the
ceramic construction of housing tiles, while the final book involves the production
of luxury items.
Written in clear and precise language, the Tiangong kaiwu offers explicit
directions for proper casting, spinning and other processes with priority to pedagogy.
Regarding sugars, Song advised that, Sugar cane must be planted in sandy soil, the
best choice being the alluvial soil along rivers. To test the soil, the earth is dug to a
depth of about one and half feet, and a sample of this is given a taste test. Cane
should not be planted where the soil tastes bitter in the mouth.58 Other advice is
more technically specific, exemplified by the following passage on casting iron bells:

For casting iron bells without the expenditure of too much fat and wax, an
outer layer [or cope] of the mold is first made from earth, which is then cut
into two sections either longitudinally or across. Dowel pins are used to
insure the positive alignment of these two sections when the mold is closed.
The reversed version of the words are inscribed on the inside of this cope.
The inner layer [or core] of the mold is smaller in size. On the basis of
accurate calculations, a predetermined space can be established between the
inner and outer layers of the mold. After the words are engraved, the surface
is spread over with a thin layer of ox fat, so that later the bell casting will not
stick to the mold. The cope is then laid over [the core], and the separate
sections are sealed together with mud. The mold is then ready for casting.59
Writing from the perspective of a laborer, Song clearly intended the Tiangong kaiwu
to act as an instruction manual, one that offered realistic and helpful direction to
those involved in production. Indeed, the prominence of illustrations in the work
may reflect his desire to educate and inform those laborers whose illiteracy restricted
their understanding of the text. This stress on illustration and practical information
reflects a growing trend in seventeenth century Chinese literature, demonstrated by
the concurrent increase in route books, popular encyclopedias and illustrated
glossaries.60 Yet at the same time, Song also intended the text of the Tiangong to act
as reformist critique of his contemporary society and the late Ming state.
Like many of the novels of the seventeenth century, the Tiangong kaiwu
offers political and moral criticism, thinly disguised under the pretext of
technology.61 Detached from many of the traditional occupations like farmer, artisan,

soldier, merchant or jinshi-level scholar, Song occupied a unique position within his
society, where as a witness rather than a participant he observed many of the social
and political changes of his era. Living in Jiangxi, Song witnessed the demise of
traditional agricultural production and the rise of household handicrafts to offset this
decline, the crushing effects of silver and monetarization on the peasant classes, the
growth of extravagant living among the wealthy, and the endemic political
corruption that resulted in the closing of mines and schools by eunuchs. At the same
time, Song understood and appreciated the social importance of merchants and
artisans, as well as the role technology could fulfill in aiding both agricultural and
industrial production. Like the headmaster at Bailudong, Song hoped to merge
tradition with contemporary society through a philosophy of pragmatic syncretism.
This pragmatic syncretism, concerned with rectifying the past and present,
revolves around three inter-related themes:
The primacy of accurate, practical information. Song hoped to merge the
practical and utilitarian knowledge of both the present and the past, while
excising fraudulent or inaccurate information.
The naturalization of technology. Technology, perceived as natural and
divine, is presented as a panacea for societys ills, whether agricultural,
economic or social.

Acceptance of the technological, commercial society within a restructured
traditional hierarchy. Requires restoring the traditional roles of farmers,
scholars and the government within this technological society, and expanding
acceptable society to include the artisans and merchants whose occupations
aid all levels of society.
As with any reconstituted philosophy, pragmatic syncretism requires substantial
explanation and illustration of each of these primary themes to be viable. The
primacy of practical information can be considered an outgrowth of the seventeenth
century emphasis on practical affairs and Songs personal experience with
widespread famine and ignorance. The second theme, The naturalization of
technology, relates to the process of integrating technological production within
society, while the third theme deals with the social consequences of this integration.
Acceptance of the new society requires restoring the value of agriculture and
farming, re-connecting educated elites with their traditional role in leading society
(instead of consumption and conoisseurship), reforming government, and creating a
new social hierarchy which valorizes, rather than denigrates, the roles of merchants
and technicians. Taken together, each of these interrelated themes forms an
integrated philosophy offering a practical, synthetic solution to the turmoil and
upheaval endemic in seventeenth century China. The following two chapters will re-
contextualize the Tiangong kaiwu along these lines, beginning with Songs attempt

to excise inaccuracies, and naturalize technology and technicians, and ending with
Songs criticisms of wealthy conoisseurship and the state.

1. Frederic Wakeman, The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of
Imperial Order in Seventeenth-century China (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1985), 8-9.
2. E-tu Zen Sun and Shiou-Chuan Sun, eds. and trans., preface to Tien Rung K'ai
Wu [Tiangong kaiwu] (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press,
1966), ix. Specifically, Sun refers to the industrial nature of the Jiangxi region,
the intellectual backlash against Wang Yangming and xiwcue, and the imminent
collapse of the Ming dynasty.
3. Song Yingxing, Yeyi, Lunqi, Tantian, Silanshi (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin
chubanshe, 1976); trans. and quoted in Richard Von Glahn, Fountain of Fortune
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 200.
4. Von Glahn, Fountain, 200. The financial crisis resulted from disruptions in the
flow of foreign silver, the widespread inefficiency and extravagance of the Ming
state, and the impending conflict with the Manchus.
5. Ho Ping-ti notes that the number of ting became a source of tension between
state and the rural districts as accurate numbers were rarely reported. Land was
taxed according to productivity, with the quality determined according to three
main grades, each of which could be further subdivided into three subgrades.
Depending on the quality of the land, a given number of actual mu would equal a
fiscal muthe amount used for tax purposes. See Ho Ping-ti [He Pingdi],
Studies on the Population of China 1368-1953 (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1959), 23-40.
6. Many northern landowners, primarily because land was their sole income,
protested the tax. However, given the added convenience to the state, the
potential to rid the process of corruption, and the logic of such fiscal innovation,
which would free the poor and landless from the usually heavy burden of ting
tax, [the tax] was irresistible. Ho, Studies on Population, 30.
7. Frederic Wakeman describes in detail the relations between various levels of
tenants and landlords in the seventeenth century. Specifically, If a peasant could
not pay his taxes, he could turn over his tax indemnity and property rights to
a member of the newly ascendant local gentry (xiangshen) whose degree status
exempted him from paying taxes. Someone with such official status could then
remove that land from the tax rolls, and charge a rent which would be profitable

to him while less onerous than the tax bill which the former freeholder (and now
his tenant) would have earlier had to pay. The fundamental meaning of toukao,
then, was to exchange ones land or labor for the protection of an official.
Wakeman, Great Enterprise, 618-623.
8. Jacques Gemet, A History of Chinese Civilization (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1972), 425.
9. Ho, Studies on Population, 119-120. He also writes that Wanlis need for
revenue was a result of increasing extravagance, Korean expeditions, campaigns
against southwestern aborigines and Japanese pirates, and his courts increasing
awareness that silver was the most concrete expression of wealth. This was
exacerbated by endemic corruption, as Wanli repeatedly diverted government
funds for palace building, confusing the privy and public purses, and who
allowed his purveyors to deduct regularly a twenty percent kickback on all costs
regardless of what other squeeze they made. Wakeman, Great Enterprise, 11.
10. Hill Gates, Chinas Motor: A Thousand Years of Petty Capitalism (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1996)* 52-61. Gates notes that population rose from 60
million in the late fourteenth century to a possible high of 200 million by 1592.
Among the additions to the food crops were the ground-nut (1530-1540), the
sweet potato (1563), sorghum (+1500), and maize(+1700). See Gemet, History
Chinese Civilization, 428.
11. Wakeman, Great Enterprise, 612n. He continues by stating that In early 17th
century Jiaxing, 5 mu of land planted in rice yielded only 11.25 taels of income
after the crop was sold. The same amount of land planted in mulberry produced a
crop worth 52 taels of silver an increase by more than a factor of four.
12. Wakeman, Great Enterprise, 612. He also states that once devoted to cotton
cultivation, the land could not be easily restored to rice. This presented a
problem when the price of raw cotton began to drop, increasing the reliance on
household handicraft production.
13. Philip C.C. Huang, The Peasant Family and Rural Development in the Yangzi
Delta, 1350-1988 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), 332. Huang links
this productive shift to involution, writing Even after rice yields per unit land
had topped out under traditional methods of cultivation, the Yangzi delta was
able to involute further by turning to even more-labor-intensive cash crops,
especially cotton and mulberries for silkworms. In so doing, the involuted
peasant economy was able to sustain a landlordism that ultimately snuffed out

alternative capitalistic organizations of farm production. Involuted small tenant
farms were able to out compete wage labor-based managerial farming by
drawing on low-cost spare-time and auxiliary household labor.
14. This shift and the consequent growth of the southern Song industries is addressed
in Laurence J.C. Ma, Commercial Development and Urban Change in Sung
[Song] China (960-1279) (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1971). Ma
notes the growth of an economy based on exchange, new commercial and urban
centers, the growth of a free peasantry and sea trade, the growth of industrial and
merchant guilds, the integration of merchants and bureaucrats, and the
introduction of large-scale imperial industries.
15. Gemet, History Chinese Civilization, 428-429. Gemet notes that during the
course of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the role of great productive and
rice-exporting region was to pass to the two provinces of the middle Yangtze
(Yangzi), Hunan, and Hupei (Hubei), while the areas south of the Yangtze
(Yangzi) turned more and more to commerce and manufacturing. Also, as
William Skinner has shown, markets developed according to the dynamics of
macroregions, see William Skinner, Marketing and Social Structure in Rural
China: Part II, Journal of Asian Studies 24.2 (Feb. 1965): 195-228.
16. Huang, Peasant Family, 306. Huang writes it was the distinctive transport
network of the delta and its low-cost water links to the middle and upper Yangzi
regions and the southeastern seacoast that permitted a higher degree of
involutionary commercialization of the peasant economy than in a region such as
North China.
17. Sun and Sun, preface to Tien Kung Kai Wu [Tiangong kaiwu],ix.
18. Ibid.
19. Evelyn Sakakida Rawski, Education and Popular Literacy in Ch ing [Qing]
China (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1979), 116-117. Rawski
notes that Jiangxis printing centers were located in Xuwan and Nanjang, and
that most of the popular publishing was done at Xuwan, whose factories often
used unskilled female labor and released poor quality, low-cost editions.
20. Albert Chan, The Glory and Fall of the Ming Dynasty (Norman, OK: University
of Oklahoma Press, 1982), 82. The phrase thunders and lightens throughout the
four seasons is attributed to a late Ming scholar, while the numbers of factories
are simply composites of various contemporary sources. During the Xuande era

(1426-1436) there were 58 imperial factories, by the late Ming one scholar
increased this number to 3,000 a number similar to that of Wang Shih-mou
[Shimou] in Ching-te-chen tao lu [Jingdezhen taolu]. Finally, a third source
from the early Qing dynasty estimated the number of private factories at two or
three hundred.
21. Jonathan D. Spence and John E. Wills Jr., eds., From Ming to Ch ing [Qing]:
Conquest, Region, and Continuity in Seventeenth Century China (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1979), 279-298. While many of these disturbances were
localized and of short duration, the riots of 1601-1603 were not only widespread
but also witnessed the alliance of the sheng-yuan, the lowest degree holders, with
the mob. Substantial riots include The Silk Weavers strike of 1601, The
Potters disturbances of 1601 and 1604, and The Soochow (Suzhou) Riots of
1603 and 1626.
22. Richard Von Glahn, Municipal Reform and Urban Social Conflict in Late Ming
Jiangnan, Journal of Asian Studies 50.2 (May 1991):291. On page 294, Von
Glahn considers this instability to have been generated by the contradiction
between a taxation system predicated on an idealized conception of the agrarian
economy and the forms of work, livelihood, and social structure beginning to
emerge in the commercial centers of Jiangnan.
23. Chu-tsing Li and James C.Y. Watt, eds., The Chinese Scholars Studio: Artistic
Life in the Late Ming Period (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1987), 3. The
independent citizenry refers to those rural gentry released from agricultural
production through the exploitation of landlordism and those scholar-elites who
refused, or were not qualified for, state service.
24. Von Glahn writes that in 1599, taxes on commerce had provoked violent protest
at three major port cities on the Grand Canal: the great Linqing riot on May 19th,
a market boycott by Hangzhou merchants on May 22nd, and violent
demonstrations at Yizhen (outside Yangzhou) on May31st. Von Glahn,
Municipal Reform, 288.
25. Zhu Weizheng, Coming Out of the Middle Ages: Comparative Reflections on
China and the West, trans. and ed. by Ruth Hayhoe (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe
Inc., 1990), 24-25. Zhu considers this to show how advanced was the social
development of the Jiangnan region, especially the southern part of the triangle
of the Yangzis lower reaches.

26. Von Glahn, Fountain, 177-178. Von Glahn writes that In the fall of 1618, after
the Manchus seized the strategic garrison town of Fushun, the court hastily
approved an emergancy surcharge on land taxes for provisionment for the
defense of Liaodong [liaoxiang]. In contrast to the protracted warfare touched
off by the Mines and Taxes initiatives, the enactment of substantial land tax
surcharges specifically dedicated to the provisioning of the armies engaged with
the Manchu invaders elicited only weak and muted opposition. Further setbacks
on the battlefield prompted the court to double the surcharge in 1619 and raise it
again in the spring of 1620. Thus began the spiraling inflation of war
expenditures that sapped the empires economic strength and eventually brought
about its demise. .. .Aside from levying emergency surcharges on the regular
land tax quotas.. .the only immediate means to resolve the deficit was to extract
greater revenue from coinage.. .Although Wang warned against the dangers of
issuing too much coin, his plan for large coins was tantamount to a severe
debasement. It called for minting a ten-wen coin that would contain only 20
percent of the metal in ten one-wen coins.
27. Gemet, History Chinese Civilization, 432. Gemet notes that the conflict was
between a group of upright civil servants and loyalist intellectuals on the one
hand and the insolent power of the eunuchs on the other, a power based on their
familiarity with the emperor, on complicities gained inside and outside the
palace, and on the passivity of an administration rendered docile by corruption
and fear.
28. Robert E. Hegel, The Novel in Seventeenth Century China (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1981), 23-25. Specifically, Hegel offers this arresting portrait
of Ming decline: Ming power crumbled even more drastically: imperial armies,
no longer centrally supplied, foraged at great cost to local peasants; the courier-
post system was discontinued as a means of reducing government expenses,
causing loss of income for people across the empire; commercial taxes were
increased, causing even more disaffection; famine spread its cruel tentacles ever
more widely in the wake of unrelieved natural calamities.
29. Zhu, Coming out of the Middle Ages, 24. Zhu writes that One only has to note
the five hundred years in which Beijing was the capital of the Ming and Qing
dynasties and the imperial governments of both dynasties depended for their
revenues, including the grain tax, the handicraft tax, and commercial taxes,
largely on the Jiangnan region. At the time of the Ming-Qing transition (the
seventeenth century), over 60 percent of the land tax, which was paid in grain,
came from the two prefectures of Suzhou and Songjiang.

30. Ramon H. Myers, How did the Modem Chinese Economy Develop? The
Journal of Asian Studies 50.3 (August 1991): 610. It should be noted that Myers
bases the majority of this description on Huang, Peasant Family.
31. William S. Atwell, Some Observations on the Seventeenth-Century Crisis in
China and Japan. Journal of Asian Studies 45.2 (Feb. 1986):229.
32. Wakeman, Great Enterprise, 7.
33. Translated and reprinted in Atwell, Seventeenth-Century Crisis, 228.
34. Wakeman, Great Enterprise, 9. Frederic Wakeman considers the breakdown to
have occurred outward from the center, writing: The early pattern of a self-
sustaining administration, with taxes in kind supplied by tax collectors among the
people, military costs covered by self-sufficient hereditary garrisons, and labor
services provided by corvee or permanently registered hereditary occupational
groups, had depended upon the central governments ability to maintain efficient
registration and allocation procedures. The monetarization of the economy, the
move of the main capital to Beijing away from the major grain producing regions
in the lower Yangzi river delta, and the lack of rational procedures at the center
of the bureaucracy to perpetuate the ideally self-sustaining population units all
led to a breakdown of this system.
35. Brook, Confusions, 142-143. Brook also points out that the eminent and
unconventional Gui Yougang (1507-1571) would go further to state: In ancient
times the four orders of commoners had their distinct functions, but in later times
the status distinctions among scholars, peasants, and merchants have become
36. Ho, Ladder of Success, 257. In addition, Benjamin A. Elman notes that Once
legally enfranchised to compete, merchant families as much as official families
saw in the civil service the route to greater wealth and orthodox success and
power. Benjamin A. Elman, Political, Social, and Cultural Reproduction via
Civil Service Examinations in Late Imperial China, Journal of Asian Studies 50
(February 1991): 16.
37. Ho notes that long-range downward mobility of high-status families could take
place because of any one of the following factors: failure to provide children with
the proper education, the competitive nature of the examination system which
was based in the main on merit rather than on family status, the limited yin
privilege of high officials, the mode of life and cultural expressions of the

leisured class, and the progressive dilution of wealth due to the absence of
primogeniture. At the same time, those of humble and obscure origin had an
increasingly difficult time passing the exams because of the influence of money.
Ho, Ladder of Success, 165,125. Elman notes the difficulty of peasants
achieving success, writing, to expect that artisan or peasant mothers and fathers
could afford the luxury of years of training for their sons in a foreign language
divorced from vernacular grammar and native speech was naive. Elman,
Political, Social, and Cultural Reproduction, 17.
38. It is probable that industrial centers like Jingdezhen hoped to develop a jins hi
scholar from among their population to curry favor in government politics. Ho
asserts that Some Kiangsi [Jiangxi] localities reestablished community chests
out of communal effort. For example, throughout Ming times the community
chest, under the name chin-shih-chuang [jinshizhaung], was well maintained in
Fu-liang [Fuliang], which was internationally known for its porcelain-making
borough Ching-te-chen [Jingdezhen]. ...The existence of community chests in a
number of Kiangsi [Jiangxi] localities may have been a minor but not
insignificant reason for the provinces exceptional academic success during the
first half of the Ming period. Ho, Ladder of Success, 205.
39. Ho describes the relative status of each of the levels of the degrees in detail, as
well as the corruption via degree purchase. The lowest class, shengyuan were
regarded for the whole Ming-Ching [Qing] period as a significant socially
transitional group among commoners. The provincial scholars, the zhuren,
began to glut the lower stratum of officialdom, while the jins hi had the
highest priority on office[s]. Ho, Ladder of Success, 40,171,26. Wakeman notes
that During the latter half of the 15th century, the imperial government also
began selling studentships in the imperial academy, and by the 16th century many
commoners who had the funds to do so purchased the title of jiansheng [district
degree-holders], which entitled them to take further examinations and be
eligible for minor official appointment. By the Tianqi period, wealthy
commoners were also purchasing the lowest regular examination degree and
becoming shengyuan. These new members of the lower gentry were not held in
great esteem in their own locales. Wakeman, Great Enterprise, 94n.
40. Elman writes that Because of economic advantages in South China (especially
the Yangtze [Yangzi] delta, but including Fu-chien [Fujian] and Kuang-tung
[Guandong] provinces), candidates from the south were always performing better
on the national examinations than candidates from less prosperous regions in the
north and that Economic surpluses produced by wealthy lineages, particularly
in the prosperous Yangtze [Yangzi] delta, enabled members of rich segments of

such lineages to have better access to a classical education and success on state
examinations, which led to sources of political and economic power outside the
lineage. Elman, Political, Social, and Cultural Reproduction, 14-20. The
extraordinary success of Jiangxi, which had 1,020jins hi scholars during Ming
times, the highest of all the provinces, is noted in Ho, Ladder of Success, 246.
41. Ho, Ladder of Success, 154. Timothy Brook offers another perspective on this
class, writing Being a socio-cultural rather than economic category, the gentry
defies precise definition. At its core were those who held titles granted by the
state principally through the examination system. But the status that degree-
holders enjoyed extended to various educated relatives and to those whose
cultural attainments and social networks gave them entree into the world of
scholarship and conoisseurship that marked off the elite. Brook, Confusions,
42. Wakeman, Great Enterprise, 615.
43. Clunas, Superfluous Things, 160-162.
44. Brook, Confusions, 149-150. Brook characterizes the society as one where
Private persuasion had given way to public lawsuit; the distinctions between
rich and poor, once subtle because clear and well understood by all.. .had become
exposed and raw. Moral order had departed from public culture.
45. Wakeman, Great Enterprise, 92-94. The author notes that The establishment of
gentry clubs during the late Ming, and indeed the party movements as a whole
during the 1620s and 30s, reflected the expansion of the upper rungs of the social
hierarchy at that time, and in consequent development of a new kind of political
system in which bureaucratic differences were articulated into extra-bureaucratic
social movements.
46. Ibid., 94.
47. Wolfram Eberhard writes There was insurrection in every part of the country.
The gentry, organized in their Academies, and secretly at work in the
provinces, no longer supported the government; the central power no longer had
adequate revenues, so that it was unable to pay the armies that should have
marched against all the rebels and also against external enemies. Wolfram
Eberhard, A History of China, 3rd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1969), 268. While the above selection assumes a rather essentialist and harsh
statist perspective, there is little doubt that reformist groups offered resistance to

the state, although many of the reformist groups, such as the Donglin, unlike
rebels, did not necessarily want to overthrow the Ming government.
48. Spence and Wills, From Ming to Ch ing, xvii. The authors note that These
reactions were in part due to the results of the growing numbers of examination
candidates and the dissemination of classical and statecraft literature among
them, which in turn linked to the commercial expansion and urbanization, many
of the effects of which the reformers deplored. Of course, as noted, many of
the Donglin reforms actually reinforced the position of commerce relative to
the government. Joanna Handlin characterizes Wang Yangmings xinxue as
teaching that the authority for moral principles rested within the mind, and
should be understood, therefore^ through personal experience rather than by
conforming to external standards, [which] paved the way for the moral relativism
and individualism of the sixteenth century... .One of [his] axioms in the
original substance of mind there is no distinction of good and evil was
interpreted by members of the next generation to give license to moral relativism.
Thus Wangs tolerance of different approaches to knowledge sowed, much
against Wangs own intentions, the seeds for the philosophical disputes that later
divided the scholar-officials. Joanna Handlin, Action in Late Ming Thought: The
Reorientation of Lu Kun [Kun] and Other Scholar Officials (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1983), 28.
49. Ibid., 294. Frederic Wakeman expands the connection between the Donglin and
mercantile interests, when he writes: It has been argued that the Donglin
movement represented a union between a rising merchant class and middle and
small landlords who aimed to establish the hegemony of the landowning class
over the imperial autocracy. The Donglin movement, in this view, wanted to
strengthen the structure of the entire landlord class by opposing both centralizing
despotism and the interests of very large landowners who were abusing their
privileges and driving the lower classes into rebellion. Wakeman, Great
Enterprise, 108n.
50. This characterization is taken from a passage of John Meskills that states, In
the end, the distribution of the seven [academies] seemed fortunate, even if
accidentally so. Two of the academies were in Kiangsi [Jiangxi], the heart of the
movement in Ming times; at least three others could be counted as in the south,
which was the main general location of academies... John Meskill, Academies
in Ming China: A Historical Essay (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1982),

51. Meskill observes that In an inscription for Pai-lu-tung [Bailudong] Academy
after the Chang-Chu-cheng [Zhang Zhuzheng] attack, for example, the author
portrayed the academy not as a seedbed of integrity to rejuvenate the tired world
around it but as the sole defender of solid confucian values in a field that would
otherwise be dominated by Buddhist and Taoist falsehoods. Of course, these
statements were made under political duress, as Zhang had effectively prohibited
the academies in 1579 as such, the academic administration needed to integrate
themselves into the imperial philosophy and educational conception. Meskill,
Academies, 142.
52. The Jiangxi academies removed their shrines to Wang Yangming in 1592, while
the quote on practicality comes from MeskilTs portrayal of academic
philosophies from 1592 to 1617. Meskill, Academies, 142-145.
53. Again, this characterization comes from MeskilTs interpretation of Chang Huang
[Zhang Huang], while the passage on investigation is reproduced and
translated from Zhangs Steps in Learning. Meskill, Academies, 145-146.
54. The term pragmatism is used as a cognate to practical and useful not a
curious and idle knowledge.. .but a pragmatical knowledge, full of labour and
business- a definition in use since the seventeenth century, see Raymond
Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1983), s.v.
55. Arthur W. Hummel, ed. Eminent Chinese of the Ch ing [QingJ Period (1644-
1912) (reprint, Taipei: Cheng-wen Publishing Company, 1967), 690.
56. Ibid.
57. Ho concludes that It is true that gradually school posts came to be reserved
almost exclusively for deadwood chu-jen [zhuren] and kung-sheng [gongsheng\,
who from mid-Ming times onward began to glut the lower stratum of
officialdom, and the value of the schools as local centers of serious studies
became less and less. Ho, Ladder of Success, 171.
58. Song Yingxing, Tiangong kaiwu, 125.
59. Ibid., 162.
60. While there was no specific format for practical literature in the seventeenth
century, route books, popular encyclopedias, illustrated glossaries and technical

works comprise the majority of the genre. From the fifteenth century forward,
the demand for books relating to daily affairs stimulated the printing of popular
encyclopedias the riyong leishu (Encyclopedias of Daily Use). These popular
works treated topic of interest like model clan and household regulations and the
descriptions of rites. Illustrated glossaries, essentially primers for learning written
Chinese, displayed an almost single-minded focus on practical affairs, as the
majority of terms were concerned with agricultural implements, military and
artisanal tools, metal-working and weaving utensils. For more information, see
Evelyn Rawski, Education and Popular Literacy, 114-135. Route books, which
were published for merchants and artisans, offered information on ferry
schedules, market dates and regional commercial specialties. As Timothy Brook
notes, route books should be thought of as counterparts in the commercial world
to technological manuals, such manuals were published to provide information
about the best available technology, thereby overcoming the various forms of
inertia that stood in the way of the diffusion of technical knowledge. Timothy
Brook, Geographical Sources ofMing-Oing History (Ann Arbor, MI: University
of Michigan Press, 1988), 19.
61. As Robert Hegel notes, most Ming novels were written by men from lower
Yangzi commercial centers deprived of their traditional role in leading society.
Written largely for their peers, the novel arose from contradictions in the minds
of the literati between obligations to serve society and the license to indulge in
their fantasies. As a result, novels were both an expression of individualism and
an outlet for reform. Like the practical literature of the Ming, most novels of
the period were didactic, offering political and moral criticism through the use of
allegory instead of through factual, technical material. Both Water Margin and
The Merry Adventures of Emperor Yang criticized social and political trends
like brigandage and corruption. Jinping Mei (The Golden Lotus), perhaps the
most famous novel in Chinese history, is essentially a parody of consumerism
and licentious living. See Hegel, The Novel in Seventeenth Century China, 1-68.

At the end of the Ming dynasty (late sixteenth and early seventeenth
centuries) many inquiring minds among the literati were rebelling against the
futility of the idealist school of thought of Wang Yangming, and the result
was the upsurge of interest in the materialistic aspects of life and the
publication of several works of a factual and technical character that have
since become classics in their field. E-tu Zen Sun1
Moreover, seventeenth-century China also witnessed the growing
preoccupation with practical problems of ordering the world, matters such as
statecraft and government. The animus of this impulse to ching-shih
(literally, management of the world) was belief in the efficacy of technical
and institutional management of problems of state and society as opposed to
the prevailing Neo-Confucian faith in ethical transformation of the polity by
achieving moral purism. On-cho Ng2
This emphasis on the factual and technical represents a primary
consideration of the Tiangong kaiwu and an integral component of Song Yingxings
philosophy. The stress on factual (and therefore accurate and practical) information
led him to question the transmission of knowledge from antiquity and appreciate the

contemporary advances in technics and thought an approach that foreshadows the
work of the later kaozheng scholars.3 Songs attempt to naturalize technology
through mythology and a demonstration of its social significance illustrates his
emphasis on technical knowledge, while the illustrations complement this theme by
displaying technology, man, and nature in harmony. Hoping to re-awaken the
interest of the state and of wealthy elites, Song undertook the writing of a factual
book on the arts and techniques that went into the making of the necessities of daily
life, in an attempt to persuade the vast majority of scholar-officials that these too
were matters that merited attention.4
The Primacy of Practical Knowledge
Determined to merge the utilitarian knowledge of the past with that of the
present, Song Yingxing relied upon a three-pronged approach: questioning the
transmission, and thus the truth, of antiquated knowledge; excising incorrect
information and excoriating those who repeat inaccuracies; and asserting the
potential of more recent learning.5 Throughout the seventeenth century, numerous
intellectuals questioned the accuracy and efficacy of the imperial canon, often
lambasting the state academies and the examination system.6 As Zhu Weizheng
notes, in the intellectual history of this time, some heterodox ideas appeared,
leading some scholars [to rebel] against being slaves to chapter and verse of the
Four Books and [to oppose] being parrots who mouthed phrases from the ancient

sages and worthies. This reached a point where Li Zhi openly repudiated the position
that what Confucius took as truth must be true.7 Such contemporary repudiation of
antiquated knowledge is evident in a long passage from the chapter on Casting in
the Tiangong kaiwu:
Then emperor Yu cast his nine ting. At that time the nine provinces had been
demarcated, the annual tributes from each region had been fixed, the rivers
had been dredged and brought under control, and the Tributes of Yu had been
written. Fearful, however, that the rulers of later ages might increase the taxes
by great amounts, and that later kingdoms might become oppressive, or that
those in charge of irrigation and flood control might not allow the correct
methods, Yu had all these matters inscribed and cast into the ting, which
would be more durable than books, so that posterity could act according to
the rules laid down. As the centuries passed peoples knowledge (about
antiquity) became dim. It is said that such phrases as pearls and fish and
foxes and woven leather were inscribed on the ting, but the words might
have been mutilated and worn by time. The ignorant, however, took these to
be sentences denoting frightful phenomena, giving rise to the statement in the
Spring and Autumn Chronicles that if one knows the designs of the spirits
then ghosts and monsters can be avoided.
By the Chin dynasty [Qin, 221-206] the ting-tripods of Yu had been
lost. Although the Great ting of the state of Kao, and the two Fang ting of the
state of Lu, were cast in the Spring and Autumn period [770-403], their
inscriptions by no means had the same intent as those of Yu; that is, these
things were antiques in name only. In later ages there has been a multitude of
documents and books, but f/wg-tripods were never made again.8

This is a particularly fascinating and informative passage, as Song uses the
mythology of the nine tripods to question the transmission of knowledge, the
accuracy of the Four Books (the sishu Lunyu, Mengzi, Zhongyong, Daxue), and
criticize the current administration.9 The first two sentences essentially establish the
morality of antiquity, a technique commonly employed by reformists who
continued to hark back to antiquity as the baseline for measuring success and
failure.10 The third sentence subtly criticizes the Ming administrations exorbitant
taxation and institutional mismanagement that led to the desiccation of the Jiangnan
irrigation system for rice. Referring to the historical amnesia caused by the
Warring States period, Song suggests that the ignorant misinterpreted the spiritual
(and accurate) knowledge of the past, which was then recast by the modem state in
forms that are antiques in name only. He directly attacks the canonized Four
Books, noting inaccuracies in the Spring and Autumn Chronicles and arguing that
the tripods of the Lu state (the traditional birthplace of Kongzi) bore inscriptions
that did not reflect the morality of antiquity. The final line criticizes the profusion of
textual redactions that formed the basis of the imperial orthodoxy in the Ming a
dogmatic system of learning that pretended to mirror the knowledge and sacrality of
antiquity. Song may have considered the reliance on classical texts a hindrance to the
excision of inaccurate information and the diffusion of practical knowledge -
concerns central to the Tiangong kaiwu. It is also important to note the relationship

of philology to the transmission of knowledge, as Song, who wrote a work on
phonology, felt that a lack of comprehension might be partially responsible for the
later inaccuracies. This emphasis on linguistic transmission is alluded to in passages
on hemp and paper.
In the chapter on The Growing of Grains, Song revisits this concern with
the errors arising from transmission, writing:
In ancient times hemp was termed one of the five grains, yet this is certainly
inappropriate if hemp itself is meant. It is possible that the hemp mentioned
in the ancient classics is a species now extinct, or that it was a variety
belonging to the legume or millet family, but in the course of transmission [of
the texts] its name was incorrectly rendered."
This same concern is also addressed in later, longer passage on paper:
The [ancient] sha-ch ing [shaqing] or killing the green refers to chopping
down the bamboo plants; while han-ch ing [hanqing] or sweating the
green, to cooking and straining [the bamboo] fibers. The word board
means finished paper. In later ages, however, people mistakenly thought that
the boards meant pieces of bamboo slats and arrived at the erroneous
conclusion that the term leather braiding was a reference to stringing the
bamboo boards together with strips of leather. In view of the fact that a great
number of books were in existence in China before the burning of the books

was ordered by Chin [Qin], would it have been possible to produce so many
books if they had had to be made up with pieces of bamboo slats?
Some foreigners in the west make paper out of palm leaves, but the
Chinese, forgetting that leaves will wither after they are plucked from the
tree, again took it to mean that it was on the leaves themselves that the
scriptures were written. This notion is as ridiculous as the idea of books made
of bamboo slats!12
These passages evince Songs passion for language and his concern over the
transmission of information. The first passage on hemp addresses inaccuracies in the
canonized classics, while the second quotation is a bit more abrasive (the Chinese)
and records more recent linguistic misinterpretations. The passage on paper is also
quite ironic, as E-tu Zen Sun notes that Boards and leather braiding were
actually employed prior to the invention of paper, and that palm leaves refer to the
pattra of India, where people actually did write the Buddhist sutras on leaves.13
Apparently, Song, like many of his peers, was not immune to the vagaries of
transmission, as the mistake illustrates his own incomplete understanding of ancient
Having established the possibility of errors in the canonized classics resulting
from transmission, Song proceeded to remove inaccurate information, an enterprise
in which he took great delight. The Tiangong kaiwu is peppered with his
corrections, many of which often ridicule the ignorant, referring to those who

accept, without experimenting or questioning, the accepted truths. A number of
these corrections are reproduced below:
The size of the grain depends on the fertility of the soil and the climate. The
Sung [Song] scholars are wrong in insisting that the musical standards [the
twelve semitones] should be determined by the size of millet from a
particular area.14
Some people mistake clam shell powder (i.e. clam powder) for oyster lime.
That is because they have never troubled to learn the nature of things.15
As to the native sulphur of the Liuchiu [i.e. Ryukyu] Islands, and the
water sulphur of Kwangtung [Guangdong], they are only erroneous records
in books.16
Silver is produced by thus [melting] and by no other means. The baseless
conjectures and annotations in the magicians and naturalists books are
therefore very objectionable indeed.17
Some foolish writer in days of old marked down amber together with the
China-root fungus in association with pine trees. What nonsense!18
As for the notion that [amber] is capable of attracting lamp-wick grass, it is
baseless talk that serves only to confuse people. With the help of the human
spirit, all materials can attract the small, light particles. The mistaken notions

of Naturalists are hereby stricken out of the record so as to prevent damage to
While these are only a sampling of Songs corrections, they illustrate many of his
central concerns. Song, who understood the regional character of both nature and
technology, attributes the mistake in the first quotation to ignorance (of regionality).
The second selection harps on the intellectual laziness of people, a typical theme
among reformists and intellectuals during the late Ming period as many peasants and
scholars simply accepted popular, or canonized, information.20 The third, fourth and
sixth selections all refer to mistakes in books, inaccuracies Song considered very
objectionable because they only serve to confuse people. In addition, Song
criticized both magicians and naturalists (those who pretend to have control over
nature), portraying them as charlatans, while asserting that at least some ancient
knowledge was the product of some foolish writer in the days of old.
Given this occasionally foolish information from the past, Song is quick to
appreciate the progress inherent in more recent work. Appropriately, Songs
strongest assertion of the utilty of recent knowledge occurs in a passage regarding
ceramic production, one of the primary industries of the Lower Yangzi and Jiangxi
regions, and perhaps the best example of Chinas technical progress:
The sacrificial dishes of the Shang and Chou [Zhou] times were made of
wood; was it not because the people then wanted to show great respect

[toward the spirits]? In later times, however, ingenious designs began to
appear in various localities, human craftsmanship exerted its specialties, and
superior ceramic wares were produced, beautiful as a woman endowed with
fair complexion and delicate bones. [These wares] sparkle in quiet retreats or
at festive boards, a concrete sign of civilized life. It is hardly necessary to
adhere [to the ways of Zhou and Shang] forever.21
Song here considered recent improvements in technology a natural outgrowth of
human craftsmanship and a concrete sign of civilized life. Throughout the
Tiangong kaiwu, he emphasized the continuity of knowledge, exemplified by the
progress of technology, so that later improvements occur as naturally as a fair
complexion and delicate bones. The closing sentence of the passage above
delineates Songs vision of change and evolution, intimating that adhering to
antiquated ways is equivalent to stagnation. This theme of the accuracy and
efficiency of contemporary knowledge is reinforced in passages regarding both
agriculture and technology, as he wrote:
Grain is not a specific term. The hundred grains refer to crops in general,
while the five grains are sesamum, legumes, wheat, panicled milllet, and
glutinous millet. Rice is not included because the ancient sages who wrote on
the subject were natives of northwestern China. Nowadays seventy per cent
of the peoples staple is rice, while wheat and various kinds of millet
constitute thirty per cent. Sesamum and legumes are used exclusively as

vegetables and [for making] oil, although tradition still classifies them among
the grains.22
The looms first devised by divine maidens have indeed been brought to
perfection through human skill.23
The first selection is particularly fascinating because it reveals Songs awareness of
agricultural and cultural change, as well as his stress on clarifying terminology
resulting from an interest in phonology. Millet and wheat, the primary crops of the
Han, Tang and Ming dynasties, were superseded by rice as the principal agricultural
staple as early as the Song dynasty. As Song perceptively records, the burden of
agricultural production, and with it the cultural center of society, shifted to the region
south of the Yangzi after the introduction of rice-cropping.24 While Song does not
want to discount the ancient respect for agriculture, he does want to declare the
relevance of contemporary agricultural knowledge, and emphasize that inherited
traditions and practices may be unsuitable for many contemporary applications. This
contradiction between revering and improving upon antiquity reflects a growing
sense of historicism in seventeenth-century Chinese thought central to kaozheng
scholars who believed that the classics could not be directly and uncritically applied
to current problems.25 Wang Fuzhi (1619-1704), a contemporary of Song Yingxing
and an early kaozheng scholar, noted that because the ancient institutions were
meant to govern the ancient world and cannot be followed today, the superior man

does not base his activities on them.26 Song often expressed similar concern over
the inappropriateness of antiquated knowledge in simple statements like our ancient
agriculturists did not know deep ploughing was not suitable for legumes.27
The second selection concerning looms, while much simpler, confirms
Songs appreciation for the recent improvements in technology. Using the mythology
of the silk weaver, Song attributes divinity to ancient technology and connects
contemporary silk production to the glorified moral world of antiquity.28 While the
statement reinforces a previous line, this rejoinder states that earlier, divine
technology was brought to perfection through human skill suggesting the
triumph of recent technology (and therefore knowledge) over the divinity of
antiquity. This attribution of divinity through mythology, or naturalness, to
technology was central to its acceptance within traditional, and elite, Chinese
As the preceding pages demonstrate, Song questioned the transmission,
accuracy and efficacy of classical knowledge, concluding that much of the accepted
canon was either incorrect or anachronistic. However, it must be remembered that
Song appreciated antiquity, and like many of his peers, valorized the morality and
spirituality of the past. His concern with antiquity revolved around its contemporary
commoditization, as numerous scholar-elites, engaged in a culture of conoisseurship
and consumption, attempted to elude the turmoil of the present by escaping into an
idyllic past. Other scholars simply accepted the authorized version of antiquity,

remaining stagnant and spellbound, oblivious to inaccuracies and inefficiency. By
illustrating the flaws within classical knowledge and emphasizing the relevance of
recent knowledge, Song hoped to pave the way for the acceptance and state support
of contemporary technology and the reformation of Chinese society.
The Naturalization of Technology through Text
Through the Tiangong kaiwu Song hoped to establish the importance of
technology to society by demonstrating its utility and, more importantly, its natural
(and therefore divine) origin.29 Once accomplished, this naturalization of
technology would engender the naturalization and acceptance of a technically
influenced social order. In addition, by illustrating the benefits of technology, Song
may have hoped to re-connect the mundane concerns of the populace to those elites,
whether administrative, educated, or just wealthy, pre-occupied with consumerism
and conoisseurship.
In the chapter on Casting, Song considers the relationship between the
earth, technology and humanity, writing:
In its natural state metal is enclosed in the earth; likewise, when it is being
made into useful implements it is also enclosed in earthem molds. The
implements may be fine or coarse, large or small. That which is blunt is used
as a mortar [for pounding grain], that which is sharp is used for ploughing the
earth; make it thin [into pots] to stand between water and fire, and the people

will have nourishment; make it into hollow [bells] and harmonious sounds
will fill the air. The devout fashion metal into images, so that divine
likenesses are seen in this mortal world the more skillfully made ones
borrow even the spirit of the heavens.30
This passage correlates technology with nature, as Song notes that the earth provides
the initial materials (the metal ore), those involved in the creation of technology (the
earthem molds), and the purpose of technology (pounding grain, ploughing).
Considering the natural origin of casting, the section details the various uses of
cast technology, from the agricultural to the musical, and even the spiritual (provided
the artisan is skillful). This concept of technology as a natural creation enhanced
by human ingenuity for the benefit of humanity is expanded in the section on
Vegetable Oils and Fats:
Stored in the seeds of grasses and trees there is oil which, however, does not
flow by itself, but needs the aid of the forces of water and fire and the
pressure of wooden and stone [utensils] before it comes pouring out in liquid
form. [Obtaining the hidden oil] is an ingenuity of man that is impossible to
For the transportation of goods, and travel to distant places, men must
depend upon boats and carts. One drop of oil [in the axle] enables a cart to
roll and one tan of oil used in caulking a ship makes it ready for the voyage.
Thus, neither cart nor boat can move without oil. Furthermore, cooking
vegetables without oil is like letting a crying infant go without milk.31

As in earlier passages, Song describes how the manipulation of nature by
human inventiveness releases a hidden product of service to society. Once
obtained by skillful technicians, the newly refigured nature provides a necessary
component to the widespread travel of the late Ming, a benefit many traditionalists
adverse to commercialism might decry.32 Yet Song supported the expansion of
commerce and travel, and so considered this technology a boon to society, a position
reinforced by this passage from Hammer Forging:
Without forceps, hammers, and the like, the five weapons and six musical
instruments would be incapable of fulfilling their respective functions. Out
of the blazing fire of the same furnace will emerge a host of objects of
different sizes: one may weigh 30,000 catties and be capable of anchoring a
battleship in a raging sea, while another may be as light as a feather and
fashion embroideries on a ceremonial robe.33
While this excerpt does not specifically address the naturalness of technology, it
does note that a single technology may produce a variety of benefits to society,
whether used for warfare or as a part of ritual. The emphasis on military applications
(the five weapons and battleship in a raging sea) may stem from either the then
current war with the invading Manchus or the related imperial desire for martial

information. The relationship between technology and government is also stressed in
the sections pertaining to paper and ink:
If all communication between ruler and subject, teacher and pupil, were by
word of mouth, could much be achieved? Yet with the use of a slip of paper
or a slim volume of writing, teaching can be accomplished and [government]
orders carried out, as easily as the breeze blowing or ice melting in the sun. It
is indeed fortunate that in this world exists Old Sir Paper, from which both
the sages and the ignorant have benefited.34
As a writer and educator, Song clearly understood the importance of paper to
the transmission of ideas. At a time when both foreign and internal forces lay siege
to the dynasty, Song is quick to note that a technological product aids the
propagation of government. This relationship between the transmission of ideas (or
orders) and technology is also expressed in a passage from Vermilion and Ink:
Is there anything in the world, queries Master Sung [Song], to excel learning
and writing? The red-hot fire is the source of the deepest black [i.e.
lampblack for making ink] and the whiteness of mercury can be
metamorphosed into the reddest vermilion: such are the unfathomable
wonders of Creation! Then, in the proper functioning of the government, the
[emperors] vermilion rescripts are applied to documents of state, [written] in
ink, hence law and order are proclaimed across the land; while in myriads of
ink-printed volumes, vermilion is used [to punctuate and comment], and so
the truth of the universe is clarified.35

Unlike the previous passage, this one contains oblique references to the
mismanagement of the government. After establishing the unfathomable and
natural origin of ink (and thus technology), Song notes that ink is required for the
proper functioning of the government. Given that the late Ming period was one of
increasing rural brigandage and banditry, Songs reference to law and order should
be read sarcastically. Furthermore, he separates law and order from the truth of
the universe a distinction that notes the prominence of and reverence for the non-
canonical and reformist literature south of the Yangzi by locating truth outside the
imperial canon.
In another excerpt Song connects the extravagance of many wealthy elites in
the lower Yangzi region to the livelihood of the lower classes:
For those who are discriminating in food nothing can be too refined, and the
work of polishing and grinding provides a livelihood for thousands of people.
This [desire for refinement] results in the excessive use of small and humble
tools such as the mortar and pestle. Is it not true that those who invented
these implements were really divine forces in human disguise?36
Here Song details the intricate relationship between society and technology, as he
writes that an increase in refined tastes (an example of the conoisseurship and
discrimination of the elites) combined with simple advances in technology (the

mortar and pestle), provides essential labor for thousands of people. While he
castigates extravagant elite tastes on many occasions (one possible reason for the
term excessive), Song is nonetheless cognizant of the repercussive effects of their
consumption on society. From this perspective, technology is a natural and necessary
part of the social order; one which must be recognized through an attribution of
divine status to those responsible for such technical advances. This equation of semi-
divinity with technology and inventors demonstrates his appreciation for
pragmatism, while the repercussive effects raise questions of the social and
geographical consequences of technology. However, before considering the social
ramifications of technology, the geographical appropriateness of technology must
be addressed.
Songs emphasis on practical affairs led him to consider geographical
appropriateness when writing of technology, evidenced in this passage on
In the south the winnowing machine is used throughout for the elimination of
husks. In North China, on the other hand, where less rice is produced, it is
generally winnowed by tossing [the unseparated grains and husks in the
wind]. The same method is used for wheat and millet, but it is not so efficient
as the machine.37

This awareness of regional appropriateness in technology and cultivation
is central to the Tiangong kaiwu, yet this aspect of technology (and Songs advice)
is often overlooked by many modem readers.38 To borrow a definition from Franklin
Long in Appropriate Technology and Social Values, appropriate technology is the
one that is appropriate to the particular situation faced by a given group of people,
with consideration given not only to economic circumstances and available resources
but to value priorities.39 There is little doubt that Song recognized this important
aspect of technology, illustrated by a passage on milling:
Water-powered mills are used by people who live beside rivers in
mountainous country. These mills are very popular as they save ninety per
cent of human labor when used in pounding rice. .. .An extremely ingenious
way of building water-powered pounding mills prevails in Kuang-hsin
[Guangxin] prefecture [in Kiangsi (Jiangxi) province] of southern China. The
chief difficulty in the construction of such a mill [is the elevation of the
land]....In Kuang-hsin [Guangxin] the people use a boat as the base ground.
It is secured by wooden pilings that surround it, and is filled with earth in
which the mortars are set.. ..People who live along rivers and use water mills
sometimes never cast their eyes on a [wooden or earthen] hulling mill all
their lives.40
This concern with appropriate technology is a primary focus of the Tiangong
kaiwu, as Song understood that people must have access to information on the best

available technologies before deciding which method or machine was most
appropriate for their situation. Song consistently commented on the uneven
distribution of technology in passages like, In North China, where the winnowing
machine is not widely known, the elimination of husks is accomplished by hand-
winnowing a much less efficient process.41
This geographical appropriateness of technology and techniques reinforces
their naturalness by demonstrating that nature (as the Heavenly Design)
provides only the materials necessary and appropriate for a given region
The essence of coal disappears with the element of fire after burning, and
leaves no residue or ash. This means that it is a special manifestation of
nature placed between the species of metal and that of earth and stone. The
marvel of the Heavenly Design is also shown by the fact that coal is not
produced in regions where grass and wood abound.42
This passage suggests that nature intended mankind to develop the techniques
required for coal production by providing the necessary substances only in areas
devoid of other potential sources of fuel. For Song Yingxing, technology was part of
the Heavenly Design, the product of natural creation and human effort capable
of transforming society and enabling humanity.43 Not content merely to present his
reformist philosophy in text, Song also attempted to naturalize technology and

techniques through illustration, as may be seen in the images that accompanied the
Tiangong kaiwu.
The Naturalization of Technology through Illustration
Illustrations aided the diffusion of technology as early as the thirteenth
century in China, when drawings were used to convey information on agricultural
techniques.44 Throughout the late Ming period, Chinese artistic sensibilities
underwent changes comparable to those of the general society, as individualism and
amateurism influenced the artists perceptions and goals. As James Cahill writes, It
was an age of inconsistencies and antitheses, of extreme positions in thought and
art... [which were] manifested in an unprecedented fragmentation of styles, and in a
burst of intense creativity.45 The introduction of Christian art complicated this
fragmentation, resulting in the sudden appearance of a striking number of motifs,
compositional types, and representational techniques that were new to China.46
Given the variety of styles and influences it is difficult to classify and pigeonhole
Chinese art of the seventeenth century, although it is possible to identify two major
motifs of the period.
Art typically mimics themes within society, and as such the dominant themes
of late Ming art represent a society tom between an amateurish and spiritual
approach and a more practical, naturalistic approach. A late Ming critic, Tang Zhiqi,
outlined the primary schools as follows:

Soochow [Suzhou] painters talk of li natural order; Sungchiang [Songjiang]
painters talk of pi [Z>z], brushwork. Natural order pertains to such matters as
whether high and low are suitably rendered, whether the scale of objects is
correct, whether things facing forward or backward preserve a sense of
freedom and ease [that is, whether they have space around them] these are
the established practices of the technicians [the professionals]. Brushwork
pertains to the refined, untrammeled style and spirit, which should be
harmonious, pure, and agreeable. This is the taste of the literati [the scholar-
In this passage one can discern the schism between practical [natural order] and
spiritual concerns [brushwork] within Chinese society that affected both artistic
temperament and the interests of the wealthy elite class. For Song, this schism was of
immense concern, representing the nexus of cultural disconnection and a primary
impetus behind the Tiangong kaiwu.
Given the illiteracy of many artisans and peasants, Song realized that
illustrations were critical to the acceptance, and thus diffusion, of technology, and so
wrote that man still knows nothing unless one by one each thing is shown before his
eyes.48 Yet illustration presented a problem: how to depict technology in the
realistic and informative fashion necessary to educate without alienating the elite
class he hoped to inspire? As Cahill notes, the critical concepts and vocabulary
applicable to a naturalistic art had atrophied after the Sung [Song], and a force

almost moral opposed their revival.49 For educated elites of the seventeenth century,
amateurism (represented by brushwork and a concern with spirituality) was far
superior to professionalism (or naturalism in art). Believing that moral character and
intellectual development were the hallmarks of a true scholar, many educated and
scholarly elites held that professionalism diminished personal morality by appealing
to popular and commercial interests.50 Faced with this familiar dichotomy, Song
offered a compromise, blending both styles in an effort to naturalize technology for
the scholarly class while still presenting the material in didactic fashion for the
This syncretic style is obvious throughout the earliest illustrations of the
Tiangong kaiwu. Like many works from history, the Tiangong kaiwu was released in
various forms over the past three centuries, often with additional illustrations. These
later images tend to favor representational accuracy over concerns of brushwork and
spirit, presenting a fascinating perspective on the development of Chinese
technology and art a subject that will be addressed below. While it is impossible to
determine exactly which illustrations accompanied the original text, a 1959 reprint
by the Zhonghua Publishing Company of Shanghai is perhaps the best available
source. Issued 322 years after its original publication, the 1959 edition is a
reproduction of an original copy saved in the private library of a family named Li in
Ningpo [Ningbo].51 In this edition the illustrations vary considerably from those of
subsequent editions, and perhaps best document Songs intent.

The original illustrations of the Tiangong kaiwu, which may have been done
by Song or an associate, portray man, nature, and technology in harmony, using few
unnecessary visual devices and taking advantage of negative space. In addition, the
style seems to borrow from the Songjiang school popular in Songs region, which
emphasized calligraphic brushwork, an understated use of ink, and moved away from
three dimensions and texture towards a designed flatness.52 Printed on woodblocks,
scenery and fine details would have been especially difficult to execute, causing the
artist(s) to use billowing clouds, low railing, and roof ridges to partition the page and
direct the eye.53 An illustration on the production of crossbows [Figure 3.1] offers an
excellent example of this technique. Bamboo, plums, and other trees, which
represented the antithesis of vulgarity to the educated elites, were employed to
naturalize the vulgarly accurate images of technology. Even illustrations that
contained only machinery opted to include something characteristic of nature,
exemplified by pictures of weaving technology [Figure 3.2]. The consonance of
nature and technology is paramount in the illustration of a waterwheel, which
represents the machine as an integral part of the physical landscape [Figure 3.3].
This image contrasts sharply with Wang Zhengs depiction of a windmill in
the famous Zhuqi tushuo (Diagrams and Explanations of a Number of Machines).
Influenced by Western style images carried by Jesuits, this work, published in
1627, attempts to reproduce a more Western style of illustration [Figure 3.4] and
foreshadows the objective and stark perspective found in Western works such

as Denis Diderots encyclopedia [Figure 3.5J.54 Unhindered by this Western
perspective, images in the Tiangong kaiwu often depicted only the workers and
required techniques, as in the illustrations of Beating Rice Grains [Figure 3.6] or
Foot Weeding [Figure 3.7]. In these representations, little distinction is made
between the class of the workers and the two figures appear to be happily engaged.
This sense of harmony between technology and nature is consistent throughout the
early illustrations, whether it is between man and machine [Figure 3.8], or between
man, animal and machine [Figure 3.9]. Drawings representing industry, especially
those that required an indoor setting, regularly employed screens to establish a
connection to nature, a technique noticeable in Figure 3.1 and Figures 3.10 and 3.11.
Illustrations also documented the natural role of women in production. By
the late Ming, increased pressure on agriculture and widespread commoditization of
agricultural products caused an increase in household handicraft production. As
Philip Huang has observed, .. .commercialized home industry became the chief way
to augment the households farm income to a level sufficient for subsistence and
reproduction. It was the interlocking of the two that was the key to peasant
survival.55 Weaving, cotton-picking, and silkworm feeding became auxiliary labor
for the extended family, with the lighter tasks performed by children and the elderly.
Within this peasant economy, women were not only consumers, but figured in
markets as producers of goods and services, a trend which concerned many
traditional moralists. Concerned that labor would lead to prostitution, one tum-of-

the-century writer concluded if it promises profit there is nothing that they [women]
will not do.56 Song, who appreciated the entrance of women into the household
handicraft industries as a natural concomitant of Chinas growing commercialization,
hoped to naturalize female and family production by displaying the harmonious
interaction of women within these industries.
However, even within this household economy, the division of labor often
marginalized women, as men took over the work of weaving and left the more
poorly paid steps (such as silk reeling) to women.57 According to Timothy Brook,
Song Yingxing mirrors this trend by having the illustrator for The Exploitation of
the Works of Nature [the Tiangong kaiwu\ picture women tending the silkworms
[Figure 3.10] and working the spinning wheel [Figure 3.13] but put men behind all
the looms [Figure 3.14].58This characterization is not entirely valid given the
images of women spinning in the Nongshu (an illustrated Treatise on Agriculture
published in 1313)[Figure 3.14], and the depiction of men reeling silk in the
Tiangong kaiwu [Figure 3.15]. Francesca Bray, whose work Technology and Gender
relies heavily upon the Tiangong kaiwu for detail, noted the same incongruity in
depiction, concluding that Song illustrated looms in a factory setting, and so didnt
portray conditions in household industries (where women would presumably do
more of the spinning.)59
Considering Songs attempt to naturalize technology and family
production, it is fascinating to compare the original illustrations with those

substituted during the Qing period.60 These later illustrations, influenced perhaps by
the introduction of Western art, emphasized realism, perspective and chiaroscuro
through the use of straight lines, cross-hatching, and the absence of negative
space.61 While Song attempted to represent the harmonious interaction of man,
nature and technology through spiritual yet accurate illustrations, these later
illustrations assume the separation and dominance of technology over nature. For
example, note the contrast between Figure 3.7 and Figure 3.16, a later Qing
illustration of essentially the same process (raising water from a stream). While the
technology is different (the hand cranked wheel having been replaced by a pulley
wheel), the dissimilarity of the portrait and narrative of the process is striking. The
image itself, from the tree, to the machine and finally, to the scowling, working man,
is more detailed and realistic. The man strains to lift the water, even as it is clear
from the background of neatly ordered irrigation fields that he has mastered nature.
No longer a simple part of nature, the machine dominates, dividing the land into
distinct parcels with specialized crops, all at the expense of the laborer.
Other images, such as that regarding the separation of silkworm cocoons
[Figure 3.17], offer proof of the variety of later illustrators. This illustration also
demonstrates the ascendancy of familial production during the Qing period, with the
father, mother and children performing their respective tasks seemingly distant from
the natural scenery that surrounds them. Finally, a series of pictures depicting the salt
industry and trade [Figure 3.18 3.21] showcase this later Qing style of illustration.

In this series, the machines are larger than life, occupying the entire compound and
dwarfing the workers who tend to their needs. Detailing the entire process of salt
production in narrative form, these pictures evince class stratification among workers
as well as factory production. Drawn with exacting detail, the machines are
represented almost anatomically (similar to the windmills in Figures 3.4 and 3.5),
with beams, ropes, and wheels realistically portrayed.62
The final illustration [Figure 3.21] demonstrates the awareness and extent of
trade that characterized China since the Song dynasty, as neatly stacked bundles are
lifted onto waiting barges. Clearly, the nature and technique of these later Qing
illustrations are substantially different from the earlier representations, with the later
ones more closely paralleling Western styles and depicting the ascension of
technology. In contrast, the original engravings that best document Songs intent
offer testimony to his attempt at the naturalization of technology through
illustration, reinforcing the naturalization contained in the text.
As we have seen, two of the primary themes in the Tiangong kaiwu revolve
around an insistence on practical information and the naturalness of technology.
Yet this chapter also exposes links between the Tiangong kaiwu and the intellectual
character of its time and ours. Unwilling to accept the canonized information of his
era, Song Yingxing forged a path similar to that tread by the later kaozheng scholars.
His method of questioning the classics and emphasizing the practical foreshadows
the work of the later academics, as both were dedicated to seeking truth in concrete

matters.63 At the same time, Songs awareness of the geographical constraints on
technology mimics the current trend in appropriate technology studies, an area that
too many historians neglect in their analyses. This is not to denigrate previous
scholarly work, rather, it is a simple warning: as contemporary historians, we must
guard against the tendency to generalize based on a few historical works, each
representing only the perspective of its author, into a comprehensive account
accurate for the totality of China. Indeed, given the heterogeneity of China in the late
Ming period, future studies of Chinese technology would be wise to adopt the
macroregional style of analysis employed by William Skinner to successfully
embed markets within their local context.64
Context is the key to unlocking any historical work: without his upbringing
in the commercial and industrial province of Jiangxi, Song Yingxing might not have
written the Tiangong kaiwu. However, his emphasis on the importance of practical
information and the naturalness of technology represents only part of Songs entire
philosophy. To complete our recontextualization of the Tiangong kaiwu, we now
turn to its reformist and critical aspects, features of Songs attempt to valorize the
roles of those involved with technology and production (merchants and artisans)
while criticizing wealthy conoisseurship and government policies of administration,
warfare, and learning.

Figure 3.1 Crossbow production.
(An example of the Songjiang style using billowing clouds and low railings to
direct the eye and add perspective. Also, note the use of the picturesque screen to
offer evidence of the naturalness of indoor production.)

Figure 3.2 A warp frame for separating and sizing warp threads.
(Illustrates the syncretic style of the Tiangong kaiwu with the realistic depiction
of the machine offset by the natural branches and tree.)

Figure 3.3 Waterwheel for Irrigation.
(Idealistic portrait of the machine as a natural part of the landscape.)

(Printed in Wang Zhengs Zhuqi tushuo (1627), this anatomical image is similar
to the objective and stark representations found in many Western works.)

Figure 3.5-Windmill.
(Reproduced from Diderots Encyclopedie, this image is a clear example of the
anatomical and objective style of mechanical illustration.)

Figure 3.6 Beating rice grains against a slab of stone on the dry ground.
(An idealized image of the "pastoral simplicity" of agricultural production.)

(Another idealized depiction of agriculture perhaps illustrating the industrious
farmer so often mentioned in the Tiangong kaiwu. As in the previous illustration
[Figure 3.6], billowing clouds reinforce the idyllic nature" of agricultural

Figure 3.8 Hand cranked wheel.
(A depiction of the consonance of man, nature, and machine.)

(An illustration of the harmony between technology and nature depicting the
interaction of man, animal and machine.)

Figure 3.10 Refining Silver.
(An example employing a screen and other natural forms to naturalize indoor
industrial production.)

Figure 3.11 Smelting tin ore with the addition of lead.
(Similar to Figure 3.10, this illustration relies on a screen for naturalization while
employing railings to direct the eye and add perspective.)

Figure 3.12 Mature silkworms spinning cocoons on split-bamboo screens.
(An illustration of the aestheticization of women involved in sericulture.)

(An example of the naturalization of female production. This image illustrates the
presence of women in a variety of productive roles, including positions of skill.)

Figure 3.14 Woman spinning silk.
(Taken from the Nongshu (+1313), this illustration demonstrates the existence of
skilled female spinners as early as the fourteenth century.)

Figure 3.15 Reeling silk fibers.
(An image depicting the role of men in sericulture.)

Figure 3.16 A pulley wheel.
(A Qing-era illustration from the Tiangong kaiwu demonstrating the more
Western style of depiction. In this conception, the machine dominates both nature
and man, straining the laborer as he successfully strives to parcel the land into
specialized and irrigated crop fields.)

Figure 3.17 Separating single cocoons from the double cocoons
and multiple-worm cocoons.
(A Qing-era image illustrating the ascendancy of family production during the Qing
dynasty, with the father and mother performing their distinctive tasks while the
children watch and leam. Another excellent example of the later style of illustration
as the family and cocoons seem strangely separate from the surrounding natural

Figure 3.18 Lowering a bamboo stalk into the bottom of a salt well.
(A Qing-era illustration of the Tiangong kaiwu. Displaying a more Western
depiction of technology, the machine commands the attention of both the laborers
and the overseer as nature is relegated to the background.)

Figure 3.19 Raising brine from the bottom of a salt well.
(Similar to Figure 3.18, this Qing-era illustration almost removes nature from its
presentation of industry. The realistically detailed machines dwarf those who tend
to their maintenance, rendering man an accessory to technology.)

Figure 3.20 Boiling and crystallizing salt brine.
(This is an excellent Qing-era illustration depicting the size of many indigenous
Chinese industries. Note the number of facilities, the variety among laborers and
the scale of the industry relative to the individuals.)

Figure 3.21 Transporting Salt.
(An illustration showcasing the extent of trade in Qing China. Porters load salt onto
barges as more caravans disembark and a new trader arrives by sea.)

1. Sun and Sun, preface to Tien Rung Kai Wu [Tiangong kaiwu], vi. In the
endnotes to the preface the authors write that Among the works that portray
indigenous Chinese technology written by men trained in traditional learning, we
may mention the Pen-t sao kang-mu [Bencao gangmu] (Materia Medica) by Li
Shih-chen [Li Shizhen], and Wu-pei chih [Wubei zhi] (Treatise on Weapons and
Military Equipment) by Mao Yuan-I [Mao Yuanyi]. A far more thorough
listing is found in the chapter on historiography, as Joseph Needham compared
the contents of ten technical works in his Science and Civilization in China.
2. On-cho Ng, A Tension in Ching [Qing] Thought: Historicism in Seventeenth-
and-Eighteenth-Century Chinese Thought. Journal of the History of Ideas 54.4
(Oct. 1993): 562.
3. Often represented by Wang Fuzhi (1619-1704), Gu Yanwu (1613-1672) and
Fang Lizhi (1611-1671), these early kaozheng scholars attempted to pursue
practical studies... [and] create a new and healthy intellectual atmosphere, which
they intended to maintain after the overthrow of the Ming. See Liang Qichao,
Intellectual Trends in the Ch ing [Qing] Period, trans. by Immanuel C.Y. Hsu
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959), 6-22. A reaction against
stultified Ming learning, Willard Peterson characterized the shift from Ming to
Qing as follows: Ming thought.. .having been on enlightenment, thinking,
introspection, while, in contrast, Ching [Qing] thinkers stressed preparation,
learning, the here-and-now, and knowledge gained from books. See Willard
Peterson, Bitter Gourd: Fang I-chi [Yizhi] and the Impetus for Social Change.
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 1-4.
4. Sim and Sun, preface to Tien Rung Rai Wu [Tiangong kaiwu], vi.
5. The term utilitarian is here stripped of its philosophical and social meanings,
and should be thought of in the general sense of usefulness [which] has been in
English since C14 [the fourteenth century]. Williams, Reywords, s.v.
Utilitarian. Throughout this thesis the terms practical, pragmatic, and
utilitarian or utility should be considered cognates defined as useful. It
should also be noted that Songs approach to discerning practical information is
similar to the approach used by later Evidentiary text scholars.
6. Of course, Songs repeated failure at the jinshi-level examinations (from 1615-
1634?), which were based on an understanding of classical texts, may have
increased his dislike for the imperial examination system and the imperial canon.

7. Zhu, Coming Out of the Middle Ages, 171-172. Zhu continues by connecting this
trend to the social upheaval of the times, writing, The so-called orthodox
historical viewpoint had flaunted the position that Confucian views were
equivalent to truth. After the great social upheavals of the late Ming and early
Qing, it was inevitable that this should now face serious challenges....To put it
simply, this group of thinkers were all eyewitnesses to the social upheavals of the
times. They were panic-stricken by the deep contradictions in the feudal system
revealed by the peasant uprisings of the late Ming.
8. Song, Tiangong kaiwu, 160.
9. Wu Hung notes that the nine tripods demonstrated submission to a centralized
political power and represented the proper ritual and monumentality of the
state. Monuments reify political and religious concepts into material symbols
that then act to maintain political memory, continuity, and support. Possession of
the tripods denoted possession of the Mandate of Heaven, legitimizing the
state. See Wu Hung, Monumentality in Early Chinese Art and Architecture
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995). Song uses the tripods to suggest the
absence of the Mandate of Heaven for the late Ming state.
10. Ng, Historicism, 567.
11. Song, Tiangong kaiwu, 24.
12. Ibid., 224.
13. Sun and Sun, notes to Tien KungKai Wu [Tiangong kaiwu], 231-232. The
editors write that by the end of the Chou [Zhou] dynasty, writing was managed
with a bamboo pen and ink of soot or lampblack on slips of bamboo or wood.
The bamboo strips, being stronger, could be perforated at one end and strung
together with either silken cords or leather thongs to form books....At several
places the gradual displacement of wood by paper in the third, fourth, and fifth
centuries A.D. can be traced.
14. Song, Tiangong kaiwu, 23.
15. Ibid., 202.
16. Ibid., 210.

17. Ibid., 241.
18. Ibid., 299.
19. Ibid., 300.
20. This statement regarding the intellectual laziness of people (never troubled to
learn the nature of things) may show the influence of the philosophy of
Bailudong Academy in Jiangxi, which, as noted, stressed that the investigation
of things was the path to learning.
21. Song, Tiangong kaiwu, 135.
22. Ibid., 4.
23. Ibid., 58.
24. Sun and Sim write that, Generally speaking, the whole of China can be divided
into two major parts in terms of crops: the wheat region from about 100 miles
north of the Yangtse [Yangzi] River up through northern Manchuria, and the rice
region from the Yangtse [Yangzi] River Valley southward, throughout southern
and southwestern China. Sun and Sun, notes to Tien Kung Kai Wu [Tiangong
kaiwu], 31. In addition, Ho Ping-ti notes that Some modem students may think
that Sung [Song], as a native of rice-rich Kiangsi [Jiangxi], may have
overstressed the importance of rice, especially since his estimate does not accord
with our modem knowledge. When modem students examine the historical
circumstances peculiar to the beginnings of modem China the permanent
economic decline of the northwest after the late eighth century, the frequency of
wars and disturbances in north China, as contrasted to the prolonged peace and
commercial development of the south, the steady southward shift of economic,
cultural, and demographic centers of gravity, the relative scarcity of crops
suitable to northern drylands that could not grow wheat, the crude agricultural
system of the north as compared with the intensive rice cultivation of the south,
and the almost incessant construction of irrigation works and the expansion of
the frontier rice culture in southern China since the opening of the eleventh
century Sungs [Songss] estimate may not seem to have been greatly
exaggerated. Sungs [Songs] statement was made at a time when the second
revolutionary change in Chinas rice-cropping system and land utilization had
just got under way. Ho, Studies on Population, 190-191.

25. Ng, Historicism, 570. He continues on the same page by quoting Gu Yanwu:
Just as today we cannot write [as though we were writing] the two Han
histories, so too the two Han histories could not have been written as the Book of
Documents and the Tso [Zuo] Commentary ...Abandoning the commonly used
words of today and borrowing similarly ancient works are means by which
literary men conceal their crudeness and shallowness.
26. Ibid., 569. Ng also quotes from Wang Fuzhi that The rule of every epoch should
be in accordance with its own time.
27. Song, Tiangong kaiwu, 29.
28. The Silk Weaver was an established archetype in Chinese mythology dating to
at least the ninth century. Divine by nature, she is also something of a professor
and scholiast. Indeed, Song may have appreciated the practical temper of this
mythology, as the Silk Weaver explains well-known historical and supernatural
events in what seem to her to be rational terms. She takes special pride in
debunking common hypotheses about the nature of dragons. Edward H. Schafer,
The Divine Women: Dragon Ladies and Rain Maidens (San Francisco: North
Point Press, 1980), 169-175. Song, who enjoyed debunking common myths (e.g.
his corrections), probably used this specific mythology to support the accuracy
of his philosophy and claims.
29. As Raymond Williams notes, Nature is perhaps the most complex word in the
language. It is relatively easy to distinguish three areas of meaning: (i) the
essential quality and character of something; (ii) the inherent force which directs
either the world or human beings or both; (iii) the material world itself, taken as
including or not including human beings. Williams, Keywords, s.v. Nature.
For the purposes of this thesis these definitions will be conflated into a composite
whole and include an aspect of divinity, taken from the term tian which has
been rendered The Ascendant, and sky, pertaining to a force greater than
man (and also Heaven by Jesuit missionaries). See Lionel Jensen,
Manufacturing Confucianism: Chinese Traditions and Universal Civilization
(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997), s.v. Tian, 298.
30. Song, Tiangong kaiwu, 159.
31. Ibid., 215.
32. Wakeman writes, It was quite common during the late 16th and early 17th
centuries to bemoan commercialization and exalt the simpler life of a century or