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1587: A Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline
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1587: A Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  266 ratings  ·  29 reviews
1587, a Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline (Chinese: 萬曆十五年; pinyin: Wanli Shiwunian) is Chinese historian Ray Huang's most famous work. First published by Yale University Press in 1981,[1] it examines how a number of seemingly insignificant events in 1587 might have caused the downfall of the Ming empire. The views expressed in the book follow the macro h ...more
Paperback, 280 pages
Published September 10th 1982 by Yale University Press (first published 1981)
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The first subtitle of this book seems like a lie, but it's more likely a joke. Of course this year is significant. Every year is, whether historians say it is or not.

The year 1587, The Year of the Pig, 24th in the 60 year cycle and the fifteenth year of the reign of the Wanli Emperor, is a setting for future dramas, but also of more focused internal conflicts. It might be tempting to call it a year of 'no significance', as there are no major battles here, no imperial downfalls, no natural disas
I have to preface this book by saying it's not a joke. That's the real title and it's a real look at the social history of China's Ming Dynasty.

I read this in college and it still sticks with me. It's like reading the diary of someone who is not important but is very detail oriented. If you get past some of the tedious aspects of this book, you can capture very interesting tidbits of the daily life of the Chinese 422 years ago.
Grace Tjan
In 1987, I went to China and visited, among other places, the tomb of the Wanli Emperor near Beijing. It was the only royal tomb open to the public in the Ming Tombs complex at that time. Our Chinese guide led us down a ramp into a subterranean, vaulted chamber clad in white marble. Inside there were thrones carved with dragons and phoenixes, also of the same white marble, and huge blue-and-white porcelain urns. The chamber led into other chambers, just as massive and cold. One contained numerou ...more
"Part of Wan-li's failure was that he was too intelligent and sensitive to occupy the dragon seat. The more he gained an insight into its apparatus the more skeptical he became. He began to realize that he was less the Ruler of All Men than a prisoner of the Forbidden City." Pg. 93

This sums up the tragedy of this book. Huang offers profiles of not only the Wan-li emperor, but several office-holders as well. In each case, he assesses their failures, not necessarily as causes of the fall of the Mi
This is a tour de force of concentrated historical writing, and among the most original in any field of history that I can think of. Equivalents of the same vintage (1980s) and comparable method (micro history) that come to mind are Carlo Ginzburg's The Cheese and the Worms, or Robert Darnton's The Great Cat Massacre. Without being monumental in size, 1587 nonetheless achieves a sort of monumental significance, aiming for nothing short of an explanation of the decline of one of China's most sple ...more
Harry Barnett
Peter Hessler recommended 1587, A Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline at the end of his book River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. I enjoyed River Town so much I thought 1587 would also be interesting.
The structure of the book 1587 is good enough. Ray Huang selects one year during the Ming Dynasty and tells us its history by describing the lives of several significant players at the time: the young emperor, a general, a bureaucrat, a philosopher etc. The problem is Ray Huang is
One of the most insightful pieces on Ming Dynasty.
Huang Renyu's text 1587: A Year of No Significance has many points of interest and is clearly well-researched; unfortunately, it is hampered significantly by its overwrought prose, and occasionally by its character-based (rather than linear) structure. It took me more than five chapters to realise the main thesis of the book - that the Ming Dynasty's failure is broadly attributable to its lack of an independent legal system and a Legalist philosophy which would allow it to develop and modernise. ...more
Lenny Husen
This book was strongly recommended to me by Hsien-Wen Hsu, a Pulmonologist/Intensivist, whose passion is Chinese History.
It is a challenge for me to read history. This is a book only for those that are interested in Chinese History of these period, but it is very unique, and well done. Huang delves into the structure and philosophy behind the Chinese Civil Service Bureaucrats of the Ming Dynasty.

Each chapter is separate, and could stand alone as an essay or exploration of an idea. In general, e
Margaret Sankey
Huang chooses a very Chinese style of historical inquiry--by using just one year, a drop in the bucket that is the late Ming empire, to illustrate the fatal flaws of the fading dynasty. While a western history might see 1587 in light of a major event (like 1588's Spanish Armada as a turning point in English history), this is just a snapshot of bickering bureaucrats, corrupted flood management projects, frustrated emperor, one general trying to suppress piracy and peasants staggering under taxes.
A worthwhile book for anyone particularly interested in Chinese history. The title is a little misleading. It's not a chronicle of a single year; rather, it's a series of biographical portraits of several people prominent in the Chinese bureaucracy at the time, not all of whom were still active (or even alive) in 1587. But they all played a role in forming the state of the empire in 1587. It's a little disappointing that we don't learn much about everyday life for average Chinese people; the boo ...more
Ethan Fulwood
This was a very informative examination of some of the key figures and social trends in the late Ming Dynasty. My one complaint has to be with its thesis that the trends described were the inevitable consequence of Ming social history and that they were by 1587 irreversible. I find myself skeptical of claims of inevitability in history, because they are too easy. What if Shih Shih-hsing had have moved decisively against Nurhaci? What if Wan-li had been more adept at manipulating the bureaucracy ...more
Aug 13, 2015 Eressea added it
Shelves: 歷史-history
Apr 24, 2014 21kr added it
The book I read is in Chinese.
Fascinatingly comprehensive of the year from different point of views, philosophy, military etc..
There's some interesting information here, and the overall theme of the power of the Chinese bureaucracy is well explored. But I found the organization at times confusing, and the writing style often turgid. I read this after seeing it recommended by Peter Hessler in the afterward to Rivertown. I've discovered a number of good books thanks to Hessler, but I was not captivated by this one.
**Reading for HIST-T190: Pearl Harbor 1941**
I started respecting Ray Huang after this book. It is a great one, not long and focused on a seemingly 'unimportant' year in Chinese history. Though it reflected everything, culture, hierarchy of Chinese society, custom, et cetera. The book has a unique angle and is well delivered. One of the best ones to understand Chinese history.
Rui Ma
As someone said"There Is Special Providence in the Fall of a Sparrow." The fall of ming dynasty is much significant than sparrow. In the year of 1587, there were a lot of small things, which led to the inevitable fall. This book detailed these small clues and did a great job explaining how a mighty dynasty break apart.
I feel like I have been reading this book for a month. Had to force feed myself a chapter at a time. To dry for me. It could be great for a person really into China history but that is not me. Reading the dictionary is far more fun but I guess the book was not written to be for fun.
Ethan Wong
This book gives me a first in-depth knowledge of ancient chinese royal society, especially the weaknesses which lead to the end of Ming Dynasty.

I will certainly read more about chinese history after this. This is highly recommended.
huang draws on court histories & contemporary chinese scholarship to vividly portray notable personalities in the reign of the Wanli emperor, noting the position each occupies both in their own era and in the wider history of the chinese bureaucracy.
Alex Green
1587 is an interesting inside into the elite of Ming society but is not a light read (unless you already have a deep knowledge of Chinese History). For me it will be more likely a reference rather than a good story.
This book gets extra points for its marvelous title. This really is about 1587, a year during the Ming Dynasty. It is thorough and sometimes tedious but of interest to Chinese history scholar.
Hui Sun
I find it hard to believe Ming was doomed since 1587. But the book still provides beautiful silhouettes of that age of prosperity, and the tragedy and inevitability of human destiny.
Read for a history of ancient China class early in college. I remember enjoying learning about historiography, how looking at the years of no significance, could make for good history.
Bcoghill Coghill
China in the year of the pig, 1587.
It was a very foreign place with a complex and oddly gracious government.
what a tragedy of rule a great emperor with the Confucian school!
Sep 29, 2007 Gk rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: history
Amazing look at China's bureaucratic system.
Wei Liu
Wonderful book. Highly recommended.
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