"1587, A Year of No Significance" by Ray Huang

1587, A Year of No Significance The Ming Dynasty in Decline Ray Huang

Publication date:
10 Sep 1982
Yale University Press
280 pages: 235 x 156mm
Sales territories:

"If you buy only one work on pre-modern Chinese history this year, make it this one."—W. S. Atwell, History

Winner of the American Book Award for History 
In 1587, the Year of the Pig, nothing very special happened in China. Yet in the seemingly unspectacular events of this ordinary year, Ray Huang finds exemplified the roots of China's perennial inability to adapt to change.

Through fascinating accounts of the lives of seven prominent officials, he fashions a remarkably vivid portrayal of the court and the ruling class of late imperial China. In revealing the subtle but inexorable forces that brought about the paralysis and final collapse of the Ming dynasty, Huang offers the reader perspective into the problems China has faced through the centuries.

"Unusual and thoughtful. . . . Takes the poet’s or the novelist’s joy in turning a commonplace detail to the angle at which it reveals its glint of meaning."—David Lattimore, New York Times Book Review

"This is a superb book, one that answers many questions about the Chinese, past and present."—Srully Blotnick, Forbes Magazine

"1587, A Year of No Significance, for all its scholarship, has the surreal visionary quality of Kafka’s beautiful and frustrating story 'The Great Wall of China.'"—John Updike, The New Yorker

"Huang uses 1587 as a convenient focus for his study of late Ming developments through the lives of the Wan-li emperor, two of his grand secretaries, a famous official, a leading general, and one of the dynasty's most celebrated iconoclasts. Not all specialists may agree with Huang's conclusion that by 1587 the limit for the Ming dynasty had already been reached and the year stands as a 'chronicle of failure,' but there will be widespread agreement on the book's impressive achievement in providing vivid biographical and institutional detail within a highly readable text."—Library Journal

"If you buy only one work on pre-modern Chinese history this year, make it this one. . . . The author displays great sensitivity in dealing with the tensions and contradictions in late Ming society, and even when one disagrees with his interpretation of certain facts or events, one cannot help but be impressed by the depth of his knowledge and his enviable ability to bring the characters in his story to life. In places, for example, his description of what it was like to be the Wan-li emperor is nothing short of masterly. . . . Will become required reading for anyone interested in this period of Chinese history."—W. S. Atwell, History

"1587 is immensely rich historical fare that provides great insight into the workings of the late Ming administration. . . . Huang's sensitive and well-informed descriptions of administrative life organized in a bold and readable way make [this] book more significant that the year was. It is essential reading for an understanding of late imperial China."—Tom Fisher, Journal of Oriental Studies

Winner of the American Book Award for History Paperback in 1983

"No book of this kind in any language exists for the entire Chinese history field. Its most remarkable quality is the skill with which is conveys the texture of life, imparting to the reader a sense of having been inside the environment of Chinese politics and of seeing the complexities of another world as immediate and intelligible matters."—Frederick W. Mote, Princeton University

"It is top-hole, full of information, and a first-rate argumentation as to how China got the way it did. I know of none better."—L. Carrington Goodrich, Columbia University

"Excellent both as history and as a piece of literature."—Lien-sheng Yang, Harvard University

"Imaginative and resourceful. . . . Informed both by humanistic concern and a broad knowledge of technology and economics."—Edward L. Farmer, University of Minnesota

"Analytical and innovative. . . . It will galvanize our thinking for many years to come."—Hoklam Cham, University of Washington