Banner Image Source Original image held by the Harvard-Yenching Library
of the Harvard College Library, Harvard University

June 2023

About the cover

On the cover of this issue of HJAS, we feature an illustration from Tiangong kaiwu 天工開物 (The exploitation of the works of nature), an extensive overview of Chinese technology whose author, Song Yingxing 宋應星 (1587–ca. 1665), has been lauded as the “Diderot of China” for his encyclopedic ambitions.1 Published in 1637, on the eve of the Ming’s collapse, the book remained all but unknown in China until 1926, when the geologist Ding Wenjiang 丁文江 (1887–1936) brought it back from Japan. There, prominent scholars such as Kaibara Ekiken 貝原益軒 (1630–1714) and Hiraga Gennai 平賀源内 (1728–1780) had popularized it enough for an Osaka publisher to issue in 1771 a kundoku 訓読 edition (punctuated to enable a reader to decode the text as if it were composed in literary Japanese). The publisher based his edition on a copy of the Chinese original held by the merchant-painter and polymath Kimura Kenkadō 木村蒹葭堂 (1736–1802). The cover image is taken from the copy of this 1771 edition in the Harvard-Yenching Library collection.

Tiangong kaiwu is notable for its wide coverage of technologies in fields ranging from agriculture and sericulture to shipbuilding, weaponry, and metallurgy. Its copious illustrations help readers envision the techniques discussed in the text. Moreover, the book is not simply a compilation of information from disparate sources. Rather, Song Yingxing seems to have engaged in considerable firsthand observation—perhaps, Christopher Cullen speculates, during the course of his repeated journeys to the capital to sit for the national civil service examination, which he finally abandoned after failing for a fifth time in 1631, when he was forty-four years old.2

The cover image shows two men operating a double-action box-bellows while smelting silverized lead. We chose it for its connection to an article included in this issue of HJAS, Yuda Yang 杨煜达 and Nanny Kim’s examination of silver mining in the southwestern borderlands of China and adjacent polities during the Ming and Qing, which challenges the accepted wisdom concerning Chinese dependence on imported silver in the sixteenth and later centuries. HJAS thanks the Harvard-Yenching Library for its kind permission to reprint the image.

1. Joseph Needham with Ping-Yü Ho, Gwei-Djen Lu, and Ling Wang, Science and Civilization in China, vol. 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology, bk. 7, Military Technology: The Gunpowder Epic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 102.

2. Christopher Cullen, “The Science/Technology Interface in Seventeenth-Century China: Song Yingxing 宋應星 on qi 氣 and the wu xing 五行,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 53.2 (1990): 299.

Shō o tokashi gin to namari zu 鎔礁結銀與鉛圖, in “Gokin” 五金, in Sō Ōsei [Song Yingxing] 宋應星, Tenkō kaibutsu 天工開物, ed. Eda Masuhide 江田益 英, 18 kan 卷 in 3 sec. (maki 卷) in 9 vols. (Osaka: Kanseidō, 1771), v. 7, sec. 3 (ge 下), m. 14, pp. 8b–9a.

Editorial Preface & In Memoriam

Editorial Preface


Overlooked Silver

Reassessing Ming–Qing Silver Supplies

Yuda Yang and Nanny Kim

Numerous silver mines in the southwestern borderlands of Ming and Qing China (present-day Yunnan Province, Myanmar, and Vietnam) are known from occasional historical mention. Despite some regional attention, they were regarded as a marginal source of silver for the Chinese monetary system. This article presents a new research approach that overcomes the scarcity of written sources by tapping mineralogical material remains on historic mining sites. We present case studies of three well-documented sites and discuss our comparative assessment of forty-seven identified mines of importance. Our reconstruction of total silver outputs based on slag dumps permits quantification based on material evidence. We estimate southwestern mines’ outputs at 20,000 to 50,000 tons of monetary-grade silver for the period 1400–1850. Domestic silver flows on this order revise the current view that the monetary system of early modern China depended on overseas silver.

摘要 (中文)

本文根據古爐渣遺存開拓了技術史的方法 , 重新研究了明清時期中國西 南 、 緬甸和越南邊境地區的白銀生產 , 結果發現這一區域的產量至少為 20,000 噸 ⸺ 甚至可達 50,000 噸 , 超過同期海外白銀輸入的數量 , 從而修正了中國傳統市場體系 的發展依賴於海外白銀輸入的認識 。

Daoist Primers and Identity, 1340–1900

Vincent Goossaert

Since the Yuan period, Daoists have often presented their religion to adepts and outsiders in catechisms—concise introductions to the history of Daoism, its main gods, and its ideology. I focus on one type of catechism, a family of texts often entitled “Daojiao yuanliu” (Origins and development of Daoism). I trace the history, from the late Mongol period through the Qing, of various editions that were included in hagiographies and novels as well as in more highbrow encyclopedias and manuscript booklets. I show that these texts developed a specific theology and asserted a strong confessional identity, sometimes in tension with Buddhism, that reminded readers of the Mongol-era debates that resulted in the burning of the Daoist Canon in 1281. This discourse is markedly different from the more accommodating vision of Daoism found in most late imperial elite discourses.

摘要 (中文)

元代以來,道士們經常以稱為”道教源流”的文本向弟子與平民介紹道教的歴史、神靈以及教義。本文介紹了收錄在神傳、小說、類書及手抄本中的幾種不同版本的”道教源流”及其歴史。這些文本都主張一種特定的神學與道教身份,並提及元代的佛道辯論,以及 1281 年的《道藏》焚毀。

Scented Protection

Saffron’s Transcultural Premodern History

Yan Liu

Propelled by the flourishing Silk Road, a wide range of aromatics entered the Sinitic world from India, Southeast Asia, and Persia in the first millennium CE. This article offers a cultural biography of saffron (yujin xiang), a plant of Kashmiri and Persian origins that was imported into the Sinitic world starting in the fifth century. By studying a nexus of medical writers, Buddhist monks, traders, and envoys who participated in the circulation and deployment of saffron, I explore the process of knowledge-making that endowed the aromatic with assorted uses in Tang society. To understand and utilize the fragrant substance, Chinese actors regularly aligned it with preconceived notions in their own cultural repertoire. I argue that the transmission of saffron and its associated knowledge across cultural spheres was a dynamic process of negotiation between the novel and the classical, the foreign and the domestic, the exotic and the familiar.

摘要 (中文)


Review essays

The Digital Turn and New Modes of Historical Inquiry

Nicolas Tackett

Trajectories of a Young Field: Taiwan Literature

Sung-Sheng Yvonne Chang

Book reviews

The Birth of Japanese Historiography, by John R. Bentley

Peter Kornicki

Kinship Novels of Early Modern Korea: Between Genealogical Time and the Domestic Everyday, by Ksenia Chizhova

Sookja Cho

Structures of the Earth: Metageographies of Early Medieval China, by D. Jonathan Felt

Shao-yun Yang

Japan, 1972: Visions of Masculinity in an Age of Mass Consumerism, by Yoshikuni Igarashi

Ann Sherif

Cinema and the Cultural Cold War: US Diplomacy and the Origins of the Asian Cinema Network, by Sangjoon Lee

Earl Jackson

The Value in Numbers: Reading Japanese Literature in a Global Information Age, by Hoyt Long

J. Keith Vincent

Yasukuni Fundamentalism: Japanese Religions and the Politics of Restoration, by Mark R. Mullins

Adam J. Lyons

Le glaive et la charrue: Soldats et paysans chinois à la conquête de l’ouest: L’histoire d’un échec [The sword and the plow: The conquest of the western regions by Chinese soldiers and peasants: The history of a failure], by Éric Trombert

Griet Vankeerberghen

Why Fiction Matters in Contemporary China, by David Der-wei Wang

Edward M. Gunn

The Great Exodus from China: Trauma, Memory, and Identity in Modern Taiwan, by Dominic Meng-Hsuan Yang

Karl Gustafsson