A general history of Ming and Qing culture

By BIAN QINGBO / 11-09-2023 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

Cultural History of the Ming and Qing Dynasties

Cultural History of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, under the chief editorship of Nan Bingwen, a senior professor from Nankai University, is divided into three volumes focusing on the Ming (1368–1644), early Qing (1644–1911), and late Qing respectively. The content covers a wide range of topics, including science and technology, academic research, literature and art, philosophy and religion, social customs, ethnic culture, and international cultural exchanges. It reveals the cultural mysteries of Chinese society as it transitioned from ancient to modern times by presenting the cultural transformation of Ming and Qing over the course of over 500 years.

The work demonstrates the cultural achievements of various ethnic groups, while delineating the mutual integration and improvement of ethnic cultures. For instance, the mural paintings of the Mongolian Meidaizhao Temple were obviously influenced by the painting style of the ethnic Han painters Qiu Ying and Xu Wei. The main buildings of the temple, such as the sutras hall and the main shrine hall, feature architectural traits of pure Tibetan-style brick walls and Han palaces. 

Many ethnic Hui astronomers served in the Ming court’s Imperial Board of Astronomy and made contributions to the development of Chinese astronomy. Many monasteries in Tibet have absorbed Han architectural forms such as beam frames and arched ceiling patterns. Han pharmacist Li Shizhen’s Compendium of Materia Medica recorded ethnic Zhuang medicine and its application experience, while Han herbal medicine also spread in Zhuang areas.

The book also concentrates on cultural exchanges with foreign countries. The Ming Dynasty volume gives a detailed account of the cultural exchanges between China and the West, the arrival of Western colonists to the East, the spread of Catholicism in China, the introduction of Western natural science, linguistics, art, and philosophy, and the westward dissemination of Chinese culture. The volume also indicates the spread and influence of Chinese culture in Korea, Japan, Vietnam, among other Asian and African countries, as well as its contacts with Latin America. 

The later Qing volume emphatically introduces the process of studying abroad as an important means of learning Western culture, the contributions of envoys sent to the West in learning Western knowledge, the activities of foreign missionaries in China, the absorption of Western science and technology, and the influence of these changes on Chinese culture, education, and social life. 

The early Qing Dynasty was a period of mutual collisions between Chinese and Western cultures. As a consequence, traditional Chinese culture inevitably absorbed certain elements of Western culture, giving rise to a new and enhanced cultural landscape. While this new culture still adhered to the overarching framework of feudal culture, it undeniably represented a significant step forward in cultural development.

Bian Qingbo is an associate senior editor from the Phoenix Publishing & Media Group.