Popular Opinion and Public Reasoning: Intellectual Changes and Institutional Innovations in Late Ming China (1580s-1640s)
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CitationWei, Yang. 2014. Popular Opinion and Public Reasoning: Intellectual Changes and Institutional Innovations in Late Ming China (1580s-1640s). Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
AbstractThis study examines the rise of popularist discourse in the realms of intellectual transformation, political reforms, institutional innovations, social activism, and cultural construction from the 1580s to the 1680s. Centered on notions such as "popular opinion (gonglun)" and "public reasoning (gongyi)", the popularist discourse presupposed individual perspectives as inherently isolated, incomplete, parochial, and flawed. Broader inclusion of diverse opinions was thus justified as an indispensible check of individual view for optimal outcome. Chapter 1 explores the intellectual transformation from the Neo-Confucian premises to elitist-popularism, in which the daoxue assumptions of individual access to absolute truth, and of the linear transmission of orthodox learning through an enlightened minority (daotong) were questioned. In contrast, the popularist notions emphasized the fallibility of any individuals, justified spontaneous consensus, and advocated horizontal inclusion of ideas in collective reasoning. Chapter 2 examines the political disputes concerning the "collective recommendation (huitui)" in the late Ming administration, arguing that proponents of huitui, through re-inventing this tradition, sought to moderate the imperial power in important bureaucratic appointments and to promote broader political participation and greater transparency in policy-making. Chapter 3 explores the institutional innovations relating to the fangdan questionnaires, which served as a quantitative means for substantiating the conceived popular opinion in late-Ming officialdom. Beneath these institutional reforms was the popularist orientation that saw commonly shared opinion as innately outweighing individual views. Chapter 4 stresses the centrality of the popularist discourse in the late-Ming Jiangnan literati's activism, arguing that the collective strategies facilitated the local literati's agendas of defending common status and shared interests out of the fear of downward social mobility in a society of increasing identity fluidity. Chapter 5 discusses the cultural impact of the popularist discourse by demonstrating how the collective approach posed challenges to the prevailing Neo-Confucian moral absolutism, brought about a new definition of learning as cumulative, inclusive, open-ended process of public reasoning, and spurred the florescence of encyclopedias, compendia, and anthologies as "the market of knowledge/ideas" for the audience to choose. Taken together, these case studies show a profound change in late-Ming China's political, intellectual and cultural landscape reshaped by a collective orientation.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:12274195
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