The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China

Timothy Brook (Author)


The Ming dynasty was the last great Chinese dynasty before the Manchu conquest in 1644. During that time, China, not Europe, was the center of the world: the European voyages of exploration were searching not just for new lands but also for new trade routes to the Far East. In this book, Timothy Brook eloquently narrates the changing landscape of life over the three centuries of the Ming (1368-1644), when China was transformed from a closely administered agrarian realm into a place of commercial profits and intense competition for status.

The Confusions of Pleasure marks a significant departure from the conventional ways in which Chinese history has been written. Rather than recounting the Ming dynasty in a series of political events and philosophical achievements, it narrates this longue durée in terms of the habits and strains of everyday life. Peppered with stories of real people and their negotiations of a rapidly changing world, this book provides a new way of seeing the Ming dynasty that not only contributes to the scholarly understanding of the period but also provides an entertaining and accessible introduction to Chinese history for anyone.

Product Details

University of California Press
Publish Date
September 01, 1999
6.14 X 0.9 X 9.04 inches | 1.2 pounds
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About the Author

Timothy Brook is Professor of History at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Praying for Power: Buddhism and the Formation of Gentry Society in Late-Ming China (1993), and Quelling the People: The Military Suppression of the Beijing Democracy Movement (1992), and the coeditor of Nation Work: Asian Elites and National Identities (1999) and China and Historical Capitalism: Genealogies of Sinological Knowledge (1999).


"The book looks at changing attitudes to the inter-relationship of commerce and culture or leisure activities over the course of the Ming dynasty. . . . One of the strengths of the book . . . is the way in which much of the story is told through the words of contemporary, often little-known, observers, whose sometimes quirky views are skillfully translated. The vividness with which these distant figures and their world are presented to the reader, in the author's very readable style, should make this book accessible to non-China specialists and indeed to anyone who is interested in the ways in which a traditional, agricultural society-then or now-reacts to dramatic economic change."--"China Quarterly