12 years after his Confusion of Pleasure, Brook provided another work of story-telling. No more about the Ming, this one juxtaposes the Yuan and Ming (1271-1644), treating them as component parts of a single period, that of the Little Ice Age in the West. Putting the Yuan and Ming, the book is titled The Troubled Empire(single form).
Records of dragon spotting in the late Yuan starts the book which is to finish with maritime trade in South China Sea. Thus under the overall frame of climate cycles, the author really presents a macro-historical perspective of the world, in particular, the formation of the early modern world. In short, in 13-4 centuries, a continental world-economy oriented the Yuan westward across the grassland to Persia and Europe; In 16-7 centuries, a maritime world-economy centered on the South China sea tied the Ming to systems of trade that flowed to and from the Indian Ocean and across the Pacific. Thus, Ming performed in the shaping of today’s world system. Less powerful than the Yuan, however, Ming is better conceived as a state-economy than a world-economy. Perdue’s China Marches West, though, seems to provide a counter-argument: the Manchu empire was as much concerned about the steppe as the ocean.
Apart from natural disasters and economic models, the book compares the Mongol Khan and Han Emperor, introduces the changing scales (space, population, transportation), economic growth and its influence over ecology, kinship matrix which was indeed newly formed in the Ming. On a more personal level, it talks about the lives of women and of men in the household, their properties, literati connoisseurship, book, painting, furniture, and the belief systems. As Confusions of Pleasure, it ends with the “fall” of the Ming.
It introduces many comparisons between Yuan and Ming, for example, the Yuan society was based on multi-ethnic principle, a fundamentalism of difference, while the Ming espoused both ethnic and national sameness, which was advocated by late Ming Chinese Christians such as Xu Guangqi.
While Confusions of Pleasure follows a major line of “commerce”, this book is multi-centered. It aims at providing a panorama of the Yuan-Ming dynasties, covering every aspect of state, society and personal life, and placing them within a global context. The story-telling style goes through both works.
Indeed, Khubilai assumed his place in the long line of families for the Yuan to be a dynastic state in China. And, the two dynasties were the only ones that saw the maturation of drama composition, first zaju, then chuanqi. From Song to Qing, how much “sameness” or “difference” can we find?