- Screen of Kings: Royal Art and Power in Ming China by Craig Clunas, and: Martial Spectacles of the Ming Court by David M. Robinson
In the two books reviewed here, Craig Clunas and David Robinson explore new directions in Ming political and cultural history. Clunas has advanced our knowledge of Ming cultural history in works produced over more than two decades.1 In Screen of Kings, he draws on [End Page 371] a wide array of written records (local gazetteers, stele inscriptions, genealogies, archaeological reports) and artifacts to focus on the Ming imperial kinsmen, a subject that has received increasing attention in recent English-language publications.2 An emperor’s close relatives could strengthen the throne or, by virtue of their blood ties, threaten to take it over. The sibling strife that arose during the Jianwen reign and resulted in the Yongle usurpation (reinforced by two later failed rebellions) stimulated the Ming to permit only the Heir Apparent, normally the eldest son of the empress, to remain at court. All other sons were banned from political participation and sent to reside for life in the provinces.3
In contrast to normal usage (found in the Robinson book under review, which follows), Clunas translates qinwang 親王, junwang 郡王, and the descending noble ranks as “king” and not “prince” in order to emphasize their high status and to advance his argument that, in his words, we “ought to take Ming kings seriously” (p. 12). Although other scholars have focused on instances of princely rebellion, princely publication, and princely religious patronage, Clunas surveys the contributions to regional and national culture. Looking specifically at princely establishments in Shanxi and Hubei, he asks: What was their cultural significance? How did their presence affect a locality? What did the princes contribute to their regions and to Ming culture and society? To address these questions he examines the palaces and tombs they constructed, the temples and religious institutions they patronized, their economic impact, their scholarship, and their connoisseurship. [End Page 372]
By design, princely establishments (wang fu 王府) were not located in Jiangnan, the economic and cultural heartland, but were scattered elsewhere, with significant clusters in Shaanxi, Henan, and Huguang. Situated across north and northwest China, princely establishments were immediately recognizable by virtue of their size, configuration, and the presence of green-tiled palace roofs. None of the princely palaces survives, but Clunas’s photographs of extant fragments of arches and massive “dragon” screens hint at the impression they must have created. Princely tombs also dotted the landscape and princely donations funded the construction of pagodas, the main halls of temples, and popular religious shrines. These imposing monuments became a defining characteristic of regional landscapes, extending the “greater court” throughout the empire (p. 11), or at least in the provinces where they were clustered.
Ming princes were free to choose their own religious commitments. Compare Zhu Quan (Hongwu’s seventeenth son, Ning qinwang), who was buried wearing Daoist robes in a Daoist-style tomb (pp. 53–54), with the princes of Dai (descended from Zhu Gui, Hongwu’s thirteenth son), who donated funds to the temples at the great Buddhist pilgrimage site, Wutaishan (pp. 48–51). There was Jin qinwang, Zhu Gang (Hongwu’s third son), who built the Temple of the Veneration of Goodness (Chongshansi), the preeminent Buddhist temple in Shanxi. His descendant founded the Yongzuosi (Temple of Perpetual Blessing; p. 43) and funded the twin pagodas that still “dominate the skyline” of Taiyuan (p. 45). The Jin princes also supported local cults, as shown in the “Hall of the Holy Mother” (Shengmudian) in Taiyuan (pp. 47–48). The same eclecticism characterizes tomb artifacts, which ranged from Buddhist and Daoist paraphernalia to Tibetan/Sanskrit texts (Chapter 5).
Tomb artifacts provide Clunas with an opportunity to write about the women in princely households. The tomb of Liang qinwang, Zhu Zhanji (1411–1441),4 the Hongxi emperor’s ninth son, contained...