- The Dreaming Mind and the End of the Ming World by Lynn A. Struve
Lynn Struve's latest book adds a psychogenic dimension to her authoritative scholarship on the Ming-Qing transition. It is a comprehensive study, which both contextualizes earlier work on dreams and breaks new ground, highlighting another dimension of sixteenth and seventeenth century history.
The Dreaming Mind and the End of the Ming World argues for a "dream arc," a dramatic surge in the frequency of dream references or discourses on dreams in the literary record, beginning in the late Ming and lasting into the early Qing. As should be clear at the outset, the dream arc is yet another manifestation of the intriguing anomalousness of the Ming-Qing transition, which has captured the imaginations of generations of scholars and launched dozens of academic careers. As appealing to the imagination as Struve's thesis is, though (and in spite of its basis in something as intangible as dreams), it is based on solid evidence and points to a phenomenon that is very real. Ironically, Struve uses dreams to substantiate our impression of the transition era as a special time.
In a background chapter, Struve shows that, while late Ming thinkers were by no means the first to grapple with the subject of dreams, they did so with a novel lack of reservation or hesitation. Earlier explorations of dreams had been tinged with ambivalence, with both Daoists and Confucianists dancing around the issue of whether sages even had dreams. Daoists tended to prize dreamless sleep and sometimes declared, "Perfected ones do not dream;" while Confucians, with their this-worldliness, especially denigrated dream divination [End Page 80] (pp. 23–24, 26, 29–30). Inevitably, members of both schools learned to rationalize sagely dreaming, with Daoists interpreting Zhuangzi's famous butterfly dream as an admonition to avoid dualities and Confucius's dreaming of the Duke of Zhou excused by his followers as an example of mindfulness of approved subjects such as authority figures or counterparts in the five cardinal relations (pp. 28–32). By Ming times, writing about dreams was a fully acceptable activity, and a fair-sized corpus of dream culture existed for inspiration.
On the crucial question of what caused dream-writing to proliferate in the sixteenth century, Struve assigns most of the credit to the uniqueness of Ming thought, specifically the subjectivism of the Yangming school of Confucianism and the syncretism of the Three Teachings (Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism) that accompanied it. Struve's summation of the differences between the older Cheng-Zhu approach to Confucianism and the Yangming version is superlative. Cheng-Zhu thinkers regarded the human mind with suspicion and concerned themselves with the search for principle, found in heaven or nature, in order to regulate it. Yangming adherents, conversely, believed principle to adhere in the mind itself, in the form of intuitive knowledge (pp. 85–87). Dreams came to be viewed as reliable representations of that knowledge. Although the latter group's namesake, Wang Yangming (a.k.a. Wang Shouren, 1472–1529) seldom wrote of dreams, his followers began earnestly to take up the subject, lending it new weight and philosophical respectability, as exemplified by a remark by Zha Jizuo (1601–1676) asserting that "Dreams are manifestations of human wisdom" (pp. 88–91). No pre-Ming writer would have said such a thing. Struve's references to subjectivity in this book are too copious to note, but her observation that "Dreaming is as subjective as our awareness gets" (p. 1) establishes an obvious relationship between Yangming subjectivism and the dream arc.
As for the syncretism of the Three Teachings, Struve reports that the new stress on intuitive knowledge eroded reliance on canonical truth, encouraging nominal Confucians to seek enlightenment in Daoism and Chan Buddhism (pp. 87–88). She includes a line graph illustrating a massive spike in interest in Daoism (especially in Zhuangzi) during the long turn of the seventeenth century, which duplicates the dream arc itself...