The following is my book review for Ray Huang: 1587, A Year of No Significance. Originally written on January 3rd, 2007. Wording slightly revised.
The history of China is long and it is very difficult to get a clear idea about the logic behind the countless events happened during the last several thousand years in China. I've read many books on China’s history, both Chinese ones and English ones. This book has been the most inspiring one among those I've read.
In this book, Dr. Ray Huang showed the readers the picture of the Chinese people’s life around the year 1587: from the emperor’s depression caused by lacking of freedom due to the structure of China’s politics, to officers’ rise and fall, to the common people’s mundane life. As the big picture rolling out little by little, the logic behind China’s history was clearer and clearer. There was a fatal problem in Chinese politics: the politic structure was premature but the administrative methods to support the structure never grew up and never based on sensible mathematics. Technologies were never paid enough attention to. When the population and economic developed and developed, the naive administrative methods could not sustain the whole economic system any more. However, any technical innovation for supporting the economic grow was hardly allowed due to moral or philosophical tradition. Some officers had been very smart, the emperor had been very ambitious, the Chinese people had been very diligent. However due to many problems, these individual efforts never really worked out to save the dynasty from declining. Dr. Huang saw these problems based on his decades of research on Ming Dynasty’s taxing system. In this book he showed the readers how these problem impacted all aspects of life of the people from different classes.
Dr. Huang’s research method is scientific and the conclusion is convincing. Although 1587 happened to be a year in the Ming Dynasty, this book in fact provides a great point of view to the macro history of China. This is a book to be read again and again. Every iteration will help readers understand China’s history better, and gain more insight of China's reality today. The author’s way of thinking and his research method is also very inspiring. The text is so well written that it is anything but dry and boring. Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in China’s history.