Crisis and Transformation in Seventeenth-Century China

Society, Culture, and Modernity in Li Yu's World
Chun-shu Chang and Shelley Hsueh-lun Chang
Describes the social and cultural transformation of seventeenth-century China through the life and work of Li Yu


The seventeenth century was a time of great social and political upheaval in China. In Crisis and Transformation in Seventeenth-Century China, Chun-shu Chang and Shelley Hsueh-lun Chang offer a detailed and engaging analysis of society, culture, and the state in China during this critical period.

The main thread of the book follows the life and works of a remarkable figure of the period, Li Yü (1611-80), whose vast array of accomplishments and experiences mirror seventeenth-century China in all its complexity and excitement. Li Yü's China was a world of unprecedented changes in almost all spheres of life. A thriving commercial and industrial economy, stupendous population growth, and the emergence of a new age of science and technology were accompanied by intense urbanization, radical views on money, wealth, and luxury, liberal attitudes toward sexuality, and developments that would change the nature of the literary and intellectual world. The Changs' exhaustive exploration of Chinese historical and literary sources of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is combined with a selective application of interpretive insights and analytic techniques from the major theoretical schools.

An important resource for scholars in history, literature, and Asian studies, Crisis and Transformation extends its appeal to those interested in the history of science, issues of gender and social transformation, and popular culture movements.

Chun-shu Chang is Professor of History, University of Michigan, and Honorary Professor of Chinese History, China. Shelley Hsueh-lun Chang is Visiting Associate Professor of History and Research Associate, Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan.

Praise / Awards

  • ". . . give[s] the richest possible background and context for further study and analysis of a belletrist who has long both entertained and irritated the scholarly world."
    --Jonathan Spence, Journal of Asian Studies
  • ". . . a splendid entrée into the bibliographical and historiographical details of a host of topics from currency flows, women's education, and the history of publishing, to male homosexuality, architecture, and the manufacture and dissemination of the telescope."
    --Jonathan Spence, Journal of Asian Studies
  • ". . . the Changs have explored far beyond Li Yü's work, digging deeply in the rich lode of texts written in or about Hangzhou and Nanjing during this period. The book's breadth is accordingly breathtaking. Even the most peripheral figures have received detailed notice."
    --Pacific Affairs
  • "The Changs have explored the rich cultural world of this era more intensively than previous authors, and enthusiasts of the seventeenth century will benefit greatly as they range over this landscape with their book in hand."
    --Pacific Affairs
  • "In this rich and wonderful study, historians Chun-shu Chang and Shelley Hsueh-lun Chang have presented an illuminating and sophisticated portrait of Li Yü and the transitional values of the late Ming and early Ch'ing era. More than a mere biographical treatment, this is an excellent examination of a period when change permitted cultural pluralism and intellectual diversity."
  • ". . . comprehensive and engaging. . . . The study's macrocosmic perspective illuminates Chinese art, literature, and culture in a fascinating, painstakingly scholarly yet accessible manner. Especially interesting to the Western reader are the sections on the individual in society."
  • Named a 1998 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Look Inside


Chronology: Ming and Ch'ing     xiii
Note about Romanization    xv
Introduction     1

Prologue. In Search of Li Yu and His World: Conflict and Tension between Individual and Society     9

1. Sociopolitical Change and Individual Response: Li Yu's Life and Work in the Age of Transition     47

2. Crisis and Transformation in the Ming-Ch'ing World" The Making of a Professional Writer     129

3. State and Society in Li Yu's Plays    193

4. Individual and Society in Li Yu's Fiction     231

5. Crisis and Revolution in the Ming-Ch'ing Intellectual World: Li Yu's World in Historical Perspective     267

Epilogue. In Appreciation of Li Yu: The Individual in Political Change and Sociocultural Transformation     321

Glossary    363
Bibliography     371
Index     429 

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 472pp.
  • 1 drawing, 4 tables, 1 map.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 1998
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08528-6

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  • $49.95 U.S.