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Ray Huang’s 1587

Ray Huang’s 1587 - Structural Integrity...

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Structural Integrity Questionable The Ming dynasty collapsed in a firestorm of rebellion, invasion and treachery but Ray Huang argues that the sees ( seas?) of destruction were sown in a much more mundane manner. Ray Huang’s 1587, A Year of No Significance creates an argument which attempts to show the central bureaucracy at fault for Ming decline. Huang uses the specifics of six historical figures’ live (s) to form this version of the Ming dynasty’s end. To aid this line of reasoning the author employs a narrative voice, uses a unique character study form of organization and creates several archetypes of bureaucratic officials. Each of these devices helps and hurts 1587 ’s ability to create a comprehensive and compelling line of reasoning. Huang successfully reveals the bureaucracy’s role in the Ming decline but becomes bogged down by the weight of his assumptions and ultimately fails to make a convincing argument that this highly centralized view fits best. Huang sets the fate of Ming decline around a story-telling voice that pulls the reader into 1587 . Frequent interpretation of the subjects’ motivations and long sequences of linear story make many parts of 1587 into anecdotes more than evidence ( does the linearness make anecdotes or are the anecdotes linear?) . The data cited does not dominate (here dominate seems like a bad thing to do, is this how you meant it?) as the evidence often takes the backseat to the narrative; the sources are usually placed after more fanciful phrases, “she was unable to reach an ultimate understanding with him . 16 1 In this passage the author must cite a source in order to back up a claim that would otherwise be written off as pure speculation. Huang walks a thin line between creating a history and a historical novel by using this narrative voice. The lighter voice takes turns 1 Ray Huang, 1587, A Year of No Significance (London: Yale University Press, 1981), 192. 1
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between assisting and foiling the book’s argument. Huang’s narration assists his argument by drawing the reader into the work. 1587 succeeds in making the reader want to buy into (maybe “buy into” is a little to casual?) Huang’s central thesis as each historical figure parades out of the pages as a fully formed and well-crafted character like the minor figure general Tu Sung who “was…brutish and unschooled…(and) would not hesitate to destroy his own weapons…threaten suicide, or shave his head.” 2
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