Book Review—1587: A Year of No Significance (2)

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Nov 25, 2019 12:50
In my previous entry, I introduced the author, Dr.Huáng, and the origin of the book “1587: A Year of No Significance.” Today, I’d like to share with you the main points of this fantastic book.

As I have mentioned, this book grows out of Dr.Huáng’s Ph.D. dissertation and discussions with Dr.Joseph Needham. During his Ph.D. year, Dr.Huáng conducted extensive researches on the Ming Dynasty’s taxation, river transportation and governmental finance system. Furthermore, he continued to drill down this topic while he was lecturer at the University of Michigan: he spent two years to read through the official documents of the Ming Dynasty.

After thorough and innovative researches, he concluded that the Ming Dynasty’s backward technical system such as taxation, transportation, accounting, and financial system, contributed a lot to its decline and collapse.

For instance, there was no de facto centralised governmental financial system at the Ming Dynasty. When a county suffered from food shortage, a nearby administration unit was asked to transport a certain amount of food, let’s say rice, to the county in need. This seemed economical but had hindered the development of the transportation and central accounting system. Another example is that taxation was based on actual goods rather than money and the quality and quantity of goods were hard to be measured. This allowed rooms for bribes and corruption.


比如,明朝没有实际的中央财政制度。如果一个县缺粮食,临近单位就会被要求供粮。这个看起来节约,但限制了运输系统和中央会计系统的发展。另一个例子是税收系统,明朝的税收是基于实物而非货币。实物的质量和数量都很难测量,这就给了 贿赂和腐败很大的操作空间。
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