China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Mao Yuanyi’s encyclopedic Treatise on Military Preparedness (Wu bei zhi, 1621) neatly subsumes a great deal of extant military texts and histories, including military manuals of the sixteenth century. The Treatise has received much scholarly attention for its explication of techniques and technologies, but also for its encyclopedism. Scholars have rightly identified the Treatise as an exemplar of encyclopedic statecraft (jingshi) and concrete studies (shixue) literature, but have not examined its role or that of books like it in the history of factional politics. This paper will argue that encyclopedic works of statecraft like the Treatise were written and deployed as social objects in partisan politics. Chinese scholarship associates concrete studies literature with the Donglin political faction (Donglin dang). However, scholarship in English neglects Donglin partisans’ involvement in the ‘dirty’ details of practical statecraft (Harry Miller; John Dardess), arguing that Donglin partisans’ concerns were primarily ideological. Both kinds of scholarship fail to examine the social and intellectual practices of less famous sympathizers of such movements, like Mao Yuanyi, who did not hold an official position. For members of the gentry outside the civil bureaucracy, projects like the Treatise became either loci of collaboration with patrons or statements of individuals’ moral and intellectual sympathies and specific expertise. This paper will use Mao Yuanyi’s correspondence to demonstrate how Mao Yuanyi deployed the Treatise and his knowledge of current events to navigate the deep waters of factional politics in the 1620s.