China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
The second half of the Ming dynasty was a period of rapid change and development in China. The commercial economy began to revive in the later fifteenth century, and expanded significantly through the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. One aspect of this dynamic process was a proliferation in the size and number of urban places, especially market towns, and in the organization and functioning of city life. How did the Ming state perceive the changes taking place in urban social and economic realms? One means of assessing the official perception of urban places is through their visual representation in local gazetteers. These documents were locally compiled under the official sponsorship of imperial officials, magistrates or prefects, in collaboration with local elite informants. They were utilized in administrative activities, but they also circulated in wider social circles as expressions of local civic pride and as sources of information for visitors to a particular locality. This paper uses a dataset of images of urban places from gazetteers across the Ming empire, compiled using the LoGaRT search tool developed by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, to explore the range and variation of images of urban places and the protocols of exclusion and inclusion of information in those images to discern the ways in which cities and towns were visually conceptualized and represented, and how this articulated relationships of power and political legitimacy.