Presidential Address Cliffhanger Days: A Chinese Family in the Seventeenth Century

The man who lived the cliffhanger days of my title was called Zhang Dai. He was born in 1597, in the prosperous city of Shaoxing, near the coast of central China. Zhang Dai was rich by the standards of his time (and perhaps by any standards in any time); he received a splendid education, and lived an extremely comfortable life except for a few short periods when he chose to vary the rhythms of his daily round by taking leisurely trips. Mostly these were to nearby Hangzhou, celebrated across Chinese history for the scenic beauty of its West Lake, where his family had a lakeside villa, or to the Yangtze River city of Nanjing (previously China’s capital). Now and again he ventured over the river to the commercial hub of Yangzhou on the Grand Canal, or north again to the province of Shandong, where his father had a job for a while with a princely family. In Shandong he made a point of visiting hallowed tourist sites like Mount Tai and the home of Confucius, which lured visitors from all over China; but if he went to Beijing he left no descriptions of its glories. [1]

Zhang’s pleasant life was rudely and permanently interrupted by the events of spring 1644, when peasant rebels seized the capital of Beijing and occupied the Forbidden City. Humiliated, and confronting an unknown fate, the last emperor of the Ming dynasty committed suicide. Forging a pragmatic alliance against these temporary peasant victors, several Ming generals united with Manchu troops based north of the Great Wall, and together they drove the peasants out of Beijing. In the summer of 1644 the Manchus established themselves as the new ruling dynasty, enfeoffing their collaborationist allies with giant territories in southern China. Several Ming survivors from the former ruling house tried to establish resistance groups, and Zhang Dai served briefly with one of these that was based in his hometown of Shaoxing during 1645 and 1646. But when Zhang changed his mind, and decided no longer to support the resisters, his property and possessions were looted and destroyed by local militarists. [2] Zhang was reduced to a life of poverty, initially hiding out in the hill country south of Shaoxing, and later moving to a run-down rented property on the edge of the city. He dedicated most of the long life that was granted to him—he was not to die until 1680, or perhaps a year or so later—to recreating in thought and in his writing the world that he had lost.

Zhang Dai tells us about his family with differing degrees of detail, deference, and intensity, in three collections of short biographies that have survived to the present day. [3] In the first collection are four biographies that focus on his own immediate ancestors in the male line, from great great-grandfather and great-grandfather down to grandfather and father—these last three ancestors were all the eldest sons of the eldest sons, as was Zhang Dai himself. In each of these four biographies some information about the primary consort of each ancestor is also included, along with her family of origin and one or two trenchant episodes that give us some insight into her character and accomplishments. This was true also for Zhang Dai’s mother, who died in the early 1620s.

The second biographical block concentrates on three of Zhang Dai’s uncles in the male line, his second, third, and seventh. In these biographies the focus is on the uncles’ main actions as sources of illumination into their character, and there is little or no mention of their wives or their children. This is the only block to be clearly dated—Zhang Dai tells us that he began writing this cluster in 1651. The third cluster, consisting of five biographies, roams—though clearly not at random—across a selection of great uncles, uncles, and Zhang’s younger cousins. Here the focus is on their extremes of behavior and their wildly ranging fates. In all cases, with only one possible exception, the relatives discussed in a given biographical sketch had all died before Zhang began to write about them.

Nothing in that organization would strike us now as totally surprising, and one could find precedents for similar typologies in other collections of Ming dynasty biographical sketches—two of which Zhang Dai cites with a measure of approval. [4] The biggest difference from our current biographical modes of approach is that Zhang Dai tells us nothing about his wife or his other subsidiary consorts. A few of his surviving writings tells us that his primary wife died young, and he did not formally marry again; Zhang also tells us in a poem that two junior consorts survived the conquest years of 1644–1650, and rejoined him and his children in the rented property at Shaoxing. About his children, Zhang Dai is equally unforthcoming, except to tell us that they disappointed him. Miscellaneous surviving writings by Zhang list between eight and ten children—a roughly equal mix of boys and girls—but in most cases we do not even know their names. [5]

To what extent can things be as they seem? I have no doubt that at one, perhaps central, level, Zhang’s biographical family sketches are about the members of his own family. We learn a lot from these sketches, much of it startlingly intimate and illuminating, for Zhang was a man of his times, and the favored literary mode of the later Ming was often frank, gossipy, reflective, psychologically revealing, and raunchy. One is reminded at times of the roughly contemporaneous European parallels that spanned the period from Michel de Montaigne to John Aubrey.

Yet even as I am accepting Zhang Dai’s biographies on their own terms, I am conscious that they insistently point us to another level of interpretation, one in which these biographical family sketches are also—or could it be “are mainly”?—about the fall of the Ming and what came before that fall. The Zhang family is depicted as fragmenting, groping for standards, losing its sense—so clear in great great-grandfather’s day—of where it is going. The rout and flight of the Ming is echoed by the rout and flight of the Zhangs. At least three of the relatives whose lives he sketches lost their lives in combat (with peasant rebels or the invaders) between the late 1620’s and the early 1640’s. Several others died absurdly. Zhang’s biographies focus entirely on the pre-conquest period, and once the dynasty has fallen the stories cease. Only the children, as Zhang Dai writes, can give any meaning to the past that is now over. Zhang, in other words, writes as a fugitive and a survivor. His role is to conjure up the lives and the age that are gone, and to hold all of them up to rigorous standards of scrutiny.

Zhang Dai himself, he tells us insistently, is no model for anything or anybody. In a separate series of evocative personal reminiscences, written in the late 1640s when he was on the run from his enemies, hiding out in Buddhist monasteries and temples, he gives us a scattershot yet intimate list of the kinds of things that occupied his energies in the years before the conquest. [6] At different times, he writes, he was absorbed by collecting the finest hand-crafted and decorated lanterns; by the aesthetics of tea and the spring water from which to brew it; by learning how to play the horizontal zither-like instrument known as the qin, for which he formed a chamber group of five instrumentalists to give local concerts; by a crab-eating club, which sought out the finest fresh-water crabs from the waters around Shaoxing, and feasted on them during the tenth lunar month, when they were at their peak; by cock-fighting, on which he and his relatives bet heavily; by poetry and history; by cheese-making with fresh cow’s milk; by boating and outings for moon or snow viewing; by dramatic performances of operas and the training of musical troupes; by pilgrimages to sacred Buddhist sites; by collecting art and antiques. Yet of all this elegant eclecticism, how little survived after 1644 save that which was lodged in his memory? And how dismally, Zhang Dai tells us, had he failed at the occupations that might have sprung from a tenacious pursuit of even a few. As he wrote in the late 1660s, shortly before his seventieth birthday, in an essay which he called “My Self-written Obituary”:

“One can describe a person like me as being wealthy and noble or poor and famished; as wise or foolish; as stubborn or pliant; as impetuous or slothful. I failed to get anywhere in either my scholarly work or in my sword practice; I was never skilled in moral argument nor in belles letters. I failed to understand Taoist longevity studies or Buddhism, I failed at agriculture and at gardening. So let my contemporaries call me a failure, a good-for-nothing; a stupid rustic or a dreary pedant, a soporific man, or one who has outlived his time—any of the above will do.” [7]

Despite this self-denigration Zhang would not, I feel, have accepted the easy criticism that he was merely a “superfluous man.” For he was, he knew, a chronicler of his lost dynasty, as well as of his lost family. He had started writing a history of the Ming dynasty in 1628, when he was just thirty, at a time when he can have had no certitude that the dynasty would fall, even though there were many signs of weakness at the center and encroachments from the peripheries. He was probably close to eighty when he completed the project, having carried the story onward into a second set of volumes detailing the series of events that culminated in the disaster of 1644. The passionate urge to complete this project, he wrote, was enough reason for him to keep living. [8] In the same way, the chronicling of his family was not without consequence, for such an act alone could lead his children to know who they were.

Considered in such a context, his three series of brief family biographies were indeed portraits of an age, seen though disparate lenses, yet tightly linked by the realities of a shared inheritance. The four preceding generations, descending from his great great-grandfather to his father, and thus culminating in himself, had achieved great things. In each of the first three generations, the sons had passed the fiercely competitive and intellectually challenging country-wide triennial examinations held in the capital of Beijing; great-grandfather, indeed, in the year 1571, had passed top among all the students sitting the exams in that year. Each of the three attained comparatively senior positions in the national bureaucracy. Even Zhang Dai’s father, a less accomplished or diligent student, earned a passing grade as a “supplementary” scholar, which brought him a job for some years as the executive administrator of a Ming princely household. [9]

Yet read sequentially, the four sketches suggested an underlying rhythm of increasing futility—one that culminated, for better or worse, in Zhang Dai himself. At the peak of his career, having been posted to the far southwestern province of Yunnan, great great-grandfather refused to accommodate the provincial and military power-holders of the region. Incensed by his self-righteousness, they combined their energies to impeach him, and he narrowly escaped a shameful execution. Great great-grandfather’s survival was achieved only by the Herculean efforts of his oldest son, whose own career also foundered despite his stunning first-place triumph in the national examinations. Grandfather, in love with scholarship, embarked on a series of academic labors that turned out to be of no consequence whatever, and indeed to have uselessly replicated work already more successfully completed by others. Father, dismissed from his job with the princely household, focused his studies in the arcane worlds of Taoist prognostication and the quest for longevity. He was also much given to lavish and greasy eating competitions—on one occasion he challenged his own younger brother to see who could eat an entire goose the fastest—and grew immensely fat. As a result, father suffered from agonizing and prolonged bouts of indigestion, one of which Zhang Dai discusses in unappealing detail. [10] If anyone showed sustained diligence and integrity in the Zhang family it was the senior consorts, whose good management and shrewd common sense were presented by Zhang as being the primary force holding the family together.

In some prefatory remarks to this first series of short biographical sketches, Zhang Dai described his own role as the composer of a family history by means of three different images. [11] When he was trying to write about the more distant ancestors such as great great-grandfather and great-grandfather, Zhang wrote, his actions were like those of a court astronomer. For the astronomer comes into his own at the time of an eclipse of the moon, when by his training and knowledge he is able to reassure people that the moon will soon return to its customary brilliance—the deep shadow cast during the eclipse is only a temporary phenomenon that will soon pass. In the case of his grandfather, to whom Zhang Dai had been very close in his childhood and youth, the biographer’s role was different: although much of grandfather’s earlier life had naturally been unknown to the young Zhang Dai, it became his mission to depict that half of the life that he had been privileged to witness. When dealing with father, the task was different again. Now the historian was like a fisherman, who cast his net over the side of the boat. The key factor here lay in the mesh of the net and what you were looking for. A coarse mesh might well be more helpful than a fine one, since from close scrutiny of the large fish in the net one could guess what one needed to know about the finer detailing. Zhang Dai knew his own limitations, he told the reader, and realized he lacked the skill to replicate every detail of the living faces of these progenitors. “My only goal,” he wrote, “is not to lose sight of their true countenance altogether, and to bring to light the half of their faces that was filled in part with laughter and in part with sorrow.”

In the second collection of brief family biographies, the one containing portraits of three uncles, Zhang presented a different organizational principle. As Zhang wrote in a prefatory note to this second collection, his goal in this particular grouping was to illustrate a basic principle that lay behind human relationships: what made people truly interesting, and hence worth recording in some kind of sustained form, was their flaws. [12] No one was interesting just because of their good points. As Zhang Dai phrased it, “My three uncles had both strengths and shortcomings—their strengths may not deserve biographies but their shortcomings do. An early Ming scholar once wrote, ‘I would prefer to be an imperfect piece of jade rather than a perfect rock.’ It is precisely because it has imperfections that it qualifies as jade. How dare I hide the imperfections of my uncles and thus disqualify them from being classed as jade?” Again, such a remark can be read as a wider commentary on the fate of the Ming dynasty as a whole.

In introducing his third collection, which included five other close relatives ranging from great uncles down to younger cousins, Zhang took the argument one step further: if those without flaws were not worthy of your friendship because they lacked true feelings, he wrote, similarly those without obsessions should never be taken as friends, because they lacked deep emotions. Thus this group of five relatives, Zhang wrote, “as youngsters all had flaws, but in maturity these flaws developed into obsessions,” and thus it was that they were able to attain such deep emotions. “Probably not one of these five men,” Zhang continued, “would have wanted their biographies to be written, and yet their obsessions had developed to such an extraordinary extent that it would have been out of the question NOT to write their biographies.” [13]

Not surprisingly perhaps, these three groups of sketches make for absorbing reading, although even as we read we realize how hard it may be to assess other people’s obsessions, either their nature or their impact, in any remotely objective way. However, the obsessions recorded by Zhang Dai do add up to a depiction of a society stretching the boundaries of the possible, and challenging many of the cherished formulations of conventional decency championed by the moralists of the time. Zhang Dai tells us that within the ranks of his own family one could find examples of men who carried the acquisition of rare curios and works of art beyond all reason, in terms of competitiveness and extravagance; of men whose passion for money took them out into wild regions of greed, graft, and gambling; of men who lashed out at the world with uncontrollable rage and random careless cruelties, which at times were almost unspeakable; of men whose passion for something as apparently innocuous as garden design and landscaping led them to completely unthinking gouging and mauling of the land, to grotesque excesses of planting and placement, and the wastage of water, soil, and plants; and of men whose wild and sustained drinking took them on binges that made them a total menace to their families and neighbors, sometimes with fatal results. Echoes of these and similar obsessions had been latent in the earlier paternal line biographies, but here they were presented with a very different, harsher, and more focused attention to detail.

But, to return to an earlier theme, these sketches remained a part of a family history, of the Zhang’s own family history to be precise, and they can be read for their detail as well as for their overarching metaphorical structures. To claim this, of course, the historian has to have some confidence that he is being told the truth. How can he be sure that this is so? Never with absolute certainty, perhaps, but with at least a strong feeling that there is a track here that leads into the recognizable zones of social history, that rests on something that we know from other societies and times, and thus has a kind of reliability for us later readers, trained in different traditions and different climes than Zhang Dai. The smallest detail thus sometimes has the power to hint at deeper truths. It is not just the strange thing that holds our attention but rather the touch of the familiar in the strange thing.

For those weary of metaphors, then, let us tease out some of the details tucked into these biographies—or artfully placed within them, for Zhang was an artist with words, and a scholar who knew full well what he was saying. [14] One detail, which recurs in several of the biographies of the direct male-descent line, is that protracted study can cause serious damage to one’s eyesight. I do not believe Zhang Dai intended this to be read only as metaphor. I think he was telling us something about the smallness of print, the poorness of lighting after dark, and the countless hours that the young (and the not-so-young) men had to spend at their studies if they were to succeed. (Women were not allowed to take the exams, but we know from much recent research that they read and wrote with concentrated intensity, and surely those labors plus long hours of embroidery in poor light led to similar results for many.) At least two of Zhang’s male ancestors, he tells us, almost lost their eyesight altogether—they were only saved when senior members of the family ordered their rooms kept dark twenty-four hours a day with curtains and shades. Even then, the afflicted males kept studying through their ears, hiring rotating squads of readers to recite the key texts again and again until they had memorized them completely. After three months, the shades were lifted, their eyes had recovered, and they could read again. In the case of Zhang Dai’s father, the cure for his increasingly impaired vision—he had already completely lost the ability to read small characters—came when his family obtained for him what Zhang Dai describes as “western lenses to balance on the end of his nose,” clearly an early and datable reference to the use of reading glasses in late Ming China. One younger cousin of Zhang Dai’s lost his sight permanently due to illness; but after prolonged years with readers serving him round the clock, he became an expert in medical texts and a specialist in the art of pulse diagnosis, which enabled him to establish a successful medical practice of his own.

Another detail concerns premature birth. Zhang Dai tells us that his favorite (and youngest) brother was born at the very beginning of his mother’s sixth month of pregnancy. The infant was “tiny, sickly, constantly panting for breath,” and the parents paid him little heed, stating that they had quite enough to do looking after the other children, who had a better chance of growing to maturity. Zhang Dai says that it was he (and his siblings?) who helped to keep the baby alive, which they did successfully so that he grew to manhood, and became a talented manager of the family’s business and a skillful mediator of family and local disputes. [15]

Equally interesting to the historian is the reason Zhang Dai gives in the same piece for why the child was born so prematurely. It was because, although already entering her sixth month of pregnancy, Zhang Dai’s mother wore herself out trying to manage all the countless details for the major birthday rituals and celebrations being planned in honor of her mother-in-law, Zhang Dai’s grandmother. It was because she was exhausted by the work and by the pressures to behave in a correctly filial way that she gave birth prematurely.

Other details show how deep was the family’s interest in medicine as a whole, how many doctors they consulted, and how many prescribed medicines they took at different times. Medical knowledge seems to have been widely shared: different regions were known for the efficiency of different drugs, and the family often showed real respect to the itinerant or downright eccentric doctors who came to call. Besides obesity, to which Zhang Dai’s father and others in the family were prone, and eye troubles, there must have been many other cases of serious illness—Zhang Dai even discusses a “plague” from Manchuria afflicting the Shaoxing region, though this of course pushes us back into the shadowy area between metaphor and lived experience. [16]

In terms of family relationships Zhang Dai also has much to tell us. I have mentioned the powerful role he ascribed to the women who married into the Zhang family in keeping the family organized and prosperous. These women also shielded the boy children from their fathers’ anger (sometimes by hiding the children in the women’s quarters where the mature males, even if married, were not expected to venture). Zhang Dai writes elsewhere of his deep love for his mother-in-law, and of how, after his own mother had died comparatively young, his mother-in-law became a second mother to him, and a key source of love and affection. [17] Love between brothers was also powerful and enduring, and older members of the Zhang family who tried to separate their children for some reason—a grandfather, for example, might push to take one of his little grandchildren with him to Beijing—could be thwarted by the sustained opposition of the women in the family. Zhang recorded that concubines, too, and secondary consorts, feared for their own children’s futures in the Zhang family, and did indeed face dismissal from the family, along with their children, after the death of an older patriarch who had also served as their protector.

There were also, Zhang Dai tells us, examples of future marriage pledges made by the Zhangs with other neighboring families, and such pledges were honored. For example, when great-grandfather was young and studying with a close friend from the Zhu family, the two youths swore that if they married and had children of different sexes, those children would be pledged together in marriage. Each of the two men cut off and exchanged a small piece of their study robes as a token, and Zhang Dai tells us he saw one of these faded pieces of cloth many years later. Zhang tells us that his great-grandfather had indeed had a son while his friend Zhu had a daughter, and that these two children were later duly married. The fruit of that union was Zhang Dai’s own father.

So the Zhangs did indeed live in a cliffhanger world, one that was dangerous and unpredictable but also comfortable and loving. And with that knowledge, we can circle back to seeing the Zhangs as metaphors for the Ming dynasty’s fate, for its flamboyance and its exuberance, but also its excesses and its weaknesses. Although he did not make the point explicitly in his family biographies, Zhang Dai certainly used the universality of the medical metaphor in his vast history of the Ming dynasty, completed in the 1670s about a decade before his own death. During the rule of the Ming emperor in whose reign he was born, he tells us, China began to develop a dangerous malady, but it was one which was not apparent at the time. It was like a kind of lesion, one that grew behind the neck and on the spine of the imperial patient, so that it could not be seen. By the next reign, the lesion was spreading out from the back to the edges of the chest, but the extent of the illness was still not absolutely clear. Only under the last emperor, as the whole chest was shown to be affected, did the patient try for a cure. But by then it was too late. There were no doctors, Zhang Dai wrote, who could cure it now. [18] And so his central mission came to be telling those who came after how he had lost virtually everything except his powers of recreation. [19]

The family, in such a rendering, became the focal point for the shared memories of the polity as a whole, and for the attempt to hold on to the past as an integral part of the present and the future. Perhaps the most powerful of all Zhang Dai’s images is one he drew from the great writer and philosopher Zhuang Zi, who lived in the fourth century B.C.E . “When the leper woman gives birth to her child in the middle of the night,” Zhuang Zi had written, “the first thing she does is to hurry and find a light, trembling to see if her baby looks just like she does.” [20] After quoting this brief parable, Zhang added these words: “As for my ancestors, thankfully none of them were lepers; and I myself lack the talent in my own biographies to give an exact depiction of my ancestors. So when in the middle of the night I fetch a light to see what I have wrought, I am partly afraid that they resemble me, and yet partly afraid that they do not resemble me. So is my heart divided.” With these words, I feel, Zhang Dai was talking to all historians, be they from whatever region, or whatever time.


This address draws from the work I have been doing at intervals over the last four years on the Chinese bon vivant, essayist, poet and historian Zhang Dai (1597 to 1680 or after). For important bibliographic assistance I am especially indebted to Antony Marr and Sarah Elman. For her unstinting help with translation and analysis of Zhang Dai’s literary works over the entire period, my deepest thanks go to Annping Chin. And for major help at various times during these years with research and translation, my profound thanks also to Huang Hongyu, Anastasia Liu, Liu Shiyee, Ma Xin, Danni Wang, and Zhang Taisu.
Jonathan Spence served as the president of the American Historical Association in 2004. He is Sterling professor of history at Yale University.


1 I have greatly benefited from two recent studies on Zhang Dai by Hu Yimin, Zhang Dai pingzhuan (Nanjing, 2002) and Zhang Dai yanjiu (Hefei, 2002). Both of these give detailed analysis of Zhang’s published and manuscript works and contain invaluable chronological summaries of Zhang’s life—that in the Zhang Dai pingzhuan being somewhat fuller than that in Zhang Dai yanjiu. An earlier but also extremely useful study is Xia Xianchun, Mingmo qicai: Zhang Dai lun (Shanghai, 1989). In English, Fang Chao-ying’s brief biography “Chang Tai” in Arthur W. Hummel ed. Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing Period (1644–1912), 2 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1943) remains an admirable introduction to Zhang’s life and character. The most comprehensive study in English of Zhang Dai’s literary work and goals that I have seen is Philip Kafalas, “Nostalgia and the Reading of the Late Ming Essay: Zhang Dai’s Tao’an Mengyi” (PhD dissertation, Stanford University, 1995). Kafalas, “Weighty Matters, Weightless Form: Politics and the Late Ming Xiaopin Writer,” Ming Studies 39 (Spring 1998): 50–85, puts Zhang Dai’s works in the context of his times. Zhang Dai’s relationship to the Confucian tradition of thought is explored in Duncan Campbell, “‘The Body of the Way is Without Edges’: Zhang Dai (1597–?1684) and his Four Books Epiphanies,” New Zealand Journal of East Asian Studies 6:1 (June 1998): 36–54. For English translations of lengthy passages from Zhang Dai’s own account of his visit to Mount Tai (which probably was in 1628), see Pei-yi Wu, “An Ambivalent Pilgrim to T’ai Shan in the Seventeenth Century,” in Susan Naquin and Chün-fang Yü, eds. Pilgrims and Sacred Sites in China (Berkeley, Calif., 1992), 72–87; and Richard Strassberg, Inscribed Landscapes: Travel Writing from Imperial China (Berkeley, Calif., 1994), 339–41. Strassberg, also translates an extensive passage of Zhang Dai’s account of his visit to Confucius’ former home, see pp. 334–39.
2 Useful introductions in English to these tumultuous events are the studies by Frederic Wakeman, The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in Seventeenth-Century China, 2 vols. (Berkeley, Calif., 1985); Roger V. Des Forges, Cultural Centrality and Political Change in Chinese History: Northeast Henan in the Fall of the Ming (Stanford, Calif., 2003); and Lynn A. Struve, The Southern Ming, 1644–1662 (New Haven, Conn., 1984), and Voices from the Ming-Qing Cataclysm: China in Tigers’ Jaws (New Haven, Conn., 1993).
3 These three collections of short biographies can most easily be found in the anthology of Zhang Dai’s poetry and shorter prose pieces, Xia Xianchun, comp., Zhang Dai shi wen ji (Shanghai, 1991) (hereafter ZDSWJ): 243–58 for the first collection on the direct male descent line; 259–67 for the second collection of three uncles; and 267–83 for the third collection on the five male relatives with flaws or obsessions.
4 ZDSWJ, 243–244. The two authors mentioned by Zhang are Li Mengyang and Zhong Xing.
5 For the details on consorts and children see especially the poems and colophons in ZDSWJ, 31–37.
6 The central source for the reminiscences Zhang wrote just after the fall of the Ming dynasty is Zhang Dai, Taoan mengyi, available in many Chinese editions. An especially convenient one with extensive annotations is Xia Xianchun and Cheng Weirong, comps., Taoan mengyi, Xihu mengxun (Shanghai, 2001). The Taoan mengyi has also been annotated and translated into French by Brigitte Teboul-Wang, Souvenirs rêvés de Tao’an, par Zhang Dai (Paris, 1995). For further discussions of this fascinating text, see Kafalas, “Nostalgia”; Timothy Brook, Praying for Power: Buddhism and the Formation of Gentry Society in Late-Ming China (Cambridge, Mass., 1993), 37–53; Stephen Owen, Remembrances: The Experience of the Past in Classical Chinese Literature (Cambridge, Mass., 1986), 134–41.
7 ZDSWJ, 295–296. For other translations of sections of this difficult “obituary” see Campbell, “The Body,” 45–46, and Kafalas, “Weighty Matters,” 63–64.
8 Zhang’s history of the Ming, Shi gui shu [Book of the Stone Casket] and the continuation covering the years after 1628, the Shi gui shu houji, have been recently published in facsimile in the collection Xuxiu siku quanshu, vols. 318–320 (Shanghai, 1995). There is also a punctuated edition of the Shi gui shu houji (Taipei, 1970). Zhang Dai’s own preface to the vast work is published separately in ZDSWJ, 99–100.
9 ZDSWJ, 243–58.
10 For his father’s illness and indigestion see ZDSWJ, 112–14.
11 ZDSWJ, 244.
12 ZDSWJ, 259. The “early Ming scholar” was Xie Jin (alternate name Xie Dashen).
13 ZDSWJ, 268.
14 Unless otherwise indicated, the following details are all culled from the three series of short biographies in ZDSWJ, 243–83.
15 On Zhang Dai’s prematurely born younger brother Shanmin, see ZDSWJ, 292–94.
16 For references to “plague” in Manchuria during 1636 see ZDSWJ, 46–47.
17 Zhang’s love for his mother-in-law is spelled out in his eulogy after her death, ZDSWJ, 348–50.
18 For the illness of the dynasty and the medical metaphors see especially Shi gui shu, 192 and 208.
19 Zhang Dai’s most famous passage on these acts of mental concentration and recreation is the preface to his book on the West Lake (Xihu mengxun), printed in ZDSWJ, 144. An especially fine translation can be found in Stephen Owen, An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911 (New York, 1996), 819–20. Owen, Remembrances, 134–35, also gives a fine translation of Zhang’s preface to the Taoan mengyi.
20 This Zhuang Zi parable is translated in Burton Watson, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu (New York, 1968), 140. Zhang Dai quotes and glosses the passage in ZDSWJ, 244.