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The Art of Doing Good

Charity in Late Ming China

Joanna Handlin Smith (Author)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 424 pages
ISBN: 9780520253636
March 2009
$85.00, £66.00
An unprecedented passion for saving lives swept through late Ming society, giving rise to charitable institutions that transcended family, class, and religious boundaries. Analyzing lecture transcripts, administrative guidelines, didactic tales, and diaries, Joanna Handlin Smith abandons the facile explanation that charity was a response to poverty and social unrest and examines the social and economic changes that stimulated the fervor for doing good. With an eye for telling details and a finesse in weaving the voices of her subjects into her narrative, Smith brings to life the hard choices that five men faced when deciding whom to help, how to organize charitable distributions, and how to balance their communities' needs against the interests of family and self. She thus shifts attention from tired questions about whether the Chinese had a tradition of charity (they did) to analyzing the nature of charity itself. Skillfully organized and engaging, The Art of Doing Good moves from discussions about moral leadership and beliefs to scrutiny of the daily operation of soup kitchens and medical dispensaries, and from examining local society to generalizing about the just use of resources and the role of social networks in charitable giving. Smith's work will transform our thinking about the boundaries between social classes in late imperial China and about charity in general.
Conventions, Measurements, and Dynasties

Part One: New Routines: Associations for Doing Good
1. Societies for Liberating Animals
2. Early Benevolent Societies and Their Visionary Leaders
3. The Benevolent Society among Its Alternatives
4. Lectures for the Poor-and the Rich
5. A Benevolent Society Viewed from the Margins

Part Two: Enacting Charitable Routines during a Crisis
6. Mobilizing Food Relief
7. Aligning with Officials
8. Medical Relief and Other Good Deeds
9. Beliefs in Charity-and the Rhetoric of Beliefs

Conclusion: From Moral Transformation toward the Legitimation of Wealth

List of Abbreviations
Character Glossary
Joanna Handlin Smith is the Editor Emeritus of the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies and the author of Action in Late Ming Thought: The Reorientation of Lü K'un and Other Scholar-Officials (UC Press).
“[Smith] convincingly proves that charity was a vibrant motivation for many in [the Ming] period.”—Chinese Cross Currents
“Few if any equals in the scholarly studies of the actual working of local politics in late imperial China.”—Joseph McDermott Journal Of Chinese Studies
“This is an extraordinary book which, in addition to adding a wealth of detail on life at the local level to the existing literature on the late Ming, also offers sophisticated analysis of the diaries on which it is largely based.”—Andrea Janku Bltn Of Sch Of Oriental & African Stds
“This volume raises a great number of relevant questions with regard to China today.”—Andre Laliberte, translated by Jonathan Hall China Perspectives
“A contribution to the study of premodern China’s social elite . . . the book deepens our understanding of gentry identity.”—Helen Dunstan American Historical Review
“An extraordinary book.”—Andrea Janku Bltn Of Sch Of Oriental & African Stds
“The book adds much, not only to our understanding of charity in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century China, but also to our broader grasp of Ming society.”—Chinese Historical Review
“An important, well-researched book that fills a void left by the lack of similar publications on this topic.”—V. J. Symons Choice
"In her study of the rise of charities amidst the late-Ming crises, Joanna Handlin Smith has marshaled so many interesting and rare sources that she is able as few before to give life and especially depth to a large and diverse group of remarkable people. This landmark book on one of the most exciting periods in Chinese history makes you all the more sorry that the Ming dynasty collapsed despite so much devotion and talent."—Pierre-Étienne Will, Collège de France

"In her absorbing accounts of both big events and small, Joanna Handlin Smith has anchored her narrative in original research, producing a work of admirable scholarly care and ingenuity. This fine study, attentive as much to the complex of moral ideals underlying them as to the detailed practices of early modern famine relief and benevolent societies, will make a lasting contribution to our understanding of charity as performed in Chinese contexts."—Vivienne Shue, Oxford University

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