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Re-emergence of a Flowering Society: Economic Prosperity and Social Change in Qing Fujian

Hong HSU (Soochow University)
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This paper uses mainly local gazetteers to consider the changing social climate of Fujian (not including Taiwan) in the early to mid-Qing, the period before Western influence became decisive. The turmoil of the Ming-Qing transition, the prohibition against maritime trade and the evacuation of the coastal areas seriously undermined the prosperous economy of Fujian that had existed in the late Ming period, and this in turn affected the social atmosphere of extravagance that had arisen with economic prosperity. After the surrender of the Zheng family’s Ming loyalist regime in the late seventeenth century, the subsequent incorporation of Taiwan, and the re-opening of the coast through the repeal of the coastal evacuation and maritime trade prohibitions, agricultural and industrial production and commerce revived. Both on the coast and in the interior, social practices were transformed by the rise of the commercial economy and foreign trade. These changes began in the realms of material culture and daily life, which became more competitive and extravagant, and were later expressed in ethical and moral dimensions, basically repeating a similar shift from frugality to extravagance that had occurred in the late Ming. This more extravagant social climate in the eighteenth century was seen as a “re-emergence of a flowering society”. But owing to uneven economic development, the commercial economy remained insufficiently developed in much of the interior and even in some coastal areas. In the more remote areas of the interior, the social climate associated with the Ming-Qing transition, in which “elegance was replaced by simplicity,” persisted. The prosperous social climate of mid-Qing Fujian was thus chronologically more limited than its equivalent in the late Ming and spatially more limited than in the Jiangnan region.

Journal of History and Anthropology