The Many Faces of Ruan Dacheng

Poet, Playwright, Politician in Seventeenth-Century China


Alison Hardie

ISBN : 978-988-8754-07-6


March 2022

320 pages, 6″ x 9″, 3 color and 21 b&w illus.

  • HK$750.00

The Many Faces of Ruan Dacheng: Poet, Playwright, Politician in Seventeenth-Century China is the first monograph in English on a controversial Ming dynasty literary figure. It examines and re-assesses the life and work of Ruan Dacheng (1587–1646), a poet, dramatist, and politician in the late Ming period. Ruan Dacheng was in his own time a highly regarded poet, but is best known as a dramatist, and his poetry is now largely unknown. He is most notorious as a ‘treacherous official’ of the Ming–Qing transition, and as a result his literary work—his plays as well as his poetry—has been neglected and undervalued. Hardie argues that Ruan’s literary work is of much greater significance in the history of Chinese literature than has generally been recognised since his own time. Ruan, rather than being a transgressive figure, is actually a very typical late Ming literatus, and as such his attitudes towards identity and authenticity can add to our understanding of these issues in late Ming intellectual history. These insights will impact on the cultural and intellectual history of late imperial China.

Alison Hardie is an honorary research fellow in Chinese studies at the University of Leeds. Her primary research interest is the cultural history of Ming dynasty China, particularly the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries, and the Ming–Qing transition. She has published extensively on the garden history and culture of this period, particularly the use of gardens for self-representation, as well as publishing translations of garden literature. She is the translator of Ji Cheng’s seventeenth-century treatise The Craft of Gardens (Yuanye) and editor of The Dumbarton Oaks Anthology of Chinese Garden Literature (2020).

‘This work is exciting and reads almost like a novel. It has both a biographical and a literary component. It successively examines Ruan Dacheng’s biography in the context of his time, his complex relationships with his contemporaries, and the question of the judgment made on him in his time and by posterity.’ Rainier Lanselle, École Pratique des Hautes Études, France

‘The author makes a persuasive argument that Ruan Dacheng deserves revaluation as a late Ming literatus and makes a contribution to the field of premodern Chinese literature and culture by presenting his life and work within a broader context, especially by examining examples of his poetry and discussing his plays.’ Richard Strassberg, UCLA