HIST 208 Chapter Notes - Chapter 3: Hongwu Emperor, Ming Dynasty, Song Lian

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29 Jul 2016
A Tale of Two Melons
Chapter 3: Up from the Garden
Ming empire administratively divided into 13 provinces; nine more loosely
controlled defense areas, two metropolitan areas
Within those, units called prefectures with long history
Below those were subprefecures and counties
Song Lian reports, Zhang Yulin, prefect of Yingtian, Response to Heaven, had
placed the melons in a plain box, painted picture or diagram of them on
outside, and asked Ministry of Rites to present them to emperor
Only guess at his motive in presenting them to Taizu
Perhaps, he was impressing Yingtian prefecture;s gratitude for a tax
exemption or he was angling for a promotion
But in any case, Yingtian prefectural office was in capital, not in Jurong
country, how did Zhang Yulin get the melons
Traveled to Nanjing, skipping intermediate level of magistrate, and carried
them to Prefect Zhang’s office
1372, ministers’ use of melons as flattery, or propaganda, or as intervention
in policy debates premised on the commoner’s having brought them to court
Taizu’s argument that moral authority exemplified by melons accrued to
farmer himself only possible because the farmer had disagreed
If Jurong man no thought the melons referred to emperor, they would have
remained in Jurong
World full of odd things, not all understood to be omens
Melons specifically protected from theft in Ming law
Were also important enough in market garden Jurong that their theft came to
carry penalty of 2 taels of silver, but they are after all, small things
Michael Loewe’s definition of omens as “portents of nature that are obvious
to all, and that are of sufficient size and strength to demand explanation” like
an eclipse
In 1372, there had to be a local decision in Jurong FIRST, that melons
constituted an auspicious anomaly, and then, SECOND, referred to Ming
As Nanjing constituted central place of early Ming regime, Jurong was centre
of Daoism
Scholar Daoist Ge Hong lived there a thousand years earlier
Mount Mao, where three brothers had gathered medicine for local people,
had been site of new Doaist revelation
Text and nature were never far apart: some Jurong Daoists stored scriptures
in gourds (gua, the same word used for melons)
Gourds full of meaning, but other plants were meaningful too
Pine resin and fungus, for instance, promised purification, long life and
special powers
Food and medicine were not clearly distinguished: a discussion of different
kinds of melons (gua), for instance, says that green melons plucked in the
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