Ming (1368–1644) subjects of all classes, theoretically without a voice in the selection of bureaucratic personnel and setting of government policy in their hometowns, exploited the dynamic tensions within the orthodox Mandate of Heaven ideology to claim a legitimate political voice through one ubiquitous yet understudied local institution, the pre-mortem shrine. Meant to express gratitude to good magistrates and prefects moving on to other positions, the shrines were suspect as flattering an official in hopes of return favors. To forestall accusations of such corrupt gentry networking, steles for living shrines included or invented the voices of local commoners. Whether this meant that commoners living under the reality of autocracy and class oppression could actually affect personnel and policy or not, erecting such steles as permanent features in the landscape did legitimate commoners’ political participation within the same discourse that justified imperial rule and the dominance of educated men.

You do not currently have access to this content.