2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

New Approaches and New Research Questions on Consumer Culture in the Ming and Qing Dynasties

Jen-shu Wu

Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica

Over the past twenty years, research on consumer culture gradually has moved into the mainstream of academic research from the periphery; today, history and other disciplines pay close attention to this topic. Consumer culture has already become an important research field in Western historiography on the early modern period, and research on the history of Chinese consumption in the Ming and Qing is also attracting more attention. One of the purposes of this article is to distinguish the different contexts that lie behind the more or less simultaneous Chinese and Western historiographical turns to this approach.

Second, this article reviews recent research on consumer culture of the Ming and Qing, which can be divided into several important issues, and tries to put this research into the context of world history in order to highlight the similarities and differences between Chinese and Western civilizations. Though the field of consumer culture in the Ming and Qing dynasties has already taken shape, many issues enumerated in this article remain unsettled and a number of academic disputes are still unresolved. More importantly, whilst research on consumer culture has opened up new vistas on Ming-Qing history, it has also led to new questions that must now be solved. This article concludes with a discussion of four critical questions in the field.


Keywords: consumer culture, Ming and Qing dynasties, luxury, material culture, fashion, status group