The Twelfth Annual F. W. Mote Memorial Lecture
Though he enjoyed some reputation in his later years, Xu Rijiu (1574-1631) is hardly mentioned in the historical record. What makes his career and life exceptional in many ways is the little-known but truly fascinating autobiography he completed a few days before his death, the Zhenshuai xiansheng xuepu 真率先生學譜, which may be described as an extreme example of the “ego-documents” produced in abundance during the late Ming. Xu recounts his professional life, which took him from magistracies in Shanghai and Wuchang to mid-ranking positions in the capital bureaucracy and eventually to combatting piracy on the Fujian coast, with a candor rarely encountered in such writings. This account is intertwined with much detail on his private and social life, and above all with remarkably uninhibited considerations on the inner struggles that at some points brought him to the brink of madness. This lecture will illustrate the rich historical evidence provided by Xu along the way, the psychological depth he reveals in his self-examination, and how they combine into an astonishing life narrative.