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.
Reception will be afterwards in the Guyot Great Hall from 6:15 p.m.
Pierre-Étienne Will retired in 2014 from the chair of History of Modern China at the Collège de France, which he had held since 1992 concurrently with a position of Directeur d’études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. He specializes in the socio-economic and political history of late-imperial and early republican China. He has published Bureaucracy and Famine in Eighteenth-Century China (Stanford, 1990; original French edition Paris, 1980; Korean translation, 1995; Chinese translation, 2002), Nourish the People: The State Civilian Granary System in China, 1650-1850 (Ann Arbor, 1991, with R. Bin Wong), several edited volumes, including China, Democracy, and Law: A Historical and Contemporary Approach (Leiden, 2012, with Mireille Delmas-Marty; original French edition Paris, 2007), and numerous articles on Chinese economy, society, politics, bureaucracy, law, water management, and more. He is currently completing Official Handbooks and Anthologies of Imperial China: A Descriptive and Critical Bibliography (Leiden, forthcoming). He has been co-editor of the journal T’oung Pao from 1992 to 2016.