This chapter tells a parallel story of the State’s retreat from directly procuring materia medica from localities as tribute, resorting instead to collecting a monetized surtax. Building on rich literature which largely focused on social relations and productivity measured by grain, cloth, and labor, the chapter suggests that it may shed new light on a familiar aspect of Ming history by examining the monetization of tribute medicine. It shows that Ming actors almost always thought through and documented fiscal reform in very concrete terms. Gazetteers of Ming times, such as that of Longqing, were replete with discussions about objects of value: where they were found, how much they were worth, and the specific manners of their deployment in public affairs. Instead of an abstract preference for money, the debates were driven by inherently ethical concerns—and political negotiations—over the distribution of material wealth in official versus nonofficial domains. The ways in which local administrators came to terms with material resources show more complexity than the straightforward account of fiscal reform offered in dynastic histories.
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