This chapter reviews some of the ways Ming families dealt with their obligations to provide labor service to the state. It provides broader ways of thinking about the art of being governed in late imperial China and beyond. The families faced some distinctive challenges because they were registered as military households, but the fact of their having to deal with state institutions did not make them distinctive. For these families, as for most of the people who in the past several centuries have lived in what is today China, the critical political decision was not whether to engage with the state but how best to do so. This chapter also illustrates four cycles of human interaction with a changing institution. Within each cycle, people deployed their ingenuity and elements from their repertoire of cultural resources to better manage individual, family, and communal interaction with the institution. The institutional chronology reveals how the evolution of the institution generated different sorts of challenges for different groups of people, and how they responded strategically.
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