Dr Barend Noordam gave a talk on “Naval Mobilization for the Imjin War (1592-1598) and State Building in Late Ming China ” at the conference, State navies, transnational private economic networks and the circulation of technology 1500-1800, Pablo de Olavide University, 14-15 November.
Thanks to the efforts of newer generations of sinologists, the last few decades have witnessed a growth in our knowledge about different aspects of late Ming (1368-1644) military history. Much of the research has focused on evaluating the validity of the Military Revolution paradigm, mostly in the areas of tactics and technology. Nevertheless, the corollary of the paradigm positing the interlinkage of military developments with state building efforts has received no systematic attention. As a result, the Ming empire still appears like an oriental unchanging bureaucratic monolith incapable of meaningful reform, whereas early modern European state building incentivized by war pressures has often been shown to have relied on flexible private-public partnerships. This paper will examine the changes stimulated by the pressing naval mobilization for the Imjin War (1592-1598), a largescale conflict which engulfed East Asia and created military pressures for state building. The late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries saw a revival of Ming naval strength resulting from a string of conflicts together with an upsurge in technological innovations, but many of these innovations had been pioneered by non-state actors like seafaring traders with extensive international connections. New types of warships with new armaments, partially derived from European examples, thus required a coordination between state interests and coastal merchant and artisanal communities to provide in the naval needs of the empire. This paper will trace the nature and extent of the entanglements between private and state domains in fulfilling the naval needs of the Ming empire during the Imjin War.