"Empire of Great Brightness" is an innovative and accessible history of a high point in Chinese culture, seen through the riches of its images and objects. Not a simple emperor-by-emperor history, it instead introduces the reader to themes that provide stimulating and original points of entry to the culture of China: to ideas of motion and rest; to the position occupied by writing and objects featuring writing; and, to ideas about pleasure, about violence and about ageing. It challenges notions of Ming China as a culture closed off from the rest of the world by emphasizing the vibrant interactions between China and the rest of Asia at this period. Craig Clunas uses a wide range of pictures and objects from Ming China to illustrate familiar areas such as painting and ceramics (including the blue-and-white porcelain of the period, arguably the world's first global brand'). He draws on items from public and private collections from around the world, which will be new even to specialists, including weapons, architecture, textiles and items of dress, printed books (from Ming pornography to the world's first illustrated reading book for children).
He also examines contemporary sources from government edicts to novels and phrasebooks of colloquial Chinese as well as the most recent scholarship to illuminate this most diverse period of Chinese art and culture. "Empire of Great Brightness" offers a varied and stimulating resource for all scholars of China's cultural history, for historians and art historians of related aspects of the early modern world, and for readers who are intrigued by China's past.