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How literature was viewed by the Ming Dynasty authorities during the reigns of Longqing and Wanli

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During the reigns of Longqing 隆庆 and Wanli 万历 of the Ming Dynasty, there were four celebrated premiers (Shoufu 首辅), who took literary works to mind for the benefit of their bureaucratic rule (Lizhi 吏治) and wanted to make literature serve politics. Among them, Xu Jie 徐阶 claimed that morality comes first and literature second on the basis of the Six Classics and various other schools of thought. Gao Gong 高拱 seriously forbade profuse rhetoric and punished those who played with it. Zhang Juzheng 张居正 often oriented his poetics to politics and polity. And Shen Shixing 申时行 also placed politics before poetry, and practicality before artistry. They were, however, quite different in their personal lives when they dealt with literature, and some were capable of beautiful writing with no moral preaching at all. Moreover, they were tolerant of popular literary style when it did not affect their political activities.


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