According to the review by the Washington Post, “historian Zhang Dai’s long life, which began in 1597 and ended around 1680, spanned the Ming Dynasty’s final, turbulent decades and its overthrow by the invading Manchus. His writings were an attempt to record a lost way of life. They include a Ming dynastic history, profiles of public figures and dreamlike sketches of scenes from his youth. Spence draws on these documents, additional research by other scholars and his deep knowledge of Ming culture to portray the inner universe of a remarkably versatile and sympathetic figure.”.
I have read many books by Jonathan Spence. His historical works on China in particular “Treason by the Book” are excellent. Spence said he took several years to research and write this latest work of his. Unfortunately, he appears to have only scratched the surface. This is not a full biography. I finished this book knowing only sketches of Zhang Dai. In that respect, I was disappointed with this book which I had earlier bought with great expectations.