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Chapter 6, “A Precarious Tale” explores the role of war, military men, and court drama in the early Ming’s rivalry with the Great Yuan. It also addresses the precarious nature of the early Ming court’s Chinggisid narrative. All contemporaries understood that military force was essential for political legitimacy. Field commanders defeated Great Yuan armies, conquered its lands, captured Chinggisid nobles, and seized key political emblems such as seals of state. Thus, military commanders also figured in the story that the early Ming court told of the Great Yuan. The Ming court widely disseminated news of high political theater, for instance the reception of Chinggisid nobles in Nanjing. However, both court drama and military commanders repeatedly disrupted the Ming court’s carefully scripted stories about inescapable Yuan defeat and inevitable Ming triumph. Commanders lost battles. Some were declared traitors. Political theater failed to go according to plan; on occasion it was dramatically undone by senior figures in the Ming court.
We explain the concept of dilemmas and how they underpin the logic of interpretive comparison. Existing work in interpretive theory refers mainly to ‘Big-D’ dilemmas that focus on ideational conflicts between traditions such as the clash between neoliberalism and state ownership. We add the notion of ‘small-d’ dilemmas that focus on the everyday, the routine and the mundane, choices, ‘court’ politics and realpolitik. We suggest that empirical, comparative, interpretive social science research revolves around the process of identifying the dilemmas that actors experience and the ways they respond to them, and puzzling about whether they vary according to the traditions in which they are situated. We suggest rules of thumb for identifying dilemmas.
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