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Meritorious Deeds at No Cost: Ethics of Ming Era Essay

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Updated: Jul 8th, 2021

Introduction: Overall Impression

Taking a retrospect on the ethical standards that humankind has developed over millennia might seem far too a tedious job to perform. However, it helps one to get a unique insight into the experiences that people have had and the choices that they have made. Therefore, “Meritorious Deeds at No Cost,” a set of Confucian beliefs, fascinates with its scope and insightful remarks. The selection of sections, which range from addressing scholars to providing guidelines for agriculturalists, is of particular interest to a reader since it gives one the impression of how ethical standards and moral principles could help emperors of China to exert their influence. By shedding light on the ethical standards and principles that guided people’s behaviors and choices in the Ming era, “Meritorious Deeds at No Cost” has provided a detailed exploration of the factors that shape empires.

Type of Primary Source and Its Author: Historical Context

The source in question falls under the category of historical documents since it delves into the exploration of ethics and its nature, offering guidelines for spiritual development. The choice of the source format is admittedly very reasonable since it allows delving into the key arguments and principles, simultaneously providing an insight into the nature of Confucianism. Specifically, the use of simple guidelines and a list of statements in an imperative style makes it possible for the reader to infer the factors that affected the development of Chinese philosophy objectively. Furthermore, the selected format gives an opportunity to examine a vast range of influences both separately and collectively, studying the political, economic, cultural, technological, and even environmental forces. The consideration of the specified influences provides the historical context, outlining both the uniqueness of each case and the similarities that it shares with others.

The rationale for Writing and the Intended Audience

Setting the standards for behavior within a particular society, especially the one that is characterized by high rates of conservatively, is essential for maintaining order within an empire. The “Meritorious Deeds at No Cost,” in turn, set the boundaries for citizens, outlining the role that each social group had to perform in the context of Chinese society. Therefore, establishing the standards for behavior and ensuring that the social hierarchy remained intact were the cornerstone reasons for the “Meritorious Deeds at No Cost” to exist. The specified reason for writing the document aligned with the statement made by Reilly concerning the rigid social structure of empires. By outlining the responsibilities and functions that each member of the Chinese society had to play in it, “Meritorious Deeds at No Cost” built the standards that would guide the development of relationships within China of the Ming Dynasty and define the development thereof.

The tone of the Source and the Means of Conveying It

The document has a very peculiar tone, which aligns with the initial intent of “Meritorious Deeds at No Cost” and reinforces its original meaning. For instance, the air of persistence and didacticism that the text carries contributes to its representation as a set of societal standards that one should follow closely. Despite the fact that the document renders the essential principle according to which the Chinese Empire was expected to operate, the impression that they leave is akin to one of the philosophical postulates rather than regulations that restricted people’s initiative. Therefore, the tone can be regarded as quite sensible given the nature of the document and its intended goals.

Values, Assumptions, and Biases of the Author

Information on Which the Author Relates

In the overview of the principles based on which citizens of China should behave and interact, the author of the document relies extensively on the Confucian doctrine. The philosophy of Confucianism has shaped the culture of China to a great extent, explaining the nature of the social order and setting the principles according to which social relationships within China take place.1 The postulates and dogmas of Confucianism can be tracked down in every element of the document, starting from the endeavor of drawing distinct differences between different social classes.

However, the links between Confucianism and the principles expressed in the document under analysis do not end at the discussion of the social hierarchy. The attempt at extending knowledge and expanding the horizons of science as a platform for social development is also evident in the provided excerpt. For instance, the fact that “Meritorious Deeds at No Cost” refers to students specifically and defines them as a separate social group indicates that the author relies to a great extent on the principles that Confucianism promotes, including the acquisition of scientific knowledge.2 The combination of the described principles allowed the Ming dynasty to retain its power for such a long time and grow increasingly.

Overall Impression of the Document

The general feeling that the ”Meritorious Deeds at No Cost” leaves is quite ambiguous. On the one hand, the reading incorporates several profound ideas that could make the foundation for modern philosophy. For example, the reinforcement of the significance of knowledge as the key to development needs to be addressed. Furthermore, the “Meritorious Deeds at No Cost” renders the idea of establishing moral and ethical principles that shielded vulnerable groups from the threats of crime and abuse could be regarded as rather progressive ideas that helped to shape the modern culture of China and foster the development of humanistic ideas in it. The integration of clear principles of abiding by the law and following the legal system established in China can be interpreted as one of the primary strengths of “Meritorious Deeds at No Cost.”

On the other hand, the impression of initiative and aspirations of Chinese citizens being stifled by the authoritative voice of the “Meritorious Deeds at No Cost” remains very powerful. By splitting Chinese citizens into several key castes, the document sets specific societal expectations for each citizen of the community, which restricts the independence of Chinese citizens to a great degree. The observed problem is characteristic of many empires, as Reilly explains.3 The specified characteristic of the ethics and philosophies of the Ming Dynasty helped China to take an important place in the global setting. As Reilly explains, the China of the Ming Dynasty was “arguably the strongest, most centralized, most stable of the early empires.”4 However, the political power came at the price of low agency and initiative among citizens.

The document leaves a rather ambiguous impression. While it sets very strict boundaries for social relationships and, therefore, impedes social progress, it also reinforces scientific development. The problematic aspects of “Meritorious Deeds at No Cost” become slightly less noticeable when viewing it from the historical perspective and taking the era in which it was produced into account. Since the dominant cultural assumptions of Ming Dynasty China included rigid patriarchy, the tribute system, and the focus on the active global expansion, the reasons for the strict societal norms and the reinforcement of the social hierarchy become apparent.5 Due to the necessity to focus on its colonial politics, the Ming Dynasty had to shape the empire in which every single citizen played a particular role and contributed to maximizing the power of the state.

Conclusion: Lessons Learned

By providing a meticulous study of the factors that lead to the emergence, flourishing, and ultimate demise of the Chinese empire, “Meritorious Deeds at No Cost” portrays the specifics of the social environment of the Ming Dynasty rather vividly. Therefore, the document in question serves not only as an endeavor at introducing social and spiritual standards that citizens have to follow but also as a tool for understanding how empires form and what they constitute. The document makes it abundantly clear that the creation of a powerful empire hinges not only on the political prowess of its leader but also on external factors such as the behavioral standards and social values set within the selected area. Therefore, “Meritorious Deeds at No Cost” establishes that the political well-being of any empire is tied intrinsically to the moral and ethical values that its citizens follow. Due to the unique position that an empire typically takes, including its unparalleled power, it usually produces a unique philosophy that defines further generations of moral and ethical growth, causing people to accept behaviors and standards to the nature of which they may be completely oblivious.


Colombia University, Web.

Reilly, Kevin. The Human Journey: A Close Introduction to Human History. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.


  1. Kevin Reilly, The Human Journey: A Close Introduction to Human History. 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), 236.
  2. Ibid 237.
  3. Kevin Reilly, The Human Journey 233.
  4. “Meritorious Deeds at No Cost,” Colombia University, Web.
  5. Kevin Reilly, The Human Journey: 235.
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"Meritorious Deeds at No Cost: Ethics of Ming Era." IvyPanda, 8 July 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/meritorious-deeds-at-no-cost-ethics-of-ming-era/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Meritorious Deeds at No Cost: Ethics of Ming Era." July 8, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/meritorious-deeds-at-no-cost-ethics-of-ming-era/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Meritorious Deeds at No Cost: Ethics of Ming Era'. 8 July.

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