Systemic attention to military institutions sharpens our understanding of the Ming dynasty in comparative, global terms and yields a fuller perspective on the state and its role in people’s lives. First, the Ming dynasty devoted more resources, in absolute terms, to its military enterprise than any other contemporary power. It maintained enormous standing armies that drilled regularly, empire-wide logistical systems, welfare provisions for military dependents and retired or injured military personnel, and multi-tiered, standardized arms productions under state supervision. Western European states were just starting to achieve such capacity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Second, focused on civil administration, such as taxes, labor service, magistrates, land surveys, tithing communities, and mutual responsibility organizations, past scholarship has largely ignored how the state’s extensive military institutions both shaped society and served as resources that people used to advance their personal, family, and community interests.