Volumes 7 and 8 of The Cambridge History of China are devoted to the Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644. Volume 7 provides a narrative account of Ming political history, and Volume 8 collects together various topical studies of that period. Both volumes were planned more than fifteen years ago at two successive summer conferences, generously funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and held in the summers of 1979 and 1980 at Princeton University. These meetings were attended by more than twenty potential authors and senior graduate students. They and the volume editors discussed the field of Ming studies for several weeks in each of those successive summers. A plan for the volumes was drawn up and chapters allocated to authors. It was decided to follow the model of the volumes on Sui and T'ang, the first of which was the only volume on the pre-modern period then published, and to produce a narrative volume followed by a second volume containing a collection of topical studies.
These meetings not only began the process of writing the Cambridge History volumes; they also stimulated a new level of interest in Ming studies among western scholars. And, coming as they did just as Chinese academe was emerging from the dark shadows of the 1960s and 1970s, they also helped lay the foundation for the fruitful collaboration between Chinese, Japanese, and western historians engaged in a common historical enterprise which we now take for granted.
A number of unforeseen circumstances delayed the schedule originally adopted for completing the two Ming volumes. Volume 7 appeared in 1988; an unauthorized Chinese translation appeared from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing, in 1992. Now at last Volume 8 has finally made its way through the protracted process of writing, replanning, and editing.