The title of Ray Huang's book 1587: A Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty Decline suggests that this book is a work based on a single year in which little occurred. But in reality, Huang's look at the events of 1587 demonstrate the complex workings of the leadership during the decline of the Ming dynasty, giving the reader an insight into the societal structure, the governmental process, and the mistakes that occurred systematically to enhance the progression towards the seemingly inevitable downfall. Though nothing of historical significance occurred during the year 1587, Huang is able to demonstrate the way in which the existing culture and the smaller, more systematic elements of political leadership can be understood within the context of a seemingly unimportant period of time. Chapter 1: The Wan-Li Emperor, begins by explaining the major premise of the work: The concept of looking at a single year in the history of the leadership of China and evaluating the implications for understanding other aspects of history, including the decline of the Ming Dynasty. In this initial chapter, Huang provides an anecdotal history of some of the events that occurred, and includes within it a discussion of the set up of the leadership, the repercussions that occurred in the event of certain actions, including the prospects of an audience with the emperor. Huang reviews these issues as he considers that actions taken by the Wan-li emperor, who was only twenty-four in 1587 and who had been a veteran of ceremonial proceedings, and considers his history as an element of understanding the progression of leadership.
Huang outlines to reconstruction of the court under Wan-li came into power at the death of his father and the seemingly insignificant actions taken by the emperor, from his marriage to the redecorating of the court. Within the scope of this discourse, Huang is able to disclose the excesses of the emperor, and consider the implications of the bureaucratic system that he devised as an extension of this excess (13). In considering this progression, Huang based his outlining of the interactions in the single year of 1587, while relating to the history of Wan-li's reign that occurred prior to this year, demonstrating the capacity to reflect on the events of that era while also considering the implications of the history.