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Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of the Wanli Emperor,

by Daniel K. Gardner and Mark C. Carnes

Portions of this page are still under construction, pending more details from the Game Authors. Reacting Consortium Members can download game materials below.

Confucians struggle for power and rectitude in the final years of the Ming Dynasty

Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of the Wanli Emperor seeks to introduce undergraduate students to the suppleness and power of Confucian thought as applied to issues of governance during the Ming dynasty. The game is set in the Hanlin Academy. Most students are members of the Grand Secretariat of the Hanlin Academy, the body of top-ranking graduates of the civil service examination who serve as advisers to the Wanli emperor. Some Grand Secretaries are Confucian “purists,” who hold that tradition obliges the emperor to name his first-born son as successor; others, in support of the most senior of the Grand Secretaries, maintain that it is within the emperor’s right to choose his successor; and still others, as they decide this matter among many issues confronting the empire, continue to scrutinize the teachings of Confucianism for guidance. The game unfolds amidst the secrecy and intrigue within the walls of the Forbidden City, as scholars struggle to apply Confucian precepts to a dynasty in peril.



World History, Asian History

16th Century; Early Modern Period

East Asia

Themes and Issues  

Player Interactions 

Sample Class Titles

Published Level 5 game (what's that mean?


Chaos and Demand on Instructor 

Primary Source Highlights  
The Analects

Using the Game

Class Size and Scalability 
This game is recommended for classes with 12-21+ students.

Class Time  
8-9 sessions (2 setup, 5 gameplay, 1-2 debrief sessions) are recommended for this game. 

Possible Reacting Game Pairings
This game can be used on its own, or with other games. These pairings are meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive or prescriptive. Confucianism may pair well with:



Confirmed instructors who are not yet members can access basic instructor materials. Reacting Consortium members can access all downloadable materials (including expanded and updated materials) below. You will be asked to sign in before downloading. 


Students need a Gamebook, which includes directions, resources, and historical content. The Confucianism Gamebook is published by UNC Press. 

 ISBN through June: 978-0-393-93727-5
ISBN for fall 2022 adoption: 978-1-4696-7080-5

 Available wherever books are sold.

Role Sheets and Add'l Materials

Students also need a Role Sheet, which contains biographical information, role-specific resources or assignments, and their character's secret victory objectives. 

.zip file of .pdf files.

.zip file of .pdf and .docx files.

Instructor's Manual

The Instructor's Manual includes guidance for assigning roles, presenting historical context, assignments, activities and discussion topics, and more.   

Fourth Edition. Updated July 2009. .pdf file.


Daniel K. Gardner

Daniel K. Gardner is the Dwight W. Morrow Professor of History at Smith College and the author of many books and articles on the Confucian and Neo-Confucian tradition in China. His books include The Four Books: The Basic Teachings of the Later Confucian Tradition and Confucianism: A Very Short Introduction.

Mark C. Carnes

Mark C. Carnes is professor of history at Barnard College and creator of Reacting to the Past. He is the author of many books in American history and general editor of the 26-volume American National Biography, published by the ACLS and Oxford University Press.


Members can contact game authors directly

We invite instructors join our Facebook Faculty Lounge, where you'll find a wonderful community eager to help and answer questions. We also encourage you to submit your question for the forthcoming FAQ, and to check out our upcoming events


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