18Few aspects of life in the Ming period were untouched by the state’s pervasive influence. It was a background reality like the weather; sometimes it was helpful and sometimes a burden. For many it shaped what was valued in society. The state was particularly important for those with ambition or a desire for reform, because it defined the paths that they could follow. On the state, moreover, rested the welfare and safety of the country. Yet the functioning of the state over the course of the Ming period varied greatly. In part because there was an emphasis upon preserving a comparatively small and streamlined governmental apparatus, its operations became heavily dependent on the character of individual emperors and on their interactions with civil officials, eunuchs, and military officials. Thus it is important for understanding other developments in the Ming to map them against the evolution of the state’s operations and the chronology of imperial leadership. 1