Empire of Silver A New Monetary History of China Jin Xu, Stacy Mosher

Publication date:
13 Apr 2021
Yale University Press
384 pages: 235 x 156 x 27mm
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A thousand-year history of how China’s obsession with silver influenced the country’s financial well-being, global standing, and political stability

"A wonderful book for understanding one thousand years of Chinese monetary history."--Debin Ma, Hitotsubashi University

This revelatory account of the ways in which silver shaped Chinese history shows how an obsession with “white metal” held China back from financial modernization. First used as currency during the Song dynasty in around 900 CE, silver gradually became central to China’s economic framework and was officially monetized in the middle of the Ming dynasty during the sixteenth century. However, due to the early adoption of paper money in China, silver was not formed into coins but became a cumbersome “weighing currency,” for which ingots had to be constantly examined for weight and purity—an unwieldy practice that lasted for centuries. Jin Xu argues that even as China’s interest in silver spurred new avenues of trade and helped increase the country’s global economic footprint, in the long run silver played a key role in the struggles and entanglements that led to the decline of the Chinese empire.

Jin Xu is senior editor and chief financial commentator at the Financial Times Chinese. She has been a visiting fellow at the University of Tokyo and a Caijing Fellow at Peking University.

“Makes a good case for how monetary choices can have wider political implications...Its message that China's development has been hampered by weak rule of law and a lack of accountability could not be timelier.”—Matthew Partridge, Money Week

"Empire of Silver is superbly written and a great joy to read. Ingeniously blending literary evidence from materials as diverse as Chinese classical novels with serious academic research, the book gives extraordinary theoretical and historical insights on big questions about politics, money, finance, and the Great Divergence. It is a wonderful book for understanding one thousand years of Chinese monetary history."--Debin Ma, Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo, Japan

"Empire of Silver is a fascinating, in-depth and scholarly work. It traces China's obsession with the precious metal for better and for worse over the centuries. Particularly interesting is the relationship between silver and the decline of the Qing dynasty in the 19th century - a passage of history that maintains crucial relevance to the China of today."--James Kynge, author of China Shakes the World