Numismatic research: How the imperial monetary system brought China to a low in the 19th century…

Fascinating piece which tells this story of Dr. Werner Burger. Dr Burger via his amazing research showed how the monetary system was the main reason behind China’s low in the 19th century. Historians usually say Opium wars was the reason for the decline but Burger thinks otherwise.

Apart from findings, the piece shows how Burger preserved to do research on such a tricky topic:

The tale begins with a little boy in Bavaria stunned by his first encounter with Chinese culture through the beauty of classic Chinese painting. It drops by Shanghai under the Cultural Revolution, visits with a Hong Kong scrap dealer and his generous gift to a decidedly eccentric German friend, beats on the doors of China’s First Historical Archives, in Beijing, until they give way, and finally lingers many years in seclusion while Burger conducts research that a fellow academic, Fresco Sam-Sin, compares to “moving mountains”.

The devaluation of China’s currency through the course of the 19th century is a known cause of the weakness that led to dynastic collapse and the cession of Hong Kong to the British. However, before Burger, the mechanics behind the devaluation were unclear. The old cliché, that the British trade in opium depleted the Qing treasury of silver, leading to its downfall, is not true, Burger says. It was instead mismanagement of the monetary system, with roots long before the mid-19th century.

“I cannot stop wondering how every single 19th-century Chinese ruler ended up mismanaging the Chinese mints, making blunder after blunder,” he writes, in a landmark book on his collection that is itself epic in scale.

Other scholars have written about the impact of the Qing devaluations on social and economic disarray, but Burger is the first to display the entire sweep mint by mint, coin by coin. Sam-Sin, a Manchurian specialist at Leiden University, in the Netherlands, says simply, “The blood, sweat, tears [and his personal savings] that have gone into this publication are unprecedented.”

The whole essay is worth reading in full..

How eventually decline of empires/countries is connected to monetary mismanagement,,,

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