This volume was for the most part compiled of contributions to an international conference with the title “Monies, Markets and Finance in East Asia: Local, Regional, National and Global Perspectives” in Tübingen from October 5–8, 2011, which was the final meeting of the research group “Monies, Markets and Finance in China and East Asia (1600–1900)”. In its aftermath, much of the work within this research group was continued individually and cooperatively by its members and developed into a few remarkable publications and academic theses.
When considering the centuries between 1600 and 1900 in China from the perspective of regional or global history, the Southwest is unlikely to be the focus of observation. The empire was ruled from Beijing, the rulers came from the Northeast, the devastating Taiping Rebellion originated in the south, the Northwest became a stage of the “Great Game” and after the Opium Wars it was the east coast where the treaty ports and foreign concessions settled. Does this perspective do justice to the role the Southwest played for China and the world during this time? No part of China witnessed a faster population growth than the Southwest. During the time when millions of Europeans emigrated to America, millions of Chinese from all over the country came to Yunnan and Sichuan in pursuit of a better life. In the course of this fundamental transformation many regions formerly only loosely tied to the empire and ruled by native chieftains (tusi 土司) were firmly integrated into its state administration. New world crops like maize and sweet potatoes were cultivated on millions of acres of newly cleared land. Of enormous importance for the Chinese economy were both the copper mined in Yunnan and Sichuan as well as the zinc from Guizhou, of which the vast majority of China’s coins were cast from. Also intrinsic to development was the fact that Southwest China was the gateway to South- and Southeast Asia and thus home to flourishing trade enterprises spread over large transnational networks. This should suffice to make the compilation of a volume like this a highly desirable and rewarding venture.
This book is divided into three main sections: Space and Setting, Metal and Money, and Trade and Transport. In the first section, different issues generally referring to the area under consideration and its environmental, social and political setting are addressed. Ulrich Theobald opens this section with a broad introduction into the study of Southwest China as a geographical region in a historical perspective. By reaching back to the origins of recorded history, he provides a detailed background for a better understanding of the following contributions. Fei Huang’s research explains the role of Huiguan (i.e. provincial guild houses) in the rapidly developing immigrant society of Northeastern Yunnan. She uses the example of the Huguang Huiguan of Dongchuan, Yunnan, to demonstrate that the social and economic influence of guild houses went far beyond the walls of their compounds.
The following two articles illustrate the remarkable influence of mining on politics, society, culture and environment in Southwest China and thus form the transition to the second section. Late Professor John Wills dedicated his chapter to largely neglected factors, specifically circumstances and consequences of mining activity in the region. By doing so he questions common understandings of ethnicity, border, group identity and other concepts. Nanny Kim ventures a complex quantitative estimation in order to understand to what extent deforestation and soil erosion in present-day Yunnan must be blamed on the fuel consumption of its copper smelters during the Qing Period.
The first two contributions in the section on “Metal and Money” both deal with the illegal copper trade which undermined the state monopoly on mint metal and gained importance with the increasing discrepancy between growing production costs and constantly low state funds. Roger Greatrex approaches this issue with a closer look at Hankou, China’s largest copper market, while Yang Yuda traces the copper from Hankou back to the mines and smelters of Yunnan. The section is concluded by Cao Jin’s paper on premodern Chinese minting technology. She analyses aspects like organisation, productivity and protection against forgery and compares them to the situation at the Zecca mint of medieval Venice.
From the production of coins, section three proceeds to the topic of “Trade and Transport”, two fields of enormous importance for a border region in general and of particular interest for one with natural conditions as difficult as the ones in Southwest China. Harald Witthöft addresses the crucial problem of weights and measures in cross-border trade. His research is based on the analysis of European merchant handbooks, but also on material evidence. With the Mayangzi, Nanny Kim puts a special type of river boat into the centre of her observations. These vessels were particularly suitable to transport relatively large loads on the shallow and dangerous rivers of Southwest China and underwent remarkable technical changes during the period under consideration. In a further contribution on the smuggling of saltpetre, Roger Greatrex discusses a second illegally trafficked commodity. Entering times of modern transport technology, Elisabeth Kaske asks the question of why the Qing government did not succeed in constructing any railway lines in Southwest China, despite its best efforts. Her theory shows that it was not primarily difficult topographic conditions that were integral to this failure, but rather problems with financing and taxation practices. The third section, and the entire volume as well, is concluded by a story of astonishing success: Patterson Giersch analyzes some of the greatest transnational trade firms in Southwest China and their far-reaching networks that were centered in Xizhou, a small town at the banks of the beautiful Erhai Lake in Western Yunnan. The Yongchangxiang Firm serves as a case study for this phenomenon.
As a matter of fact, the three foci chosen for the sections in this volume cannot provide a conclusive picture of Southwest China in late imperial times and its integration into the East Asian world region or an increasingly connected global setting. Much work must be done to shed light on the many dark spots in this field. The editors and contributors of this volume will be glad if they succeed in sparking the readers’ interest to join the efforts to deepen our understanding about this truly fascinating and dynamic part of the world.
We would like to thank the contributors to this book for the unlimited and almost saintly patience they have shown. We are glad that during the interim not one of them withdrew his or her article. In equal measure, we must thank the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation), which for a full six years funded not only the work of the research group “Monies, Markets and Finance in China and East Asia, 1600–1900” but also the international conferences and workshops in the course of which the results of this research have been presented. The project was headed by Professor Dr. Hans Ulrich Vogel from the Department of Chinese and Korean Studies at Tübingen University, whose dedication throughout has been of great benefit to all participants. We also like to express our gratitude towards our proofreaders, in particular Karl A. Klewer, and Alisa Jones.
One of the contributors to this book, and to the “Monies” project, is no longer with us. We are deeply saddened by the passing away in January 2017 of John E. Wills, Jr., an eminent scholar of early modern Chinese and global history.1 His profound understanding and broad perspective were inspirational and influenced countless researchers and students. We mourn this masterly scholar, whose death is a loss for his many friends, colleagues and former students all over the world.
This book is dedicated to the memory of Professor John E. Wills Junior.
He was author of Pepper, Guns and Parleys: The Dutch East India Company and China 1622–1681 (Cambridge,