The Rise and Fall of a Public Debt Market in 16th-Century China

The Story of the Ming Salt Certificate


During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the government invited merchants to deliver grain in return for salt certificates with which merchants drew salt as reward. The salt certificate therefore represented a national debt, denominated in salt, the government thereby owed merchants. A speculative market of salt certificates was created in Yangzhou and brought into being powerful financiers in the early 17th century. The government, financially hard pressed, abolished the speculative market of salt certificates by franchising these financiers in return for their hereditary obligation to pay salt certificate surcharge. China was therefore deprived of a possibility to develop a public debt market. This story is a testimony to Fernand Braudel’s argument of the "nondevelopment" of Capitalism in China.

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Wing-kin Puk, D.Phil. (Oxon), specializes in the socio-economic history of later imperial China. He is also interested in institutional history, historical comparison and military history. Currently he teaches in the Department of History, Chinese University of Hong Kong.
All interested in the socio-economic and financial history of late imperial China and anyone interested in comparative and institutional history.
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