Southwest China in Regional and Global Perspectives (c. 1600-1911) is dedicated to important issues in society, trade, and local policy in the southwestern provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan during the late phase of the Qing period. It combines the methods of various disciplines to bring more light into the neglected history of a region that witnessed a faster population growth than any other region in China during that age. The contributions to the volume analyse conflicts and arrangements in immigrant societies, problems of environmental change, the economic significance of copper as the most important “export” product, topographical and legal obstacles in trade and transport, specific problems in inter-regional trade, and the roots of modern transnational enterprise.
Over the last millennium, the priority for imperial China’s parallel bimetallic monetary system shifted from copper cash to silver bullion, a development that gained momentum with the influx of New World silver during the sixteenth century. This trend was altered when the Qing government increased copper production in the Southwest, thus inaugurating China’s last copper century around 1705. This study focuses on those provinces where the wealth of China’s copper economy was created: Yunnan, where copper for the metropolitan mints in Beijing was mined under relatively strict governmental control; and especially Sichuan, which maintained China’s largest provincial mint and favored a more flexible cooperation between state and private structures. In these provinces, the interrelations between mining and minting can be observed most closely, the copper century lasted longer and showed a deeper impact, and the symptoms of its final crisis, like counterfeiting or coin debasement, became most apparent. This study aims to reassess our understanding of Chinese mint-metal mining and copper-coin production in practice and theory. It shows the importance of the internal market in huge land empires like China but also—through its interrelation with silver in the bimetallic system—its deep involvement in an increasingly integrated global economy.