The Chinese Silver Trade, European Colonization, and the World Economy
Anthony Ambrosius Aurelius
“For most of human history, China has represented the world’s foremost economic power. In 1581, emperor Zhu Yijun (pronounced “zhoo yee-joon”) demanded his Chinese subjects pay their taxes in silver, with Spain being the only country which could satisfies China’s insatiable appetite for silver. Through this single decision, Yijun, a Ming emperor, positioned China at the center of world trade.
In the 16th century, Ming emperors ruled over 25% of the world’s population. Farmers were permitted to turn in specific quantities of grain or meat in lieu of silver or currency but this system was difficult to implement as grain and meat were difficult to ship and the quality of grain and meat were subjective to the person(s) who produced it. This made currency a much more efficient and viable way to pay for and collect taxes.
The Chinese government issued paper currency on and off since the 11th century however the Chinese people had little trust within its value. This was primarily because resisting the urge of printing more and more proved too tempting for various Chinese emperors and their associated dynasties. This lead to the Chinese people having faith only in metal currencies as metal is a scarce and limited resource.
During the 16th century, copper coin remained the most reliable currency but was stifled by its one drawback; weight. 100 coins strung together upon a string was referred to as 1 “min” with 10 of these stringed units referred to as 1 “guan”.
Silver became popular in China as it is far lighter and more valuable than copper. Payment in silver allowed for a fraction of the size and weight of 1 guan to be paid, as it was easily transportable and easily traded for the rendering of goods and/or services.
One of the most influential politicians in Chinese history, Zhang Juzheng (pronounced “jung joo-jung”) took notice of this societal change. During the 1570’s Zhang becomes the Senior Grand Secretary to emperor Zhu Zaiji (zhoo zai-jee”) as well as Zhu Yijun (zhoo yee-joon”). In response”