An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Baochao tongkao 寶鈔通考

Dec 8, 2019 © Ulrich Theobald

Baochao tongkao 寶鈔通考 "Comprehensive studies on paper notes" is a book on Yuan-period 元 (1279-1368) paper money written by Wu Qi 武祺, courtesy name Zichun 子春, who was Minister of Revenue (hubu shangshu 戶部尚書) from 1353 on.

The 8-juan long book reports on the bad experience with paper money whose increasing inflation the government was unable to check. From 1287 to 1311 the government had issued an increasing amount of paper money, but the currency remained stable through that time. Interesting enough, the inflation began in the Huangqing 皇慶 (1312-1313) and Yanyou 延祐 (1314-1320) reign-periods, when the government still brought paper money into circulation, but at the same time also collected and burnt worn-out bills.

This trend aggravated under Emperor Yingzong 元英宗 (r. 1320-1323), who was less active in collecting old money, and after the Taiding reign-period 泰定 (1324-1327) finally, any attempts to limit inflation failed, in spite of the sinking number of bills in circulation.

The author says that during the first half of the Yuan period the government had printed paper money worth 59.56 million silver ingots (ding 錠), brought 56.2 million into circulation and collected and destroyed 36 million, so that in the end paper notes worth less than 20,000 ding were in circulation. If comparing these figures with the number of registered households in Yuan China one can conclude that more than 20 million households did never see paper notes. The author concludes that this situation led to the disastrous status of life of countless families. As a result of this experience, later regimes refrained from re-introducing paper money after its abolishion.

The text of the Baochao tongkao was preserved in the Ming-period 明 (1368-1644) encyclopaedia Yongle dadian 永樂大典, from where it was extracted during the compilation process of the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書. Yet the text was not included in the series.

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