China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia

By Peter C. Perdue | Go to book overview

11
Currency and Commerce

QING markets, like all others, were made, not born. The system did not work perfectly, and it did not grow naturally, bike the nationalist teleology, the myth of laissez-faire views markets as growing organically and sequentially. This myth likewise ignores the contingent character of market systems and their dependence on the institutional context. The imperial state fostered their growth with specific measures, which have been studied in detail.1 What needs emphasis here is the link between these market-fostering initiatives and the security needs of the state.

From the sixteenth century, the flood of New World silver to China helped the integration of local and regional markets. Studies of the correlations of grain prices between regions in the eighteenth century indicate how closely attuned peasants and merchants were to market conditions at a distance, and how grain flows directed by price differentials compensated for harvest shortfalls.2 My analysis of Gansu found that these integrative trends extended even to the northwest. The Yongzheng emperor, much more concerned with the internal economy than with frontier supply, insisted on the need to allow resources to "flow without obstruction" (tong). He maintained that provincial officials should not have a "border consciousness" (ci jiang ci bian) when it came to grain and silver trade. Qianlong could build on the structure of the early eighteenth century, so that when his officers purchased grain for military needs, markets responded, and local shortages were compensated by imports.

Since markets required money, Chinese officials had long experience in discussing the relationship between currency supplies and commerce.

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