What Can Be Learned From China’s Monetary Past – China Real Time Report – WSJ

China’s decline as a great power in the 19th century wasn’t the fault of imperialism and opium. It was bad monetary policy, after all.

English: Qing emperor Jiaqing

English: Qing emperor Jiaqing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So says Werner Burger, a numismatic historian and Sinologist who has published a detailed history of money in the Qing Dynasty, entitled “Ch’ing Cash.” Mr. Burger has spent his professional life tracking down details of nearly every coin minted in China over three centuries. After three decades of making official requests, it wasn’t until 1996 that Beijing granted him access to the previous century’s imperial mint reports, the modern equivalent to central bank money supply statistics.

His conclusion: The Jiaqing Emperor, By letting the fakes infiltrate the economy, the Jiaqing emperor and his successors allowed the effective exchange rate for standard brass Chinese coins to swell from the official rate of 1000 per unit of silver to as high as 2500. Soldiers wages were effectively halved, giving them little incentive to fight the various battles against Western colonizers.

Mr. Burger refutes the notion that China’s trade with the United Kingdom, which for a time involved China sending silver to the U.K. in exchange for opium, was responsible for the debasement. He said the amount of silver sent abroad didn’t affect the exchange rate, noting a mid-century period of three decades when China actually experienced silver inflows.

Amid such currency instability, “all attempts at economic reforms and progress were bound to fail. China had no chance to catch up with the rest of the world and so lost a whole century to corruption and greedy officials,” says Mr. Burger.

For investors who want to learn from China’s past mistakes, the two volume history will cost a pretty penny: $800.

Source: What Can Be Learned From China’s Monetary Past – China Real Time Report – WSJ

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