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Reviewed by:
  • Mining, Monies, and Culture in Early Modern Societies: East Asian and Global Perspectives. edited by Nanny Kim and Keiko Nagase-Reimer
  • Peter J. Golas (bio)
Mining, Monies, and Culture in Early Modern Societies: East Asian and Global Perspectives. Edited by Nanny Kim and Keiko Nagase-Reimer. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2013. Pp. xiv+366. $170.

This volume assembles thirteen articles, most produced for a workshop held in October 2007 at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum and entitled “Monies, Market and Finance in China and East Asia, 1600–1900.” The contributions deal with a very broad range of topics, most of which relate in one way or another to the technology and administration of mining, refining, and transport of metals used in the metallic currencies of China and Japan, as well as to the usage and management of those currencies.

Given the extreme heterogeneity of the subjects dealt with and the various approaches taken by the authors, the reader will find extremely helpful the thoughtful and detailed “Introduction” by Jane Kate Leonard that effectively summarizes and evaluates each of the contributions as well as many of the linkages among them. This review will highlight just a few of the contributions that I found of particular interest.

The first section, “Metals Mining and Trade: Japan, China, and Europe,” reflects a certain imbalance that is also seen in the remaining sections. There are three pieces focusing on Japan, dealing with copper metallurgy, water drainage, and, more generally, Nagasaki in the Tokugawa period, and one on China—silver mines on the southwestern borders of the Qing. The last article, by Christoph Bartels, is one of only two pieces in the volume not focused on Japan or China. Happily, it is a superb contribution, revealing an enviable mastery of the European experience with mining from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century, mainly mining [End Page 267] administration. It makes important points for cross-cultural comparison, such as the “freedom of mining” that prevailed in Europe up to the end of the sixteenth century and the admiration Europeans accorded to advanced mining technology, as revealed in the enthusiastic reception of the writings of Agricola.

The second section, “Money in Government and Everyday Transactions,” includes four contributions: two deal with Chinese government policies—state transport of metals and regulations on counterfeiting—one with Chinese merchants in the Philippines, and one with Qing poets’ take on currency and commerce and related subjects in that period. The last of these, by Mark Elvin, is nothing less than a breathtaking tour de force in which the author draws on the knowledge and experience gained in a lifetime spent carefully working through these and other very difficult texts. The result is not what he modestly describes as “roughly translated verses,” but rather elegant English versions of the poets’ reflections on some twenty subjects such as the daily struggle for money, tampering with the currency, pawnshops, risking life for livelihood, gambling, the humanly destructive effects of money, and the realms that money cannot reach.

The third section, “Pictorial Sources in the History of Technology,” consists of examinations of picture scrolls dealing with gold and silver mining on the island of Sado (Niigata prefecture in Japan), and the operations of the Sumitomo copper refinery in Osaka as portrayed in the famous Kodō zuroku. (Missing from the list of references for this article is Zenryu Shirakawa’s magnificent edition of the Kodō zuroku, beautifully illustrated—partly in color—and with full English translation; it was produced by the Burndy Library in 1983.) The last piece here is an examination of three maps created in connection with an eighteenth-century effort to open up to navigation a section of the Yangtze River in Sichuan in order to link Yunnan more effectively to the commercial economy of China proper. The main focus is on the assessment of the usefulness and accuracy of these materials as historical sources.

The final section is a single, important, cutting-edge contribution that describes how the combination of data from traditional documentary and cartographic sources with GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and other newly available data (such as that from satellites) can lend strength to a hypothesis such as the...


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