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Reviewed by:
  • Copper in the Early-Modern Sino-Japanese Trade ed. by Keiko Nagase-Reimer
  • Guillaume Carré (bio)
Keiko Nagase-Reimer, ed., Copper in the Early-Modern Sino-Japanese Trade
Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015. 224 pp. $127.00 hardcover.

Keiko Nagase-Reimer's Copper in the Early Modern Sino-Japanese Trade is published in the collection edited by Hans Ulrich Vogel at Brill, Monies, Markets, and Finance in East Asia, 1600–1900. It is part of the renewal of interest in the West since the 2000s for a connected economic history of Asia, with special emphasis on monetary issues and their corollary, the metal trade. Works available in Western languages, however, are still very limited and often focus on precious metals, such as Richard Von Glahn's researches. Nagase-Reimer's study on the copper trade, which covers a field that remains largely unknown in Europe and the United States, is therefore welcome, as it draws the attention of researchers to a metal that, although less prestigious than the gold or silver, had nonetheless held a prominent place in the economies of East Asian countries until the nineteenth century.

Copper, as the main component of bronze, had been an essential symbol and part of Chinese civilization since its origins, for the production of prestigious artifacts or religious objects, and subsequently for the monetary production that gradually irrigated much of East Asia. From the Middle Ages, China's enormous need for copper, and to a lesser extent that of Korea, provided an export opportunity for the Japanese, whose archipelago was rich in this metal. In her introduction, Nagase-Reimer points to the antiquity of the copper trade between Japan and the continent but without dwelling on it. Yet, according to the records of the Iwami silver mines, it seems that the copper miners and their commercial networks with the continent were at the origin of the exploitation of the Iwami silver mines in the early sixteenth century. Beyond the variations of the metals that dominated the trade between Japan and its neighbors, we can thus guess the continuity, over several centuries, of the activity of professional groups of miners. The introduction also makes some allusions to the Japanese researchers who have already contributed to the very rich historiography of this issue, including the pioneering work of Kotaba Atsushi, as well as a few English-language works. Curiously, however, there is no mention of Asao Naohiro and his recent and very accessible books on the history of Sumitomo, one of the leading trading houses involved in the production of copper. [End Page 559]

Nevertheless, until the end of the seventeenth century, it was the trade of silver that constituted the staple of Japanese foreign trade, and it was only after the depletion of the silver deposits that copper returned to the front of the stage. At the end of the seventeenth century and during the first quarter of the eighteenth, copper was to take over silver in Japan's outer exchanges, before the copper mines became exhausted at a time when progress of domestic production made the archipelago less dependent on its imports. The first chapter, by Imai Noriko, gives a general overview of the production, refining, and trade of copper, as well as its uses in Japan, including issuance of currency since 1637. The main mines are mentioned, but this brief study gives few details of mining conditions, mine workers, or mining town populations. The different types of copper produced by the refinery workshops, on the other hand, are detailed, as are the major trends in their export. The author insists that from the outset copper exports were strongly influenced by the Bakufu policy. It was because the Edo government imposed restrictions on the trade of silver that copper took its place. Later, since 1715, the Edo authorities imposed regulations and quotas on copper exports. By 1712 they had begun to regulate the market by establishing a monopolistic guild of copper refiners under their control. The copper trade developed therefore at a pivotal moment in the economy of the Edo period, the beginning of regulatory policies, especially for exports, by the Tokugawa.

Iwasaki Yoshinori's chapter deals with the relationship...


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pp. 559-561
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Archived 2021
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