Did the Chinese Invent Money?
In the Introduction to this book, first published in English in 2010, I wrote: “The idea of sound money was present from the very beginning of modern monetary theory in the works of the sixteenth-century Spanish Scholastics. . . .” Recent research has shown that the seeds of the theory of sound money were already present in Chinese writings centuries before the Scholastics.
China was one of the first countries to develop a metallic money that was valued and exchanged by weight. Evidence suggests that this monetary regime originated during the Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 B.C.) or the Zhou Dynasty (1122-221 B.C.). China was also one of the first countries to use precious metals as money and may have invented coined money. The long experience with a purely metallic monetary system naturally stimulated Chinese state officials, royal advisers, and philosophers to investigate and debate the origins and functioning of such a system and the policies appropriate to its smooth operation. It is therefore not surprising that China developed a rich tradition of monetary thought, which extended over nineteen centuries (roughly 700 B.C. to 1200 A.D.) This literature on monetary theory and policy embodied ideas, insights, and controversies that would appear in European writings only centuries later. In particular, some contributors to this Chinese monetary tradition formulated the conceptual foundations of the theory of sound money, the topic of the present book.
While ideas about the development of money were exp
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