Dominance of ‘Old’ Chinese Coins in Medieval Japan: The Self-Organization of Money

Apr 14 12:00–1:30pm
Common Room, 2 Divinity Ave., Cambridge

Kuroda Akinobu (Professor of East Asian History, Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, The University of Tokyo; HYI Visiting Scholar)
Chair/Discussant: David Howell (Professor of Japanese History, Department of East Asian Languages & Civilizations, Harvard University)

Co-sponsored with the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies

No medieval Japanese authority issued currency, while Chinese coinages appeared abruptly in the late 12th century and continued to dominate transactions in Japan. It was not a demand for money that ignited a rapid increase in the importation of Chinese coinage, but rather a demand for metals which were used for molding Buddhist statutes, bells etc. The substitution of paper money for coins by contemporary Chinese authorities accelerated exports. However, the usage of coins for collecting taxes and tributes in Japan prompted the popularity of Chinese coinages, in tandem with the proliferation of rural market places across Japan. From the 15th century onwards, Japan exported copper to southern China in exchange for ‘old’ Chinese coinage mainly bearing Northern Song-era names. In the 1560s, connection with unofficial minting in Fujian was lost, causing Japanese dealers to switch from land contracts in terms of ‘old’ coins to contracts in terms of rice. This history clearly shows that money is accepted by neither authority nor intrinsic value.