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The E-Sylum: Volume 15, Number 42, October 7, 2012, Article 3

NEW BOOK: THE MODERN COINAGE OF CHINA 1866-1949

Joe Cribb, Former Keeper of Coins and Medals at the British Museum, forwarded his Preface to a new book from Spink by N.J. Wright on the modern coinage of China. Thanks! -Editor

Modern Coinage of China The opening of the new Canton (Guangdong) mint in May 1889 to mass produce coins using British made machinery marked the beginning of a revolution in industrial processes in China. The collected papers in this volume create together an account of how within fifteen years machine-made coins were in production at mints spread throughout China, and how within twenty five years the new coins had replaced the traditional coinage system which had served China for the previous two millennia. The use of machine made coins predated the establishment of the Canton mint as imported Spanish and later Mexican dollars had circulated widely in coastal regions since the sixteenth century.

Although the Chinese imperial authorities allowed these foreign coins to circulate, they strongly resisted the adoption of such coins for their own coinage system. In the 1860s Britain tried unsuccessfully to persuade China to change this situation by offering to produce a new machine made silver coinage at its mint on the island of Hong Kong. It was, however, the circulation into southern China of coins made in the Royal Mint in London for use within Hong Kong which eventually convinced the provincial government in Guangdong that there were practical advantages in issuing their own machine-made coins.

The many narratives presented in this volume document the establishment of mechanised mints and their issue of new coins from the opening of the Canton mint until the establishment of the Renminbi (People’s currency) in the early years of the People’s Republic of China. In doing so they also illustrate the dramatic political history of China from the western interference during the last decades of the failing Qing Empire, through the establishment of the new Republic by Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen) in 1912, its collapse into regional warlordism, the attempted reestablishment of the Republic under the Guomindang and the Japanese invasion until the eventual establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949. As well as being a story of political change, it is also a record of the provision of Western technology and expertise to China as it emerged from the authoritarian conservatism of the Qing imperial state into a modernised industrial nation.

This volume presents the collected research papers of Richard Wright, drawing them together from the various journals in which they were originally published between 1974 and 2003 into a newly set version. The articles have been standardised, replacing the differing formats of those appearing in the Numismatic Chronicle, the Numismatic Circular, and rescuing the rest from the relative obscurity of the more difficult to find publications in which some of them appeared. To the thirty seven articles are added another published here for the first time. Four appendices draw together additional material, and a fifth publishes Richard’s last revision of his article on the British medals commemorating the Keying Junk, a maritime marvel of the 1840s.

Richard’s achievement in these articles and now in this volume is a remarkable example of the quality of numismatic research contributed by collectors. He follows a long tradition of the process of collecting developing into a curiosity no longer satisfied by the available reference work. Building on the work of Kalgan Shih, Eduard Kann and Tracey Woodward, all like him collector scholars, he was able to focus on sources largely unavailable to them to expand and often correct their understandings. Although since the establishment of the People’s Republic Chinese research on China’s modern coins has continued the investigation of the coins and sources, Richard’s contribution has been to bring into focus the wealth of information available in British archives and collections. These sources have been particularly rich in new information and new understandings.

I was privileged, early in my career, to see Richard in action as he turned to the British Museum collections in search of clues. From the early 1970s I helped him in a small way in showing him the date and source of acquisitions of Chinese machine made coins, and commenting on aspects of the designs which had occurred to me as I went through the collection matching them to Kann’s catalogue. With pleasure I saw the fruits of his diligent research as he published article after article. As he came towards the end of his focus on Chinese coins I asked him about the possibility of publishing all his articles in one volume. I am embarrassed to say that after getting his agreement to the suggestion other tasks took me away from the possibility. I am delighted that Helen Wang has now taken up this idea and with further help from Richard and the generous support of Philip Skingley at Spinks, this volume has now been completed. It will make the immense value of Richard’s contributions to the study of the modernisation of China’s coinage more visible and more available to the scholars of China’s modern history, numismatic scholars and coin collectors.

It is a pleasure to see this volume appearing in Richard’s eightieth year. It signals the recognition that is due to his outstanding contribution to Chinese numismatics. I congratulate him on what he has achieved and celebrate the advances he has made in creating an understanding of this fascinating period in China’s history.

For more information or to order, see: staging.spink.com/books-publications/book-description.aspx?id=67

Wayne Homren, Editor

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To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor at this address: whomren@gmail.com

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