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The Emergence and Spread of Coins in China from the Spring and Autumn Period to the Warring States Period

Part of the Financial and Monetary Policy Studies book series (FMPS,volume 39)

Abstract

It is widely believed that bronze coins appeared in China during the Spring and Autumn period and that their circulation expanded rapidly during the Warring States period.

Keywords

  • Silk Textile
  • Monetary Economy
  • Autumn Period
  • Central Plain
  • Historical Text

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In Greece during this period, there existed close to 1,000 polis (Greek city states). Outside the polis were the berber (βάρβαροι, non-Greek) and the xenoi (ξένος, Greeks who were outside the polis’ authority). Inside the polis were citizens, metoicoi (resident foreigners), slaves and women. For example, for Athenians, those who were Greek outside Athens were called xenoi, and those who were non-Athenian in Athens were called metoicoi (μέτοικο). According to Herman, the term xenoi had two meanings, ‘an unacquainted foreigner’ and ‘a visitor, or a foreigner with whom they share mutually hospitable relations’. Since the time of Homer, the term customarily held the latter meaning, in particular amongst the xenia. Xenia was a practice particular to the social elite and referred to the ‘bonds of affection that connected people from a different society or community’. It was a ‘ritualised friendship’ formed with mutual vows, the shaking of hands, favours and appeal. Participants exchanged goods and services with one another and provided mutual assistance. Each polis (e.g. polis A), would select a person from among the foreigners living in a foreign state (e.g. polis B) and call him the proxenos (πρόξεινος). The citizens of polis A would treat him as having relations with all citizens of polis A based on the ritualised friendship, and when citizens of polis A visited polis B, the proxenos was responsible for their care (Herman 1987). The similarities and differences between this special human relationship and the guest culture of ancient China have become points of discussion in our meetings. Certainly, the two are both ‘relationships with foreign companions based upon a custom of reciprocity’ and can be seen to contribute directly and indirectly to the construction of information networks between cities. Also, when the two parties of a xenia relationship came into conflict with the polis to which they belonged, they would agonise about whether they should prioritise their personal relations with the xenia or the profit of various kinds for the polis. This debate was the same for the guests of state in China. For example, at the end of the Warring States period, Hán Fēi (韓非), one of the Han royalty viewed as an excellent lawyer, was in the Qin as a guest, but the Qin king feared that Hán Fēi would ultimately submit policies to profit the Han. Because of this, the Qin killed Hán Fēi. The Qin king later attempted to promulgate the order for guests to leave (逐客令) because of the likelihood that guests would place greater importance upon their native state’s profit. However, in contrast to the xenoi who resided in the foreign state, the guests stayed only temporarily in the state. Also, in contrast to the xenia relationships being affectionate, based on one-to-one meetings, many guests in the political field gathered around the high prestige and economic power possessed by a lord, and thus, if the lord lost his prestige or political power through morally deviant acts, the guests suddenly took flight to distance themselves from the lord. For example, when Mèngcháng jūn (孟嘗君) was the prime minister of Qi, he hosted as many as 3,000 guests, but attracted the envy of the king. After being stripped of his rank, Mèngcháng jūn’s guests disappeared Afterwards, due to the great efforts of Féng Huān (馮驩), one of Mèngcháng jūn’s guests, he was reinstated as prime minister, and once again 3,000 guests gathered in his halls. Mèngcháng jūn meant to scold his guests, but Féng Fuān stated: ‘It is natural that those with wealth and rank will have many followers and that the poor will have few. It is natural too that when you lost your rank, your esteemed guests took their leave. Therefore, it would do no good to resent your guests or reject them in vain’ (see Record of Mèngcháng jūn). This differs from the xenia. However, on the other hand, there also existed during the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods the principle of communication known as Rènxiá (任侠), chivalry. This required that ‘civilians depend upon their own swords, set up groups, adhere to the groups staking their lives in a single pledge, and, especially, endeavour to save their friends and family irrespective of life, death, and personal interests’. These requirements sometimes encompassed unlawful acts. This mindset is what underlies at least a part of modern gangs, the mafia and the yakuza, but in the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods, many possessed this mindset (Miyazaki 1934; Masubuchi 1996). That is not to say it was a value supported by everybody at the time, but rather that it was one principle of communication alongside family, rank and money. This value’s importance depended upon the person, but those who made little of the traditional clan system in ancient China looked upon chivalry as important (Kakinuma 2011). Among the Chinese guests of state, too, there were many who viewed this ethos as important. For example, the abovementioned Féng Huān assisted Mèngcháng jūn, who had lost his title and all of his guests. For doing so, Féng Huān gained favour. In the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods, many assassins, starting out as guests of state, tried to attain retribution for their murdered lords (see Record of Assassins in Shiji). This kind of human relationship rooted in chivalry also involved foreigners. For example, in the last years of the Spring and Autumn period, the son of Fàn Lí (范蠡) of Yue was deemed a criminal in the Chu. Fàn Lí sent a dispatch to his old friend, Zhuāng Shēng (荘生) of the Chu, and a large sum of money. Zhuāng Shēng, not touching the money, decided to secretly save his friend’s son without compensation. Fànlí had known that Zhuāng Shēng did not want his money, but Fàn Lí’s emissary had doubted Zhuāng Shēng. When Zhuāng Shēng found out, he refused to save Fàn Lí’s son (see Biography of the Yue). This indicates that a chivalrous relationship existed between Fàn Lí and Zhuāng Shēng. This story has a strong legendary element, and there are doubts about whether the incident actually occurred in the Spring and Autumn period. Yet, because it is recorded in the Han dynasty’s Shiji and there were probably other original sources before the Han period, it is certain that the story and its contents were viewed as important from the Warring States period to the Han period. This was an interpersonal relationship similar to xenia and, in this, there can be seen a resemblance between China and Greece. At the very least, chivalry differed from xenia in that (1) it was not limited to foreigners; (2) it encompassed a mindset powerful enough that people would stake their lives; and (3) those involved were inclined to refuse an exchange of money. Please refer to Schap’s paper for more information regarding the xenia.

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Kakinuma, Y. (2014). The Emergence and Spread of Coins in China from the Spring and Autumn Period to the Warring States Period. In: Bernholz, P., Vaubel, R. (eds) Explaining Monetary and Financial Innovation. Financial and Monetary Policy Studies, vol 39. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-06109-2_5

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