Coin of the Realm: Money and Meaning in Late Imperial China

A Mahindra Humanities Center Seminar Conference Organized by "China Humanities"

Money in its various forms was central to the sweeping transformations of late imperial society. With the expansion of mercantile capital, the integration of local economies into global trade networks, and the frequent fluctuations in the availability of metallic currency, money was both an instrument of social change and a heuristic for understanding new cultural forms. The kinds of money available and the paths of circulation they took had far-reaching implications for the ways in which state power was organized and everyday life was experienced and understood.

This conference will encourage discussion on a range of issues surrounding the theorization, production, and circulation of money: What was money in late imperial China? How did the kinds of money in circulation affect the kinds of exchanges that took place? How do histories of minting and counterfeiting complicate theories of value? What kinds of meanings adhere to a coin as it moves across cities, oceans, and cultures? Through what sorts of cultural practices is a coin reinscribed as efficacious medicine or rare objet d’art? And how can this work shed light on contemporary debates about bullion and bitcoins?

The conference will consist of four panels. The first panel, “Thinking Money,” will examine the money-form as an object of inquiry in texts that span China's imperial history. The second panel, “Minting Money,” will focus on the technologies and rhetoric of forging value. The third panel, “Moving Money,” will trace the paths carved by coins, ingots, and bills across borders and epistemes. The fourth panel, “Writing Money,” will explore the interrelation of money forms and literary forms. By providing a forum for scholars to speak across disciplines and methodologies, this conference hopes to provide an opportunity for scholars to articulate the multifarious ways that money both structured and was structured by late imperial society.



Homi K. Bhabha (Director, Mahindra Humanities Center)

Thinking Money

Discussant: Michael Puett (Harvard University)

Tamara Chin (Brown University):
"On Quantification"

Hans Ulrich Vogel (Universität Tübingen):
"Two Early Moral Treatises on Money: Qianshen lun and Qian bencao"

Kuroda Akinobu (University of Tokyo):
"Actual Monetary Usages in 19th Century China: Some Reflections from Account Books"

Minting Money

Discussant: Peter Bol (Harvard University)

Bruce Rusk (University of British Columbia):
"Silver, Liquid and Solid: The Matter of Money in the Ming-Qing Marketplace"

Rivi Handler-Spitz (Macalester College):
"Counterfeiting Virtue: Li Zhi, Rhetoric, and Late Ming Economics"

Cao Jin (Universität Tübingen):
"Smoke in the Mountains: The Infamous Counterfeiting Case in Tongzi District, Guizhou Province, 1794"

Moving Money

Discussant: Mark Elliott (Harvard University)

Richard von Glahn (University of California, Los Angeles):
"Chinese Coin and Changes in Monetary Preferences in Maritime East Asia in the 15th-16th Centuries"

Devin Fitzgerald (Harvard University):
"Foreign Coins and Foreign Histories: Numismatics and Late Ming and Early Qing Recognition of the World"

Helen Wang (The British Museum):
"How Did the Archaeologist Aurel Stein Manage His Money in Xinjiang in the Late Qing?"

Writing Money

Discussant: Wai-yee Li (Harvard University)

Ariel Fox (Harvard University):
"Money Props and Properties of Money: Coins and Bills on the Late Imperial Stage"

Sarah Kile (Brown University):
"The Literary Life of Silver in Seventeenth-Century China: Words, Stories, and Materiality"

Ning Ma (Tufts University):
"Prices and Beauty: Fashion and the Problem of Exchange in Jin ping mei"

Cosponsored by Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Asia Center, and Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.

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