50. The use of silver ingots in Ming dynasty tax payment

LI Xiaoping 李晓萍 , of the Zhejiang Provincial Museum 浙江省博物馆, has authored several books on silver currency, and edited Academic Conference Proceedings of Gold and Silver Currency and Social Life. (She publishes under two different names, which look the same in the romanised form – LI Xiaoping – but have different characters for Xiao:  李晓萍 and 李小萍)

In her 2013 monograph 《明代赋税银锭考》 (The Use of Silver Ingots  in Ming Dynasty Tax Payments) she traces the origins and development of the use of silver in tax payments in the Ming dynasty, referring throughout to real examples. She spent eight years researching and writing the book, seeing almost 200 ingots in public and private collections, and discusses over 70 examples in the book. However, as she notes in her preface, only a small number of Ming ingots have survived, and we should understand that they represent merely the tip of the iceberg.


Front cover of the book

LI Xiaoping contents

Contents page



LI Xiaoping, Mingdai fushui yinding kao

(Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 2013 // ISBN 978-7-5010-3854-1)

李晓萍: 《明代赋税银锭考》(北京:文物出版社,2013年)


  • 自序  (李晓萍)  —  Preface by the author
  • 序言  (金德平)  —  Foreword by JIN Deping
  • 第一章:明代白银货币发展概况
  • Ch 1:   Overview of the development of silver money in the Ming dynasty
  • 第二章:田赋与田赋折银
  • Ch 2:   Field tax and field tax commuted into silver (and developments thereafter)
  • 第三章:军费的来源与去处
  • Ch 3:   Military expenses – income and outgoings
  • 第四章:徭役折银
  • Ch 4:   Corvée commuted into silver
  • 第五章:公用征银
  • Ch 5:   Levies for public use
  • 第六章:地方性特殊收入折银
  • Ch 6:   Localised special income commuted into silver
  • 第七章:商业税银
  • Ch 7:   Commercial tax in silver
  • 第八章:专卖收入折银
  • Ch 8:   Specific sales income commuted into silver
  • 第九章:渔税折银
  • Ch 9:   Fishing tax commuted into silver
  • 第十章:贡物抽分银 – 椒木银
  • Ch 10: Silver received in tribute – in place of plant produce
  • 第十一章:皇室内库之白银种类
  • Ch 11: Different kinds of silver in the Palace Treasury
  • 第十二章:永宣时期的银矿税 – 闸办银课
  • Ch 12: Silver mine tax in the Yongle and Xuande periods
  • 第十三章:与赋税相关的金锭
  • Ch 13: Gold ingots associated with the field tax
  • 参考书目  —  Bibliography
  •   —  Postscript

In the introduction she notes the locations of the key archaeological sites for Ming dynasty ingots (but also refers to other sites and locations in the book):

  • 北京定陵 – the Dingling Mausoleum, in Beijing, being the tomb of Wanli (1563-1620) and Empress Xiaoduan and Empress Xiaojing
  • 钟祥梁庄王墓 – the mausoleum of Prince Liang Zhuangwang (d.1441), in Zhongxiang city (Hubei)
  • 北京李伟墓 – the tomb of Li Wei (grandfather of Wanli), in Beijing
  • 余姚袁炜墓 – the tomb of Yuan Wei (1507-1565), high minister to Jiajing, in Yuyao (Zhejiang)
  • 湖北蕲春刘娘井墓 – the tomb in Liuniangjing village, Qichun (Hubei)
  • 四川洪雅、新都、彭山 – Hongya, Xindu, Pengshan (in Sichuan)
  • 浙江杭州、湖州 – Hangzhou and Huzhou (in Zhejiang)
  • 安徽芜湖 – Wuhu (Anhui)
  • 广西阳朔 – Yangshuo (Guangxi)
  • 江苏、上海 – Jiangsu and Shanghai



49. Chinese transportation tokens and tickets

A recent enquiry has drawn my attention to the world of Chinese transportation tokens. There are a few Chinese transportation tokens in the British Museum – they are a random assortment of plastic and metal pieces- and there are some paper transportation tickets as well – also a random assortment. All of these are on the BM database (unfortunately, Collection Online hasn’t been updated since last summer, although data entry, edits and imaging continues behind the scenes). (more…)

48. Red envelopes – the development and permanence of themes in Chinese popular imagery

A few blogs back – no. 45 “Cultural Revolution Style Red Packets” – Lyce Jankowski left a comment, drawing my attention to Chengan SUN’s work on red envelopes: a PhD and a book, titled Les enveloppes rouges: évolution et permanence des themes d’une image populaire chinoise  (Le Moulin de l’Etoile, 2011.  ISBN 978-2-915428-37-7). A copy of this book has just arrived at the Dept of Coins and Medals, British Museum, and I’ll outline the contents below. (more…)

47. Chinese Money Matters – so why does it have such a low profile?

This was the title of the short presentation I gave at the Art, Materiality and Representation conference that took place in London, 1-3 June, organised by the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI), the BM’s Department for Africa, Oceania and the Americas, and the Dept of Anthropology at SOAS. My paper was one of 17 papers in the one-day session “Museums of Asian Arts outside Asia: Questioning Artefacts, Cultures and Identities” (see the list of speakers and titles at the end of this post). The day was superbly conceived, organised and presented by Iside Carbone of the RAI. (more…)

46. Is that a coin on Mao’s desk?

In the Yan’an Revolutionary Memorial Hall (延安革命纪念馆) there is a small wooden table which Mao Zedong used as a writing desk on a kang bed-stove. In early February 1936, Mao and Peng Dehuai stayed in the home of a peasant called Bai Yucai 白育才 in Yuanjiagou village 袁家沟村, Qingjian county 清涧县, in Shaanxi province. Mao used the kang as his office, and the kang-table 炕桌 as his desk. His poem 《沁园春·雪》”Snow – to the tune of Qin Yuan Chun”, is said to have been written at this desk.  (more…)

45. “Cultural Revolution style red packets”

Frances Wood (formerly Head of the Chinese section at the British Library, and author of Hand Grenade Practice in Beijing: My Part in the Cultural Revolution and many other books) recently donated a pack of “Cultural Revolution style red packets” to the British Museum. She purchased them in a Chinese supermarket in central London earlier this year.  (more…)

44. Japanese Occupation Money and the Battle of Balikpapan

Nicholas Lua Swee Yang, a student volunteer, has been helping me with the East Asian paper money collection this spring, most recently on the Japanese Occupation Money (also known as Japanese Invasion Money). One note [CIB,EA.208] particularly caught his attention, and inspired him to research it further and write this post.  (more…)