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Discovering economic history in footnotes: the story of the Tong Taisheng merchant archive (1790-1850)

Ma, Debin ORCID: 0000-0002-9604-8724 and Yuan, Weipeng (2016) Discovering economic history in footnotes: the story of the Tong Taisheng merchant archive (1790-1850). Modern China, 42 (5). pp. 483-504. ISSN 0097-7004

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Identification Number: 10.1177/0097700415606872


The Tong Taisheng (统泰升) merchant account books in Ningjin county of northern China in 1800-1850 constitute the most complete and integrated surviving archive of a family business for pre-modern China. They contain unusually detailed and high-quality statistics on exchange rates, commodity prices and other information. Utilized once in the 1950s, the archive has been left largely untouched until our recent, almost accidental rediscovery. This article introduces this unique set of archives and traces the personal history of the original owner and donor. Our story of an archive encapsulates the history of modern China and how the preservation and interpretation of evidence and records of Chinese economic statistics were profoundly impacted by the development of political ideology and in modern and contemporary China. We briefly discuss the historiographical and epistemological implication of our finding in the current Great Divergence debate.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2015 The Authors
Divisions: Economic History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DS Asia
H Social Sciences > HA Statistics
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Date Deposited: 31 Aug 2016 13:25
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 02:19
Projects: Global Price and Income Project
Funders: National Science Foundation, Center for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy, University of Warwick

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