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

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  • Ma, Debin
  • Yuan, Weipeng

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Ma, Debin & Yuan, Weipeng, 2016. "Discovering economic history in footnotes: the story of the Tong Taisheng merchant archive (1790-1850)," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 67552, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:67552
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    File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/67552/
    File Function: Open access version.
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Loren Brandt & Debin Ma & Thomas G. Rawski, 2014. "From Divergence to Convergence: Reevaluating the History behind China's Economic Boom," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 52(1), pages 45-123, March.
    2. Debin Ma, 2004. "Growth, institutions and knowledge: a review and reflection on the historiography of 18th-20th century China," Australian Economic History Review, Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand, vol. 44(3), pages 259-277, November.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. The Enigma of Chinese Business Records
      by joymanlee in NEP-HIS blog on 2017-01-11 19:14:18

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Tong Taisheng; Ningjin; Rong Mengyuan; merchant account books; economic statistics.;

    JEL classification:

    • C1 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General
    • N0 - Economic History - - General

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