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

Debin Ma and Weipeng Yuan

LSE Research Online Documents on Economics from London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library

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.

Keywords: Tong Taisheng; Ningjin; Rong Mengyuan; merchant account books; economic statistics. (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: C1 N0 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-cna, nep-his and nep-hpe
Date: 2016
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Published in Modern China, 2016, 42(5), pp. 483-504. ISSN: 0097-7004

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