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A History of China by Wolfram Eberhard

With the result of a local deflation


The

third important new development to be mentioned was that of printing, which since _c_. 770 was known in the form of wood-block printing. The first reference to a printed book dated from 835, and the most important event in this field was the first printing of the Classics by the orders of Feng Tao (882-954) around 940. The first attempts to use movable type in China occurred around 1045, although this invention did not get general acceptance in China. It was more commonly used in Korea from the thirteenth century on and revolutionized Europe from 1538 on. It seems to me that from the middle of the twentieth century on, the West, too, shows a tendency to come back to the printing of whole pages, but replacing the wood blocks by photographic plates or other means. In the Far East, just as in Europe, the invention of printing had far-reaching consequences. Books, which until then had been very dear, because they had to be produced by copyists, could now be produced cheaply and in quantity. It became possible for a scholar to accumulate a library of his own and to work in a wide field, where earlier he had been confined to a few books or even a single text. The results were the spread of education, beginning with reading and writing, among wider groups, and the broadening of education: a large number of texts were read and compared, and no longer only a few. Private libraries came into existence, so that the imperial libraries were no longer the only ones. Publishing soon grew in
extent, and in private enterprise works were printed that were not so serious and politically important as the classic books of the past. Thus a new type of literature, the literature of entertainment, could come into existence. Not all these consequences showed themselves at once; some made their first appearance later, in the Sung period.

A fourth important innovation, this time in North China, was the introduction of prototypes of paper money. The Chinese copper "cash" was difficult or expensive to transport, simply because of its weight. It thus presented great obstacles to trade. Occasionally a region with an adverse balance of trade would lose all its copper money, with the result of a local deflation. From time to time, iron money was introduced in such deficit areas; it had for the first time been used in Szechwan in the first century B.C., and was there extensively used in the tenth century when after the conquest of the local state all copper was taken to the east by the conquerors. So long as there was an orderly administration, the government could send it money, though at considerable cost; but if the administration was not functioning well, the deflation continued. For this reason some provinces prohibited the export of copper money from their territory at the end of the eighth century. As the provinces were in the hands of military governors, the central government could do next to nothing to prevent this. On the other hand, the prohibition automatically made an end of all external trade. The merchants accordingly began to prepare deposit certificates, and in this way to set up a sort of transfer system. Soon these deposit certificates entered into circulation as a sort of medium of payment at first again in Szechwan, and gradually this led to a banking system and the linking of wholesale trade with it. This made possible a much greater volume of trade. Towards the end of the T'ang period the government began to issue deposit certificates of its own: the merchant deposited his copper money with a government agency, receiving in exchange a certificate which he could put into circulation like money. Meanwhile the government could put out the deposited money at interest, or throw it into general circulation. The government's deposit certificates were now printed. They were the predecessors of the paper money used from the time of the Sung.


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