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Mining for Money: A Microstudy on Government Intervention in the Operation of Lianhua Zinc Mine in Qing China

Meimei Wang (王梅梅), Bas Leeuwen

Pages 187 - 211


Mining plays an important role in industrialization. It is therefore important to understand the parties and dynamics involved in mining output. In this paper we aim to offer a dynamic story about the stakeholders in metal mining during the Qing dynasty by conducting a microstudy on the Lianhua Zinc Mine (Lianhua chang). Our available data for the period 1730s–1850s show two moments of strong output fluctuations but otherwise suggest surprisingly stable productivity, especially from the 1780s to the 1820s. In this paper we aim to explain both the period of massive fluctuations and the subsequent period of stability through a detailed reconstruction of the various parties and their demand and supply. We find that the administrative quota and reporting system based on the so-called “government supervision and merchant management” pattern played an important role. It retained a seeming stability of output while, at the same time, allowing for flexibility in the production process. Nevertheless, after many ups and downs, this zinc mine, the largest one in China, eventually fell into disuse owing to the complicated interactions between local and national government as well as private miners.


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