The Journal of Economic History


An Ancient Chinese Stock of Gold

Homer H. Dubsa1

a1 Duke University

The elaborate Chinese standard histories, which, if all translated, would fill several hundred thick volumes, provide illuminating information about many aspects of economic history. In this paper, I shall present a passage that enables us to estimate the gold stock of the Chinese at the beginning of the Christian era, a type of information rarely available.

In his History of the Former Han Dynasty, Ban Gu (writing about A.D. 80) has occasion to illustrate the stinginess of a usurping emperor, Wang Mang, and enumerates his wealth as follows:

At this time [A.D. 23], in the inner apartments of the Wei-yang Palace, ten thousand catties of actual gold were put into one chest and there still remained sixty chests. In each office for storage of the Yellow Gate and of the Intendant of Palace Parks and in the workshops of the Master of Recipes, there were also several chests. The Imperial Treasury at the Ch'ang-lo Palace and the Bureau of Equalization and Standards in the capital in addition stored very much cash, silk, pearls, jade, and valuables.