The Meaning of "鹽庫"(Salt Treasury) Inscribed on a Szechuan Drum
Weight: 371 grams/10 taels
Date: 1908 A.D.
(Kuang Hsu) The 34th Year
Treasury of the Salt Affairs and Official Transportation Bureau
Lo (First name of the owner of the silver shop), Yu Chuan Heng (The silver shop)
There is a kind of Szechuan drum with the inscriptions of 「三十四年．鹽庫．羅裕川亨」as shown above, and surviving specimens are extremely scarce. What is the meaning of“鹽庫”(Salt Treasury)? Experts have proposed a number of different explanations, such as an inventory of salt tax silver or a territorial license for the sale of salt. None of the speculations are definitive because of a lack of supportive evidence. Another explanation just joined the debate; based mostly on the literal interpretation of 鹽庫, it urges that 鹽庫 was an abbreviation of 鹽庫平 meaning the weight scale of the Salt administration. The conclusion is still uncertain.
According to my research, 鹽庫 means the silver treasury under 四川鹽務官運總局(the Szechuan Salt Affairs and Official Transportation Bureau, abbreviated as“the Bureau” below). The piece shown represented various taxes and add-on tax imposed on salt productions and sales, and was to be submitted to the central government, directly or indirectly. This piece, and others like it, was cast in the 34th year of Kuang Hsu, i.e., 1908 A.D., when the Szechuan governor 趙爾豐 initiated a financial reform in the province.
1. Background of the Bureau
In the 3rd year of Kuang Hsu (1877), based on a proposal from 唐烱, Governor丁寶禎 adopted a practice of salt affairs “Transported by Officials and Sold by Merchants”, the headquarter of the Bureau was located at 瀘州 (Lu Districxt) in central Szechuan, and branches were established in each of salt production sites and major markets.
2. The major financial incomes were under the Bureau’s control
According to a document dated the 14th day, 2nd month of the 5th year of Kuang Hu (1879) in the files of the Bureau, the turnover of the treasury of the Bureau totaled more than 3 million taels of silver, even though it had just started up and the business covered only the Kueichow market. Later, the Yunnan market was included, the amount grew to around 4 or 5 million taels of silver; it was about the same as the treasury of the provincial board of revenue, or a few times greater than the treasury of the provincial salt administration.
3. Treasury of the Bureau used to be named “鹽庫”
As indicated by 《四川鹽務報告書》(Report of the Szechuan Salt Affairs), in its 2nd chapter.
4. In the 34th year of Kuang Hsu, the Bureau went through a financial reform
In the 34th year of Kuang Hsu, when Szechuan Governor 趙爾豐 was reorganizing the tax system, 經徵總局 (The Tax Levy General Bureau) was established in the capital city of Chengdu, and branches were opened in each county and district for the purpose of consolidating the collection of all kinds of taxes in the province. As a result, all the financial resources were focused on the new organization, and most of the treasured silver of 鹽庫 was deposited in there, too. Does this explain why this specimen and its counterparts were cast? And, why almost all of them were cast only in the 34th year of Kuang Hsu?(Until now, only one specimen is found dated the 1st year of Hsuan Tung, i.e., 1909 A.D.)
5. Why not 鹽庫平(The weight scale of the Salt Administration)?
It was a general practice for official sycee to be pressed with a stamp of “Place Name”, rather than “Name of a weight scale”. Moreover, 鹽庫平(the weight scale of the Salt Administration) was usually used in accounting books for the purpose of computation; as for casting a virtual Szechuan drum, the scale of 97, not 鹽庫平, would be adopted, even though such a name of scale would not be stamped on the surface of the sycee.
存世有「三十四年．鹽庫．羅裕川亨」圓錠一種(如圖示)?瑪盗繋紫 Ｆ洹耕}庫」之涵義為何? 多年來曾引發各家之議論。論者有以儲放鹽稅銀的庫房、鹽岸之另稱等推論，由於證據薄弱而不足採; 另有以「鹽庫」為「鹽庫平」之簡稱，一時之間，眾說紛云，莫衷一是。
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