An Exception to the "First-in, First-out" Policy of Emperor Kangsi (1662-1722 A.D.)

wpe3.jpg (25173 個位元組)Weight: 50 taels (1842 grams)           


Inscription: 襄陽縣/康熙四十一年分??銀五十兩/銀匠毛?成


Hsiang Yang County  (Hubei Province), Kangsi 41st Year (1702)...Silver 50 Taels Silversmith Mao ..Chen  


A Sycee dating to the Kangsi reign is one of the rarest additions to any collection, whether it be of major museums or private collectors. The only specimen with the reign name of Kangsi known to the author is a small boat sycee belonging to Professor Peng Hsin Wei. That example is a tiny piece weighing only 1 mace, and is illustrated in Professor Peng's masterwork- "The History of Chinese Currencies".

Most people may wonder why sycee of the Kangsi regin disappeared? Is it because that they were made at such an early date? Not really, since we still can find quite a number of specimens of the Ming Dynasty and even earlier. Or, could it be that sycee not yet widely circulated during the early stages of the Ching Dynasty? No, since according to the laws in force at the time, sycee was legal tender in the empire and was used for settlement of  both  private and official accounts.


By the 45th year of Kangsi (1706), the booming economy of the early Ching Dynasty filled the treasury of the imperial government with a tremendous amount of tax silver received from provincial governments. The emperor issued an order to construct a new treasury to house additional tax receipts, and mandated the imperial treasury follow a policy of "first-in, first-out" when paying sycee- a sycee of an earlier date was to be spent prior to one of a later date.

Almost all the treasury's silver was in 50 taels, and at that time a sycee of such a heavy weight was usually cast only by local officials to submit to the emperor. Normally, a 50-tael treasury sycee used by the imperial government as payment to an official as salary or to a civilian for the price of procurement would be melted and recast into smaller weights by its recipient so it could be easily recirculated; it would have been asking for trouble if an ordinary individual attempted to use silver of such a huge value in a daily transaction. After the "first-in, first-out" policy was in force for many years, all the treasury silver with earlier dates would have been used and recycled, accounting for the absence of surviving sycee from the Kangsi reign.

The example shown seems to have survived as an exception to the emperor's policy, and is the only 50-tael piece known which dates to that "dark age" for sycee. Possibly, it was buried in a tomb with an official immediately after being put into circulation by the imperial government. Or, perhaps it became a lost treasure before a local government submitted it into the imperial treasury.

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