Silver Mining in Japan and the Colonization of the Americas

The colonization of the Americas by Spain and the beginning of a widespread silver mining in Japan had a major impact on silver production, greatly increasing it. However, this increase in silver supply seemed good to some people, but overall caused many problems. Suppliers such as Japan and Spain, and receivers such as Ming China, seemed to benefit from this rapid increase in silver mining, but this increase caused worldwide problems as well. Based on the documents, the effects of the increase of the production of silver, was beneficial to those who facilitated trade, but weakened the states empire that supplied and received silver in vast quantities.

In China, increased trade to economically benefit from the return of silver was a strong belief, especially in the Ming dynasty. Although, many problems arose with displeased people, and the Ming dynasty soon decreed that all taxes and trade fees were to be paid in strictly silver. This became a huge hassle to pay the bill of even a simple dying of cloth, like in Hangzhou, which Xu Dunquiu Ming complained about in 1610 (Doc 5). Scarcity of silver soon took its toll in the 1570s and began to harm the economy due to the debt acquired by those who could not pay their taxes and had to seek out the middlemen to find a supply of silver. Going through the middlemen did not only take longer before various individual’s taxes were paid but it also decreased the value of their produce (Doc 3). A man named Wang Xijue presented the problem to the emperor of the Ming dynasty in 1593, explaining that the cultivation of land was at risk due to the scarcity of the silver coin affecting the price of grain. In 1626, the emperor makes a ban on foreign trade, but it is soon frowned upon and taken into the matters of court official, He Qiaoyuan in 1630, who reports to the emperor that he believes the ban should be repealed.

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Qiaoyuan describes the extreme amount of silver that the Ming, a country with little interest in international trade, would maintain flowing into it if it began to trade with the Europeans (Doc 7). The price of silk yarn could be sold for double or triple in the Philippines, generating an increasing profit for the Ming dynasty if trade were to occur. Qiaoyuan realizes that any other native objects such as pottery works, sugar, and fruit, could also be traded, seeing that the foreigners desire them. However though, this problem of silver scarcity was in dying need of a solution. The unrestricted flow of silver into Ming China made a huge negative impact on their economy. In the 1570s, Ye Chunji, a county official during the dynasty, demonstrated wisdom in his order to limit wedding expenses in silver (Doc 1). The idea to be frugal was something that the Ming dynasty should have been doing all along to benefit the economy.

Similarly, the increase in silver production while benefitting Spain early, in time became a detriment to the Spanish empire. A Spanish scholar by the name of Tomas de Mercado of Seville wrote in 1571 that Asian commodities were attracted by the high prices that ruined Spain, and the silver currency poured out to pay for them (Doc 2). Furthermore, Antonio Vazquez de Espinosa, a Spanish priest, explained later in the 1620s that he saw a more negative side in the production of silver socially (Doc 6). He wrote about Potosi, the huge silver mine in Spain, and expressed his sympathy towards the 3,000+ Indians working to extract silver from the mine, just so that it could be used for trade and especially taxing.

On the other hand, the silver production increase was very beneficial to the middlemen facilitating the trade more than even the producers and consumers did. Ralph Fitch, a British merchant explained his account of his trip to the East Indies in 1599. He stated that the Portuguese carry a lot of white silk, gold, perfume, and porcelain to Japan, but bring back nothing but silver. They make an immense profit from this facilitated trade, and then use the silver to buy these luxury goods from China, so they can trade them for a profit again with Japan. The Portuguese are the profited middlemen (Doc 4). In addition, and English scholar known as Charles D’Avenant composes an essay in 1697 on the East-India trade regarding the debate on a bill to restrict Indian textiles. He explains that everything basically goes through the middlemen, and that there is need for the altering of this trade set on the high demand for luxury goods from Asia in Europe.

In conclusion, the global flow of silver had major impacts on multiple parts of the world, negatively and positively. The increase in silver production in Japan and the Spanish empire from the mid sixteenth century to the early eighteenth century benefited not only the consumer and supplier, but also the middlemen. In addition, Ming China was not benefited by the flow of silver to it, and caused for many economic problems. An additional document by a Chinese merchant that describes the manner in which trade was conducted would be helpful because it would give insight into how the flow of silver was effected this class of people. Also documents that state the affects silver mining had on Japan would be beneficial to understand the effects of production between Japan and Spain.

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Silver Mining in Japan and the Colonization of the Americas. (2016, Nov 04). Retrieved from