“The Spanish have silver mountains which they mint into silver coins,” (doc 7). The discovery of the abundance of silver in the Americas to be mined, and the luxurious commodities it could buy led Europeans into a worldwide Silver Trade network. From the mid 16th century to the early 18th century the global flow of silver played a huge role in defining the economic and social relations of the world and ultimately drawing them together.
Silver was such a magnificent commodity that it could be used to great extents or it could be spent frivolously leaving the consumer wanting more (doc 1). Both the “frugal” man and the “extravagant” one were good for silver trading business; the first provides a true need for the everyday use of silver; and the second provides a well paying lust. The Chinese Government saw the profits of silver and began requiring taxes in silver. But, according to Wan Xijue, a Ming Dynasty court official (doc 3), the government did not use this silver for its expenditures, leaving the people to acquire it of their Western and Eastern traders. It is no surprise then, since the Chinese relied so heavily on silver, that eventually China held one third of the world’s silver.
The Silver Trade had radical effects worldwide. For instance, in China, people used to be able to trade commodities for other commodities such as dyed cloth for rice, but as the flow of silver seeped into the Chinese life, people had to buy their dyed cloth with silver (doc 5). The Spanish were easily able to supply the silver needed for such transactions. They were overflowing with silver and could thus part with it quite easily as they were willing to pay double or triple the prices in silver for Chinese products (doc 7). But this ease came with a price; one that a Spanish Priest (doc 6) pitied. The enslaved Indians or, “poor fellows” (doc 6), worked to their deaths on silver mines in the Americas to provide the silver for this abundant trade network.
Spanish Economy boomed with the rise of silver trade, then busted as the Spanish government went bankrupt when silver values dropped. The Spanish scholar Tomas de Mercado (doc 2), rightly noted that, “high prices ruined Spain”. The Spanish traded their silver for luxurious Chinese commodities, leaving China with the lasting wealth and taking the perishable wealth with them. All of Europe was in this habit of sending gold and silver to Asia and taking back Ming products (doc 8). Others, such as the Portuguese, acted as middlemen, taking China’s goods and exchanging it for Japan’s silver, which would buy them luxury goods to take home (doc 4).
In order to properly analyze the flow of silver some important additional documents are needed. India prospered in the Silver trade, exporting more than it imported, thus some documents from Indian Officials, Merchants and Scholars would be helpful in this discussion. Since Japan was one of the leading Silver producers, documents from her merchants and government would be influential and vital. Silver even made its way up to Imperial Russia; some documents about those northern transactions would assist this argument. Additionally, the documents discussed are from a Spanish Scholar (doc 2) and Priest (doc 6), Ming Writer (doc 5) and Officials (doc 1, 3, 7), and an English Merchant (doc 4) and Scholar (doc 8). Documents from Spanish and Ming Merchants as well as English and Spanish Officials would be beneficial for a complete picture of the how, when, why and who of the flow of Silver.
The trade of silver led to economic prosperity as well as downfall. It led to political innovations and realizations. Ultimately it served to draw the world together in a unified trading network.
This may not make complete sense because it was a DBQ, but there is still some good info... ;)