Proposal preview

Between Gold and Silver: Asia in the Age of Two Standards, 1873–1935

Research on the monetary and financial history of modern Asia has surged in recent years, and the region is no longer the blank space it was in the international monetary histories of a generation ago. Nonetheless, these research results have yet to be incorporated into most accounts of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century globalization. Moreover, historians have given most attention to the gold standard; there has been much less exploration of how the gold standard operated as part of a larger monetary ecology. Questions involving the interworking of gold and silver standards were especially significant in Asia, where most standard money (for long-distance trade, for banknote issue) was silver at the beginning of the period, where silver became the basis for modernized unitary currency systems in several countries, and where silver persisted as the standard of the largest country, China, until 1935. Other connected questions include the role of money creation in imperial projects, particularly the invention and regional salience of gold-exchange standards, whereby silver remained the mainstay of circulation; the role of banks and banknotes; and the role of Asian monetary flows and reserves in stabilizing the London-centered world monetary order (and in destabilizing Asian economies and societies at several decisive moments). Finally there is the question of how the international gold and silver standards together constituted a single system, as seen in their conjoined origins in the 1870s and in their simultaneous demise in the 1930s. Panelists approach these questions by examining some macro-level effects of the first great appreciation of gold (more often described as a depreciation of silver) after 1873; Japan’s first, unsuccessful attempt to adopt a gold standard after 1871 (which would have made Japan a very early adopter); Japan’s successful adoption of a silver-standard/central banking system in the 1880s; the role of metallic moneys and precious metal flows in British colonial expansion in Asia and the Indian Ocean; the critical mediating role of the British and later Japanese exchange banks between the gold and silver standards; the Kemmerer mission to China and its attempt to institute a gold-exchange standard there; the end of the silver standard in China compared with the end of the silver standard in Mexico; synthetic commentary on some lessons of these experiences.


  • Mark Metzler, University of Washington,,
  • Niv Horesh, Nottingham University,,

Session members

  • Jordan Biets, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies,
  • Harald Fuess, University of Heidelberg,
  • Niv Horesh, Nottingham University,
  • Gopalan Balachandran, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies,
  • Simon Bytheway, Nihon University,
  • Steven Ericson, Dartmouth College, Steven.J.Ericson@Dartmouth.EDU
  • Tomotaka Kawamura, University of Tokyo,
  • Michael Schiltz, Graduate Institute Geneva,
  • Tomoko Shiroyama, University of Tokyo,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Marc Flandreau, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies,