July 26, 2021

“How white metal shaped the world”, when money appears …

Money. A generic term used by all to designate both coins and the wealth of a heritage. However, it has been a long time since our euros or even our old francs, ringing and stumbling, were no longer manufactured in this precious raw material which the discovery of a vein on a mountain in South America constituted, in the 16th century, the starting point of international trade.

In 1581, the emperor of China (Ming dynasty) initiated a reform of the tax system and decided that his subjects would no longer have to pay taxes in tasks and products but in money. Rare in China, this metal is mainly imported from Japan but demand quickly exceeds supply. In exchange for luxury goods of which it has a monopoly, China then organizes the importation of this precious resource from the Spanish colonial mines of Potosí, on the former territory of Peru. Manila, in the Spanish colony of the Philippines, became the hub of this immediately lucrative business. For the first time, the entire planet forms a global network, the central element of which is money. This allows the successive emperors of China to become the most influential men on the planet.

In the 16th century, the Ming ruled over a quarter of the world’s population. Since Marco Polo’s journey in the 13th century, the whole world has been fascinated by the vastness of the country and its refinement. More advanced than the western kingdoms, the Chinese see themselves as the center of the world. This is evidenced by the famous “Map of the myriad countries of the world” produced for the emperor, on which the cartographer placed China in the center. The “Middle Empire” will keep this place for three centuries before the decline, which the Chinese call “the century of humiliation”.

Full of anecdotes, details and analyzes of historians, the first episode of this documentary series takes us on a journey, from the 16th to the 18th century, from Latin America to Asia. And in the process deconstructed Western ethnocentrism to retrace world economic history from the point of view of the Empire.

Saturday May 30 at 8:50 p.m. on Arte. Documentary series of Michael Burke and Graeme Hart (2018, 1, 2 and 3/3). 3 x 52 min. (Available in replay until June 18 on Arte.tv).