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Book Chapter

Light, Noble, and Rare Metals

January 01, 1975


As in all other major culture-areas of the world, gold and probably silver were the first metals known to the inhabitants of Ancient China. The oldest gold adornments and implements unearthed in China so far belong to the Shang Dynasty (1562–1066 B.C.), and are not any older than the bronze unearthed with them [21, p.ll3]. Some historians of Ancient China, however, write that gold was in use in the reign of Shun, a legendary emperor of the pre-Hsia period, who lived according to the Chinese classics in the 22nd century B.C., or even in Fu Hsi times, about the middle of the fourth millenium B.C. Liu An of the Former Han Dynasty (202 B.C. – A.D. 23), for instance, writes in Huainan Tzu that “Shun stored his gold deep in the mountains“ [49, ch.20, p.17a], whereas Ma Tuan-lin, a Yuan (1280–1367) historian, in his Wen-hsien T’ung-kao claims that “in Fu Hsi times gold coins had been made for the benefit of the people” [cited in 5, p.323]. If the latter claim is even partly substantiated, then the appearance of gold as a medium of exchange (not npcessarily in the form of coins) in China would coincide roughly with the period of the Code of Menes, which is believed to be of the 36th century B.C. and which sets the value of gold as “equal to two and a half parts of silver” [50, 13, p.ll.]. Chinese classics contain references to the “three metals” (gold, silver, and copper) brought to the

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GSA Microform Publication

Mineral Resources of China

A. B. Ikonnikov
A. B. Ikonnikov
Department of Economics, Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National Universtiy
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Geological Society of America
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Publication date:
January 01, 1975




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