kaigou: this is what I do, darling (5 bookstack)
[personal profile] kaigou posting in [community profile] dreams_library
Really! I'm seeking any non-fiction/history works that include baseline monetary data for chinese trading ships. Preferably in the mid-Ming dynasty, but I'll settle for Yuan if there's nothing on the early to middle Ming. (Cut-off is about 1600 CE, though Ming ended a little later than that.) So far, I've found plenty about the trade itself, and the politics, but what I can't find is data that would answer questions like:

-- how much would the average sailor make, in whatever length of time (per trip, month, annual)?
-- what were the wholesale costs for various goods (silk, umbrellas, rice, lumber, etc) versus the retail prices at market?
-- what was an average cost to trim out a junk, employ the sailors, and make a trip?

If I could find one set of answers, I could possibly extrapolate from there. I've dug through google books for the really esoteric university press books, like Cushman's Fields from the Sea: Chinese Junk Trade With Siam During the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries which is two hundred years too late, but is a great example of the gap. Cushman actually calculates the wholesale cost, portage taxes, brokerage taxes, and retail profit to determine a ship's per-trip profit... but doesn't say a thing about operating costs. So while 7,000 baht might sound impressive, maybe it's not, if staffing and operational costs came to 6,999 baht! (For a list of the various other titles, see the post that resulted in me being sent here.)

Anyway, I know it's a long shot, but I'm hoping someone here might have an idea of where to look. Also, if book-suggestions aren't available in English, I can handle Mandarin or French, too. TIA!

Date: 2012-05-10 05:13 am (UTC)
dhae_knight_1: My kitten Zasha (Default)
From: [personal profile] dhae_knight_1
I base this on absolutely nothing, but I could easily imagine that sailors would be paid based on the income; in essense get percentages of the profit.

I know that during the Napoleonic wars (I know, different culture *and* the wrong era), sailors were paid a fixed percentage of whatever prizes they took, based on their rank and seniority.

Also, I'm thinking that running costs of a sailing ship is extremely fluent; if you run into a cyclone one year and has to replace a mast, broken timbers and several sails it would be expensive; if, on another year you have smooth sailing, there would be next to no running cost, save that of provisions for however many crew you have.

And, finally, I'm guessing prices would be equally fluent, depending on weather, harvest, demand and supply. As well as local political situations, bandits, pirates, and the capability of the tradesman.

Date: 2012-05-10 05:45 am (UTC)
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)
From: [personal profile] holyschist
Hmmmm. I remember a while back coming across a translation of a couple chapters of the Yuan shih that dealt with trade goods and may have had some values (although what type, I'm not sure)--I don't know how much if any of the Ming shih has been published in any of those languages, but it might be worth trying to hunt down something like that. (If you're not aware, these are dynasty chronicles, assembled about the previous dynasty from umpty bureaucratic records, and they contain vast quantities of assorted minutiae, although they tend not to be commonly translated.)

I'll see if I can find the reference for the Yuan shih chapters.

Date: 2012-05-10 06:17 am (UTC)
msmcknittington: Queenie from Blackadder (Default)
From: [personal profile] msmcknittington
Someone I know has a(n imperfect) system of comparing prices in different eras to the modern day. The friend who introduced it to her usually uses the cost of a gallon of beer -- they call it The Beer Index. Basically, you need the price of an item which is common both then and today, hence the beer, since it's widely available in all cultures. The made-up example she used was beer at $.10/gallon then and for $10/gallon now. That gives a Beer Index of 100, which you then multiply by the then price of whatever it is you're trying to figure out the relative cost of today or help you place that price in context. You can do it for other periods of time, too, which may help you put the earnings in context if you can find values for fitting out a ship for another period.

Now, the reason it is imperfect is that currencies change and the ways and reasons items are valued are not calculated that simply. But for basic items (food, clothing) it helps give you an idea of the ease with which someone can navigate financially within their society.

This probably won't answer your question in the way you'd like, but it might give you a better idea than you have now.

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