The Late-Ming "Mine Tax" Reconsidered

No episode in the annals of Ming monarchical overreach has a more notorious reputation than the ‘Mine Tax’ crisis (1596-1606), when the Wanli emperor (r. 1572-1620) ordered palace eunuchs to lead the ‘opening of mines’ for silver and other metals across the empire. The result was a decade of little mining and much extortion of bullion, as well as intense bureaucratic and public resistance. But the Mine Tax involved more than one monarch’s idiosyncratic bullion grab and a righteous Confucian backlash. Drawing on a host of contemporary sources, my talk surveys the late-Ming context to the Tax’s inception, early-Qing responses to the Mine Tax, and reflections on the Tax in Qing statecraft literature, arguing that the Tax sheds light on a sustained late-Ming and early-Qing debate about bullion, trade, monarchical authority, and tax form, with parallels across early-modern Eurasia and implications for Chinese political economy well beyond the seventeenth century.