How Silver Changed the World by South China Morning Post

The final chapter in his series on the birth of globalisation by Deputy Head of Infographics for the South China Morning Post, Adolfo Arranz is the story of ‘how silver changed the world’. Using historical data, Arranz explores the sea route plied by Spanish galleons to establish trade with China. These European vessels became known as China Ships. They transported silver from the Americas to exchange for goods in Asia, mostly commodities of Chinese origin.
Arranz explains how Spain was able to capitalise on China’s insatiable appetite for silver through its colonial mint in the Bolivian city, Potosi, which mined an estimated 60% of the world’s ilver by the late 16th century.
The trade of silver between China and Europe via the Americas, mainly through the use of Spanish pieces of eight, continues to influence today’s currencies with establishment of the silver ‘dollar’ as the first universal currency.
Cultural interchange between continents followed. The first overseas Chinese neighborhoods were built in Manila and Mexico City. Chinese vendors sold Asian goods at competitive prices. Customers could discover fine Chinese porcelain, diamonds, ivory, fabrics from China and other Asian countries, rubies, emeralds, spices from the Moluccas and many other exotic Asian goods. Asia’s oldest operational university was established in Manila in 1611. Books began to be translated and published from Chinese into European languages as early as 1586.
Chinese fabrics were highly prized and influenced fashion and design. Over the years Chinese shawls became fashionable throughout Europe, especially in 19th century Paris. The reverberations of these discoveries continue to be felt today. In Spain, the Manila shawl, which has Cantonese origins, is still a must-have for flamenco dancers.