Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dear skins

One hundred years before the birth of Christ, China was ruled by the Han Emperor Wu Ti. To his embarrassment, WuTi found himself desperately short of cash and sought some ingenious device to milk his noblemen of their excess wealth.
It was his wily Prime Minister who devised the cunning plan that saved the imperial finances. As a first step, the emperor appropriated all the white deer in his domain, enclosing them in the royal park. Then he decreed that all princes and courtiers wishing to enter the imperial presence must, as an essential point of protocol, wear a white deerskin mask. The deerskin could, of course, be bought - at an extortionate price - only from the emperor himself.
In an attempt to avoid impoverishment by the emperor's new decree, a nobleman who had bought one of the expensive skins would offer to pass it on to a colleague, in return for goods or services. And in this way, the deer skins became established as a form of currency, one of the world's best-attested example of leather money.

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