There were mines and smelters located in all the provinces of Ch'ing China before the nineteenth century. Their sizes varied greatly, as did their role in the local as well as national economy. Government policy regarding these industries was not based on a uniform code, but rather reflected a body of principles that served as guidelines for coping with each individual situation as it arose. Indeed, reading the early Ch'ing documents on mining leaves one at first with the impression that the authorities were eternally debating over the question, “to mine or not to mine.” Upon closer examination it soon becomes clear, however, that “mining affairs” were far from being administered along haphazard lines. It is the intention of this paper to describe some of the basic factors that went into the making of government decisions regarding mineral enterprises. In doing this, it would be helpful to keep these questions in mind: how did the mineral industries fit into the general framework of an agrarian-based civil bureaucracy? In the application of policy, did the government invariably let its actions be determined by a priori conceptions, or did it base decisions on pragmatic grounds? What sort of relation was generally accepted as the norm between the government and the operators of the enterprises in the instances where government interest was manifest?

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