Sunday, August 21, 2011

The math is mind-boggling!

The Marble Boat
As part of my duties as topic editor for Chinese history, I wrote an article on how Express Dowager Cixi embezzled  money from the Chinese navy to renovate the Marble Boat at the Summer Palace. The boat was built by Emperor Qianlong in 1755 and destroyed by foreign forces in the Second Opium War. Cixi wanted the boat refurbished for her 60th birthday. Work started in 1888 and ended in 1893.

OK, here is where I get overwhelmed by the math. One credible source says she stole 30 million taels of silver to pay for the project, which also included work around Longevity Hill at the Beijing historical site.
From research, I learned that a tael is 1.3 ounces of silver, so that would work out to 39 million ounces of silver.

Back then, at least in the United States, silver had a set value of $1.29 per ounce, though the market value was somewhere around 60 cents an ounce. If I have done my math correctly, that works out to $22.4 million. I cannot imagine any construction project costing that much money back then, even if the project did take five years to complete.

But wait: It gets better. The price of silver today is about $42 an ounce, give or take a few dimes. Multiply $42 by 39 million, and the figure is an astronomical $1,638 trillion. Someone please tell tell me I didn't do the math right.

By contract, the Chinese government spent only $17.7 million to renovate the Summer Palace and two other major parks for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

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