Reading Comprehension – Few realise that the government of China, governing an empire


Slot – 1 – RC



Few realise that the government of China, governing an empire of some 60 million people during the Tang dynasty (618–907), implemented a complex financial system that recognised grain, coins and textiles as money Coins did have certain advantages: they were durable, recognisable and provided a convenient medium of exchange, especially for smaller transactions. However, there were also disadvantages. A continuing shortage of copper meant that government mints could not produce enough coins for the entire empire, to the extent that for most of the dynasty’s history, coins constituted only a tenth of the money supply. One of the main objections to calls for taxes to be paid in coin was that peasant producers who could weave cloth or grow grain – the other two major currencies of the Tang – would not be able to produce coins, and therefore would not be able to pay their taxes. . . .

As coins had advantages and disadvantages, so too did textiles. If in circulation for a long period of time, they could show signs of wear and tear. Stained, faded and torn bolts of textiles had less value than a brand new bolt. Furthermore, a full bolt had a particular value. If consumers cut textiles into smaller pieces to buy or sell something worth less than a full bolt, that, too, greatly lessened the value of the textiles. Unlike coins, textiles could not be used for small transactions; as [an official] noted, textiles could not “be exchanged by the foot and the inch” . . .

But textiles had some advantages over coins. For a start, textile production was widespread and there were fewer problems with the supply of textiles. For large transactions, textiles weighed less than their equivalent in coins since a string of coins…… could weigh as much as 4 kg. Furthermore, the dimensions of a bolt of silk held remarkably steady from the third to the tenth century: 56 cm wide and 12 m long ……. The values of different textiles were also more stable than the fluctuating values of coins. . . .

The government also required the use of textiles for large transactions. Coins, on the other hand, were better suited for smaller transactions, and possibly, given the costs of transporting coins, for a more local usage. Grain, because it rotted easily, was not used nearly as much as coins and textiles, but taxpayers were required to pay grain to the government as a share of their annual tax obligations, and official salaries were expressed in weights of grain. . . .

In actuality, our own currency system today has some similarities even as it is changing in front of our eyes. We have cash – coins for small transactions like paying for parking at a meter, and banknotes for other items; cheques and debit/credit cards for other, often larger, types of payments. At the same time, we are shifting to electronic banking and making payments online. Some young people never use cash [and] do not know how to write a cheque . . .

Q.1 During the Tang period, which one of the following would not be an economically sound decision for a small purchase in the local market that is worth one-eighth of a bolt of cloth?
  1. . Paying with a faded bolt of cloth that has approximately the same value.
  2. Making the payment with the appropriate weight of grain.
  3. Cutting one-eighth of the fabric from a new bolt to pay the amount.
  4. . Using coins issued by the government to make the payment.
Answer: 3

Q.2 When discussing textiles as currency in the Tang period, the author uses the words “steady” and “stable” to indicate all of the following EXCEPT:
  1. reliable measurements.
  2. reliable transportation.
  3. reliable supply.
  4. reliable quality.
Answer: 2

Q.3 According to the passage, the modern currency system shares all the following features with that of the Tang, EXCEPT that:
  1. it uses different materials as currency
  2. it uses different currencies for different situations
  3. its currencies fluctuate in value over time.
  4. it is undergoing transformation.
Answer: 4

Q.4 In the context of the passage, which one of the following can be inferred with regard to the use of currency during the Tang era?
  1. Currency that deteriorated easily was not used for official work.
  2. Copper coins were more valuable and durable than textiles.
  3. Grains were the most used currency because of government requirements.
  4. Currency usage was similar to that of modern times.
Answer: 4

Solutions:
Refer to the following extract, “As coins had advantages and disadvantages, so too did textiles. If in circulation for a long period of time, they could show signs of wear and tear. Stained, faded and torn bolts of textiles had less value than a brand new bolt. Furthermore, a full bolt had a particular value. If consumers cut textiles into smaller pieces to buy or sell something worth less than a full bolt, that, too, greatly lessened the value of the textiles. Unlike coins, textiles could not be used for small transactions; as [an official] noted, textiles could not “be exchanged by the foot and the inch…” This extract points to the fact that paying for a small purchase by cutting fabric from a new bolt of cloth was not an economically sound decision for a small purchase. Thus, option 3 is the correct answer.

Q.1 Option 1 is incorrect. If the cloth was already faded its price would already have lessened making payment possible.

Option 2 is also incorrect since grain was required to be paid as taxes to government officials. Therefore, grain could be used for making small payments.

Option 4 is also incorrect because coins were ideally suited for making small payments.

Hence, the correct answer is option 3.

Q.2 Refer to the following extract, “For a start, textile production was widespread and there were fewer problems with the supply of textiles. For large transactions, textiles weighed less than their equivalent in coins since a string of coins . . . could weigh as much as 4 kg. Furthermore, the dimensions of a bolt of silk held remarkably steady from the third to the tenth century: 56 cm wide and 12 m long . . . The values of different textiles were also more stable than the fluctuating values of coins. . . .” Thus, fewer problems with the supply of textiles indicate reliable supply. Textiles weighed less than coins indicated reliable measurements. The values of different textiles indicate reliable quality. Reliable transportation is NOT implied by the words “steady” and “stable”. Therefore, option 2 is the correct answer.

Options 1, 3 and 4 can thus be eliminated.

Hence, the correct answer is option 2.

Q.3 Refer to the following extract, “In actuality, our own currency system today has some similarities (with the Chinese system) even as it is changing in front of our eyes.” From this extract we can see that the the modern currency system shares all the following features with that of the Tang, EXCEPT that it is constantly changing or undergoing transformation. Thus, option 4 is the correct answer.

Options 1, 2 and 3 are thus eliminated.

Hence, the correct answer is option 4.

Q.4 Refer to the following extract, ““In actuality, our own currency system today has some similarities (with the Chinese system) even as it is changing in front of our eyes.” This extract points to option 4 as being the correct answer.

Option 1 is incorrect. Grain, which rotted quickly, was used for official work.

Option 2, too, cannot be inferred. We know copper coins were more durable but they were not more valuable than textiles.

We know grains were used for official work but we are not sure if it was the most used currency. Thus, option 3 is also eliminated.

Hence, the correct answer is option 4.

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