Many of the arguments which Viceroy Chang advanced against the adoption of the gold standard were unsound from a purely theoretical standpoint. Like many other Chinese statesmen he had neither the experience nor the knowledge necessary to discuss financial questions in general. But he had sufficient common sense and the experience of his own people to understand what was good or otherwise for China. He maintained, and rightly, that European countries used gold because of their high commercial and industrial development, high wages and high prices. The adoption of a standard must depend on the economic condition of a country. Describing the state of affairs, Chang made the following very apposite statement:
"The people are poor, products of labour cheap, labour and personal service unremunerative, the common people economical in their way of living. Therefore the daily expenditures are usually reckoned in terms of the cash. A poor man limits his daily expenses to not over 20 cash, those of the well-to-do classes to not more than 60/70 cash. In trade centres along the sea coast and the Yangtsze River gold and silver, bullion or coins, circulate side by side with the cash; but goods from the interior, whether wholesale or retail, are always valued in terms of the cash. Although in wholesale transactions silver bullion is also used, the cash is always taken as the standard coin. Generally speaking, in the cities of the Provinces of Kwangtung, Kwangsi, Yunnan, Kiangsi, Chekiang and Kiangsu, 70/80 per cent, of the business is done in silver currency, the remaining 20/30 per cent, in the copper cash; in the trade centres along the banks of the upper Yangtsze business is done, partly in silver and partly in cash; in the interior towns on both sides of the Yangtsze the proportions are 10 per cent, in silver and 90 per cent. in cash; in the provinces along the Huang River 98/99 per cent, is cash and the rest is in silver. Taking the country as a whole, the copper-using area is ten times as much as the silver using area. Hence it is easily seen that China is actually a copper using country, although foreigners consider it only in the light of a silver-using country. How much more different, therefore, is China from foreign countries where it is found suitable to use gold, on account of the enormous wealth and the high level of prices prevailing in these countries." Chang therefore was against the introduction of gold, in any form, as the national currency. As a far-seeing statesman, he was well aware of the need for change. He advocated the use of silver as the standard. He adduced a very important argument in favour of the adoption of silver. He said that if gold became dear and silver cheap, it would be a great encouragement to the development of export trade; consequently domestic industry would spring up in course of time and China would become economically independent.
Chang followed his plea for the silver standard by another memorial proposing the introduction of a uniform national silver coinage based on the weight of a tael. Chang was Viceroy of the Hukwang at the time, and he suggested that an experiment be made in Wuchang first, and if successful the scheme be adopted by the whole country. Chang proposed the tael coinage; there was a strong body of opinion against the tael and in favour of the dollar, which was 72 by 100 of the weight of the tael. Chang argued that the adoption of the dollar as a unit was not feasible because the adjustment, especially in the case of the land and grain commutation, where the fractions are carried to a millionth part of a tael,* would become exceedingly difficult. Imperial sanction was accorded to Viceroy Chang's proposal and the Government was awaiting the result of the experiment at Wuchang.