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Ancient Chinese Currencies

         Money emerged spontaneously in the circulation of commodities. In ancient China, cowries and livestock were used as a medium of exchange in the late Neolithic period. This kind of money substitute was gradually replaced by the -weight metals and cast coins in the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Later the cast coins as the major form of ancient Chinese currency developed very systematically. After Qin’s unification of the country, the round- with-a central-square-hole -coins superseded till the Ming and Qing dynasties, though they varied in style with ages. By the time of Song dynasty Chinese paper notes appeared and were popularly used in Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. The silver dollars appeared in the Qing Daoguang reign period, and minted silver and copper coins circulated since the Qing Guangxu reign period. The development of monetary system in the ancient China has a close connection with the history of Chinese economy and politics.


(一)Some basic knowledge of ancient Chinese coins


1. Cowry

       it was a kind material media of exchange used in the late Xai dynasty. Those of the Shang dynasty usually have teeth at one side and a hole for stringing at the flatly polished back. As natural cowries were limited in quantity, copies made of stone, seashells, bone and bronze were also used in circulation. Bronze Cowries, therefore, became the first Chinese cast coins.

2.  Weight metals

       It refers to smelted metal pieces without any denomination used as money in commodity exchanges. They were valued by the weight and material quality in circulation. For instance, gold plates were used in the Chu State during the Warring sates period.


3. Cast coin

       It is a kind of metal money cast in certain shapes, sizes and weights with certain denominations, and legally issued for circulation.

4. Spade-shaped coin

        It is a kind of cast coin in the shape of a farm tool-spade, with a hollow handle at the beginning and a solid one in the Warring States period.


5. Sword-shaped coin

        It is also a cast coin in a sword shape with a ring at the end of the handle.

6. Round Coins

         There are two types of cast round coins in ancient China: one with a round hole in the center like ring, the other with a square hole in the center.



 7. Engraved coin models

       The original coin models were engraved from pieces of copper or tin. The first coins cast from the moulds of the original engraved models were called “model coins” that usually were not used in later circulation, and the coins in circulation were cast after the “model coins”. Being so rare and in such a high quality, the engraved coin models are of great value for collection and study today.

8. Iron coins’ model

       There were two cast coins in ancient China; one was of iron, the other of bronze. The iron coins’ models, however, were made of bronze. During the Guangxu reign period of the Qing dynasty, the Western coin mint technology was introduced into China. Zhang zhidong, the governor-general of Guangdong and Guangxi region, set up a mint in Guangzhou with some machines brought from Britain and made the first Chinese minted coins-silver and copper dollars-in the fifteenth year of Guangxu reign.


  (二) Samples of some important coins

        Cowry-shaped bronze coin cowry-shaped bronze coins were cast in the Chu state during the Warring states period. They usually have inscription of strange characters. One character often seen on them looks like an ant in form, another one like a monster’s face .So the latter could also be called monster face coin.


1. Gold coins

         The Chu state was the first in ancient China to cast gold coins with certain form-a plate or a cake. Both have a stamped inscription-Ying Cheng.Ying is the capital name of Chu state, Cheng used as the name of the money. So it was also called Yuan Jin meaning gold coins. They were valued by its weight in circulation.

2. Ban Liang( half teal ) coin

       The Qin Ban Liang coins, in a round-with-a-central –square-hole-form, became a national legal currency since the first emperor united the country. The denomination Ban Lang refers to its weight, which equals 7.5 gram.



3. Wu Zhu( five Zhu) coin

       Wu Zhu coins, about 3 gram each cast in the Wudi reign perod of the Han dynasty. As the denomination met well the needs of circulation, it was continuously used till the Sui dynasty.

4. Xin Mang coins

       As a result of four reformations of monetary by the Xin Mang government (9-23a.d), the Wu Zhu coin system was seriously destroyed and a great chaos of currency appeared in the country.

       However , the newly issued coins of various metals, in various forms and with regularly graded denominations were very delicately cast. The bronze coin inscriptions were specially neat and fine.


5.Kai Yaun Tong Bao coin

       In 621, the 4th year of Tang Emperor Wude, Kai yuan Tong Bao coins were formally issued and the former Wu Zhu coin system was abolished. As the major currency of Tang dynasty, each Kai Yuan Tong Bao coin weighed one-tenth Liang ( tale, each tale then equals 42 gram), which began the decimal system in ancient China. Tong Bao and Yuan Bao were the names of money.

6.Jiao Zi

       In the Song dynasty, iron coins were popularly used in Sicuan province. As they were small in value and heavy for carrying, merchants issued a kind of paper note called jiao zi for trade, which became the earliest paper in the world.

7. Silver ingot

      Since the Tang and song dynasties (618-1279), silver had been more often used as a kind of money in circulation. It was cast in various forms and ingot was the most common one.




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