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Three Kingdoms History: Ancient Chinese Coins
While enjoying the rich stories, personalities, and lessons of the Three Kingdoms era, it is all too easy to forget that this is all taking place within a unique culture. A culture full traditions, unique weapons, armor, and clothing, unique pottery—and coins. That’s right, coins! If you are a coin collector, you are already very curious. If not, read on and enjoy this section. You might find it much more interesting than you anticipated. Presenting a detailed coin-by-coin analysis, presented, photographed, and written by Adrian Loder (web site and more coins discussion full credits) of Chinese coins ranging from the Early Han dynasty on into the Jin. And let’s not forget the Three Kingdoms!
Additional Reading and Goodies
Western Han: Ban Liang Coins
Western Han Ban Liang—c. 206–180 BC Emperor Liu Bang, temple name Han Gaozu (to 195 BC), Emperor Liu Ying, posthumous name Xiaohui Huangdi (195–188 BC), Empress Dowager Lu Zhi, temple name Gaohou (188–180 BC). This coin could conceivably come from the time of any of these rulers. Additonally, as there is little differentiation between Qin dynasty Ban Liang and early Western Han Ban Liang, it could even be a late-Qin issue, c. 220–206 BC under Emperor Ying Zheng, better known as Qin Shi Huangdi.
The characters of this coin were heavily obscured and I really felt more was underneath the patina than was showing. In my inexperience I used commercial-grade hydrochloric acid to remove the patina. Now everything is clearly visible, but it is quite ugly. I plan on re-toning it with Deller’s Darkener to improve the appearance and help prevent ugly, modern patina from forming.
Here’s another of the same variety, more likely to date to post-Gaozu times though as the diameter is a bit smaller—30 mm as compared to 32 mm. The patina is beautiful on this coin—the blue is pretty well visible in the scan, but there are also purple crystals that have formed on the top and bottom of the reverse. They don’t show too well in the scan, but in natural sunlight the blue and purple shows up brilliantly.
Yu Jia Ban Liang—“Elm Seed”, so-called for the small size. c. 200–180 BC Supposed to have been introduced because the Qin-size were inconvenient.
Western Han Ban Liang—“twill” Ban character. Appears to be one of the varieties supposedly of 4 zhu in weight though in reality they were/are lighter than this. c. 179–118 BC The rulers of this time were Emperor Wen, Liu Heng, temple name Taizong (180–157 BC), Emperor Jing, Liu Qi, posthumous name Xiaojing Huangdi (157–141 BC) and Emperor Wu, Liu Che, temple name Shizong (141–87 BC). Emperor Jing apparently did not have new coins minted but used the coins minted under Emperor Wen. I suppose that the “twill” character could be used to narrow the dating down, though I have found no info on this variety. Specimen does not appear to have rims, which means it is more likely to be from Emperor Wen’s time.
More of the same general sort as above, no rims, officially 4 zhu weight/value. No twill Ban character however, and the bottom of the Liang is like a “sideways E” as Cast Chinese Coins states, as opposed to the above, where the bottom of the Liang is like an M. These seem to be Hartill 7.17.
Western Han Ban Liang—similar to the other small ones except that these appear to have rims, which would date them to the reign of Emperor Wu, c. 136–119 BC Based on the shape of the Liang and the quality workmanship they seem to be Hartill 7.32. Note the reverses: both show the impressions of characters from other Ban Liang buried/stored/hoarded with them, created over time as the obverse of the other coin pressed against them.
Another specimen with rims, they’re easier to make out on this one because the edge of the coin has not been filed down. Additionally, the calligraphy on the Ban character is somewhat different, with the middle three vertical bars more narrowed.
Another specimen that appears to have outer rims, if so this would seem to be Hartill 7.32 as with the coins at the top of the page.
Ban Liang—This specimen has no rims and resembles a variety of early Western Han Ban Liang known as Wu Fen—“five cut” or cut into fifths. Meaning, the coins were one fifth of the normal 12 zhu weight, which would be 2.4 zhu. As a result those coins have wide center holes and narrow, lanky characters. This is not a Wu Fen, but a rarer, heavier variety with the same sort of casting style, possibly an ancient counterfeit from the time of the Wu Fen coins.
Ban Liang—This specimen is cast from lead. Fairly crusty but the characters, which are quite thin, are visible. It also has inner and outer rims, making it a later issue, possibly an ancient counterfeit or private casting from the time of the other rimmed Ban Liang, as at this time Western Han had little need to resort to casting coins from lead.
This is simply another Western Han Ban Liang of the 4 zhu variety. This specimen is rimless and the Liang is the “M”-shape style. Very nice, prominent characters on this specimen so while it is nothing extravagant or special it is a nice example of its type.
All coin photographs and instructive text © Copyright 2006 Adrian Loder (Website)
Primary sources: David Hartill’s Cast Chinese Coins (ISBN: 1-4120-5466-4), Robert Kokotailo’s Calgary Coins Website
Extended Credit and Copyright Details
“Drilled Hole” Ban Liang Coins
The ban liang coin was the official money of the state of Qin during the Warring States period. When Qin Shi Huang conquered the various “warring states” and unified China for the first time in 221 BC, the ban liang became the official coinage of the empire. The ban liang continued as the official currency even into the beginning of the Han Dynasty.
An article in a Chinese numismatic publication introduces a newly discovered and never seen before variety of the Chinese ban liang coin. In addition to the normal square hole in the center of the coin, these coins have an additional one or two holes drilled into them.
The Volume One 2010 edition of “China Numismatics” has an article entitled “Zhangjiachuan Prefecture Excavates ‘Drilled Hole’ Ban Liang“.
The author explains that in the summer of 2006 he bought about 200 recently unearthed ban liang coins. The coins were excavated in Zhangjiachuan prefecture of Gansu Province in northwest China.
Among the coins purchased were a few of a variety that had neither been seen before or reported in the literature.
As can be seen in the illustration*, these coins have one or two additional holes.
The author states that these coins were cast in the state of Qin during the middle to late Warring States Period (475 BC – 221 BC). The coins range in diameter of 23-33 mm and in weight of 1-8 grams.
The coin shown here has the largest drilled hole but is actually the smallest and lightest of the coins with a diameter of 23 mm and a weight of only 1 gram.
The additional holes are in various areas above or below the square hole. Some have one large hole while others have two smaller holes.
The author carefully examined each coin and determined that the holes, while not perfectly round, were definitely intentionally made by hand after the casting of the coin. The holes are not the result of poor casting technique. The holes were apparently drilled in the larger and thicker areas of each coin and placed so as to avoid damaging the Chinese character inscription.
Unfortunately, the specifics as to where the coins were dug up is unknown so we do not know if the coins were buried in a pit or came from a tomb. Knowing whether the coins came from a buried cache or from a grave could help provide an explanation as to the reason for the holes.
The author speculates that the holes were not made so that the coins could be worn as an ornament or pendant because the off-center placement of the holes would not allow the coin to hang correctly.
Since coins were a symbol of wealth, it is possible that they may have been burial objects.
The author concludes that no matter what the ultimate purpose, the holes were intentionally handmade and not the result of inferior casting technique.
As I discuss in detail at “Emergence of Chinese Charms“, ban liang coins began to appear with various marks and symbols at the beginning of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 24 AD). These symbols include “stars” (dots), “moons” (crescents), “suns” (circles), etc., and symbols on coins gradually became more and more complex until they finally developed into true charms and amulets.
While the purpose of the additional holes on the newly discovered ban liang coins remain unknown, they may very well have been the precursor to the “stars” ,”moons” and “suns” that appeared on the later Han Dynasty coins.
* Color added to black & white image to enhance features
Hello Gary. I’m an avid coin collector and I’m very interested in ancient Chinese coins.
First at all, let me tell you how impressed I am about your web site and the knowledge you have for Chinese coins and history. I truly learned a lot from you.
It’s a very interesting article that make me wonder if there are more different varieties of Ban Liang coins out there. I personally have a Ban Liang coin that I couldn’t find any identical one from internet. It has normal script of Ban Liang from right to left, but when you turn it 90 degree clockwise, there’s another script of Ban Liang from right to left. If you would like, I could send you a picture later on.
From your description, I think your ban liang is similar to this one.
Crescents are "Moons"
Another common symbol is the crescent which is a short curved line similar to a semicircle. Crescents sometimes resemble the mark a fingernail would make if pressed on a soft surface.
This is an example of a moon or crescent and the Chinese variously refer to these marks as "moon lines" ( yuewen 月纹), "nail lines" ( jiawen 甲纹), or "moon marks" ( yuehen 月痕).
Crescents are found both on the obverse and reverse of coins.
While the single crescent is the most common, coins with two, three, or four crescents also exist.
Crescents are believed to symbolize the "moon" and were first seen on ban liang coins of the Western Han Dynasty.
Prior to the establishment of the Qing dynasty, the Aisin Gioro clan established the Later Jin dynasty, named after the Jin dynasty of the Wanyan clan.  Nurhaci had united the many tribes of the Jianzhou and Haixi Jurchens under the leadership of the Aisin Gioro clan,  and later ordered the creation of Manchu script based on the Mongolian vertical script.   In 1636, Hong Taiji renamed the realm to "Great Qing",  and the Jurchen people into the Manchu people, while adopting policies which fostered ethnic inclusivity.  
In 1616, the Later Jin began producing their own cash coins, the coins issued under Nurhaci were written in an older version of Manchu script without any diacritics, and generally bigger than Later Jin coins with Chinese inscriptions. Under Hong Taiji these coins bore the legend that they had a nominal weight of 10 qián (or 1 tael) modelled after contemporary Ming dynasty coinage, but in reality weighed less.
The following coins were issued by the Later Jin:   
In 1644, the Qing dynasty captured Beijing from the Shun dynasty,  and then marched south capturing the forces loyal to the Ming.  One of the first monetary policies they enacted was accepting Ming dynasty cash coins at only half the value of Qing dynasty cash coins, because of this Ming era coinage was removed from circulation to be melted into Qing dynasty coinage, this is why in modern times even Song dynasty coins are more common than those from the more recent Ming dynasty. 
Early history Edit
At first the Qing government set the exchange rate between bronze and silver at 1 wén of bronze per lí (釐, or 厘) of silver, and 1000 lí of silver would be 1 tael (两), thus one string of 1000 bronze cash coins equated to a single tael of silver. 
The Shunzhi Emperor created the Ministry of Revenue and the Ministry of Public Works in Beijing to oversee the casting of bronze cash coins,  these ministries produced 400,000 strings of cash coins annually.  Later the Shunzhi Emperor ordered military garrisons to start minting their own coinage, and though the official weight for cash coins was first set at 1 qián, in 1645 this increased to 1.2 qián, and by 1651 this had become 1.25 qián. In 1660 the order was given to re-open provincial mints and have them cast their mint names in Manchu script.  The standard copper-alloy was 60% copper and 40% lead and/or zinc, yet diverse market conditions dictated what would be the de facto composition.  This official composition was officially changed over time, initially it was at a ratio of 3:2 (3 parts copper to 2 parts lead and zinc). 
The coins produced under the Shunzhi Emperor were modeled after Tang dynasty Kai Yuan Tong Bao coins, as well as early Ming dynasty coins, and have a Chinese mint mark on their reverses these were produced from 1644 until 1661, though these coins had a large range of mint marks from various provinces all over China, from 1644 until 1645 there were also Shùn Zhì Tōng Bǎo (順|治通寶) coins being cast with blank reverses.  
Kangxi era Edit
Under the Kangxi Emperor in 1662 the government closed all provincial mints with the notable exception of the one in Jiangning, but in 1667 all of the provincial mints were re-opened but many closed down again soon afterwards as the price of copper had steadily increased.  Those responsible for the transportation of copper rarely made the mints in time, and while copper prices were rising daily the Ministry of Revenue still maintained a fixed rate of exchange between copper and silver causing many provincial mints to quickly lose money, while on paper they were still profitable.  
In 1684 the amount of copper in the alloys if cash coins was reduced from 70% to 60% all while the standard weight was lowered to 1 qián again, while the central government's mints in Beijing started producing cash coins with a weight of 0.7 qián. By 1702 all provincial mints were closed again due to the aforementioned circumstances. 
Yongzheng era Edit
Under the Yongzheng Emperor various measures were undertaken to ensure a vast supply of cash coins, though the weight was increased to 1.4 qián per wén, the copper content was lowered from 60% to 50% in 1727. In 1726 the Ministry of Revenue was split into 4 agencies each named after a wind direction, and in 1728 all provincial mints were ordered to open again as only the mint of Yunnan was operating prior to this order, and finally in 1728 the Ministry of Public Works mint was split into a "new Ministry of Public Works mint", and an "old Ministry of Public Works mint". Though by 1733 the Qing government realised that the costs of making standard cash coins at a weight of 1.4 qián was too much, so they lowered it back to 1.2 qián. 
In 1725 the province of Yunnan had 47 operating furnaces. In 1726 the governour of Yunnan, Ortai made the province's coin minting industry more profitable by implementing new systems for regular, and supplemental casting as well as for casting scrap metal making sure that only regular cast coins would carry full production costs, he also closed down mints in the province with a lower production efficiency and started exporting Yunnan's coins to other provinces. This system proved so successful that other provinces started to adopt these reforms. 
Qianlong era Edit
During the first few years of the reign of the Qianlong Emperor China had suffered from a shortage of cash coins due to the contemporary scarcity of copper, but soon Yunnan's copper mines started producing a large surplus of copper allowing the Qing government to swiftly increase the money supply and minting more coins at a faster pace.  In the middle of the Qianlong era as much as 3,700,000 strings of cash were produced annually.  In 1741 coins were ordered to be made of an alloy of 50% copper, 41.5% zinc, 6.5% lead, and 2% tin to reduce the likelihood of people melting down coins to make utensils, all while the Qing government encouraged to sell their utensils to the state mints to be melted into coinage.  The addition of the 2% tin caused the Chinese people to dub these cash coins qingqian (青錢, "green cash"). 
By the end of the Qianlong era, Yunnan's copper mines started depleting the production of cash coins, and the copper content was debased once more. 1794 all provincial mints were forced to close their doors, but subsequently reopened in 1796. 
During the Battle of Ngọc Hồi-Đống Đa in 1788 special Qián Lóng Tōng Bǎo coins were minted with An nan (安南) on their reverse sides as a payment for soldiers. 
Qianlong coinage in Xinjiang Edit
In 1759 the Qing dynasty had conquered most of what would become the Xinjiang province,  [ page needed ] as native coinages of the old Khanates were being deprecated in favour of Chinese cash coins, new cash coins made of (nearly) pure copper to reflect local pūl (ﭘول) coins were minted that were red in colour and weighed 2 qián.   Under Qianlong new mints were established in Yining City,  Aksu, Yarkant,  and Ushi city. Xinjiang coins of the Qianlong era had reverse inscriptions in both Manchu and Turkic scripts. Even after the death of the Qianlong Emperor the Jiaqing Emperor ruled that 1 in 5 coins produced in Xinjiang should bear the inscription Qián Lóng Tōng Bǎo (乾隆通寶) to honour Qianlong, and celebrate his conquest of the region, this rule stayed in place even until the end of the Qing dynasty. 
Jiaqing era Edit
Under the Jiaqing Emperor the Chinese population had reached 300,000,000 which was twice as much as just a century prior, famines had plagued the land, the government was corrupt, and hoards of secret Anti-Manchu organisations popped up everywhere, stability would not return until 1803 but this had come at tremendously high costs.  [ page needed ] The Qing government started to increase quotas for the production of copper cash coins while constantly changing the standard content of the alloys beginning with 60% copper, and 40% zinc in 1796 to 54% copper, 43% zinc, and 3% lead not long after.  Corruption plagued the provincial mints, and the exchange rate between cash and taels rose from 900 wén for 1 tael of silver to 1200 wén for a single tael, this was also due to a large outflow of silver to European and American merchants which pressured the Chinese monetary system.  Under the Jiaqing Emperor an annual quota of 2,586,000 strings of cash coins for production was set, but in reality this number was rarely met. 
Daoguang era Edit
Under the Daoguang Emperor China's silver reserves were depleting due to the trade of opium with other countries, and as Chinese cash coins were based on the silver standard this eventually lead to the debasement of Qing era cash coinage under Daoguang because the costs of producing cast copper coins was higher by about one third than the face value of the cast coins themselves, by 1845 2,000 wén was needed for a single tael of silver.  Coins produced under the Daoguang Emperor tend to be diminutive compared to earlier Qing dynasty coinage because of this reason.  
Under the Daoguang Emperor a new mint was established at Kucha in the Xinjiang province with coins cast there bearing the mark "庫" as well as coins with the reverse side inscription of "新" to circulate within the aforementioned province that was far away from China proper. 
Lin Zexu suggested in the year 1833 to create a series of Daoguang Tongbao (道光通寶) cash coins with a weight of 0.5 tael, and that two of these cash coins would be exchangeable for one tael of silver.  But this proposal was not adopted. 
Inflation during the 19th century Edit
Under the Xianfeng Emperor several large wars such as the Nian, Miao, Panthay and Taiping rebellions, and the Second Opium War plagued the Qing dynasty, because of the military actions undertaken in these wars copper could no longer be shipped from the south (particularly from the copper rich Yunnan) leading not only to a debasement of the copper content in cash coins, but also to a large increase in denominations to keep paying for the high military expenditures and other governmental costs, this inevitably lead to large inflation.   Various other factors also lead to inflation such as a rapidly increasing population, and famines.
The Xianfeng Emperor also started issuing large quantities of new banknotes, the Hù Bù Guān Piào (戶|部官票),  and Dà Qīng Bǎo Chāo (大|清寶鈔)  were issued as a means to pay for the wars fought under Xianfeng, but because of the Qing dynasty's low silver reserves these banknotes couldn't be backed up. 
Coinage struck under Xianfeng wasn't standard either though ranging from denominations as low as 1 wén to as high as 1000 wén, it wasn't uncommon for coins with a face value of 50 wén to be heavier than 100 wén coins, and 100 wén coins to be even be heavier than 1000 wén coins. Despite the larger denominations, existing lower denominations were also heavily debased with the 1 wén denomination being standardised back to 1 qián.    Despite the larger denominations of 500 and 1000 being ordered to be cast of pure copper, and illegal producers of these coins were executed by the government en masse, the general population still had no faith in the larger denominations (mostly because a 1000 wén coin only had the intrinsic value of twenty 1 wén cash coins), eventually all denominations larger than 10 wén were withdrawn and the 10 wén coins would continue to be minted in Beijing until the reign of the Guangxu Emperor. 
Both the inflationary policy of debasing the copper currencies and the issuance of inconvertible paper money were also largely confined to the Beijing capital region and the immediate neighbouring provinces, this was due to the Qing government's limited political control over much of China at the time of Taiping Rebellion.   During this era the introduction of the "big cash coins" unit in the capital city made interregional a lot more difficult to conduct because of the regional currency units that existed. 
In the year 1883 the imperial government of the Qing dynasty made an attempt to restore the copper-alloy cash coins back to their original units, because the new units had created chaos among private money shops in China who were willing to pay premium copper-alloy cash coins to call back their own privately produced banknotes that were issued in "Beijing cash" (Jingqian) units.  This was done out of a fear of the large capital cost of having to later redeem their banknotes that were based on the previous standards of copper-alloy cash coins. 
The coinage issued during the Xianfeng period were both limited in number and in their commercial use.  During the entire eleven years of the Xianfeng era there has been an estimated total output of 18,789,580 strings including standard copper-alloy cash coins (Zhiqian), large denomination cash coins (Daqian), and iron cash coins (Tieqian), this was the equivalent to around 9,400,000 taels of silver (based on the official government exchange rate).  As the average annual expenditures of the imperial government were around 11,800,000 taels of silver during "normal years" of 1821 to 1850, the production numbers of the debased metal coinages of the Xianfeng era were unable to have relieved the fiscal pressure felt by the government of the Qing dynasty to any significant extent. 
Moreover, the debased cash coins themselves could hardly be used for any important government expenditures as these were usually conducted in silver.  These debased cash coinages were instead used to pay for the salaries of government workers (including military personnel), making sure that in nominal figures the salary payments seemed to have been unaffected by any actual budget cut. 
The seigniorage revenue that is generated by debasement can be quite a lucrative endeavour for the mint if the debasement compels the market in which these debased coins circulate are motivated to bring metal and old coins back into the mint to then have them be reminted into new and lighter (debased) coins.  However, in case of the imperial mints during the Xianfeng period, the mints did not remint any old coins at all, meaning that they missed out on these seigniorage profits, which demonstrates that Gresham's Law took place in China.  The reminting process of old relatively high value Zhiqian nonetheless took place during the Xianfeng era via large-scale counterfeiting which would eventually eliminated all Zhiqian from the Beijing market.  In this sense, during the Xianfeng reign era lucrative seigniorage revenues did occur in China as a consequence of the debasement of Chinese cash coins, but rather than originally led by the Qing government, the profit went into the private hands of the counterfeiters rather than in the hands of the imperial government. 
Tongzhi era Edit
For the first year of the Tongzhi Emperor he bore the reign name of "Qixiang" (祺祥), though a few coins with this inscription were cast they were never put into circulation. While the reign title "Qixiang" the 10 wén Daqian continued to be produced, for a brief period of time Daqian with the inscription Qixiang Zhongbao (祺祥重寶) were produced.   Because the Qixiang era name wasn't used for that long, cash coins with this era date were cast for such a short time, that only a small number of the government mints produced cash coins with this inscription.  These mints included the Ministry of Public Works Mint (寶源), the Ministry of Revenue Mint (寶泉), the Yunnan mint (寶雲), the Gansu mint (寶鞏), and the Suzhou mint (寶蘇). 
Tongzhi's mother the Empress Dowager Cixi changed his reign name to Tongzhi in 1862.  Tongzhi's reign saw the end of the Taiping rebellion and the beginning of a large Muslim revolt in Xinjiang.  The era also saw the rise of the Self-Strengthening Movement which wanted to adopt western ideas into practice in China including reforming the monetary system. 
The coins produced under the Tongzhi Emperor remained of inferior quality with the 10 wén coin being reduced from 4.4 to 3.2 qián in 1867.  Copper shortages remained and illegal casting would only become a larger problem as the provincial mints remained closed or barely productive. The first machine-struck cash coins were also produced under the Tongzhi Emperor in Paris at the request of governour Zuo Zongtang in 1866, but the government of the Qing refused to introduce machine-made coinage. 
Modernisation under the Guangxu Emperor Edit
Under the Guangxu Emperor various attempts at reforming the Qing dynasty's currency system were implemented. Machine-made copper coins without square holes were introduced in Guangdong in 1899,  and by 1906 15 machine operated mints operated in 12 provinces. The introduction of these machine-struck coins marked the beginning of the end of coin casting in China. In 1895 the Guangzhou Machine Mint had 90 presses becoming the largest mint in the world followed by the British Royal Mint with only 16 presses.
Many provinces were still slow to adopt machine mints, often due to the high costs associated with them, the machine mint of Tianjin cost 27,000 taels of silver but the cost of making a single string of machine-struck 1 qián cash coins more than twice as high as their face value forcing the Tianjin mint to buy more furnaces until it eventually had to close down in 1900. 
Guangxu's reign saw the reclamation of Xinjiang and the presuming of minting red cash there, while Japanese experts revitalised the copper mining industry in Yunnan and many new veins of copper were discovered giving the government more resources to cast (and later strike) coins again. 
The new coins often bore the inscription Guāng Xù Yuán Bǎo (光緒元寶) with an image of a Dragon and featured English, Chinese, and Manchu inscriptions. Further these coins tended to have their relation with China's older coinages (most often with cash coins) on the bottom, or their value in relation to silver coinage, and the Manchu words indicated the place of mintage.  Meanwhile, the 10 wén "traditional" cash coins were discontinued as the production of these more modern coins began. 
In 1906 the General Mint of the Ministry of the Interior and Finance in Tianjin started issuing a new copper coin called the Dà Qīng Tóng Bì (大清銅幣), which like Guāng Xù Yuán Bǎo coins featured the image of a Chinese dragon, and had English, Chinese, and Manchu inscriptions with the English inscription reading "Tai-Ching-Ti-Kuo Copper Coin" in Wade-Giles, coins minted under the Guangxu Emperor featured the inscription of the Chinese characters Guāng Xù Nián Zào (光緒年造).  These coins were minted in denominations of 2 wén, 5 wén, 10 wén, and 20 wén and would soon be issued by various mints across the Chinese provinces.  These coins were first issued by the Ministry of the Interior and later by the Ministry of Revenue and Expenditure. 
Coinage under the Xuantong Emperor Edit
Under the Xuantong Emperor both traditional copper cash coins, and modern machine-struck coins continued to be minted simultaneously, though only the Ministry of Revenue in Beijing and a few provincial mints continued to cast traditional cash coins as most mints had started to exclusively produce machined coins, and Kucha was the only mint still operating in Xinjiang casting "red cash" under the Xuantong Emperor.  Under the Xuantong Emperor Beijing's 2 central government operated mints would close.  In 1910 new machine-made coins were issued. 
New denominations introduced in 1910 include: 
(in Traditional Chinese)
|Obverse image||Reverse image|
These denominations weren't produced in large numbers as the Qing dynasty would be overthrown by the Xinhai revolution only a year later.  By the end of the Qing dynasty the government's attempts at modernising the monetary system had failed and machined coins circulated alongside traditional coinages, this situation would continue under the Republic of China. 
During the Qing dynasty period, the Chinese monetary system was a bimetallic system where both copper-alloy cash coins and silver circulated simultaneously.  The copper-alloy currency during most of the Qing dynasty period consisted solely of cash coins with a denomination of 1 wén, which could be strung together into strings of 1,000 cash coins for larger payments.  While strings officially consisted of 1,000 cash coins, normally it would contain only around 980 copper-alloy cash coins.  
A standard piece of copper-alloy cash coin in the 18th century weighted 0.12 tael, containing between 50%–70% of pure copper, and other metals in its alloy such as zinc and lead. 
The copper coinage of the Qing dynasty was officially set at an exchange rate of 1000 wén (or cash coins) for one tael of silver, however actual market rate often changed from low as 700 wén for 1 tael of silver to as high as 1200 wén for a single tael of silver during the 19th century. The actual exchange rates were dependent on a variety of factors such as the quantity of the coinage on the market and quality of individual coins. Most government cast coinage entered the market through soldiers.  
Because all copper-alloy cash coins of the Qing dynasty had both uniform shapes and weights, the denomination of the cash coins were not written down anywhere on the coins themselves, this was because for most of their history, a cash coin was always valued at 1 wén and payments were processed by counting the number of cash coins. 
The government of the Qing dynasty monopolised the production of copper-alloy cash coins, which constituted less than 20% of the total money circulating in China at the time, as well as the mining of copper, while the government allowed for the market to determine the price of silver. 
Because casting is a very simple process many private (illegal) mints started producing fake cash coins known as Sīzhùqián (私鑄錢) because government mints often couldn't meet the market's demand for money, as there barely was a difference in quality between "real" or Zhìqián (制錢) and "fake" coins, the sizhuqian were just as widely accepted by the general population as means of payment.  Though barter had remained common during most of the Qing era, by the mid 19th century the Chinese market had evolved to be highly monetised.  Due to the inflation caused by various military crises under the Xianfeng Emperor new larger denomination cash coins were issued, cash coins of 4 wén and higher being referred to as Dàqián (大錢). 
The cash coins produced by the two imperial mints located in Beijing and the provincial and regional mints usually fulfilled different functions.  The local mints mostly produced cash coins for the payment of the salaries of the Bannermen and the wages of workers on government construction projects.  The imperial mints (known as the Baoyuan Mint and Baoquan Mint) situated in the capital city of Beijing were the two most important ones in operation during the Qing dynasty period:  their output of copper-alloy cash coins sustained the demands of the market, not only in Beijing itself, but also in the part of northern China situated near the capital city. 
The minting of copper-alloy cash coinage was decentralised due to the very high transaction cost of moving large amounts of metallic coins (and especially heavy copper-alloy cash coins that tended to have small values).  Sometimes the production of copper coinage at provincial state mints was suspended but minting at the imperial mints in Beijing was always ensured by the Qing government. 
By the late Qing dynasty it had become apparent that carrying strings of cash coins was inconvenient compared to modern currencies. In 1900, 8 shillings converted into 32.6587 kilograms of copper cash coins and it was noted that if one of the straw strings holding the coins would break that it would cost more picking those coins up in time than the value retrieved from those coins.   This was one of the many different factors leading Chinese people to more readily accept the modernisation of the currency. 
When comparing the contemporary Chinese monetary system of the Qing dynasty period with that of medieval Europe it shows that in both cases the chronic shortage of low-denomination coinages seems to be more an aspect of economic theory than actual history, as the gap that emerges between the legal tender (or nominal) value and the intrinsic metallic value will always be followed either by counterfeiting or by melting the currency down.      
Purchasing power of cash coins during the Qing dynasty Edit
At the time Wu Jingzi's the Scholars was written in the 18th century 3 wén could buy a steamed bun, 4 wén could buy school food, 16 wén was enough for one bowl of noodles, and the annual tuition fee for school could be covered by 2,400 wén, but due to inflation the purchasing power of cash coins would decline in the next century. 
|Period||Amount of rice for 1000 wén|
(or 1 string of cash coins) 
Effects of the global devaluation of silver on cash coins Edit
Traditionally, scholars of the monetary history of the Qing dynasty, and the Far East as a whole, have often debated whether or not the inflow or outflow of silver leads to an economic boom or an economic depression.    
Proponents of the classic bimetallic system would suggest that having two metals would dampen the shocks that result from a shortage of either one of the metals used in the economy for doing transactions with and would therefore stabilise the currency system.  Besides the movement and flow of physical silver, the price of silver also had an effect on trade and the general economy.  Theoretically, "cheap silver" (a term used to denote the relatively low price of silver in international market) can be taken in a bimetallic system or a silver standard system as a sudden and exogenous currency devaluation, and this would then indicate favourable terms of trade for silver standard countries as the devaluation of silver would encourage exports as the price of goods have been reduced, thus making it more favourable for foreign merchants to purchase these goods.    The economy and monetary situation of the Qing dynasty from the 1870s onwards seem to contradict this hypothesis.  During the 1870s many countries around the world replaced the silver standard with the gold standard, causing old silver coinages to be demonetised lowering the price of silver on a global scale.  The demonetisation of silver in many countries not only led to a drop in the price of silver, but also increased the volatility of its price, the unstable exchange also offset some of the benefit from silver depreciation.  The new silver deposits discovered in the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada also contributed to the price drop.  Countries like Japan, Nguyễn Vietnam, and British India all benefited from this price reduction, but Qing China did not enjoy the benefits as much as other countries.   In fact the Qing dynasty, while enjoying greater exports, began to import more during this period leading to a trade deficit.  In Chongqing alone the value of foreign merchandise had fallen off by over Hk.Tls 1,250,000 in just a sort period of time because of the global devaluing of silver. 
During this period the general price of Chinese exports would increase because of the volatile silver price compared to both gold and copper, these increased prices further offset the depreciation benefit of the cheaper silver price.   During this period most Chinese exports were in fact rural products whose prices were quoted in copper-alloy cash coins the prices of these goods were then translated into silver at the point where they would be exported to other countries.   A depreciation of the silver meant that the cheaper exchange rate between silver and copper-alloy cash coins would make these exports more expensive, despite the rural prices remaining relatively stable.  The sudden and permanent decrease of the global price of silver had greatly destabilised the price relationship between copper and silver in China which was the basis for its bimetallic system, and therefore this depreciation challenged the entire monetary system of the Qing dynasty and would push it to be drastically changed. 
During this period the rural Chinese hinterland began to develop more cash crops for export as more treaty ports were forced to open, and while formerly it were the coastal regions that had a more export-oriented economy, the Chinese hinterland started to focus more on export.  Traditionally, Chinese farmers sold their produce to middlemen who would then sell the products in treaty ports, but the "cheap silver" had made it more expensive for the middlemen to purchase these goods and the farmers would be less likely to accept silver for their products the further away from commercial cities or from the well-developed financial facilities they were.  The higher exchange rate between silver and copper-alloy cash coins favouring the latter caused deflation and made the business of the middlemen less profitable.  The government also minted less copper-alloy cash coins during this period because of the high cost of minting them, which further contributed to the shortage of copper-alloy cash coins in the Chinese economy.  While the trade impact of the global "cheap silver" was largely confined to the coastal areas, the monetary impact of "cheap silver" was felt nationwide.    A drop in the price of silver had further aggravated the shortage of copper-alloy cash coinage: the imperial mints in Beijing then consequently suspended the production of copper-alloy cash coinage due to the increased cost of production  and the existing cash as "undervalued money" (Gresham's law) were then melted down for their intrinsic value. Additionally, the provision of cash coinage was a centralised decision which was also implemented by regional governments throughout China.  Because of these factors the Chinese were not able to seize the opportunity to increase their exports due to the "cheap silver" as Japan, India, and Vietnam had.  In fact, rather than being an opportunity for China, "cheap silver" presented itself as a challenge for China, especially for the Chinese bimetallic monetary system.  Despite a large silver inflow to treaty ports and urban centres throughout China, the vast Chinese rural population was now suffering from a shortage of copper-alloy cash coins.  Only when the Chinese copper coinage was adequately depreciated could the trade benefits presented by "cheap silver" be realised and benefit the economy of the Qing dynasty.  This could only be realised by once again devaluing the copper coinage. 
Effects of the scarcity of copper-alloy cash coins on the economic prospects of rural China during the late 19th century Edit
Due to the prevalence of "cheap silver" (an enormous decrease of the global price of silver) the copper-alloy cash coin-based economy of China suffered deflation which discouraged the export of Chinese products.  International trade was further discouraged because of the scarcity of copper-alloy cash coins in rural China during the late 19th century.  This scarcity not only discouraged international trade, but also long-distance exchanges within China because of the deflationary pressure.  Furthermore, this scarcity of small denomination copper-alloy cash coins in China was having a negative impact on daily transactions, especially in the inland rural areas where absolutely no business was done in silver and the local people had an inelastic demand for these coins.  The rural Chinese workers tended to only receive their salaries in copper-alloy cash coins and would pay their taxes in silver using the official government set exchange rates between the two metal currencies.  When the scarcity started causing deflation the rural workers would receive lower salaries, but the government kept maintaining a relatively high exchange rate between the two currencies. 
According to reports published by provincial governors in the year 1896, the official exchange rate between copper-alloy cash coins and silver was 2200 wén for only 1 tael of silver  while at the time a tael of silver traded on the private market for 1600 wén to 1700 wén. 
– Imperial Customs Service (1898). 
This imbalance further resulted in permanent changes in the prices of goods and services relative to the other metal.  The money stock was also affected as the amount of silver coinages in circulation kept increasing, while the stock of copper-alloy cash coins was surely decreasing, leading to even greater deflation in copper-based markets. 
As a result, the mints operated by the government of the Qing dynasty saw less motivation to produce more copper-alloy cash coins as they were now more expensive to make, as it now cost more silver to import sufficient amounts of copper for their production.  
The imperial government would continue to try to maintain the official exchange rate between copper-alloy cash coins and silver, but this only made copper-alloy cash coins into an "undervalued currency" and further discouraged it from circulating as people would hoard the coins driving them out of the market, further increasing their relative scarcity to silver (as is described by Gresham's law).  This severely negatively affected the economy of rural areas where copper-alloy cash coins circulated as the principal (if not only) currency and was used in high frequency for the daily transactions of most (if not all) people in these regions. 
It has always been a challenge for the imperial Chinese government to debase the copper coinage to make its production more adorable. This was because debased coinages will be discounted on the market and always invite widespread counterfeiting.  The solution to this problem was by introducing new machine-struck coinages that were produced by steam powered machines, this would make it more difficult for counterfeiters to produce fake coinages as the initial costs to purchase the machines needed for counterfeiting were very high and discouraged many would-be counterfeiters.  The new technology allowed the Qing government to cast high-quality, standardised coins with machined edges.  Therefore the new technology provided a for the government of the Qing dynasty a way to mint sufficient token coins at an affordable cost without inviting forgers to debase the new coinages even further. 
While the new technology allowed the Qing government to mint sufficient amounts of copper-alloy coins at an affordable cost, the new technology wasn't implemented throughout China at the same time as some provinces would adopt the technology later.  Initially the new machine-struck coinages were well received where they were introduced, which helped other provincial mints adopt the new technology faster. 
Machine-struck cash coins and other milled coinages Edit
Due to a shortage of copper at the end of the Qing dynasty, the mint of Guangzhou, Guangdong began striking round copper coins without square holes in 1900. Tóngyuán (銅元) or Tóngbǎn (銅板) and they were struck in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 30 wén.  These struck coins were well received because of their higher quality compared to cast coins and their convenience in carriage, as well as their uniform weight and copper content compared to the less consistent alloys of cast Chinese coinage.  As these coins were profitable to manufacture it did not take long before other provinces started making machine-struck cash coins too, and soon 20 bureaus were opened across China.  As these coins became more common they eventually replaced the old cast coins as the main medium of exchange for small purchases among the Chinese people. 
The new machine-struck coinage had a profound effect on the local economies where it was introduced.  The new milled copper coinage greatly helped to ease the monetary stringency in rural areas and was beneficial for the economies of both the countryside and the merchant ports.  However, despite the opportunities and benefits presented by the new technology, the lack of adequate institutional innovation that was required to keep the local governments of China's over-issue of the new machine-struck coins in check, their introduction would eventually lead to a chaotic situation later due to government mismanagement.  One of the long-term effects of making the token money (money with higher nominal values than their intrinsic value) both widely circulated and accepted meant that it was easier later for China to transition from a bimetallic system to a monometallic one. 
Counterfeit machine-struck coins Edit
Not long after these new copper coins were introduced, black market counterfeit versions of the 10 wén appeared, illegal mints opened all over China and started producing more coins than the Qing government's set quotas allowed there to be circulating on the market.   Both Chinese and foreigners soon started producing struck cash coins of inferior quality often with traces of the Korean 5 fun coins they were overstruck on, or with characters and symbols not found on official government issued coins.  These coins were often minted by Korean businessmen and former Japanese Samurai looking to make a profit on exchanging the low value copper coins into silver dollars as a single silver dollar had the purchasing power of 1000 Korean fun.  The majority of the counterfeit coins bear the inscription that they were minted in either Zhejiang or Shandong, but they circulated all over the coastal regions of China. 
Iron cash coins Edit
During the second month of the year 1854 the government of the Qing dynasty supplemented the already debased coinage system with iron cash coins.  The intrinsic value of iron cash coins was substantially lower than that of even the copper-alloy Zhiqian and Daqian.  The aim the government had with the introduction of iron cash coins was to provide small change for a market that highly demanded it, as the Chinese market was already flooded with large denomination cash coinage and the Zhiqian 1 wén cash coins) by this point had become a rarity. 
The denominations of the newly introduced iron cash coins included 1 wén, 5 wén, and 10 wén.  The intrinsic value of the 1 wén iron cash coin represented a debasement of 70% compared to the copper-alloy 1 wén Zhiqian. The market price of iron in 1854 was 40 wén (in Zhiqian) per catty.  A catty of iron could be cast into 133 1 wén iron cash coins, or 66 5 wén iron cash coins (which would have a total nominal value of 330 wén), or 53 10 wén iron cash coins (which would have a total nominal value of 530 wén).  Disregarding the cost of manufacturing the Chinese itself, a 1 wén iron cash coin indicated a debasement of 70%.  Iron cash coins were easily produced with iron scrap, which on the market cost 15 wén per catty in 1854. 
While initially iron cash coins were mainly minted by the Ministry of Revenue mint and Ministry of Public Works mint in Beijing, afterwards the government of the Qing dynasty established a specific iron cash coins mint, known as the iron cash office (鐵錢局).  The iron cash office also stored the iron cash coins.  While the actual production numbers of iron cash coins remains unclear because of the limited entries about them in the records maintained by the Qing treasury, Peng Xinwei estimated, based on information he had gathered from Qing government memorials, that there had been an average annual production of 1,808,160 strings of iron cash coins between the year 1854 and 1855 and an annual production of 1,360,920 strings of iron cash coins during the years 1856 until 1859. 
In January of the year 1855 the province of Zhili started casting iron cash coins, a trial casting for a single year was to deliver 120,000 strings of standard cash coins to be brought to Beijing.  This work was then carried out by one of the Chinese branch mints with 10 furnaces that was located just outside of the western suburbs of Baoding by the Lingyu Temple (靈雲宮).  In May of the year 1857, the four existing copper furnaces of the main Zhili provincial mint in Baoding were altered to be iron cash coin furnaces and a new iron cash coin furnace added, while at the same time 10 new furnaces for the production of iron cash coins was added to the Zhili branch mint.  The Zhili provincial mint had ceased the production of 10 wén iron cash coins in June 1857. 
Iron cash coin mints were also planned to be opened in the cities of Tianjin, Zhengding, and Daming for the production of 1 wén iron cash coins, but only Zhengding had established a mint for iron cash coins which had 10 furnaces in operation.  In July of the year 1859 there were a total of 35 furnaces for the production of iron cash coins in the cities of Baoding and Zhengding and at that time around 1,000,000 strings of iron cash coins had been cast at both mints.  Because the Chinese people weren't using iron cash coins it was reported that 30 furnaces in Zhengding (which presumably also includes the furnaces of the Zhili provincial branch mint) were to be closed.  In November 1859, the remaining 5 iron cash coin furnaces situated in Baoding were also closed. 
The function of iron cash coins was similar to that of Daqian, as it was primarily used as a way to continue paying the salaries of bannermen and other government workers.  According to Qing government memorials, large amounts of iron cash coins were used as a means to pay salaries between the years 1856 and 1857 due to a noted justification that "the Chinese public was craving for small change".  By the year 1856 the iron 10 wén cash coins were so much depreciated that they were dropped out of general circulation.  From this point onwards only iron 1 wén cash coins would remain in general circulation, however, it was common for shops to deny them as a form of payment and there was extensive counterfeiting of iron cash coins, which further lowered the public's trust in them. 
Only a single entry in the Qing government archive mentions them from this point, as it is stated that in the year 1856 the government of the Qing dynasty had 431,515.849 strings of iron cash coins deposited in the imperial treasury vault.   This entry may be seen as supplementary evidence to suggest that copper-alloy cash coinage had almost completely disappeared in or before this year.  Iron cash coins would soon become valueless and the coinage was ultimately suspended in the year 1859. 
Lead cash coins Edit
It was reported in the records of the Qing dynasty that lead cash coins were minted for a brief period in the year 1854, although it seems that these lead cash coins were never actually introduced into the Chinese market and therefore did not circulate. 
Zinc cash coins Edit
In July 1854 a superintendent of the Ministry of Revenue mint reported that different metals like gold, silver, copper, iron, and zinc are alike when used and believed that if copper could be substituted for iron, iron could be substituted for zinc.  The Ministry of Revenue mint initiated trial castings of zinc cash coins, but caused the mint staff to be anxious over the fact that zinc cash coinage is very brittle and easy to break.  It was then decided to make cash coins with an alloy of 80% (brittle) zinc and 20% (soft) lead, as these zinc-alloy cash coins would then be better to circulate and would be more acceptable for the people.  It was then proposed to replace the monthly production of 2 mǎo (卯) of Zhiqian with the zinc-alloy cash coins because the Ministry of Revenue mint had zinc in store, which would immediately allow the mint to save 100,000 catty of copper. 
Qing dynasty era cash coins generally bear the reign title of the Emperor in Chinese characters, with only a single change of reign title occurring with the Qixiang Emperor becoming the Tongzhi Emperor by decision of his mother, Empress Dowager Cixi. 
|Inscription||Traditional Chinese||Simplified Chinese||Hànyǔ Pīnyīn||Denominations||Years of mintage||Image||Emperor|
|Shunzhi Tongbao||順治通寶||顺治通宝||shùn zhì tōng bǎo||1 wén||1643–1661||Shunzhi Emperor|
|Kangxi Tongbao||康熙通寶||康熙通宝||kāng xī tōng bǎo||1 wén||1661–1722||Kangxi Emperor|
|Yongzheng Tongbao||雍正通寶||雍正通宝||yōng zhèng tōng bǎo||1 wén||1722–1735||Yongzheng Emperor|
|Qianlong Tongbao||乾隆通寶||乾隆通宝||qián lóng tōng bǎo||1 wén, 10 wén||1735–1796 (1912) [b]||Qianlong Emperor|
|Jiaqing Tongbao||嘉慶通寶||嘉庆通宝||jiā qìng tōng bǎo||1 wén||1796–1820||Jiaqing Emperor|
|Daoguang Tongbao||道光通寶||道光通宝||dào guāng tōng bǎo||1 wén, 5 wén, 10 wén||1820–1850||Daoguang Emperor|
|Xianfeng Tongbao||咸豐通寶||咸丰通宝||xián fēng tōng bǎo||1 wén, 5 wén, 10 wén, 50 wén, 100 wén||1850–1861||Xianfeng Emperor|
|Xianfeng Zhongbao||咸豐重寶||咸丰重宝||xián fēng zhòng bǎo||4 wén, 5 wén, 8 wén, 10 wén, 20 wén, 30 wén, 40 wén, 50 wén, 100 wén||1850–1861||Xianfeng Emperor|
|Xianfeng Yuanbao||咸豐元寶||咸丰元宝||xián fēng yuán bǎo||80 wén, 100 wén, 200 wén, 300 wén, 500 wén, 1000 wén||1850–1861||Xianfeng Emperor|
|Qixiang Tongbao||祺祥通寶||祺祥通宝||qí xiáng tōng bǎo||1 wén||1861||Tongzhi Emperor|
|Qixiang Zhongbao||祺祥重寶||祺祥重宝||qí xiáng zhòng bǎo||10 wén||1861||Tongzhi Emperor|
|Tongzhi Tongbao||同治通寶||同治通宝||tóng zhì tōng bǎo||1 wén, 5 wén, 10 wén||1862–1875||Tongzhi Emperor|
|Tongzhi Zhongbao||同治重寶||同治重宝||tóng zhì zhòng bǎo||4 wén, 10 wén||1862–1875||Tongzhi Emperor|
|Guangxu Tongbao||光緒通寶||光绪通宝||guāng xù tōng bǎo||1 wén, 10 wén||1875–1908||Guangxu Emperor|
|Guangxu Zhongbao||光緒重寶||光绪重宝||guāng xù zhòng bǎo||5 wén, 10 wén||1875–1908||Guangxu Emperor|
|Xuantong Tongbao||宣統通寶||宣统通宝||xuān tǒng tōng bǎo||1 wén, 10 wén||1909–1911||Xuantong Emperor|
Originally imperial China was on a monometallic standard of using only bronze cash coins during most of its history, but the large influx, because of international trade, of silver during the Ming dynasty period created a bimetallic system in China.  From the 3rd century B.C. copper had been the paramount currency of most of China but during the 16th and 17th centuries A.D. this had changed. 
Silver had long been the currency for China's overseas trade until the mid-1930s.  China during most of the Qing dynasty period was not a silver producing country and its silver supply relied on imports from abroad.  It was only during the 1890s that provincial Chinese mints started producing native silver coinages. 
Status of silver during the Qing dynasty Edit
During the most of the Qing dynasty period silver circulated in China in two forms, that of silver sycees and foreign silver dollars (primarily Spanish dollars from Spanish Philippines).  Silver was used more in interregional trade and was more often used to pay for large transactions, furthermore it wasn't counted by denomination but by weight.  The primary weight unit of silver was the tael.  Contrary to copper, silver was not monopolised by the government but the price of silver instead was determined by the market. 
The tael was used both as a unit of account as well as a unit of weight, the concept is similar to "pound" and "pound sterling".  There were various standards for defining the weight of a tael, this was because the weighing scales varied a lot between the different regions of China and Qing government bodies.  The weight unit "tael" (兩) usually varied between 33.99 and 37.50 grams, but when used as a unit of account the "silver tael" (銀兩) had many different definitions that were based in terms of purity and fineness of the silver being weighed.  For example, the Treasury tael (Kuping liang or Kuping tael) is the standard for taxation, the Maritime Customs tael (Haiguan liang or Haikwan tael) is the standard used in the Maritime Customs Service, the market tael (Shiping liang) is the standard used in the market in Beijing. 
Contrary to how the supply and demand of copper was regulated through government channels, supply and demand of silver was determined solely by the market.  The domestic silver production in China was generally low and the silver in China came mostly from Edo Japan and later from the Americas, mainly through international trade with foreign merchants.  
This situation of silver in Qing China is similar to that of medieval England.  The Kingdom of England did not produce significant amounts of silver by itself and therefore its coinage was closely associated with its overseas and international trade.  The monarchs, both in imperial China and in the Kingdom of England, did not own the native silver supply.   But unlike the English Crown, which had set up royal mints in England to strike the silver bullion into coins with a nominal (or face) value, the Chinese Emperor allowed only silver bullion itself to circulate in various forms throughout his empire.  The government of the Qing dynasty provided only the standard unit (known as the Kuping tael) that a silver ingot should be melted into, which itself evolved into one of the many different "taels" that was used for silver bullion to be traded. 
Because the purchasing power of silver bullion was so much higher than that of copper-alloy cash coins, silver was used primarily for larger transactions and long-distance trade as well as international trade, while copper-alloy cash coinage was therefore not taken as subsidiary money:  it was the currency for daily and smaller transactions and copper was the only currency in rural China during the Qing dynasty period.  Silver also enjoyed a special status as it was also the major form of currency that was used for the payment taxes and government expenditures. 
Because of this, the government of the Qing dynasty had attempted to establish a fixed rate for the exchange of copper-alloy cash coins and silver bullion.  During the majority of the Qing dynasty period, the official ratio between silver (in taels) and copper-alloy cash coins (in wén) was maintained at 1:1,000. The ratio was later revised to 1:2,000 during the 1840s, due to the rising price of silver. 
This theoretical official exchange rate was in practice not enforced by any government institution as because the imperial government did not coin any silver, it had no control over how silver circulated on the market.  As the silver flow was primarily based on foreign trade and silver both entered and left China in large numbers, the market exchange rate between silver and copper changed drastically over time and tended to fluctuate, furthermore this exchange rate also varied from region to region.  Services specialising in money exchanges, known as money-changers, developed in this currency system, and the exchange normally took place in commercial centres and trade ports where different trades were frequently carried out. 
The currency system in China during the Qing dynasty is sometimes called a "parallel bimetallic system", to distinguish it from the more conventional model of a bimetallic system.  The term "parallel bimetallic system" is given to this system because it functioned more like a form of coexistence of "two currency systems, each using a different metal" than an actual bimetallic system.  Also unlike real bimetallism in other countries, the actual exchange ratio between the two different metal currencies was not actually fixed the exchange ratio tended to vary depending on time and place. 
Imperial government produced silver coinages Edit
Government produced silver coins during the Qianlong era Edit
During the reign of the Qianlong Emperor commemorative silver coins with the portrait of the Tibetan Panchen Lama are known to have been produced. 
Government produced silver coins during the Daoguang era Edit
During the reign of the Daoguang Emperor several attempts were made in China for the native production of government backed silver coinage, the first of such attempts were tried in the year 1821.  Machine-struck Chinese silver coins were known to have been first produced in the year 1822, by the modern Jilin Arsenal Mint (吉林機器局).  These early milled silver coins were known as the Changpingliang (廠平兩, literally "factory tael") and only had the denomination of one tael. These silver Changpingliang were not manufactured in any high numbers and are consequently very rare today. 
Other models of modern silver coinages, which are known as ban (板), that were known to have been produced in the cities of Guangzhou, Fuzhou, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuxi, and Jiangxi.  The models of milled silver coins produced in Wuxi are known as xiban (錫板) and the ones produced in Jiangxi are known as tuban (土板).  There were also the models known as Wuzhuang (吳莊) and Xingzhuang (行莊). 
Another early attempt at creating a native government-produced silver Chinese coinage was made by Lin Zexu, he created a system of silver coinages known as the Yinbing (銀餅, literally "Silver cakes") which had a standard weight of 0.72 tael, but the Yinbing was eventually rejected by the Jiangsu market. 
The earliest known surviving modern silver coins of the Qing dynasty period were manufactured in the city of Zhangtai, Fujian.  There are two types of these modern silver Zhangtai coins, one featured an image, this image either consisted of Shouxing, the God of longevity, a pair of crossed Ruyi scepters, or a pair of crossed writing brushes, which are known as bibao (筆寶). 
The other known type of Zhangtai silver coins featured both ornaments and inscriptions, the first type of these inscribed silver coins featured the inscriptions Daoguang Nian Zhu (道光年鑄) and Zuwen Yinbing (足紋銀餅), and the indication of the value of the coin, namely the inscription Kuping Qi-Er (庫平柒弍, "0.72 Kuping tael").  The reverse side of these coins featured a tripod with a Manchu language inscription indicating the mint where it was produced.  The coins without images were inscribed with the Chinese characters for "Junxiang" (軍餉), this inscription being a rather clear indication of the method that the government of the Qing dynasty used to throw money on the Chinese local markets.  The ornaments on the second type of silver coins were mostly imitations of the decorations that are depicted on the various foreign coins that circulated in the region at the time, but sometimes these ornaments just merged Chinese characters, like jinshen (謹慎, "reverentially"). 
These silver coins were brought into general circulation through military salaries (Junxiang), and unlike the earlier attempts were accepted by the local Jiangsu market.  The date when these modern silver coins of southeast China were exactly produced remains unclear today, but they were certainly not produced before the 19th century. 
Government produced silver coins during the Xianfeng era Edit
During the Xianfeng period the government did not issue its own silver coins, but it did issue a series of banknotes that were nominally worth silver in weight (taels). 
Government produced silver coins during the Guangxu era Edit
Prior to 1 tael being standardised at 50 g. by the government of the People's Republic of China in 1959, the weight "tael" differed substantially from province to province, the Qing government maintained that 1 tael equals 37.5 g. and this measurement was referred to as the Kuping tael (庫平两), and by official Qing government standards 1 Kuping tael = 10 Mace = 100 Candareens. Under the Guangxu Emperor several Kuping tael coins were struck in Tianjin from 1903 until 1907, and mostly served as salary for the soldiers. Despite the central government's attempts at unifying the standards provincial coinage remained the de facto standard across China. 
Since the 1870s, silver was used both as an official form of currency in Qing China and a commodity in the international market, for this reason the international price of silver was considered to be indicative of the international exchange rate of the Chinese currency.  When the global price of silver experienced a lot of fluctuation the unstable exchange rate of the Chinese currency made pricing on the Chinese market much less predictable and therefore the volatility in the pricing of silver at the time had discouraged trade. 
In the year 1903 the imperial Chinese government had issued a decree that was intended to standardise the Chinese silver coins in circulation, but in actuality the government decree was never really implemented.  The highest standard of indigenous Chinese coinages produced under Qing rule was probably achieved by the gold, silver, and copper coins produced in the city of Tianjin between the years 1906 and 1907. 
Government produced silver coins during the Xuantong era Edit
Only as late as 1910 was it decided by the Qing government to have a unified national currency that would be produced in Wuchang and in Nanjing.  The government of the Qing dynasty had issued a number of new regulations that would create a uniform national silver currency system. 
– From the Baidu Library (百度文库), translated into English by Gary Ashkenazy (加里·阿什凱納齊) from the Primal Trek – a journey through Chinese culture website. 
Under the Xuantong Emperor another attempt at standardising the Qing dynasty's silver coinage was made in 1911 (Xuantong 3) a large amount of "dragon dollars" bearing the inscription "壹圓" (yīyuán) were minted, these were the only Qing dynasty coins with that inscription and also featured the English legend "One Dollar". These coins were all cast at the Central Tianjin Mint. 
The coin was called yuán (圓 or 元, in this context meaning "dollar") and they had a standard weight of 0.72 tael.  It was inscribed with the words Da-Qing Yinbi (大清銀幣) and was introduced into the Chinese market in October of the year 1910. 
After the fall of the Qing dynasty sycees were demonetised in 1933 and Qing dynasty silver coins in 1935 as they were replaced with paper money. 
Provincial and private silver coinages Edit
Provincial silver coins based on foreign coins circulating in China Edit
During the early days of the Qing dynasty silver Spanish dollars, known to the Chinese as "double balls" (雙球) because of the two globes featured on the coins, continued to circulate in the coastal areas of China, while sycees were regularly manufactured inland.  Trade in Manila with the Philippines under the Spanish East Indies of the Spanish colonial empire continued as Chinese junks brought on average 80,000 pesos from Manila on every voyage, and by the mid-18th century the amount rose to 235,370,000 pesos.  The silver and chinese trade goods flowed through the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade between the Philippines and Mexico where the silver was minted within the Spanish colonial empire. A lot of silver from Portugal, the Dutch Republic, and Japan continued to enter China too during this period.  After Mexico had become independent, Mexican pesos (or "Eagle coins", 鷹洋) replaced the old Spanish dollars while the old Spanish dollars still remained important in China, the Treaty of Nanking ending the First Opium War in 1842 had its payments accounted in Spanish dollars. 
In the year 1857 the Jiangsu provincial mint also produced "silver cake" coins made with steel dies.  In the decades that followed various other Chinese regions also started to produce Yinbing with differing dimensions and denominations, and these silver coins tended ti only circulating locally and for rather short periods of time.  The first true Chinese mechanically produced coins were silver coins made in this period by the mint in Jilin. 
Many other forms of silver coins circulating in China caused the Qing government to eventually start producing its own silver coinage (銀圓 or 銀元) in 1821 with the first machine-struck silver coins being made a year later by the Jilin Arsenal in 1822.  The Jilin Mint produced Guangxu Yuanbao (光緒元寶) with a weight of 5 qián, the reverse of these coins are inscribed with the inscription "Changping" (廠平) and the name of the mint in both traditional Chinese characters and Manchu script.  Furthermore the Jilin Mint produced Western-style coins, namely a 1 tael standard, or Changping Yi Liang (廠平壹兩), silver coin dated 1882, and it was made in silver and in copper, and a set of coins from the test 1884, inscribed in both Chinese and Manchu script.  These coins were produced with the denominations 1.5 qián, 3 qián, ½ tael, 7 qián, and 1 tael. 
In 1887 Zhang Zhidong, the Viceroy of Liangguang started producing silver coinage in Guangzhou, these coins weighed 0.73 taels and had the English inscription of "Kwang-tung Province, 7 Mace and 3 Candareens" and were decorated with a large Dragon earning them the nickname "Guangdong Dragon dollars" (廣|東龍洋) or they were referred to simply as "Yuán", an abbreviation of Yuánbǎo (元寶) which was featured on the inscription,  though this design was similar to silver Japanese coins circulating in China at the time which also featured a Dragon.  This earliest successful indigenous Chinese silver coin is commonly known under the name of Qi-San Fanban (七三番板, "0.73-tael coin according to the Western model").  The weight of 0.73 tael was chosen because it would then be 0.01 tael heavier than the Mexican peso, the government of the Qing dynasty had hoped that the Guangdong Longyang would then be able to drive out foreign coins from the Chinese market by being heavier.  The expectations of the Qing government weren't fulfilled and the weight of the Guangdong Longyang was quickly lowered than 0.73 tael.  The English language inscription of the coin was moved to the reverse side during a re-design. 
When viceroy Zhang Zhidong was transferred to the city of Wuchang, Hubei (present-day Wuhan), in the year 1893, Zhang also founded a modern mint in Wuchang where the "Hu-peh Dollar" (湖北洋) was produced. 
These provincial silver coins proved popular and soon other provinces started to cast their own variants of these silver coins.  These coins were manufactured independently by each province and it wasn't until 1910 that the government of the Qing dynasty standardised them at 0.72 taels.   Some provinces did not produce silver coins of larger denominations. 
The usage of silver coins was more common in Chinese trading ports after these were opened to foreign traders, eventually the usage of foreign paper money to exchange silver also became popular as foreign banks like The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation began issuing banknotes denominated in taels for the Chinese market. 
In the year 1897 the Beiyang Mint in the city of Tianjin produced a modern silver "dollar" for circulation in the province of Zhili.  Unlike the earlier Dragon dollars this coin had a denomination of 1 yuan. The design of this Beiyang dollar would change several times in only a few years. 
The city of Nanjing produced its first modern silver coin also in the year 1897.  The Nanjing coin carried the Chinese cyclical signs of the year of its production, and the design was also altered several times over a short period of time.  The province of Anhui also started the native production of provincial silver coinage in the same year, Sichuan followed suit in the year 1898 with the famous "Szechuan rupee".  Furthermore the provinces of Hunan, Taiwan, Shanxi, and Heilongjiang also started issuing their own silver coinages around this era. 
The most diverse of these silver coinages were the Dragon dollars of Jilin, Manchuria.  From the year 1899 the provincial mint of Jilin added the Chinese cyclical name of the year to denote its year of production.  After the year 1901 all Jilin silver dragon coins showed the image of the Taiji (太極圖), or yin and yang symbol, yet other silver coins from Jilin were decorated with the image of a Rohdea plant, known locally as the wannianqing (萬年青) and bore inscriptions in Mandarin Chinese, Manchu, and Uyghur (using Arabic script). 
Yunnan issued modern silver coins as the latest province of the Qing to do so, namely in the year 1907. 
The imperial mints in Beijing just made some silver pattern coins as tests, but never issued them. 
These modern European-style silver "dollar" coins, issued by each Chinese province independently from each other, did not reach the same standard in weight, homogeneity, and fineness as the actual foreign silver "dollars", and were therefore less accepted by the local markets in China than the original foreign silver "dollar" coins were.  The Chinese money-exchangers would treat these provincial silver coinages the same way as they did Chinese silver sycees, and assessed their value by weight rather than by any stated denominations. 
1910 Yunnan "spring dollars" Edit
In the year 1910 the provincial government of Yunnan issued a Chinese dragon dollar coin that is commonly known as the "Yunnan Spring dollar", the coin was issued after the government of the Qing dynasty had enacted the "Currency Regulations" (traditional Chinese: 幣制則例 simplified Chinese: 币制则例 pinyin: bì zhì zé lì ) on 15 April 1910.   The Yunnanese government had quickly taken the coin dies that they had been using to make the silver coins they issued in 1909 and would then engrave these new coins with an additional inscription at the top stating "Made in the Yunnan Province in the spring of the year Gengxu (1910)" (traditional Chinese: 庚戌春季雲南造 simplified Chinese: 庚戌春季云南造 pinyin: gēng xū chūn jì yún nán zào ).  This the only coin in the numismatic history of China that features a season of the year as part of the date.  This was done because according to the traditional Chinese calendar that was in use at the time, the "spring" was a time that referred to the first 3 months of the year, January, February, and March.  The centre of the obverse of the Yunnan Spring dollar contains the inscription "Xuantong Yuanbao" (宣統元寶), while on the bottom it contains the denomination of the coin as "Kuping Qi Qian Er Fen" (traditional Chinese: 庫平七錢二分 simplified Chinese: 库平七钱二分 pinyin: kù píng qī qián èr fēn , "Treasury Standard 7 Mace and 2 Candareens"). The reverse side of the coin features prominent dragon.  The Yunnan mint deliberately wrote down that the coin was issued in "the spring of 1910", because the new regulations set by the imperial government wouldn't take effect until April 1910.  However, the imperial Chinese government soon discovered the scheme at the Yunnan mint and quickly ordered that all these of these new "spring dollar" coins were to be withdrawn and later melted down.  In 1920 during the early Republican era it was discovered that an extremely small number of these coins had escaped being destroyed and these surviving specimens that are now known are commonly referred to as the "Yunnan Spring dollars" by Chinese numismatists and coin collectors.  Only two genuine specimens are known to exist making it among the very rarest of China's coins. 
- In April of the year 2002 the first genuine "Yunnan Spring dollar" to appear at public auction was sold in Beijing, at the Hua Chen auction. 
- In 2007 the same "Yunnan Spring dollar" as above was re-sold in a Cheng Xuan sale in Beijing where the coin was sold for ¥3,192,000 ($468,000). 
- In August of the year 2010 the same "Yunnan Spring dollar" as above was sold at a Hong Kong auction by Michael Chou, of Champion Hong Kong Auction for $1,035,000. 
Private production of silver coinage Edit
Despite silver making up the other half of the bimetallic system of the Qing dynasty's coinage it wasn't officially produced by the government until the later period of the dynasty where the silver coins would be based on the foreign coins that already circulated in China.  Government ledgers used it as a unit of account, in particular the Kuping Tael (庫平兩) was used for this.  For most of its history both the production and the measurements of silver was in the hands of the private market which handled the exclusive production of silver currency, the greatest amount of silver ingots in China was produced by private silversmiths (銀樓) in professional furnaces (銀爐), only a very small amount of silver ingots was issued by government-owned banks during the late 19th century.  While assayers and moneychangers had control over its exchange rates, for this reason no unified system of silver currency in place in China but a series of different types of silver ingots that were used in various markets throughout the country.  The most common form of silver ingots (元寶 or 寶銀) in China were the "horse-hoof ingots" (馬蹄銀) and could weigh as much as fifty taels, there were also "middle-size ingots" (中錠) which usually weigh around 10 taels, "small-size ingots" (小錠) [c] that weighed between one and five taels, and "silver crumbs" (碎銀 or 銀子). [d]  All freshly cast ingots were sent to official assayers (公估局) where their weight and fineness were marked with a brush.  However, these determinations were only valid on the local market and nowhere else do silver ingots were constantly reassessed which was the daily business of Chinese money changers.  In fact, silver ingots were weighed in each single transaction.  
Silver ingots were traded at different rates that were dependent on the purity of their silver content, the average ones were known as Wenyin (紋銀) or Zubao (足寶) which had (theoretical) purity of .935374, meanwhile specimens that were of higher quality and content were referred to by true surplus that was to be advanced on changing.  Exempli gratia a silver ingot known as an "Er-Si Bao" (二四寶) with a weight of fifty taels was valued at 52.4 taels.  Likewise other silver standards in China were all geared to the Wenyin such as the Shanghai tael that used in the foreign concession of the city, for instance, was called the Jiuba Guiyuan (九八規元) because it had 98 per cent of the purity of the Shanghai standard tael (規元).  The standard tael of Tianjin was called the Xinghua (行化) and that of Hankou was known as the Yangli (洋例).  
During the Xianfeng period a series of "silver cakes" (銀餅) was issued in 1856 by three private banks in the city of Shanghai, namely the Wang Yong Sheng (王永盛), Jing Zheng Ji (經正記), and Yu Sen Sheng (郁森盛).  Their cakes were manufactured by steel matrices and they tended to have a weight of 1 tael and 0.5 tael. 
Names of weights and standards of Chinese silver ingots Edit
The most commonly used English term to describe Chinese silver ingots is "sycee" (細絲), which comes from a Cantonese term meaning "fine weight" where the "weight" (絲, sī) represents 0.00001 tael.  However a large number of regional terms and names for these silver ingots existed throughout China, these names include:  
|Name||Traditional Chinese||Simplified Chinese||Region||Image of a regionally produced sycee|
|Yuansi||元絲||元丝||Southern Jiangsu and Zhejiang.|
|Yanche||鹽撤||盐撤||Jiangxi, Hubei, and Hunan.|
|Yuancao||元鏪||元鏪||Shaanxi and Gansu.|
Among the aforementioned regional names other designations for sycees were Qingsi (青絲), Baisi (白絲), Danqing (單傾), Shuangqing (雙傾), Fangcao (方鏪), and Changcao (長鏪) among many others.  
Aside from the large number of names for sycees that existed in China there was also a wealth of different weight standards for taels that existed that were different from market to market.  One of the larger variants of the tael was the Kuping Tael (庫平兩) which was used by the Chinese Ministry of Revenue for both weight measurements as well as a unit of account used during tax collections.  In 1858 a new trade tax was introduced which used the Sea Customs tael (海關兩) as a unit of account, meanwhile in Guangdong the Canton Tael (廣平兩) was used when trading with foreign merchants.  Another unit of account that was used was the Grain Tribute Tael (漕平兩) which was used for measuring and accounting the tribute the imperial Chinese government received in grain.  
During the later years of the Manchu Qing dynasty, the coinage system was scattered with central government-made coins, local coins and some foreign currencies circulating together in the private sector of China, resulting in a great deal of currency confusion, this has made both fiscal and financial management in China quite difficult. In an attempt to bring order to this chaos some people such as Chen Zhi started advocating for China to place its currency on the gold standard.  In the year Guangxu 30 (1904) the Ministry of Revenue created a concrete implementation for the manufacture of gold coins,  while in 1905 the government of the Qing dynasty reformed the currency system to allow for gold coins, these would be cast by the Tianjin General Mint operated by the Ministry of Revenue with the inscription Da-Qing Jinbi (大清金幣), only a small number of trial coins with this inscription were ever cast that were not meant for general circulation as the gold reserves of the Qing dynasty proved insufficient. These coins weighed 1 Kuping Tael and were cast in the years Guangxu 32 (1906) and Guangxu 33 (1907) and featured a design of a Chinese dragon on one side and the inscription on the other with the year of casting shown in Chinese cyclical years.  
In total there had been more than 50 local mints established that each bore their own unique mint marks, however several of these mints operated only for a brief time before discontinuing their casting of cash coins, mint marks on Qing dynasty coinage can be categorised into 7 main categories based on the scripts on the reverse sides of the coins: 1) only have Manchu script mint marks 2) Only have mint marks in Chinese script with the weight of the coin in lí 3) have both Manchu, and Chinese script mint marks 4) only have a single Chinese character indicating the mint on the top of the reverse side 5) Only contain the character "一" (1) on the reserve 6) have both Manchu, and Chinese scripts together on the right and left sides of the coin, plus the denomination of the denomination on the top and bottom, and 7) have Chinese, Manchu, and Arabic script together on the reverse side of the coin. 
Chinese mint marks Edit
Mint marks on coins issued from 1644 until 1661: 
|Mint mark |
|Mint mark |
|戶||户||The Ministry of Revenue,|
|工||工||The Ministry of Public Works,|
|西||西||Shanxi provincial mint|
From 1653 until 1657 another type of cash coin was simultaneously cast with the above series, but these coins contained the extra inscription of "一厘" (Equals one lí of silver) on the back.  They were generally minted at the same mints as the above cash coin series but weren't minted at the Yansui garrison, the Shanxi province, and the Jingzhou garrison while another mint at Jinan, Shandong was opened for these coins, with coins cast there bearing the mark "東".  Additionally there were also coins cast with no mint mark that only contain the character "一" (1) on their reserves indicating their value in Ií. 
Between 1660 and 1661 cash coins were manufactured with both a Manchu (on the left), and a Chinese (on the right) character as mint marks.  The following mints produced these coins: 
|Mint mark |
|Mint mark |
Under the reign of the Kangxi Emperor coins with only Manchu reverse inscriptions and both Manchu and Chinese reverse inscriptions were cast.  The coins of the Kangxi Emperor were also the basis for the coins of the Yongzheng, Qianlong, and Jiaqing Emperors. 
Under the Kangxi Emperor coins were produced at these mints: 
|Mint mark |
|Mint mark |
|西||西||Shanxi provincial mint|
Manchu mint marks Edit
Chinese, Manchu, and Uyghur mint marks Edit
Up until the 20th century Chinese silver ingots (sycee) were used for larger transactions, and were referred to as rta rmig ma ("horse hoof") and normally weighed 50 tael, or 50 srang. During the Qing period there also circulated silver ingots of smaller size, named gyag rmig ma (yak hoof) and yet smaller ones, referred to as ra rmig ma (goat hoof). In the early 20th century sycees were worth about 60–70 Indian rupees, the ingots of medium size 12–14 rupees and the smallest ingots 2–3 rupees.  British-Indian authors occasionally refer to the silver bars found in Tibet, some of which were imported from Kashgar, Xinjiang as "yambus", an expression which was derived from the Chinese "yuánbǎo". Silver cins that were extensively used in southern Tibet were supplied by the Nepalese Malla Kingdoms and the first kings of the subsequent Shah dynasty from about 1640 until 1791.  However, due to a dispute between Nepal and Tibet regarding the silver content of the coinage supplied by Nepal, the export of these coins was disrupted after the mid-eighteenth century.      To overcome the shortage of coins in Tibet at that time, the Tibetan government started striking its own coins, modelled on Nepalese prototypes. This occurred in 1763–64 and again in 1785 without any interference by the Chinese government.     After this, the Nepalese repeatedly attempted to reintroduce their silver coins back on the Tibetan market and the Tibetan government repeatedly attempted to mint its own silver coinage.  And to keep the profitable trade with Tibet the Nepalese attempted to invade Tibet in 1788 and again in 1790/91, eventually the Tibetan and Chinese armies drove the Nepalese out in 1792.
The Qing government took this opportunity to tighten their grip on Tibet's monetary system, and issued an edict which among other dispositions stipulated the introduction of a new silver coinage, struck in the name of the Qianlong Emperor. Simultaneously banning the import of silver coins from Nepal. Though due to a shortage of silver the Qing allowed the Tibetan government to strike coins derived from the Nepalese silver coins to circulate in Tibet under the supervision of both the Qing and Tibetan governments. In 1791 the Qing planned to cast copper cash coins in Tibet, however this was deemed too expensive to transport copper from China proper to Lhasa. From this point onward Tibetan silver coinage bore the reign names and eras of Qing Emperors.
During the second part of the 19th and the first third of the 20th century numerous foreign silver coins circulated in Tibet. Most of them were traded by weight, such as Mexican and Spanish American silver dollars, Russian roubles and German marks. The exception were British Indian rupees, particularly the ones with the portrait of Queen Victoria, which widely circulated in Tibet and were mostly preferred to Tibetan coins. These rupees were of good silver and had a fixed value, exchanging for three tangkas until about 1920,   and in later years of the 20th century they considerably increased in value. The Qing government saw the popularity of the Indian rupees among Tibetan traders with misgivings and in 1902 started striking their own rupees which were close copies of the Indian Victoria rupees, the portrait of the Queen being replaced by that of a Chinese mandarin, or, as most numismatists believe, of the Guangxu Emperor of China. The Chinese rupees were struck in Chengdu during the Qing dynasty.  These coins would continued to be produced by the Republic of China. 
Early history Edit
The region of Xinjiang was conquered by the Qing dynasty after the Dzungar–Qing Wars ended with the territory of the Dzungar Khanate coming under Manchu administration by 1759, the Muslim leaders and the armies of the conquered territories fled to Badakhshan. On 28 July 1759 the leader of Badakhshan formally recognised Manchu rule.    [ page needed ]   [ page needed ] Under Qing rule, Xinjiang was administered as 3 circuits, the southern circuit being the former Dzungar Khanate paid with pūl coins. Zhao Hui, General of Ili requested to the Qianlong Emperor permission to take pūl coins from the locals and use the copper to cast Qing Chinese cash coins, Zhao Hui ensured that these cash coins would weigh the same as the old pūl coins and would preserve the previous Dzungar monetary system. General Zhao Hui set the exchange rate between pūls and Qing cash coins at 2 Dzungar pūls for 1 cash, further Xinjiang cash coins being the same weight as Dzungar pūl coins weighed 2 qián (7.46 g) as opposed to the 1.2 qián (4.476 g) circulating in contemporary China proper. As pūl coins were nearly made of pure copper the new cash coins created from them would become red in colour earning them the nickname of "Red Cash".  As it was beyond the skills of the primitive Chinese metallurgists to remove the non-copper from the coinage 98% of the content of "Red Cash" was copper with the rest often being either zinc or lead as the Qing didn't have the expertise yet to remove this, the rest metal often came from scrap metal collected to cast cash coins. 
When "Red Cash" coins were introduced in the southern circuit in 1760 they were valued at 10 wén (or 10 cash coins from China proper), but a few years later this halved. Meanwhile, "Red Cash" from the other circuits were exchanged at par with standard cash coins. 
Establishing mints in Xinjiang Edit
As the state mint of the Dzungar Khanate was located in Yarkant, and many Dzungar pūl coins still circulated there as well as in Kashgar, and Hotän a new mint was opened in Yarkant in 1760 employing 99 people (among them 8 Han Chinese from Shaanxi who were previously employed by a provincial mint there).  Melting and casting equipment was transported from the Shaanxi province to Yarkant for the new mint to start producing coinage, not only Dzungar pūl coins were used but also leftover equipment from the military. The coins produced at this mint show the mint mark both in the Manchu and Uyghur languages. The Qing dynasty was able to claim 2.6 million pūl coins from the population at an exchange rate of 2 pūls for 1 cash, but in 1762 the exchange rate was placed at par causing the Qing to eventually discontinue the exchange in 1768 as the pūl would continue circulate, and the Yarkant mint was forced to import copper from the Turfan mint. In 1769 the Yarkant mint was closed having produced between two and three thousand strings of "Red Cash".  
A mint opened in Aksu in 1761, as Aksu had a high amount of natural copper resources near it, as well as gaining a lot of scrap copper through taxes. The mint itself was large housing 6 furnaces and employing 360 people including technical staff from China proper to oversee the production of "Red Cash" in Aksu. Most cash coins produced in Aksu almost exclusively circulated in the 4 largest cities of the former Dzungar Khanate. 
As the General of Ili made Turfan the administrative capital of Xinjiang's southern circuit the Aksu mint was relocated there in 1766, and after the Yarkant mint had closed down in 1769 the Turfan mint became the sole mint of the southern circuit. At first the standard weight of 2 qián (the same as Dzungar pūl coins circulating at the time) was maintained but a copper shortage in 1771 caused the "Red Cash" from Turfan to become a half qián lighter, and 3 years later had its weight brought at par with cash coins from China proper. In 1799 the Turfan mint was brought back to Aksu because of that city's increasing economic dominance over the region of Southern Xinjiang.  [ page needed ]
Cash coins in the Northern and Eastern circuits Edit
Unlike the southern circuit Xinjiang's other regions did not cash coins that deviated from those produced in China proper, various factors played into this decision. Mostly in the north the people that lived there were nomads and didn't have an established monetary system in place, and there were no prior government regulations on trade. Also many Han Chinese people started migrating from other parts of China to the northern and eastern regions of Xinjiang bringing with them their cash coins. Because of these reasons the Qing dynasty didn't create a new monetary system as they had done in the former Dzungar Khanate but implemented the system used by the rest of the Qing.  [ page needed ]
A mint was established at Yining City in 1775,  the mint itself was a large complex with 21 buildings. In 1776 copper was found near Yining causing the production of cash coins at the mint to rise.
Daoguang era Edit
In 1826 Jahangir Khoja with soldiers from the Khanate of Kokand occupied the southern circuit of Xinjiang temporarily losing Kashgar, Yarkant, and Hotän to this rebellion. The Daoguang Emperor sent 36 thousand Manchu soldiers to defeat this rebellion. As more soldiers had entered Xinjiang the price of silver went down, while that of copper went up. In 1826 1 tael of silver was worth 250 or 260 "Red Cash" while in 1827 good had decreased to 100 or sometimes even as low as 80. Despite the soldiers returning to Manchuria the original exchange rates did not restore causing the mint of Aksu to close, as the Aksu mint closed down less money was circulating on the market. In 1828 monetary reforms were implemented to keep the current weight of "Red Cash" but increase their denominations to 5, and 10 wén (while weighing the same) with 70% of Aksu's annual production being 5 wén coins, and 30% being 10 wén but the production of "Red Cash" itself was reduced by two and a half thousand strings. Later the Daoguang Emperor ordered the weight of "Red Cash" to further decrease to maximise profits. 
Xianfeng and Tongzhi eras Edit
Under the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor "Red Cash" coins were excessively manufactured negating the reforms implemented by Daoguang causing inflation in the region. As the Taiping rebellion and the Second Opium War had prompted the Qing government to start issuing high denomination cash coins in other parts of the Qing dynasty, this soon spread to Xinjiang mainly due to the decreased subsidies for military expenditures in Xinjiang lowering the soldiers' salaries. In 1855 new denominations of 4 wén and 8 wén were introduced at the Yining mint, further the Ürümqi mint started issuing cash coins with high denominations in response. New mints were established at Kucha, and Kashgar while the Yarkant mint was re-opened. Coins also started being cast in bronze, brass, lead, and iron this system received a chaotic response from Xinjiang's market. From 1860 denominations higher than 10 wén were discontinued.  Only coins of 4, 5, and 10 wén were cast at Xinjiang's provincial mints under the Tongzhi Emperor. Cash coins that had a higher denomination than 10 was being collected from the population to be smelted into lower denominations, while the higher denominations that stayed on the market were accepted only lower than their face value.  
Arabic cash coins of Rashidin Khan Khoja Edit
During the Dungan revolt from 1862 to 1877, Sultan Rashidin Khan Khoja proclaimed a Jihad against the Qing dynasty in 1862, and captured large cities in the Tarim Basin. He issued Chinese-style cash coins minted at the Aksu, and Kucha mints with exclusive Arabic inscriptions, these coins were only briefly minted as Rashidin Khan Khoja would be betrayed and murdered by Yakub beg in 1867. 
Guangxu and Xuantong eras Edit
As the chaotic circulation of various denominations of cash coins had continued, this invited foreign silver money from Central Asia to start circulating in the Xinjiang region. After the Russian Empire had occupied the northern region of Xinjiang in 1871 Russian rubles started circulating. Eventually 3 parallel currency systems were in place while pūl coins from the Dzungar Khanate kept circulating in Kashgaria a century after the region was annexed by the Qing dynasty. The Dungan revolt lead by the Tajik Muhammad Yaqub Beg was defeated in 1878 during the Qing reconquest of Xinjiang,   and the Russians returned the territory they had occupied after signing a treaty in 1880 at Yining.   In 1884 Xinjiang was upgraded to the status of "province" ending military and Lifan Yuan rule over the region, while the "Red Cash" system was reintroduced in Kashgaria now at a value of 4 wén. However, at the end of the reign of the Guangxu Emperor "Red Cash" was discontinued at the Aksu mint in 1892 because of the rising costs of charcoal needed to produce the coins. The Aksu mint was transferred to Kucha mint. Though the Kashgar mint re-opened in 1888 it outsourced some of the production of "Red Cash" to Kucha and Aksu resulting in cash coins being cast with the Chinese mint mark of Kashgar but the Manchu and Arabic mint marks of the actual mint of casting. The kashgar mint closed down in 1908. The Kucha mint introduced new obverse inscriptions for cash coins minted there with the Guang Xu Ding Wei (光緒丁未) in 1907, and Guang Xu Wu Shen (光緒戊申) in 1908, however production didn't last very long as the Kucha mint finally closed down in 1909. 
Under the Xuantong Emperor "Red Cash" continued to be produced but at lower number than before at the Turpan mint, but as the Turpan mint closed down in 1911 a year before the fall of the Qing dynasty the production of "Red Cash" officially ended.  [ page needed ]
- In 1713 a special Kāng Xī Tōng Bǎo (康熙通寶) cash coin was issued to commemorate the sixtieth birthday of the Kangxi Emperor, these bronze coins were produced with a special yellowish colour, and these cash coins believed to have "the powers of a charm" immediately when it entered circulation, this commemorative coin contains a slightly different version of the Hanzi symbol "熙", at the bottom of the cash, as this character would most commonly have a vertical line at the left part of it but did not have it, and the part of this symbol which was usually inscribed as "臣" has the middle part written as a "口" instead. Notably, the upper left area of the symbol "通" only contains a single dot as opposed of the usual two dots used during this era. Several myths were attributed to this coin over the following three-hundred years since it has been cast such as the myth that the coin was cast from molten down golden statues of the 18 disciples of the Buddha which earned this coin the nicknames "the Lohan coin" and "Arhat money". These commemorative kāng xī tōng bǎo cash coins were given to children as yā suì qián (壓歲錢) during Chinese new year, some women wore them akin to how an engagement ring is worn today, and in rural Shanxi young men wore this special kāng xī tōng bǎo cash coin between their teeth like men from cities had golden teeth. Despite the myths surrounding this coin it was made from a copper-alloy and did not contain any gold but it was not uncommon for people to enhance the coin with gold leaf. 
- Commemorative silver coins with the portrait of the Panchen Lama of Tibet are known to be produced during the Qianlong reign. 
- In 1905 the Qing dynasty issued special silver 1 taelGuāng Xù Yuán Bǎo (光緒元寶) coins celebrating the 70th birthday of Empress Dowager Cixi.  These coins feature the Chinese character for longevity (壽) surrounded by 2 Imperial dragons reaching out to the wish-granting pearl.
Vault protector coins were produced for a period of over a thousand years starting in the country of Southern Tang during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period and were produced until the Qing dynasty.  Speculations exist that claim that coins that had a function of being "vault protectors" might even predate this era by another millennium.  These non-circulating coins were typically cast to commemorate the opening of new furnaces for casting cash coins. 
These coins were significantly larger, heavier and thicker than regular cash coins and were well-made as they were designed to occupy a special place within the treasury of the mint.  The treasury had a spirit hall for offerings to the gods of the Chinese pantheon, and Vault Protector coins would be hung with red silk and tassels for the Chinese God of Wealth.  These coins were believed to have charm-like magical powers that would protect the vault while bringing wealth and fortune to the treasury.  
Shunzhi era Edit
Xianfeng era Edit
The Leizhou City Museum (雷州市博物館) in the city of Leizhou, Guangdong and the Palace Museum in Beijing both own a Qing dynasty era Xianfeng Tongbao (咸豐通寶) vault protector coin.  The reverse inscription of this vault protector coin reads Da-Qing Zhenku (大清鎮庫, which could be translated into English as "Vault Protector of the Qing dynasty").  These coins have a diameter of 14 centimeters.  The square centre hole is 2.5 centimeters in diameter, the vault protector coin weighs 1.05 kilograms.  Only 5 of these vault protector coins were ever produced and during the beginning of the Republic of China, a eunuch had stolen all of them, the aforementioned two cash coins remained in China while the eunuch sold the other 3 Xianfeng Tongbao vault protector coins for what was purported to be "a large amount of money" to a British man.  A description of this vault protector coin also appears in the book "Zhongguo Guqian Daji" (中國古錢大集) written by Hua Guangpu (華光普), where it is valued as being worth 1.200.000 yuan.  The Leizhou City Museum came in possession of this coin during the 1950s, prior to this it was privately owned. 
During the Xianfeng era another type of vault protector coins was cast by the Ministry of Public Works with the obverse inscription Baoyuan Juzao (寶源局造, which could be translated as "made by the Ministry of Public Works").   The reverse inscription of this coin reads Zhenku (鎮庫, "vault protector coin").   This vault protector coin is very large in its size and has a diameter of 11.52 centimeters, its square centre hole is 1.8 centimeters in diameter, and it has a weight of 837.3 grams.   In 1936 Arthur B. Coole (邱文明) claimed that only four of five of these vault protector coins were ever produced by the Ministry of Public Works Mint in Beijing. 
Chinese numismatist Ma Dingxiang (馬定祥), in his book "The coins of Xianfeng" (咸豐泉匯), claims that the style of this vault protector coin is consistent to the styles of other Xianfeng era cash coinages.   Furthermore, Ma Dingxiang claims that there exists only a single other specimen of a "companion vault protector coin" that was produced simultaneously by the Ministry of Revenue Mint in Beijing.  
In 2009 a Baoyuan Juzao vault protector coin was sold at an auction in Tokyo, Japan.   This same coin was sold at auction in the year 2013 for $408,279 (RMB 2,530,000).  At the time of this auction, this sale had broken the record for the highest amount of money that was ever paid for a Qing dynasty era coin. 
Qixiang / Tongzhi era Edit
After the death of the Xianfeng Emperor, his son was crowned the Qixiang Emperor, however, after only one month his reign title was changed to the Tongzhi Emperor.   Because if this only a very small number of cash coins using the Qixiang inscription was used, to commemorate the new emperor a Qixiang Zhongbao (祺祥重寶) vault protector coin were made, this coin does not have any characteristics that indicate which mint had produced it.   The reverse of the Qixiang Zhongbao vault protector coin contains the inscription Da-Qing Zhenku (大清鎮庫).   This coin had a diameter of 10.1 centimeters and a thickness of 0.47 centimeters.   
A Qixiang Zhongbao vault protector coin was sold at an auction in Hong Kong in the year 2013 for $745,755 (HK$5,750,000).  
Guangxu era Edit
A Guangxu Tongbao vault protector coin was sold at an auction in the year 2010 for $51,485 (RMB 319,200). 
Under the reign of the Qing dynasty foreign silver coins entered China in large numbers, these silver coins were known in China as the Yangqian (洋錢, "ocean money") or Fanqian (番錢, "barbarian money").  During the 17th and 18th centuries Chinese trade with European merchants was in a constant rise, as the Chinese weren't consumers of larger contingents of commodities from Europe they largely received foreign silver currency for their exports.  As the Europeans discovered a vast quantity of silver mines in the Americas the status of silver rose to be that of an international currency and silver became the most important metal used in international transactions globally, this also had a profound impact on the value of Chinese silver.  Other than trade, Europeans were interested in the Chinese market due to the high interest rates on loans paid out to Chinese merchants in Guangzhou by the Europeans.  Another common reason why European merchants traded with the Chinese was because as various types of precious metals had different prices around the world the price of gold was much lower in China than in Europe.  Meanwhile, Chinese merchants used copper-alloy cash coins to purchase silver from the Europeans and Japanese during this period.  
Silver coins largely circulated in the coastal provinces of China and the most important form of silver were the foreign silver coins that circulated in China and these were known under many different names often dependent on the imagery depicted on them.  According to the 1618 book Dong-Xiyang Kao (東西洋考) a chapter on the local products of the island of Luzon in the Spanish East Indies (Philippines) mentions that Chinese observers witnessed a silver coin that came from New Spain (Mexico) while other Chinese observers would claim that it came from Spain.  These silver dollars came from the North American part of New Spain to the Philippines through the Manila galleons in the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade and were brought to Quanzhou, Zhangzhou, Guangzhou, Macau, Xiamen, and Ningbo by Chinese merchants.  Trade with the Kingdom of Portugal commenced after the Portuguese occupation of Macau in 1557 and two decades later trade with Castile was established, trade with the Dutch Republic started in 1604 with their occupation of the Penghu islands, and with the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1729. By the end of the eighteenth century China was also trading with the newly established United States of America.  Despite Chinese merchants valuing both foreign silver coins (銀元) and Chinese silver ingots (銀兩) based on their silver content, the government of the Qing dynasty still enforced the opinion that the silver coins that originated in foreign countries was somehow of inferior value than the Chinese sycees.  Yet the private Chinese markets didn't share this opinion with the imperial Qing government as the populations of the coastal provinces (and Guangdong most in particular) held the foreign silver coins in high esteem due to various advantages such as their fixed nominal values and their consistently reliable fineness of their silver content which all made them be used for transactions without having to undergo a process of assaying or weighing as is expected of sycees.  
The year 1814 the market value of 1 silver foreign coin in Guangzhou was never less than 723 Chinese cash coins, while in other provinces like Jiangsu and Zhejiang they were even worth more eight hundred cash coins, or foreign silver coins could be traded for 0.73 tael of silver each.    The following decades the exchange ratee would only rise and a single foreign silver coin would be worth between 1,500 and 1,900 Chinese cash coins. The Chinese authorities during this period for this reason often raised the proposition to ban the circulation of foreign silver coins within Chinese territory, on the suspicion that "good" Chinese silver went to foreign markets, while the "inferior" foreign silver coins caused the markets of southern China to inundate. There was evidence that the Qing dynasty indeed suffered a net loss of 11% when changing Chinese into foreign silver.  During the initial period of the 19th century the imperial Chinese administration suspected that more silver was being exported than imported causing the Chinese to slowly develop a silver deficit as the trade balance fell on the negative side of the spectrum for the Qing.  However, as the government of the Qing dynasty never collected and compiled any statistics on the private trade of silver it is very difficult to generate any accurate hard numbers on these claims.  According to Hosea Ballou Morse the turning point for the Chinese trade balance was in the year 1826, during this year the trade balance allegedly fell from a positive balance of 1,300,000 pesos to a negative one of 2,100,000 pesos.  
According to the memorial by the governor of Fujian, L. Tsiuen-Sun published on 7 November 1855 it is noted that the governor witnessed that the foreign silver coins that had been circulating in Jiangnan were held in great esteem by the local people and that the most excellent of these coins weighed 7 Mace and 2 Candareens while their silver content was only of 6 Mace and 5 Candareens.  He also noted that these coins were greatly used in Fujian and Guangdong and that even the most defaced and mutilated of these coins were valued on par with Chinese sycees, in fact he noted that everyone in possession of a sycee would exchange these for foreign silver coins known as Fanbing (番餅, "foreign cakes") due to their standard weights and sizes.  Meanwhile, the governor noted that in the provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu these chopped dollars didn't circulate as much in favour of a currency he calls "bright money". Originally a dollar was worth upwards of seven Mace the value gradually rose over time to eight Mace, and by 1855 it exceeded nine Mace. 
Early trade prior to the establishment of the Qing Edit
Between the 16th and 18th centuries a vast amount of foreign silver coins arrived in the Qing dynasty.  During the early years of Sino-Portuguese trade at the port of Macau, the merchants from the Kingdom of Portugal purchased an annual amount of two million taels worth of Chinese commodities, additionally the Portuguese shipped about 41 million taels (or 1.65 million kilograms) of silver from Japan to China until the year 1638.  A century earlier in the year 1567 the Spanish trade port in the city of Manila in the Philippines as part of the Spanish colonial empire was opened which until the fall of the Ming dynasty brought over forty million Kuping Taels of silver to China with the annual Chinese imports numbering at 53,000,000 pesos (each peso being 8 real) or 300,000 Kuping Taels.  During the Ming dynasty the average Chinese junk which took the voyage from the Spanish East Indies to the city of Guangzhou took with it eighty thousand pesos, a number which increased under the Qing dynasty as until the mid-18th century the volume of imported Spanish pesos had increased to 235,370,000 (or 169 460,000 Kuping Tael).  The Spanish mention that around 12,000,000 pesos were shipped from Acapulco to Manila in the year 1597 as part of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade while in other years this usually numbered between one and four million pesos. The Japanese supplied 11,250 kilograms of silver to China by merchants in direct trade annually prior to the year 1600, after the Sakoku policy was enacted by the Tokugawa shogunate in the year 1633 only 350 Japanese trade vessels sailed for China, however each of these ships had more than one thousand tons of silver.  
Names used by the Chinese for foreign silver coins Edit
List of names used for foreign silver coins during the reign of the Qing dynasty:  
|Name||Traditional Chinese||Simplified Chinese||Literal translation||Foreign silver coin||Image|
|"Horse money" |
|"Double ball [dollar]" |
|Spanish dollars issued under King Philip V and King Ferdinand VI|
|"Main dollar" [e] |
|Spanish Carolus dollar|
|Sangong [f]||三工||三工||"Three Gong's"||Spanish dollars produced under King Charles III|
|Sigong||四工||四工||"Four Gong's"||Spanish dollars produced under King Charles IV|
|Huabianqian||花邊錢||花边钱||"Decorated-rim money"||Machine-struck Spanish Carolus dollars produced after 1732|
|"Eagle coin" |
"English Dollar" [g]
|Shiziqian||十字錢||十字钱||"Cross money"||Portuguese cruzado|
|"Large curls" |
"Small curls" [h]
|Pengtou||蓬頭||蓬头||"Unbound hair" [i]||United States dollar|
United States trade dollar
|Bianfu||蝙蝠||蝙蝠||"Bat" [j]||Mexican peso or United States dollar|
|"Standing person dollar" |
|"Dragon dollar" |
"Dragon foreign [dollar]"
Spanish dollars and Mexican pesos from the Philippines Edit
The paramount foreign silver coin in Chinese history was the Spanish piece of eight (or 8 reals and commonly called a peso or dollar) originally entering in circulation through trade with Manila in the Philippines to the cities of Quanzhou, Zhangzhou, Xiamen in Fujian and Guangzhou and Macau in Guangdong. The Philippines, as part of the Spanish East Indies, exported to and was supplied through the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade with the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Mexico), all as part of the Spanish colonial empire. It was known popularly in English as the Spanish dollar, however to the Chinese this coin was popularly known as the double ball (雙球) because its obverse depicted two different hemispheres of the globe based on the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas which divided the world between the Crown of Castile and the Kingdom of Portugal and the Algarves.  The silver "double ball" coins were issued under the reigns of King Philip V and King Ferdinand VI between the years 1700 and 1759 and were minted in the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Mexico) which was signified by the mint mark "Mo" ("M[exic]o") and featured Latin texts such as "VTRAQUE VNUM" ("both [hemispheres] are one [empire]") and "HISPAN·ET·IND·REX" ("king of Spain and the Indies") preceded with the name of the reigning monarch.  The globes on these early Spanish dollars were flanked by two crowned pillars (representing the Pillars of Hercules), these pillars were entwined with S-shaped banners (which is also the origin of the peso sign, $).  Under the reign of King Charles III the design was changed and the pillars were moved to the reverse of the coin while of the Spanish coat-of-arms were superseded by a portrait of the reigning monarch, because of this these coins were known as "Carolus dollars" or columnarius ("with columns") in the West,  while the Chinese referred to them as Zhuyan (柱洋, "pillar dollar"). Additionally on some Carolus dollars the inscription "PLVS VLTRA" was found.   The Spanish Carolus dollars always had a standard weight of 27.468 grams, while their silver content was lowered from 0.93955 to a purity of only 0.902. From the year 1732 onwards these coins were manufactured in Mexico City and other parts of Spanish America.  The portraits of kings Charles III and Charles IV (with the "IV" written as "IIII") were featured on these coins, the Chinese referred to the Latin numeral "I" as "工" causing the silver coins of Charles III to be known as Sangong (三工) while those produced under the reign of Charles IV were known as Sigong (四工) coins.  Additionally the depiction of the reigning Spanish monarch inspired the Chinese people to refer these Carolus dollars as Fotou Yang (佛頭洋, "Buddha-head dollar").  The Carolus dollar came in the denominations of ½ real, 1 real, 2 reales, 4 reales, and 8 reales of which the highest denomination had a diameter of forty millimeters and a thickness of 2.5 millimeters.  All Carolus dollars issued under the reign of Charles III to China were produced in the year 1790 while those under Charles IV all date from 1804 onwards.  
In daily exchange the Chinese rated the 8 reales Carolus dollars at 0.73 Kuping Tael and was one of the most important forms of exchange, the Treaty of Nanking that ended the First Opium War had its payments measured in Spanish Carolus dollars.  According to estimates by the British East India Company the Qing dynasty imported 68,000,000 Taels worth of foreign silver coins between the years 1681 and 1833, this sets China's imports over 100,000,000 foreign silver coins with the bulk of these being Spanish Carolus dollars produced in Spanish America that entered China through trade.  
The Chinese preference of the old Spanish Carolus dollars over newer European silver coinage, Mexican real, Peruvian real (later the Peruvian sol, and the Bolivian sol (later the Bolivian boliviano) was considered to be "unjustified" by many foreign powers, it took the combined diplomatic interventions of the United Kingdom, France and the United States to lead to a proclamation by Shanghainese superintendent of customs, Chaou, to issue a decree that was dated 23 July 1855, commanding the general circulation of all foreign silver coins, whether they were new or old coinages.  One of the reasons why the circulation of other silver coins other than the Spanish Carolus dollars because the Spanish government has long since stopped the production of these coins as the Spanish American wars of independence cut them off of the majority of their colonies, this had the effect that while no new Spanish Carolus dollars were being produced many Chinese merchants started demanding more money for them as these coins started slowly but gradually disappearing from the Chinese market.  As many foreign nations started trading with China, the Chinese regarded these non-Spanish currencies as "new coins" and often discounted them from 20 to 30 percent due to the suspicion that they had a lower silver content than the Spanish Carolus dollars. 
After Mexican independence was declared, the Mexican Empire started issuing silver pesos with their coat of arms on them, these silver coins were brought to China from 1854 and were known to the Chinese as "Eagle coins" (鷹洋), though they have commonly been incorrectly called "English dollars" (英洋) because they were mostly brought to China by English merchants.   The denominations of these coins remained the same as with the earlier Spanish dollars but the currency unit "real" was replaced with "peso".   Initially the Chinese market didn't respond positively to this change of design and accepted the Mexican pesos at a lower rate than they did the Spanish Carolus dollars due to a fear that they might have a lower silver content, but after members the customs house of Shanghai were inviter to see the manufacturing process of the Mexican peso by the foreign mercantile community they concluded that these new coins were of equal quality and purity as the old Spanish Carolus dollars and decreed that after the next Chinese new year Chinese merchants in Shanghai can't demand a premium on transactions made in Mexican pesos and that all foreign coins would have to be judged on their intrinsic value and not on the fact if it was a Spanish Carolus dollar or not, the reason why this decree was passed was due to the widespread dishonesty among the Chinese merchants overcharging transactions paid in Mexican pesos claiming that only Spanish Carolus dollars were trustworthy.  This request was also forwarded to all governors of the coastal provinces, however despite the push by the Chinese authorities of the Qing to bring fiscal parity between the Spanish Carolus dollar and the Mexican peso, the Chinese people still held high esteem for the former and the prejudices favouring Spanish Carolus dollars did not cease. 
On the 26th day of the 1st month during the year Xianfeng 6 (2 March 1856) the Taoutae (or highest civil officer) of Luzhou-fu, Longjiang-fu, and Taichangzhou who also served as the acting Commissioner of Finance for Luzhou-fu as other places in Jiangnan issued a proclamation condemning the practice of discounting the value of good Spanish dollars and making it illegal to do so, Taoutae Yang cited that there were cunning stockjobbers who have been getting up a set of clever nicknames which they give to Spanish Carolus dollars out of self-interest to try and devalue certain coins and heavily discount them.  Some time after the proclamation these dealers stopped fearing the law and continued their practice.  It was notable that certain types of Spanish dollars known as the "copper-mixed-dollar", the "inlaid-with-lead-dollar", the "light-dollar", and the "Foochoow dollar" were particularly targeted this proclamation as they were perceived to be intrinsically of less value, according to Eduard Kann in his book The Currencies of China he reports in Appendix IV: "A feature of Foochow currency is the chopped, or rather the scooped, the scraped, the cut, the punched dollar.  This maltreatment often obliterates all trace of the original markings, some assuming the shape and appearance of a mushroom suffering from smallpox. It is obvious that such coins must pass by weight . "  The Taoutae argued that the money-changers used absurd tricks in attempting to find a flaw in the Spanish dollar while he argued that these coins were both not lighter in weight nor did they feel inferior in quality when held.  The Taoutae argued that the numerous chops on them are proof of the fact that they have been rigorously checked and verified by various Chinese authorities over an extended period of time and that the chopping of these Spanish dollars did not negatively influence them in any way.  Money-changers who engaged in illegally downgrading and devaluing Spanish dollars by assigning these nicknames to them in Jiangnan were placed in a cangue.  A similar law was also passed by the province of Zhejiang and government clerks aiding these dishonest shopkeepers were also subject to punishment if discovered. 
Other foreign silver coins Edit
The silver ducats of the Dutch Republic were known as the Maqian (馬錢) or Majian (馬劍) to the Chinese and it has been estimated that between the years 1725 and 1756 ships from the Netherlands bought in Canon merchandise for 3.6 million taels worth of silver, but between the years 1756 and 1794 this was only 82.697 tael.  In the late 18th century the Dutch silver ducats were primarily circulating in the coastal provinces of Guangdong and Fujian.  The smallest of the Dutch ducats had a weight of 0.867 Kuping Tael.  The Portuguese cruzado started circulating in the southern provinces of China during the latter part of the 18th century and was dubbed the Shiqiqian (十字錢) by contemporary Chinese merchants.  The denominations of the Portuguese cruzado during that time were 50 réis, 60 réis, 100 réis, 120 réis, 240 réis, and 480 réis with the largest coin weighing only 0.56 Kuping Tael.   The silver coins of the Japanese yen were first introduced in the year 1870 and circulated in the eastern provinces of the Qing dynasty, they were locally known as Longyang (龍洋, "dragon dollars") or Longpan (龍番) because they featured a big dragon and bore the Kanji inscription Dai Nippon (大日本).  These Japanese coins were dominated in yen (圓) and would later serve as the model for the Chinese silver coins produced at the end of the Qing period.  
Prior to the first opium war began around a dozen different types of foreign silver coins were circulating in China, among these was a small amount of French silver écu coins, however Spanish Carolus dollars were by far the most numerous as various trade companies such as the British East India Company purchased Chinese products such as tea with them, as all other foreign currencies were forbidden by the Qing as a means to accept payment for tea.  In the year 1866 a new mint was opened in British Hong Kong and the British government started the production of the silver Hong Kong dollar (香港銀圓) that all featured a portrait of the reigning British monarch, Queen Victoria.  As these Hong Kong dollars didn't have as high of a silver content as the Mexican peso these silver coins were rejected by Chinese merchants and had to be demonetised mere 7 years after they were introduced.  In the year 1873 the government of the United States created the American trade dollar which was known to the Chinese as the Maoyi Yinyuan (貿易銀元), this coin specially designed for use in the trade with the Qing dynasty.  However, because its silver content was lower than that of the Mexican peso, it suffered the same fate as the silver Hong Kong dollar and was discontinued 14 years after its introduction.   Afterwards another silver British coin was introduced inspired by the American trade dollar that became known as the British dollar or British trade dollar, these coins featured the inscription "One Dollar" (in English, Chinese, and Malay) and had the portrait of the female personification of the United Kingdom Britannia on them, these silver coins were introduced in the year 1895, and were called either Zhanrenyang (站人洋) or Zhangyang (仗洋) by the Chinese.  
Vault Protector Coins
On special occasions in ancient times, Chinese mints would cast an unusually large, thick, heavy and well-made coin.
The coin was known as a “vault protector” (zhen ku qian 镇库钱).
The coin was not for circulation but occupied a special place at the treasury.
The treasury had a spirit hall where offerings could be made to various gods including the God of Wealth (财神). The special coin would sometimes be hung with red silk and tassels above the incense table in the spirit hall.
The vault protector coin was believed to have charm-like powers that provided protection from disaster and evil while ensuring good fortune and wealth.
Vault protector coin “da tang zhen ku” of Southern Tang
Shown at the left is the earliest vault protector coin know to exist, and also the most famous.
The inscription da tang zhen ku (大唐镇库) translates as “Vault Protector of the Tang Dynasty”.
The translation is a little misleading, however, because the coin was not produced during the great Tang Dynasty (618-907).
The coin is actually attributed to the short-lived Southern Tang (nan tang 南唐 937-976) which was one of the Ten Kingdoms that existed after the fall of the Tang.
The coin was cast during the baoda period (保大 943-957) of the reign of Yuanzong (元宗), also known as Li Jing (李景 or 李璟), of the Southern Tang.
Yuan Zong cast large quantities of coins including kai yuan tong bao (开元通宝), tang guo tong bao (唐国通宝), bao da yuan bao (保大元宝) and da tang tong bao (大唐通宝).
In addition to the da tang tong bao (大唐通宝) coins, he also had cast this large vault protector coin with the inscription da tang zhen ku (大唐镇库).
The coin retains the characteristics of Southern Tang coins.
The diameter is 6 cm, the thickness is 0.6 cm, the diameter of the hole is 1.24 cm and the coin weighs 93.7 grams.
The coin was originally acquired in the early 20th century by Mr. Fang Yaoyu (方药雨), a well-known coin collector in Tianjin. The coin was later owned by Mr. Chen Rentao (陈仁涛).
Since the early 1950’s, this famous da tang zhen ku vault protector coin has been in the collection of the National Museum of China (中国国家博物馆).
It is the only authentic specimen known to exist.
Qing Dynasty vault protector on display at the Leizhou City Museum
At the left is a vault protector coin dating from the Qing dynasty on display at the Leizhou City Museum (雷州市博物馆).
The obverse side (not shown) of the coin has the inscription xian feng tong bao (咸丰通宝) which means the coin was cast during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor (咸丰帝), 1850-1861.
The inscription on the reverse side, seen above, is da qing zhen ku (大清镇库) which means “Vault Protector of the Qing Dynasty”.
According to this article, there were a total of five of these special vault protector coins cast. In the early years of the Republic (1912-1949), a eunuch stole the coins. Three of the coins were sold to an Englishman for “a large amount of money”. One of the remaining coins is at the Leizhou City Museum and the other is at The Palace Museum (故宫博物院) in Beijing.
The coin has a diameter of 14 cm. The square hole is 2.5 cm. The coin weighs 1050 grams.
Vault protector coin cast at the Board of Works during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor of the Qing Dynasty
The inscription reads bao yuan ju zao (宝源局造) which means “made by the Board of Works”.
The reverse side has the Chinese inscription zhen ku (镇库) which means “vault protector”.
According to Mr. Ma Dingxiang (马定祥), one of the most famous Chinese numismatists of the 20th century, this vault protector is consistent with the style of coins cast during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor.
Reverse side of vault protector coin cast during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor
This very large coin has a diameter of 11.52 cm and weighs 837.3 grams. The center hole is 1.8 cm.
According to “Coins in China’s History” published in 1936 by Arthur B. Coole (邱文明), only 4 or 5 of these vault protector coins from the Board of Works (宝源局) exist. Mr. Ma Dingxiang states in his book on the coins of Xianfeng (咸丰泉汇), that there exists just one specimen of a companion vault protector coin that was cast at the same time at the Board of Revenue (宝泉局).
This coin sold at auction in 2013 for $408,279 (RMB 2,530,000) which, at the time, broke the record for the most ever paid for a Qing dynasty coin.
In 1861 during the last days of his life, the Xianfeng emperor made arrangements for his son, Zaiqun, to succeed him as emperor.
Rare Qixiang vault protector coin
The new emperor was to take the reign title of Qixiang (祺祥).
With the passing of Xianfeng, however, a coup took place resulting in a change of the reign title. The new reign title was to be Tongzhi (同治).
For a period of about one month, however, the mints produced coins with the inscription Qixiang. Authentic Qixiang coins are scarce because they were only cast for a very short period of time.
The inscription reads qi xiang zhong bao (祺祥重宝).
Reverse side of Qixiang vault protector
The inscription on the reverse side is da qing zhen ku (大请镇库) which translates as “Vault Protector of the Qing Dynasty”.
This coin is 10.1 cm in diameter and has a thickness of 0.47 cm.
The coin does not indicate the mint that produced it.
This very large and rare Qixiang vault protector coin sold at auction in 2013 for $745,755 (HK$5,750,000).
Qing dynasty “guangxu tong bao” vault protector coin
The inscription reads guang xu tong bao (光绪通宝).
The coin was cast as a vault protector during the reign of the Guangxu Emperor (光绪帝) 1875-1908.
The coin is very well cast and the bronze is exquisite.
Reverse side of Qing dynasty vault protector coin
The reverse side, shown at the left, has the inscription bao yuan (宝源) meaning it was cast at the Board of Works in Beijing.
The thickness is a remarkable 1 cm.
This coin sold at auction in 2010 for $51,485 (RMB 319,200).
Taiping Rebellion “Taiping Tian Guo” vault protector coin
According to Mr. Ma Dingxiang (马定祥), this is a vault protector coin cast during the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864).
The inscription on the obverse reads tai ping tian guo (太平天国) which translates as the “Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace”.
The coin has a diameter of 7.6 cm.
Reverse side of Taiping Rebellion vault protector coin
The reverse side of the coin has the inscription sheng bao (圣宝) which translates as “Sacred Currency”.
Mr. Ma discusses the coin in his book “Coins of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom” (太平天国钱币).
These large, well-crafted vault protector coins were produced during the later period of the Taiping Rebellion in Hunan, Suzhou and Hangzhou.
This specimen was in the collection of Mr. Ma and sold at auction in 2011 for $111,286 (RMB 690,000).
There are only five or six of these coins known to exist and they all display very slight differences.
Taiping Heavenly Kingdom vault protector coin at Taiping Heavenly Kingdom History Museum
Another specimen of a Taiping Heavenly Kingdom vault protector coin (太平天国镇库钱) is shown at the left.
The coin is in the collection of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom History Museum (太平天国厉史博物馆) in Nanjing.
The description in the exhibit reads “A Taiping Sample Coin Permanently Placed in the Heavenly Treasury as a Symbol of Wealth”.
It can be clearly seen in this image just how thick these vault protector coins really are.
There is some speculation that a very large and heavy banliang coin (半两) made of silver was cast by the State of Qin (秦) in 336 BC to serve as a vault protector. Please see “State of Qin Silver Banliang Coin” for a detailed discussion.
Because vault protector coins are so rare, there is no shortage of fakes appearing on the market. In doing research for this article, I found several coins described as vault protectors which I found questionable. Collectors of these special coins therefore need to be especially careful.
China nowadays issues on a regular basis a large variety of special commemorative coins made of precious metals such as gold or silver. These coins are not meant for circulation. They are popular as collectables and investments.
Some of these modern coins are modeled after the vault protector coins of ancient times.
In 1998, a gold coin modeled after the “Vault Protector of the Tang Dynasty” discussed above was issued. A gold version of the Emperor Xianfeng vault protector discussed above was minted in 1990. Finally, a gold coin based on a different Emperor Xianfeng vault protector was produced in 1982.
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I will email you requesting additional information.
I would like to ask you about some coins found in an archaeological excavation in Cambodia but have been unable to get your email address from the Primal Trek website. Could you contact me please?
I just received what appears to be a vault protector charm based on your article. It was a gift of a Korean family whose son is one of my employees. They purchased it in an antique shop near or in Seoul. Based on the inscription, it dates to the first Ming Emperor circa 1368 – if its authentic. Measures 9.24 cm in diameter and weighs 285 grams. Hoping to send you some photos and learn more about it. Regards. Pete
I have read your interesting article on Chinese Vault Protector Coins. I am interested to know more details of the auctions in Hong Kong and Japan where these pieces were sold. If you could provide me with the names of the auction houses and the precise sale dates I would be most grateful.
Andre de Clermont
I commented in November last about the Chinese Vault Protector coins. I am in possession of an example which seems to match the Xianfeng specimen in the Leizhou City Museum which you refer to in your article. The diameter and weight of my example exactly match the figures mentioned in your article. The provenance of my piece is from the collection of a British colonial administrator who spent his working life in Hong Kong and China between the mid-1880s and 1920s. I am seeking confirmation of the authenticity of my piece, and if you can help in any way, I would be grateful. I would also like to send you pictures, so an email address or further contact details would be very much appreciated.
Banliang Coin - History
Map of spec fic civilization
3 major cities - Xianyang is the capital, Hao, Luoyang (Qin Dynasty )
Climate - Mild in the Spring, Summer and Fall. Very cold in winter. ( Qin Dynasty )
Clothing - “Hanfu” was the traditional type of clothing and the different colors represented different social classes. Nobles wore black while commoners wore white.
Things to see - The Great Wall and the canal and road systems (Qin Dynasty)
221 BCE: The Qin dynasty begins with the defeat of the other warring states and the end of the era of warring states.
213 BCE: Qin Shi Huang’s tyranny is evident and all books of the opposing schools of thought were burned except for those kept in the Qin imperial library
206 BCE: The people rebel against the empire and the Qin dynasty falls
The terracotta soldiers that guarded the emperors tomb. ( More than 100 )
An example of a banliang coin
Brief history - 221 BCE to 207 BCE, only had two emperors: Yingzheng Qin Shi Huang and his son Hu Hai. Was overthrown by the people uprising. It was the first imperial dynasty of China. ( Qin Dyasty )
People to know - Qin Shi Huangdi: first emperor of Qin dynasty, Qin Ex Shi: second emperor of Qin dynasty and Qin Sanshi Huangdi: third emperor of the Qin dynasty (Qin Dynasty )
Language - The people of the Qin dynasty spoke one of the first forms of modern chinese. ( Egerod )
Local time - The time in China is 12 hours ahead of our time.
Founder - Emperor Qin Shi Huang ( Qin Dynasty)
Travel tips - The biggest thing to know about the Qin dynasty is that they don’t appreciate values other than what they believe in. If you are going to travel to the Qin dynasty, make sure you have learned everything you can about it first and that you keep in line with their beliefs so that you don’t upset the Emperor.
Brief history - 221 BCE to 207 BCE, only had two emperors: Yingzheng Qin Shi Huang and his son Hu Hai. Was overthrown by the people uprising. It was the first imperial dynasty of China. ( Qin Dynasty )
People to know - Qin Shi Huangdi: first emperor of Qin dynasty, Qin Ex Shi: second emperor of Qin dynasty and Qin Sanshi Huangdi: third emperor of the Qin dynasty (Qin Dynasty )
Government and economy - Legalism government ( Qin Dynasty ), The Qin state’s economy was organized to create an agriculture-based, militarized society and to enhance the power and wealth of its ruler. ( Economics of the Qin)
Xian Palace, the palace used by the emperors of the Qin dynasty.
Government and economy - Legalism government ( Qin Dynasty ), The Qin state’s economy was organized to create an agriculture-based, militarized society and to enhance the power and wealth of its ruler. ( Economics of the Qin )
How to get around - Used roads and canals ( Economics of the Qin )
Height of civilization - 221 BC to 207 BC, after the death of the third emperor, the dynasty went downhill.
Currency - Banliang, bronze coins with squares cut in the middle.
Religion/Belief System - The Qin emperors were all about conformity and unity so religion wasn’t even allowed for the most part.
Holidays - Due to the lack of culture and religion, there weren’t any major holidays. Occasionally there would be feasts to honor the emperors, but no real holidays.
Plans for visit - Your best bet for visiting the Qin dynasty would be to visit the capitlal city of Xianyang. Here, you could see the palace and visit the tomb of the terracotta soldiers.
Natural or manmade attractions -
Museums, monuments or other places of interest that would be visited - The tomb Qin Shi Huang and the terracotta warriors that protect it (Xian tomb). The Xian Palace where the emperors lived. ( Qin Dynasty )
Ancient Chinese currency
I know a fair bit about the currency of Japan prior to the modern period.
But what was the currency in use in China? In wuxia films, money is usually depicted as ingots of gold or silver, or chunks of silver but I imagine this is not accurate. After all, the Chinese had paper money and coinage. Can tell me a bit more about what money was used in various dynasties?
1) When were copper coins first struck with a central hole so that they could be threaded on a string for ease of carrying?
2) Was trading in gold bars an imperial monopoly under some dynasties?
The History of Early Chinese Money
1) When were copper coins first struck with a central hole so that they could be threaded on a string for ease of carrying?
2) Was trading in gold bars an imperial monopoly under some dynasties?
At about 1200 B.C. in China, cowry shells became the first medium of exchange, or money. The cowry has served as money throughout history even to the middle of this century.
First Metal Money
China, in 1,000 B.C., produced mock cowry shells at the end of the Stone Age. They can be thought of as the original development of metal currency. In addition, tools made of metal, like knives and spades, were also used in China as money. From these models, we developed today's round coins that we use daily. The Chinese coins were usually made out of base metals which had holes in them so that you could put the coins together to make a chain.
Wuxia films typically take place in Ming / Qing era, which is basically the era that this happened.
The thing was that the combination of
1. a very large economy over a large area
2. a government who really had very limited ideas of fiscal policies (who had any ideas back then?)
3. the massive inflow of silver / gold from trade with the West. after the discovery of the new world
caused the offical coinages of the state to often fail and silver ended up as the primary "offical" currency.
The Ming for example, had paper currencies quite early into their existence, after it became apparent that China was no longer producing enough copper to meet the needs of coins of the current economic needs. they began issuing paper notes, however over the decades it depreciated dramatically, it was about just 1/100th of it's nominal value by mid dynasty, which obviously caused a whole bunch of problems.
Also, another issue is that while forging offical coins without permit is a capital crime (usually punished by death. ) Chinese laws generally ahd the problem of.
1. it never really decree that you HAVE to use the offical currency to trade
2. it's usually vague on if you can use NON-OFFICIAL currencies.
What happened during the Ming was that after the offical currencies began to really mess up (the coins were too few and the paper notes depreciating too fast) . many local regions began to simply use their own currenies (usually issued by merchant guilds). this caused a problem obviously, as if your going between different regions there's even less guidelines between how to exchange two un-official currencies. the arrival of the new world silver more or less solved the issue as it became the standard base for all those other regional currencies.
That's why you see Wuxia films using silver / gold , if a guy is travelling over a wide region carrying those is probably the right idea. unless your an expert merchant that can figure out the complex exchange rates.
Before the Song dynasty, domestic trade's scale is generally not that huge within China, couple with the acknowledged use of other commodities (such as textiles and grains) as subsitutes, it wasn't a huge issue during those periods. by the Song the problems were starting to show especially during the later half(which was why paper money showed up) but the Song had a big interval inbetween the neither end survived over long enough for the problem to fully materialize (same for the Yuan, they were both there, but neither ended up being as obviously huge as it was in the Ming).
We're kinda in that situation today as well though to some extend, just ask your grandfolks what a dollar of your currency bought when they were your age and you probably realize there is indeed a massive nominal depreciation effect at work today as well.
1. The Southern Song's paper notes also began as local currencies amongst merchants. sorta like checks, afterwards the government started issuing them and there were considerable problems during different spans for the same reason, little ideas of how money work in general often caused massive depreciation and/or hyper inflations.
2. One interesting aspect especially during the Ming was that the acknowledgement of previous dynasty's coins as official coins as well, which means if you suddenly found a bunch of Tang era coins you can use them legally. though this wasn't a huge issue in itself since the numbers were generally limited.
3. the use of local currencies obviously caused a great deal of problems for the state in terms of collecting taxes from merchants. the Ming 's tarrif taxes were mostly collected in the offical paper notes, but the rates didn't change often while the note's value fell like a rock. Such an example would obviously shed you some light on why the late Ming was plagued by financial troubles. likewise wages of officals usually changed MUCH slower then the money's rate changed. another problem that obviously would lead to corruption as those that REALLY stayed completely clean often had problems even making basic ends meet.
For reasons yet to be fully understood, the ancient Chinese practice of oracle bone divination fell into obscurity with the demise of the earliest dynasty of traditional Chinese history supported by archaeology, the Shang Dynasty (c.1200–1050 BC).
Yet for much of the second millennium BC the inscribed animal bones were the go-to source for guidance and divine insight from the ancestors and deities, providing insights into anything from military strategy and crop failure to the cause of the King’s toothache.
More like this
Prepared by cleaning, carving and drilling, the bones would be heated intensely causing them to crack. The pattern of the cracks would then be read and interpreted by a diviner. The questions asked were often also inscribed onto the bones along with the diviner’s interpretations, providing us with valuable insight into the concerns of the time and even the beginnings of a Royal genealogy that stretches deep in to beginnings of Chinese civilization.
These scratched inscriptions are also examples of the earliest-known Chinese script.
Curator of Chinese collections Dr Qin Cao photographed with oracle bone © National Museums Scotland
Over 3000 years after their demise, 19th century farmers began unearthing them. They soon came to be known as ‘dragon bones’ with healing powers and many of them were ground up and used in medicine.
It was not until the late 1800s that the true nature of the ‘dragon bones’ was recognised. Reportedly Wang Yirong, a prominent scholar of the time, was prescribed medicine containing ‘dragon bones’ when sick with malaria.
He was said to have noticed the similarities between the bones’ inscriptions to those on early bronze artefacts. Further research confirmed that the bones were inscribed with the earliest-known form of Chinese writing, the root of Classical Chinese.
These inscriptions remain a source of interest for researchers today. Around 5000 individual characters have been identified to date, but only a third of these have been deciphered so far.
“They provide examples of the earliest-known forms of Chinese writing, as well as offering an insight into the beliefs and politics of ancient China,” says Dr Qin Cao, Curator of Chinese Collections at National Museums Scotland. “The practice of divination is something that still captures public imagination to this day as evidenced by its prevalence in modern culture, notably in the popular series of Harry Potter.”
The exhibition includes 40 objects that explore the phenomena of oracle bone divination and track the evolution of early forms of Chinese writing to its present-day form, including a Banliang coin dated third century BC.
New research on the oracle bones divination process from a joint project between National Museums Scotland and the University of Edinburgh also examines residue traces and tool marks on the bones and aims to recreate the conditions that would result in a crack.
Often made from ox scapulae or turtle plastrons, it is thought the oracle bones were subjected to intense heat via a metal rod, which caused them to crack due to thermal expansion.
Oracle bone enquiring about the rain in relation to farming – Ox scapula or tortoise plastron, Yinxu site, Anyang, Henan Province, China, late Shang dynasty c1200–1050 BC.
In Edinburgh the bones are displayed alongside contemporary Chinese objects associated with the divine, such as a bronze tortoise shell and coin set used for fortune telling.
Parallels are drawn with popular Western practices, such as tarot card reading, to demonstrate the universal human need to manage the unknown and find meaning in a time of need or uncertainty.
Purchased in 1909 from missionaries Samuel Couling and Frank Chalfant, the bones in National Museums Scotland’s collection numbers over 1700 – making it the second-largest collection outside of East Asia.
Taken together with the Chinese Bronze Age archaeological record the bones are key to studying the Shang Dynasty and the objects such as those on display may yet play a part in further uncovering the mysteries of the ancient past.
Chinese Oracle Bones is at National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh from October 25 2019 – Sunday March 29 2020. Admission is free.
National Museum of Scotland
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The Chinese first established military protectorates in Korea in 108 BC. During the course of the Korean Three Kingdoms period (57 BC-AD 935), the Korean kingdom of Silla emerged as the dominant power. The Tang Dynasty (AD 618-905) fought Korea and exhausted Silla. In 935, it was absorbed by the neighboring state of Koryo. During the Koryo period (AD 918-1392), Korea prospered as China fragmented into several states. However, Genghis Khan's reunification of China allowed him to conquer former Chinese territory. The armies of the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644) left the Koryo Dynasty to rule in name only. In 1392, the new Choson Dynasty was established, which ruled until 1910.
Copper cash Hae Dong T'ongbo of King Sukjong (AD 1095-1106).
Copper cash Sam Han Chungbo, of King Sukjong (AD 1095-1106).
Copper cash Choson T'ongbo of King Sejong.
Other pages of the exhibit:
Ancient Greece and the Mediterranean World
Return to Drachmas, Dubloons, and Dollars homepage East Asian coins are noticeably different from Western.
Return to Drachmas, Dubloons, and Dollars homepage East Asian coins are noticeably different from Western.
Medieval Byzantine and Islamic Empires
Return to Drachmas, Dubloons, and Dollars homepage East Asian coins are noticeably different from Western.