Cash (Chinese coin)

Cash was a type of coin of China and East Asia, used from the 4th century BC until the 20th century AD, characterised by their round outer shape and a square center hole (方穿, fāng chuān). Originally cast during the Warring States period, these coins continued to be used for the entirety of Imperial China as well as under Mongol, and Manchu rule. The last Chinese cash coins were cast in the first year of the Republic of China. Generally most cash coins were made from copper or bronze alloys, with iron, lead, and zinc coins occasionally used less often throughout Chinese history. Rare silver and gold cash coins were also produced. During most of their production, cash coins were cast, but during the late Qing dynasty, machine-struck cash coins began to be made. As the cash coins produced over Chinese history were similar, thousand year old cash coins produced during the Northern Song dynasty continued to circulate as valid currency well into the early twentieth century.[1]

In the modern era, these coins are considered to be Chinese “good luck coins”; they are hung on strings and round the necks of children, or over the beds of sick people. They hold a place in various superstitions, as well as Traditional Chinese medicine, and Feng shui. Currencies based on the Chinese cash coins include the Japanese mon, Korean mun, Ryukyuan mon, and Vietnamese văn.

China coin1
Replicas of various ancient to 19th century cast cash coins in various metals found in China, Korea and Japan.
Traditional Chinese方孔錢
Simplified Chinese方孔钱
Literal meaningsquare-holed money
Standard Mandarin
Hanyu Pinyinfāng kǒng qián
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese銅錢
Simplified Chinese铜钱
Literal meaningcopper money
Standard Mandarin
Hanyu Pinyintóng qián
Second alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese銅幣
Simplified Chinese铜币
Literal meaningcopper currency
Standard Mandarin
Hanyu Pinyintóng bì


The English term "cash", referring to the coin, was derived from the Tamil kāsu, a South Indian monetary unit. The English word "cash", meaning "tangible currency", is an older and unrelated word, derived from the Middle French caisse.[2]

There are a variety of Chinese terms for cash coins, usually descriptive and most commonly including the character qian (Chinese: ; pinyin: qián) meaning "money". Chinese qián is also a weight-derived currency denomination in China; it is called "mace" in English.


Traditionally, Chinese cash coins were cast in copper, brass or iron. In the mid-19th century, the coins were made of 3 parts copper and 2 parts lead.[3] Cast silver coins were periodically produced but considerably more rare. Cast gold coins are also known to exist but are extremely rare.

Early methods of casting

Mold for making banliang coins
Bronze mould for minting Ban Liang coins, the mould was used during the Warring States period (475-221 BC) by the State of Qin, from an excavation in Qishan County, Baoji, Shaanxi province.

During the Zhou dynasty period, the method for casting coins consisted of first carving the individual characters of a coin together with its general outline into a mould made of either soapstone or clay. As this was done without using a prior model, early Chinese coinage tends to look very diverse, even from the same series of coins as these all were cast from different (and unrelated) moulds bearing the same inscriptions.

During the Han dynasty, in order to gain consistency in the circulating coinage, master bronze moulds were manufactured to be used as the basis for other cash moulds.[4]

Later methods of manufacture

Chinese coin tree in the Etnografiska Museet 01
A "coin tree" used to make cash coins

From the 6th century AD and later, new "mother coins" (mǔ qián ) were cast as the basis for coin production. These were engraved in generally easily manipulated metals such as tin. Coins were cast in sand moulds. Fine wet sand was placed in rectangles made from pear wood, and small amounts of coal and charcoal dust were added to refine the process, acting as a flux. The mother coins were placed on the sand, and another pear wood frame would be placed upon the mother coin. The molten metal was poured in through a separate entrance formed by placing a rod in the mould. This process would be repeated 15 times and then molten metal would be poured in. After the metal had cooled down, the "coin tree" (qián shù ) was extracted from the mould (which would be destroyed due to the process). The coins would be taken off the tree and placed on long square rods to have their edges rounded off, often for hundreds of coins simultaneously. After this process, the coins were strung together and brought into circulation.

From 1730 during the Qing dynasty, the mother coins were no longer carved separately but derived from "ancestor coins" (zǔ qián ). Eventually this resulted in greater uniformity among cast Chinese coinage from that period onwards. A single ancestor coin would be used to produce tens of thousands of mother coins; each of these in turn was used to manufacture tens of thousands of cash coins.[5][6][7]

Machine-struck coinage

Guāng Xù Tōng Bǎo (光緒通寶) - Boo Guwang (ᠪᠣᠣ ᡤᡠᠸᠠᠩ) Guangzhou Mint - Machine-struck 07
Machine-struck cash coins issued under the Guangxu Emperor in Guangzhou, Guangdong.

During the late Qing dynasty under the reign of the Guangxu Emperor in the mid 19th century the first machine-struck cash coins were produced, from 1889 a machine operated mint in Guangzhou, Guangdong province opened where the majority of the machine-struck cash would be produced. Machine-made cash coins tend to be made from brass rather than from more pure copper as cast coins often were, and later the copper content of the alloy decreased while cheaper metals like lead and tin were used in larger quantities giving the coins a yellowish tint. Another effect of the contemporary copper shortages was that the Qing government started importing Korean 5 fun coins and overstruck them with "10 cash".[8][9]


Cast Chinese coins (330 B.C. - 1912 A.D.)
Cash coins minted between 330 BC and 1912 AD.

Chinese cash coins originated from the barter of farming tools and agricultural surpluses.[10] Around 1200 BC, smaller token spades, hoes, and knives began to be used to conduct smaller exchanges with the tokens later melted down to produce real farm implements. These tokens came to be used as media of exchange themselves and were known as spade money and knife money.[11]

As standard circular coins were developed following the unification of China by Qin Shi Huang, the most common formation was the round-shaped copper coin with a square or circular hole in the center, the prototypical cash. The early Ban Liang coins were said to have been made in the shape of wheels like how other Ancient Chinese forms of coinage were based on agricultural tools. The hole enabled the coins to be strung together to create higher denominations, as was frequently done due to the coin's low value. The number of coins in a string of cash (simplified Chinese: 一贯钱; traditional Chinese: 一貫錢; pinyin: yīguànqián) varied over time and place but was nominally 1000. A string of 1000 cash was supposed to be equal in value to one tael of pure silver.[11] A string of cash was divided into ten sections of 100 cash each. Local custom allowed the person who put the string together to take a cash or a few from each hundred for his effort (one, two, three or even four in some places). Thus an ounce of silver could exchange for 970 in one city and 990 in the next. In some places in the North of China short of currency the custom counted one cash as two and fewer than 500 cash would be exchanged for an ounce of silver. A string of cash weighed over ten pounds and was generally carried over the shoulder. (See Hosea Morse's "Trade and Administration of the Chinese Empire" p. 130 ff.) Paper money equivalents known as flying cash sometimes showed pictures of the appropriate number of cash coins strung together.[12]

The Koreans,[13] Japanese,[14] Ryukyuans,[15] and Vietnamese[16][17] all cast their own copper cash in the latter part of the second millennium similar to those used by China.[18]

Almost the last Chinese cash coins were struck, not cast, in the reign of the Qing Xuantong Emperor shortly before the fall of the Empire in 1911, though even after the fall of the Qing dynasty production briefly continued under the Republic of China with the "Min Guo Tong Bao" (民國通寶) coins in 1912, and under Yuan Shikai's Empire of China with the "Hong Xiang Tong Bao" (洪憲通寶) series in 1916.[19] The coin continued to be used unofficially in China until the mid-20th century. Vietnamese cash continued to be cast up until the early 1940s.[20]

Cash coins in the early Republic of China

Minkuo Tungpao (David Hartill 431.23.7)
A Mínguó Tōngbǎo (民國通寶), these were the last cash coins cast in Chinese history.

During the early Republican era a few more cash coins were locally produced until they were finally phased out in favour of the new yuan.

These coins are:[21][22]

Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Issuing office
Fujian Tong Bao,
1 cash
Fujian province
Fujian Tong Bao,
2 cash
Fujian province
Min Guo Tong Bao,
Dongchuan, Yunnan
Min Guo Tong Bao,
10 cash
Dongchuan, Yunnan

Trial coins with Fujian Sheng Zao (Chinese: 福建省造), Min Sheng Tong Yong (traditional Chinese: 閩省通用; simplified Chinese: 闽省通用), and a Fujian Tong Bao with a reverse inscribed with Er Wen Sheng Zao (Chinese: 二文省造) were also cast, but never circulated.[23]

Inscriptions and denominations

3 different types of Northern Song dynasty coins
Three different cash coins from the Northern Song dynasty, the first coin reads clockwise while the others read top-bottom-right-left, the first and second coins are written in Regular script while the third coin is written in Seal script.

The earliest standard denominations of cash coins were theoretically based on the weight of the coin and were as follows:

  • 100 grains of millet = 1 zhu (Chinese: ; pinyin: zhū)
  • 24 zhū = 1 tael (Chinese: ; pinyin: liǎng)

The most common denominations were the ½ tael (Chinese: 半兩; pinyin: bànliǎng) and the 5 zhū (Chinese: 五銖; pinyin: wǔ zhū) coins, the latter being the most common coin denomination in Chinese history.[11]

From the Zhou to the Tang dynasty the word quán (泉) was commonly used to refer to cash coins however this wasn't a real monetary unit but did appear in the inscriptions of several cash coins, in the State of Yan their cash coins were denominated in either huà (化) or huò (貨) with the Chinese character "化" being a simplified form of "貨" minus the "貝". This character was often mistaken for dāo (刀) due to the fact that this early version of the character resembles it and Knife money was used in Yan, however the origin of the term huò as a currency unit is because it means "to exchange" and could be interpreted as exchanging money for goods and services.[24][25] From the Jin until the Tang dynasty the term wén (文), however the term wén which is often translated into English as "cash" kept being used as an accounting unit for banknotes and later on larger copper coins to measure how many cash coins it was worth.[26]

In AD 666, a new system of weights came into effect with the zhū being replaced by the mace (qián) with 10 mace equal to one tael. The mace denominations were so ubiquitous that the Chinese word qián came to be used as the generic word for money.[11] Other traditional Chinese units of measurement, smaller subdivisions of the tael, were also used as currency denominations for cash coins.

A great majority of cash coins had no denomination specifically designated but instead carried the issuing emperor's era name and a phrases such as tongbao (Chinese: 通寶; pinyin: tōngbǎo; literally: "general currency") or zhongbao (Chinese: 重寶; pinyin: zhòngbǎo; literally: "heavy currency").

Coins of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) generally carried the era name of the emperor and tongbao on the obverse and the mint location where the coins were cast in Manchu and Chinese on the reverse.[27]

Cash coins and superstitions

Cash coin compared to the logo of Agriseco
A cash coin used as part of the logo of Agriseco in Hanoi, Vietnam.

In Imperial China cash coins were used for fortune-telling, this would be done by first lighting incense to the effigy of a Chinese deity, and then placing 3 cash coins into a tortoise shell. The process involved the fortune teller counting how many coins lay on their obverse or reverse sides, and how these coins scratched the shell, this process was repeated 3 times. After this a very intricate system based on the position of the coins with Bagua, and the Five elements would be used for divination, the Tang dynasty Kai Yuan Tong Bao (開元通寶) coin was the most preferred coin for this usage. Contemporary Chinese intelligentsia found the usage of cash coins for fortune-telling to be superior than any other methods.[28][29] Other than fortune-telling cash coins were also believed to hold “curing powers” in Traditional Chinese medicine, one method of using cash coins for “medicine” was boiling them in water and let the patient consume that water. Other than that they were also used as “medical tools” particularly in the guāshā (刮痧) method, which was used against diseases like Cholera; this required the healer to scrape the patient's skin with cash coins as they believed that the pathogen remained stagnant underneath the patient's skin in a process called “coining”. Though in general any cash coin could be used in traditional Chinese medicine but the Kai Yuan Tong Bao was most preferred, and preferences were given for some specific coins for certain ailments E.g. the Zhou Yuan Tong Bao (周元通寶) was used against miscarriages.[30][31][32]

In modern times though no longer issued by any government, cash coins are believed to be symbols of good fortune and are considered “Good luck charms”, for this reason some businesses hang Chinese cash coins as store signs for “good luck” and to allegedly avoid misfortune similar to how images of Caishen (the Chinese God of Wealth) are used.[33] Cash coins also hold a central place in Feng shui where they are associated an abundance of resources, personal wealth, money, and prosperity. Cash coins are featured on the logos of the Bank of China, and the China Construction Bank.[34][35]

In Bali it is believed that dolls made from cash coins (or Uang kèpèng) strung together by cotton threads would guarantee that all the organs and body parts of the deceased will be in the right place during their reincarnation.[36][37] The Tlingit people of the United States of America and Canada used Chinese cash coins for their body armour which they believed would protect them from knife attacks and bullets. One contemporary Russian account from a battle with the Tlingits in 1792 states "bullets were useless against the Tlingit armour", however this would've more likely be attributed to the inaccuracy of contemporary Russian smoothbore muskets than the body armour and the Chinese cash coins sewn into the Tlingit armour. Other than for military purposes the Tlingit used Chinese cash coins on ceremonial robes.[38][39][40][41][42]

Stringing of cash coins

A Sichuanese Man Carrying 13,500 Cash Coins
A Sichuanese man carrying 13,000 cash coins in strings on his shoulders.

The square hole in the middle of cash coins served to allow for them to be strung together in strings of 1000 cash coins and valued at 1 tael of silver (but variants of regional standards as low as 500 cash coins per string also existed),[43] 1000 coins strung together were referred to as a chuàn (串) or diào (吊) and were accepted by traders and merchants per string because counting the individual coins would cost too much time. Because the strings were often accepted without being checked for damaged coins and coins of inferior quality and copper-allots these strings would eventually be accepted based on their nominal value rather than their weight, this system is comparable to that of a fiat currency. Because the counting and stringing together of cash coins was such a time consuming task people known as qiánpù (錢鋪) would string cash coins together in strings of 100 coins of which ten wouldn form a single chuàn. The qiánpù would receive payment for their services in the form of taking a few cash coins from every string they composed, because of this a chuàn was more likely to consist of 990 coins rather than 1000 coins and because the profession of qiánpù had become a universally accepted practice these chuàns were often still nominally valued at 1000 cash coins.[44][45] The number of coins in a single string was locally determined as in one district a string could consist of 980 cash coins, while in another district this could only be 965 cash coins, these numbers were based on the local salaries of the qiánpù.[46][47][48] During the Qing dynasty the qiánpù would often search for older and rarer coins to sell these to coin collectors at a higher price.

Prior to the Song dynasty strings of cash coins were called guàn (貫), suǒ (索), or mín (緡), while during the Ming and Qing dynasties they were called chuàn (串) or diào (吊).[49][50]

Cash coins with flower (rosette) holes

S426 ShenZong YuanFeng 2 (8127904267)
A Yuan Feng Tong Bao (元豐通寶) from the Northern Song dynasty with a "flower (or rosette) hole" in the middle.

Chinese cash coins with flower (rosette) holes (Traditional Chinese: 花穿錢) are a type of Chinese cash coin with an octagonal hole as opposed to a square one, they have a very long history possibly dating back to the first Ban Liang cash coins cast under the State of Qin or the Han dynasty.

Although Chinese cash coins kept their round shape with a square hole from the Warring States period until the early years of the Republic of China, under the various regimes that ruled during the long history of China the square hole in the middle experienced only minor modifications such as being slightly bigger, smaller, more elongated, shaped incorrectly, or sometimes being filled with a bit of excess metal left over from the casting process. However, for over 2000 years Chinese cash coins mostly kept their distinctive shape. During this period a relatively small number of Chinese cash coins were minted with what are termed "flower holes", "chestnut holes" or "rosette holes", these holes were octagonal but resembled the shape of flowers. If the shape of these holes were only hexagonal then they were referred to as "turtle shell holes", in some occidental sources they may be called "star holes" because they resemble stars. The exact origin and purpose of these variant holes is currently unknown but several hypotheses have been proposed by Chinese scholars. The traditional explanation for why these "flower holes" started appearing was accidental shifts of two halves of a prototype cash coin in clay, bronze, and stone moulds, these shifts would then produce the shape of the square hole to resemble multiple square holes placed on top of each other when the metal was poured in. A common criticism of this hypothesis is that if this were to happen then the inscription on the coin would also have to appear distorted, as well as any other marks that appeared on these cash coins, however this was not the case and the "flower holes" are equally distinctive as the square ones.

Under Wang Mang's Xin dynasty other than cash coins with "flower holes" also spade money with "flower holes" were cast. Under the reign of the Tang dynasty the number of Chinese cash coins with "flower holes" started to increase and circulated throughout the entire empire, concurrently the casting of Chinese cash coins was switched from using clay moulds to using bronze ones, however the earliest Kaiyuan Tongbao cash coins were still cast with clay moulds so the mould type alone cannot explain why these "flower holes" became increasingly common. As mother coins (母錢) were used to cast these coins which were always exact it indicates that these "flower holes" were added post-casting, the largest amount of known cash coins with "flower holes" have very prominent octagonal holes in the middle on both sides of the coin, comparatively their legends are usually as defined as they appear on "normal cash coins", for this reason the hypothesis that they were accidentally added is disproven. All sides of these coins (either octagonal with "flower holes" or hexagonal with "turtle shell holes") are clearly contained inside of the cash coin's central rim. After the casting of cash coins had shifted to using bronze moulds these coins would appear as if they were branches of a "coin tree" (錢樹) where they had to be broken off, all excess copper-alloy had to be manually chiseled or filed off from the central holes. It is suspected that the "flower holes" and "turtle shell holes" were produced during chiseling process, presumably while the employee of the manufacturing mint was doing the final details of the cash coins. As manually filing and chiseling cash coins was both an additional expense as well as time-consuming it is likely that the creation of "flower holes" and "turtle shell holes" was ordered by the manufacturer. However, as the quality of Tang and Song dynasty coinages was quite high it's unlikely that the supervisors would have allowed for a large number of these variant coins to be produced, pass quality control or be allowed to enter circulation. Cash coins with "flower holes" were produced in significant numbers by the Northern Song dynasty, Southern Song dynasty, and Khitan Liao dynasty. Until 1180 the Northern Song dynasty produced "matched cash coins" (對錢, duì qián) which were cash coins with identical inscriptions written in different styles of Chinese calligraphy, after these coins were superseded by cash coins that included the year of production on their reverse sides the practice of casting cash coins with "flower holes" also seems to have drastically decreased. Due to this one hypothesis states that "flower holes" were added to Chinese cash coins to signify a year or period of the year or possibly a location where a cash coin was produced.

It is also possible that these "flower holes" and "turtle shell holes" functioned as Chinese numismatic charms, this is because the number 8 (八, ) is a homophonic pun in Mandarin Chinese with "to prosper" or "wealth" (發財, fā cái), while the number 6 (六, liù) is a Mandarin Chinese homophonic pun with "prosperity" (祿, ). Concurrently the Mandarin Chinese word for as "chestnut" (栗子, lì zi) as in the term "chestnut holes" could be a homophonic pun in Mandarin Chinese with the phrase "establishing sons" (立子, lì zi), which expresses a desire to produce male offspring.

The practice of creating cash coins with "flower holes" and "turtle shell holes" was also adopted by Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, however cash coins with these features are extremely rare in these countries despite using the same production techniques which further indicates that their addition was wholly intentional.[51][52][53][54][55]

Red cash coins

Aksu mint "Red Cash" mint marks ᠠᡴᠰᡠ & ئاقسۇ
A "Red cash coin" produced by the Aksu mint under the reign of the Daoguang Emperor.

"Red cash coins" (Traditional Chinese: 紅錢) are the cash coins produced in Xinjiang under Qing rule following the conquest of the Dzungar Khanate by the Manchus in 1757. While in Northern Xinjiang the monetary system of China proper was adopted in Southern Xinjiang where the pūl (ﭘول) coins of Dzungaria circulated earlier the pūl-system was continued but some of the old Dzungar pūl coins were melted down to make Qianlong Tongbao (乾隆通寶) cash coins, as pūl coins were usually around 98% copper they tended to be very red in colour which gave the cash coins based on the pūl coins the nickname "red cash coins". In July 1759 General Zhao Hui petitioned to the Qianlong Emperor to reclaim the old pūl coins and using them as scrap for the production of new cash coins, these "red cash coins" had an official exchange rate with the pūl coins that remained in circulation of 1 "red cash" for 2 pūl coins. As Zhao Hui wanted the new can coins to have the same weight as pūl coins they weighed 2 qián and had both a higher width and thickness than regular cash coins. Red cash coins are also generally marked by their rather crude craftsmanship when compared to the cash coins of China proper. The edges of these coins are often not filed completely and the casting technique is often inaccurate or the inscriptions on them seemed deformed.

At the introduction of red cash system in Southern Xinjiang in 1760, the exchange rate of standard cash (or "yellow cash") and "red cash" was set at 10 standard cash coins were worth 1 "red cash coin". During two or three subsequent years this exchange rate was decreased to 5:1. When used in the Northern or Eastern circuits of Xinjiang, the "red cash coins" were considered equal in value as the standard cash coins that circulated there. The areas where the Dzungar pūls had most circulated such as Yarkant, Hotan, and Kashgar were the sites of mints operated by the Qing government, as the official mint of the Dzungar Khanate was in the city of Yarkent the Qing used this mint to cast the new "red cash coins" and new mints were established in Aksu and Ili. As the Jiaqing Emperor ordered that 10% of all cash coins cast in Xinjiang should bear the inscription "Qianlong Tongbao" the majority of "red cash coins" with this inscription were actually produced after the Qianlong era as their production lasted until the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911 making many of them hard to attribute.[56]

Other terms relating to cash coins

  • Mother coins (母錢), are model cash coins used in the casting process from which other cash coins were produced.
  • Ancestor coins (祖錢), are model cash coins introduced in the Qing dynasty used in the casting process from which other mother coins were produced.
  • Coin trees (錢樹), are the "tree-shaped" result of the casting process off of which the cash coins were taken to later be strung together.
  • Niqian (simplified Chinese: 泥钱; traditional Chinese: 泥錢; pinyin: ní qián) refers to cash coins made out of clay, when the government of the You Zhou Autonomous Region (900–914) confiscated all bronze cash coins and buried them in a cave, because of this the people had to rely on cash coins made out of clay while later bad quality iron cash coins were issued.[57]
  • Matched cash coins (對錢, duì qián, 對品, duì pǐn, 和合錢, hé hé qián), is a term introduced during the Southern Tang and started being extensively used during the Northern Song dynasty where cash coins with the same weight, inscription, and denomination was simultaneously cast in different scripts such as regular script and seal script while all having the same legend.
  • Bingqian (餅錢, "biscuit coins" or "cake coins"), is a term used by modern Chinese and Taiwanese coin collectors to refer to cash coins that have extremely broad outer rims and are extremely thick and heavy. These cash coins were produced under Emperor Zhenzong during the Song dynasty and bear the inscriptions Xianping Yuanbao (咸平元寶) and Xiangfu Yuanbao (祥符元寶), respectively. Bingqian can range from being 26.5 millimeters in diameter and weighing 10.68 grams to being 66 millimeters in diameter.[58][59][60]
  • Zhiqian (制錢, "Standard cash coins"), a term used the Ming and Qing dynasties to refer to copper-alloy cash coins produced by the imperial mints according to the standards which were fixed by the central government.
  • Jiuqian (舊錢), a term used during the Ming and Qing dynasties to refer to Song dynasty era cash coins that were still in circulation.
  • Siqian (私錢) or Sizhuqian (私鑄錢), refers to cash coins produced by private mints or forgers.[61]
  • Yangqian (样錢, "Model coin"), also known as Beiqian (北錢, "Northern coin"), is a term used during the Ming dynasty to refer to full weight (1 qián) and fine quality which were delivered to Beijing as seigniorage revenue.
  • Fengqian (俸錢, "Stipend coin"), is a term used during the Ming dynasty to refer to second rate cash coins that had a weight of 0.9 qián and were distributed through the salaries of government officials and emoluments.
  • Shangqian (賞錢, "Tip money"), is a term used during the Ming dynasty to refer to cash coins that were small, thin, and very fragile (comparable to Sizhuqian) that were used to pay the wages of employees of the imperial government (including the mint workers themselves) and was one of the most commonly circulating types of cash coins during the Ming dynasty among the general population.[62]
  • Woqian (倭錢, "Japanese cash"), refers to Japanese cash coins that entered China during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, the Imperial Chinese court eventually prohibited them. These are sometimes discovered in China among Chinese cash coins.[63][64][65]
  • Guangbei qian (光背錢), is a Qing dynasty term that refers to Shunzhi Tongbao (順治通寳) cash coins with no reverse inscriptions including mint marks.
  • Xiaoqian (小錢, "small cash") or Qingqian (輕錢), is a Qing dynasty era term that refers to lightweight cash coins created from 1702 that had a weight of 0.7 qián, these coins all disappeared from circulation around the middle of the 18th century.
  • Zhongqian (重錢, "full-weight cash" or "heavy cash"), refers to cash coins produced from 1702 with a weight of 1.4 qián and were ​11000 of a tael of silver.
  • Huangqian (黃錢, "yellow cash"), a term used to refer to early Qing dynasty era cash coins that didn't contain any tin.
  • Qingqian (青錢, "green cash"), is a term used to refer to Qing dynasty era cash coins produced from 1740 where 2% tin was added to the alloy, however despite being called "green cash" it looked indistinguishable from "yellow cash".[66]
  • Daqian (大錢, "Big money"), cash coins with a nominal value of 4 wén or higher. This term was used in the Qing dynasty from the Xianfeng period onwards.
  • Kuping Qian (庫平錢), refers to a unit that was part of the official standardisation of the Chinese monetary system during the late Qing period by the imperial treasury to create a decimal system in which 1 Kuping Qian was ​11000 of a Kuping tael.
  • Huaqian (花錢, "Flower coin"), charms, amulets, and talismans that often resemble cash coins.
  • Dongqian (東錢, "Eastern cash"), an exchange rate used for cash coins in the Fengtian province, where only 160 cash coins make up a string.
  • Jingqian (京錢, "metropolitan cash") an exchange rate used where only 500 cash coins make up a string.[67]

See also

Currencies based on the Chinese cash


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 This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website

External links

Ban Liang

The Ban Liang (Traditional Chinese: 半兩 ; Pinyin: bàn liǎng) was the first unified currency of the Chinese empire, introduced by the first emperor Qin Shi Huang around 210 BC (although it already circulated in the State of Qin prior to unification). It was round with a square hole in the middle. Before that date, a variety of coins were used in China, usually in the form of blades (knife money) or other implements, though round coins with square holes were used by the State of Zhou before it was extinguished by Qin in 249 BCE.The Ban Liang corresponds to a "half tael" (半兩), or twelve zhu (銖, about 0.68 grams). It typically weighs between ten and six grams, roughly corresponding to the Greek stater.

The standardization of currency with this round coinage was part of a broader plan to unify weights, measures or axle width during the Qin empire. Ban Liang coins continued to be used under the Western Han dynasty until they were finally replaced by the Wu Zhu coins in 118 BC.

Bảo Đại Thông Bảo

The Bảo Đại Thông Bảo (Hán tự: 保大通寶) was a round Copper-alloy coin with a square hole produced by the Nguyễn dynasty under French protection and was the last cash coin produced both in Vietnam and the world, this ended a long series of cast Vietnamese coinage that started with the Thái Bình Hưng Bảo in 970. The cast Bảo Đại Thông Bảo were produced at the Thanh Hóa Mint, while the machine-struck variants were produced in Hanoi by the colonial French government. These coins bear the name of Emperor Bảo Đại who ascended the throne in 1926 but continued the production of the earlier Khải Định Thông Bảo (啓定通寶) that bore his father's name until 1933 when he ordered the production of new coins with his reign name, which was normal as previous Vietnamese emperors also kept producing cash coins with the inscription of their predecessors for a period of time.

The Bảo Đại Thông Bảo were probably cast into 1941 or 1942 and the production was stopped because the occupying Japanese forces wanted the copper and were acquiring all of the cash coins they could find and stockpiling them in Haiphong for shipment to Japan for the production of war materials.Cash coins would continue to circulate officially in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam until 1948 with an official exchange rate set of 20 cash coins for 1 đồng.

Cash (currency)

Cash is a name for several historical currencies used in Asia. It is applied to units used in China, Vietnam, and the Princely states of Madras and Travancore in British India. It is also occasionally used to refer to the Korean mun and the Japanese mon.

Skr. karsha 'a weight of silver or gold equal to ​1⁄400 of a tulā' (Williams); Singhalese kāsi coin. The early Portuguese writers represented the native word by cas, casse, caxa, the Fr. by cas, the Eng. by cass: the existing Pg. caixa and Eng. cash are due to a natural confusion with CASH n.1. From an early date the Portuguese applied caixa (probably on the same analogy) to the small money of other foreign nations, such as that of Maritime Southeast Asia, and especially the Chinese, which was also naturally made into cash in English. (Yule)" The English word "cash," meaning "tangible currency," is an older word from Middle French caisse.

Coins of China

Coins of China could refer to:

Ancient Chinese coinage

Cash (Chinese coin)

Coins of the Chinese yuan

Coins of the modern Renminbi

Hong Kong one-mil coin

The one mil coin was the smallest denomination of the Hong Kong dollar from 1863 to 1866, after this date it was no longer issued but may have circulated much longer. Its value was one tenth of a cent, or a thousandth of a dollar. Despite being minted under British rule by the Royal Mint, they did not feature the reigning monarch as all other coins did, due to the hole in the middle.

Khải Định Thông Bảo

The Khải Định Thông Bảo (Hán tự: 啓定通寶) was a French Indochinese sapèque coin produced from 1921 until 1933, the design of the coin was round with a square hole that was used for stringing them together. Khải Định became King of Annam in 1916 the funding for the production of new cash coins was reduced by the Hanoi Mint which lead to the demand of the Vietnamese market for low value denominations to not be met, in response a new committee was formed in Hanoi which ordered the creation of machine-struck Khải Định Thông Bảo cash coins, these are the first machine-struck four character Thông Bảo (通寶) coins in Vietnam with the reigning emperor's name as the French government had prior tried to introduce a Cochinchinese 2 sapèque coin that continued under French Indochina that weighed 2.05 grams and had a nominal value of ​1⁄500 piastre, later the colonial government of the French Protectorate of Tonkin had unsuccessfully tried to introduce a zinc milled sapèque produced by the Paris Mint with a nominal value of ​1⁄600 piastre from 1905 until 1906. Unlike the earlier attempts at producing machine-struck cash coins by the colonial French authorities the Khải Định Thông Bảo proved to be much more successful as the first series had a production of 27,629,000 coins while the second series greatly exceeded this with around 200,000,000 coins produced in Huế, Haiphong, and Hanoi. The Khải Định Thông Bảo continued to be produced long after the death of Emperor Khải Định under his successor Bảo Đại until it was phased out by the Bảo Đại Thông Bảo (保大通寶) in 1933.The inscription "Khải Định Thông Bảo" was also used for non-cash coins produced under the reign of Emperor Khải Định for tiền (錢) and lạng (兩) coins made from silver and gold, respectively.

Later Han (Five Dynasties)

The Later Han (simplified Chinese: 后汉; traditional Chinese: 後漢; pinyin: Hòu Hàn) was founded in 947. It was the fourth of the Five Dynasties, and the third consecutive sinicized Shatuo ethnicity state, however, other sources indicate that the Later Han emperors claimed patrilineal Han Chinese ancestry. It was among the shortest-lived of all Chinese regimes, lasting for slightly under four years before it was overcome by a rebellion that resulted in the founding of the Later Zhou.

Later Zhou

The Later Zhou (; simplified Chinese: 后周; traditional Chinese: 後周; pinyin: Hòu Zhōu) was the last in a succession of five dynasties that controlled most of northern China during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, which lasted from 907 to 960 and bridged the gap between the Tang Dynasty and the Song Dynasty.

Northern Han

The Northern Han kingdom (simplified Chinese: 北汉; traditional Chinese: 北漢; pinyin: Běi Hàn) was a state of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. It was founded by Liu Min (劉旻), formerly known as Liu Chong (劉崇), and lasted from 951 to 979.

Northern Liao

Northern Liao (simplified Chinese: 北辽; traditional Chinese: 北遼; pinyin: Běi Liáo) was a state created by the Khitans, separate from the Liao dynasty, in northern China around Liao Nanjing (now Beijing) and Zhongjing (today's Ningcheng). The state in Nanjing only existed for about nine months in 1122–1123. A further Northern Liao dynasty existed briefly in 1123.

Song dynasty

The Song dynasty (Chinese: 宋朝; pinyin: Sòng cháo; 960–1279) was an era of Chinese history that began in 960 and lasted until 1279. The dynasty was founded by Emperor Taizu of Song following his usurpation of the throne of the Later Zhou, ending the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. The Song often came into conflict with the contemporary Liao and Western Xia dynasties in the north. It was conquered by the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty. The Song government was the first in world history to issue banknotes or true paper money nationally and the first Chinese government to establish a permanent standing navy. This dynasty also saw the first known use of gunpowder, as well as the first discernment of true north using a compass.

The Song dynasty is divided into two distinct periods, Northern and Southern. During the Northern Song (Chinese: 北宋; 960–1127), the Song capital was in the northern city of Bianjing (now Kaifeng) and the dynasty controlled most of what is now Eastern China. The Southern Song (Chinese: 南宋; 1127–1279) refers to the period after the Song lost control of its northern half to the Jurchen-led Jin dynasty in the Jin–Song Wars. During this time, the Song court retreated south of the Yangtze and established its capital at Lin'an (now Hangzhou). Although the Song dynasty had lost control of the traditional "birthplace of Chinese civilization" along the Yellow River, the Song economy was still strong, as the Southern Song Empire contained a large population and productive agricultural land. The Southern Song dynasty considerably bolstered its naval strength to defend its waters and land borders and to conduct maritime missions abroad. To repel the Jin, and later the Mongols, the Song developed revolutionary new military technology augmented by the use of gunpowder. In 1234, the Jin dynasty was conquered by the Mongols, who took control of northern China, maintaining uneasy relations with the Southern Song. Möngke Khan, the fourth Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, died in 1259 while besieging the mountain castle Diaoyucheng, Chongqing. His younger brother Kublai Khan was proclaimed the new Great Khan, though his claim was only partially recognized by the Mongols in the west. In 1271, Kublai Khan was proclaimed the Emperor of China. After two decades of sporadic warfare, Kublai Khan's armies conquered the Song dynasty in 1279. The Mongol invasion led to a reunification under the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368).The population of China doubled in size during the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries. This growth was made possible by expanded rice cultivation in central and southern Song, the use of early-ripening rice from south-east and southern Asia, and the production of widespread food surpluses. The Northern Song census recorded 20 million households, double of the Han and Tang dynasties. It is estimated that the Northern Song had a population of some 120 million people, and 200 million by the time of the Ming dynasty. This dramatic increase of population fomented an economic revolution in pre-modern China. The expansion of the population, growth of cities, and the emergence of a national economy led to the gradual withdrawal of the central government from direct involvement in economic affairs. The lower gentry assumed a larger role in grassroots administration and local affairs. Appointed officials in county and provincial centers relied upon the scholarly gentry for their services, sponsorship, and local supervision.

Social life during the Song was vibrant. Citizens gathered to view and trade precious artworks, the populace intermingled at public festivals and private clubs, and cities had lively entertainment quarters. The spread of literature and knowledge was enhanced by the rapid expansion of woodblock printing and the 11th-century invention of movable-type printing. Technology, science, philosophy, mathematics, and engineering flourished over the course of the Song. Philosophers such as Cheng Yi and Zhu Xi reinvigorated Confucianism with new commentary, infused with Buddhist ideals, and emphasized a new organization of classic texts that brought out the core doctrine of Neo-Confucianism. Although the institution of the civil service examinations had existed since the Sui dynasty, it became much more prominent in the Song period. The officials who gained power by succeeding in the exams became a leading factor in the shift from a military-aristocratic elite to a bureaucratic elite.

Southern Song dynasty coinage

The Southern Song dynasty refers to an era of the Song dynasty after Kaifeng was captured by the Jurchen Jin dynasty in 1127. The government of the Song was forced to establish a new capital city at Lin'an (present day Hangzhou) which wasn't near any sources of copper so the quality of the coins produced under the Southern Song significantly deteriorated compared to the cast copper coins of the Northern Song dynasty. The Southern Song government preferred to invest in their defenses (as its incapable military easily fell to the Jurchens) while trying to remain passive towards the Jin dynasty establishing a long peace until the Mongols eventually annexed the Jin before marching down to the Song establishing the Yuan dynasty.

Coins from the Song dynasty have appeared in variants written in either standard (top-bottom-right-left) or clockwise (top-right-bottom-left).

The Southern Song dynasty saw the emergence of paper money, while coins were increasingly becoming a rarity. Iron cash coins also started to be used in greater numbers, at first due to the lack of copper, but later even as more copper was found the production of iron cash coins remained cheaper and an abundance of iron made it more attractive for the government to produce, while several problems such as the fact that iron is harder to inscribe, and that iron corrodes faster ensured the continued production of copper cash coins. Despite the chronic shortages of copper the Southern Song used special coins as a form of psychological warfare against Jin army defectors, and copper coins (and later silver sycees) would remain the standard of administration even for the newly introduced paper money.


Wuyue (simplified Chinese: 吴越; traditional Chinese: 吳越; pinyin: Wúyuè; Shanghainese: [ɦuɦyɪʔ]; Japanese: 呉越 Goetsu), 907–978, was an independent coastal kingdom founded during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907–960) of Chinese history. It was ruled by the Qian family, whose family name remains widespread in the kingdom's former territory.

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