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Ancient Chinese Currency


    Ancient Chinese currencies were mainly in the form of coins, starting in the Xia and Shang Dynasties and ending in the late Qing Dynasty. It has long been considered as precious gem in traditional Chinese culture. With thousands of years’ development, it has shaped into its unique brilliant system of oriental currency culture, and meanwhile had a deep impact on the neighboring countries. 
    Our collection of currencies cover a wide range of varieties, representative of the origins and development of ancient Chinese currencies which provides valuable data for the research of social economy, metallurgy, foundry as well as writing system in the history. 



PRE-QIN PERIODS(17THCENTURY B.C.-221B.C.)

    Ancient Chinese currency was fully developed in the pre-Qin Periods. The natural cowry was the first form used as currency as early as the Xia and Shang Dynasties. During the Eastern Zhou period, metal coins became prevailing in forms of spade-shape, knife-shape, and round coins, thus fully established a full currency exchanged system. Spade coins were evolved from practical agricultural tools – spade, popular in areas of royal Zhou and the states of Jin (including later Zhao, Wei and Han). Knife coins and round coins were widely used in the areas of the States of Yan .Zhao . Qi and Wei. We could perceive clearly the flourishing economy in that period of time from the development of these early coins.

QIN AND HAN DYNASTIES(221B.C.-219 A.D.)

Having defeated the last six powerful states and unified China, the Qin Dynasty enacted laws to terminate the confusion state of using varied forms of currency. Thus Banliang, the sole type of currency to be circulated, resulted in rapid development of social economy. With the creation of Banliang, Chinese currency finalized the design as the round shape with a square hole in it, used for more than two thousand years. It was considered as a brilliant chapter in Chinese history of currency. The Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty first started founding Wuzhu, the name of the coin indicating its weight. It was of high quality and appreciated by later generations.

THE KINGDOMS, JIN, SOUTHERN AND NORTHERN DYNASTIES(220 A.D.- 580A.D.)

    It was a truceless period congested with various currencies under several systems. Hanxing money, produced in Chenghan which was a state of the Sixteen Kingdoms during the Jin Dynasty (265 - 420) in China, is the earliest form of calendric money. Others like Buquan, Wuxingdabu, Yongtongwanguo in the North Zhou engraved with scrumptious writings were delicate in handcraft.

SUI DYNASTY, TANG DYNASTY, FIVE DYNASTIES AND TEN KINGDOMS(581A.D.-959A.D.)

    Wuzhu money in the Sui Dynasty was the last form of this kind inaugurated since the early Han Dynasty and lasted for more than 700 years. In the fourth year under the reign of 是否加the Emperor Wude of the Tang Dynasty, Kaiyuantongbao, known as the forerunner establishing the title for money, was molded and such tradition continued well into the late Qing Dynasty. During the times of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, the systems of making coins were disorganized and miscellaneous. The first twin coins appeared in the South Tang Dynasty, which were coins with the same characters Kaiyuantongbao but in two different writing styles, i.e. Li and Zuan. 

SONG DYNASTY(960A.D. -1279A.D.)

    Coins still were the dominating money in the Song Dynasty whereas silver and paper currency played the same important role. There were numerous currencies with various handwritings in Zhuan, Li, Kai, Xing and Cao. There were more twin coins of the same size and characters but written in different styles. Some even had the emperors’ personal handwritings on the surface, including those of Taizong and Huizong in the Song Dynasty, called imperial-writing coins. On the whole, the coins in the Song Dynasty were finely made and worthy of enjoyment.

LIAO EMPIRE, JIN EMPIRE, WESTERN XIA AND YUAN DYNASTIES(916A.D. -1367A.D.)

    Due to the fact that these dynasties were under minority reigns, the coin systems and forging styles were of vast difference. Money in Liao was rough in form but of unique style. In the Jin Empire, coins and bank notes were both in currency which were best demonstrated by the notes Zhenyoubaochao, a kind of paper currency with pictures of coins on it. Wen money in the Western Xia was the pioneer of forging coins under minority regime. In the Yuan Dynasty, the coins were characterized either by bilingual inscription, i.e. Mongolian and Chinese or pictures with the Chinese calendric marks.

MING AND QING DYNASTIES(1368A.D. -1911A.D.)

    In the Ming Dynasty, both coins and paper currency were in circulation. The currency Damingtongbao was put into use just for several years which was valuable because of rarity. The format was also complicated, on which the production place, issue bureau and the weight of coins were inscribed bilingually in Manchu and Chinese. Among those, Jiaqingtongbao, Xianfengtongbao and Tongzhizhongbao were hard-won collections. The coin templet of Guangxuyuanbao made of silver was the only kind which provided evidence for the end of ancient Chinese currency.