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Chinese “Laid to Rest” Burial Charm

There is a certain Chinese bronze “coin” that is not included in Chinese coin catalogues.

It is sometimes referred to as a “charm” but is not included in Chinese charm catalogues either.

It seems that no one wants to have this coin in their collection.

Chinese "laid to rest" burial charm

Chinese “laid to rest” burial charm

At the left is an example of the “coin”.

The inscription reads ru tu wei an (入土为安) which means “to be laid to rest” or “burial brings peace”.

The coin was not minted to circulate as money but was privately cast as a funerary object.  It was buried  with the corpse with the hope that the deceased will rest in peace and that the living relatives will have peace of mind.

The coin has a diameter of 2.45 cm and a thickness of 0.13 cm.

Because these coins are not included in catalogues or other Chinese coin references, it is difficult finding authoritative information.

However, an article published in the Xinmin Evening News (新民晚报) in 2007 provides some insight.

The article states that several of these coins were discovered in a grave dating to the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

The article also emphasizes the importance the ancient Chinese placed on proper burial of the dead and that coins with the inscription ru tu wei an were placed in graves as a matter of course.

Reverse side of "laid to rest" funerary charm

Reverse side of “laid to rest” funerary charm

The coins discovered in the grave had a diameter of 2.4 cm, a thickness of 0.14 cm and a weight of 3.8 grams.

The coins also had a broad rim of 0.3 cm and a fairly small square hole with a diameter of 0.6 cm.

The reverse sides of the coins were blank with no inscription.

Other specimens of this funerary coin may be seen here and here.

In years past, there was some controversy regarding the age of these coins.

The controversy centered on how the Chinese character wei (为) is written in the inscription.

On the coin, the wei is written in simplified Chinese (为) instead of traditional Chinese (為).  The argument was that because simplified Chinese did not exist prior to its adoption in 1956, these coins could not date from the Qing Dynasty or earlier.

Research has shown, however, that variant forms of the character wei, including 为, existed at least from the time of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) so the controversy has been put to rest.

A different specimen is particularly interesting.  According to the description, the coin was found in a hoard of coins from the Northern Song dynasty (959-1126).

If the account is true, this burial coin would be considerably older than those from the Qing dynasty.

Comments to Chinese coin forums clearly demonstrate the prevailing attitude towards these funerary coins.

Forum members describe the coins as “really scary” and “horrifying”.  Many members state that they would not buy or own such a coin.

One forum member mentioned that because these coins were “put into the mouth of the deceased” during burial, they should be “thrown away because they are unlucky”.

In China today, the tradition of burying the dead has changed.  Cemeteries require a great deal of land and with China’s immense population, burials are no longer allowed.  Cremation is the law of the land although enforcement, particularly in rural areas, can be lax.

But traditions die hard and before the law came into effect some elderly people actually committed suicide to ensure that they would receive a proper burial.

Even now, some Chinese have a coin placed in their mouth upon death.  After cremation, the remains are interred and the coin is given to the family.

For a related article concerning money buried with the dead, please see Chinese Burial Money.

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Kingdom of Chu “Tian Ce Fu Bao” Gilt Bronze Coin

Among the rarest of ancient Chinese coins is the tian ce fu bao (天策府宝) coin which was minted by Ma Yin (马殷) of the Kingdom of Chu (楚 907-951) during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period.

Both bronze and iron specimens exist.

Very rare Tian Ce Fu Bao gilt bronze coin (National Museum of China)

Very rare Tian Ce Fu Bao gilt bronze coin (National Museum of China)

At the left is an example of a bronze tian ce fu bao.

This coin is particularly rare because it is gilded in gold (鎏金) and only a very few gilt bronze (铜质鎏金) tian ce fu bao coins have been discovered.

Ma Yin began minting these coins in the year 911 to commemorate his promotion to the rank of Supreme Commander of the Tiance Prefecture (天策上将军) as bestowed by Emperor Taizu of Later Liang (后梁太祖).

Both the bronze and iron coins have a nominal value of 10 which means they had a denomination equivalent to ten normal size bronze “cash” coins.

The inscription is read in a clockwise fashion (xuan du 旋读) beginning with the top character.

The characters are deeply cut in regular script (kai shu 楷书) and the coin is well-made.

This coin has a distinctive feature.  Regarding the tian (天) character at the top, the vertical line connecting the two horizontal strokes is very short.  Most of the other coins exhibit a slightly greater distance between the two horizontal strokes.  For this reason, the coin is known as the “short neck Tian” (短颈天) variety.

As mentioned above, this very rare coin has a gold coating although the reason why only a few specimens were treated in this manner is unknown.

Gilt tian ce fu bao coins tend to be slightly larger than the plain bronze coins and the iron coins.

This particular specimen has a diameter of 43 mm and weighs 36.6 grams.  The width of the square hole is 9.5 mm and the coin has a thickness of 5.5 mm.

The coin is in the collection of the National Museum of China (中国国家博物馆).  It was donated by Mr. Luo Bozhao (罗伯昭) who was one of the most respected Chinese numismatists of the 20th century.

Tian Ce Fu Bao gilt bronze coin (Shanghai Museum)

Tian Ce Fu Bao gilt bronze coin (Shanghai Museum)

The Shanghai Museum also has a gilt tian ce fu bao coin.

According to the Shanghai Museum website, this coin has a tian (天) character above the square hole on the reverse side.  The website, however, does not show an image of the reverse side of this coin.

I have learned that the Shanghai Museum actually has three of these very rare gold-gilt tian ce fu bao coins.

A Chinese reference book (中华珍泉追踪录) displays rubbings of both the obverse and reverse sides of these three coins.  The rubbings do not show a character on the reverse so I believe the Shanghai Museum website is in error.

Regarding the rarity of the coins, Baidu Baike (百度百科), the online encyclopedia of China’s major search engine, states that among the approximately 40 specimens of bronze tian ce fu bao coins known to exist, only 5 are gilded with gold.

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State of Qin Silver Banliang Coin

During the 1950’s, a number of banliang (半两) coins were unearthed at a site near Xian (西安).  Among the coins was one unusually large and very heavy banliang coin.

While banliang coins cast in Qin (秦) during the Warring States period typically have a diameter of 32 – 34 mm and weigh about 8 grams, this particular specimen is 66 mm in diameter, 7 mm thick, and weighs an astonishing 96.15 grams.

Even more remarkable is that the coin is made of silver instead of bronze.

Mr. Ma Dingxiang (马定祥), one of the most famous Chinese coin collectors of the 20th century, obtained the coin from a friend and fellow numismatist in Xian.  Other famous numismatists of the time, including Mr. Luo Bozhao (罗伯昭), Mr. Sun Ding (孙鼎) and Mr. Li Weixian (李伟先), had the opportunity to admire the coin.

This coin is the only known specimen of its type and it is said that Mr. Ma treasured it for the rest of his life.

The coin sold at auction in 2011 for the equivalent of $334,103 (RMB 2,070,000).

State of Qin silver banliang coin

State of Qin silver banliang coin

This very large banliang coin made of silver from the State of Qin (9th century BC – 221 BC) is shown at the left.

Although made of silver more than 2,000 years ago, the coin is not China’s earliest form of silver money.

In 1974, a farmer in Fugou County (扶沟县), Henan Province (河南省), unearthed a bronze three-legged tripod (鼎).  Stashed inside the tripod were 18 specimens of spade money.  One was a hollow-handled spade (空首布) while the remaining 17 were flat-handled spades (平首布).

All are made of silver and are now displayed at the Henan Museum.

According to an article in “China Numismatics” (1983年第3期), these spade money specimens were cast during the middle Spring and Autumn period (春秋时代) and are the earliest silver money ever unearthed in China.

Regarding the silver banliang coin, Mr. Guan Hanheng (关汉亨), a well-known Chinese numismatist and author of a book (半两货币图说) on banliang coins, has carefully examined the photographs and rubbings.  His findings are discussed below.

Reverse side of a unique silver banliang coin from the State of Qin

Reverse side of a unique silver banliang coin from the State of Qin

The coin clearly shows signs of having been buried for a long period of time.  The surface displays the oxidation that would be expected on a coin that had been buried for some 2,000 years.  There are small cracks on the reverse side.

Mr. Guan states that this appearance could not have been created artificially.

Even though banliang coins were also cast at the beginning of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), this silver coin matches those cast by Qin.

His reasoning is as follows.

First, coins were cast in two-piece moulds (钱范) in Qin and these moulds could produce 6 coins at a time.  The coins have only one sprue.

The casting of this silver coin is consistent with this method.  Its sprue (17 mm) is at the bottom which means that it would have been one of the two top coins in the mould.

Second, the shape and appearance of the coin is correct for coins cast in Qin during the Warring States period.  The center hole is rectangular, as opposed to the square holes of the Han Dynasty banliang coins, and the top and bottom horizontal lines have bent corners.

Also, the characters are written in small seal script (小篆) which was the calligraphy used on the coins of Qin.

The characters are vertically elongated and the top horizontal stroke of the liang (两) character is short.  As the script evolved further, the top horizontal line became longer as is seen in banliang coins from the Han Dynasty.

For the above reasons, Mr. Guan is convinced that the coin was minted by the State of Qin.

As to why such a large coin made of silver was cast, Mr. Guan considered several possibilities.

In 221 BC,  Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇帝) succeeded in uniting China for the first time in history.  Following the unification, he standardized the country’s units of measurement including weights and currency.

It is possible then that this unique silver banliang was cast to serve as an official “weight”.

According to the standard “weights and measures” (度量衡) of Qin, one liang (两) was equivalent to about 14.4 grams.  A “ban liang“, which means “half liang” or “half tael”, would therefore be about 7.2 grams.

Mr. Guan did a survey of Qin banliang coins excavated during the past 30 years.  The coins weighed 6.5 – 7.5 grams each.  This would be within the range of the standard weight of 7.2 grams per coin.

As mentioned earlier, this very large silver banliang weighs 96.15 grams.  Taking into consideration that the coin may have lost some weight due to wear and oxidation, its original weight could have been 100 grams or more.  This would have been the equivalent of 14 government minted coins of standard weight.

It is possible, therefore, that this silver banliang was cast to serve as an official weight to be used with a scale to confirm that 14 regular banliang coins met the required weight of about 100 grams (100/14 = 7.14).

And, an official coin weight like this could very well have been cast in silver to signify its importance.

However, Mr. Guan feels that the coin was more likely cast for a different reason.

As has been seen with the six character knives (六字刀) produced by the State of Chu (楚), money was sometimes cast to commemorate a special event.

According to Mr. Guan, there were two important events that took place in Qin that could have resulted in the issuance of a commemorative coin.

The first event occurred in 336 BC which was the second year of the reign of King Huiwen of Qin (秦惠文王).  This was the first year that banliang coins were produced (初行钱).

The second major event occurred in 221 BC when Emperor Qin Shi Huang unified China.  He abolished the use of the various forms of money that had been circulating in the other six states and decreed that the banliang would be the legal copper (bronze) currency of the country.

However, no historical records mention that Qin Shi Huang ordered the casting of a special commemorative coin to mark the occasion.

Also, it is considered significant that Mr. Ma Dingxiang during all the years he owned the coin never personally proposed that it may have been made cast for this purpose.

For this reason and others, Mr. Guan feels that this large silver banliang coin was most likely cast to commemorate the first issuance of banliang coins in 336 BC.

Throughout Chinese history, when a new imperial reign or dynasty was founded, or a new mint was established, a special coin would frequently be produced to mark the occasion.  The coin tended to be larger than normal, well-crafted and made of very good metal.

As an example, China’s biggest ancient coin was cast to commemorate the opening of a new mint during the Ming Dynasty.

A special coin produced for these occasions is also known as a “vault protector” (镇库钱).  The coin would not circulate as normal currency but was believed to have charm characteristics that would bring good fortune and avert calamity.

In conclusion, Mr. Guan feels that this very large and unique silver banliang coin served as a vault protector and was cast in 336 BC to commemorate the firing of the furnaces that began production of the first banliang coins of Qin.

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Tang and Song Dynasty Coins Dug Up in Yancheng

A large quantity of coins dating to the Tang and Song dynasties was recently unearthed by a large excavator removing silt from a river in Yancheng (盐城市), Jiangsu Province, according to media reports.

At approximately 10:00 AM on March 21, the excavator was dredging a small 6-meter wide river that runs through Longgang Town (龙冈镇) in Yancheng when it uncovered a pile of ancient Chinese cash coins that had been stored in a earthenware pot.

Villagers digging for buried coins

Villagers digging for buried coins

Word of the discovery quickly spread and, as can be seen in the image at the left, many of the local villagers hurried to the site to search for “treasure” buried in the mud.

It is estimated that the villagers recovered 200 – 300 catties (斤) equivalent to about 267 – 400 lbs (121 – 181 kgs) of coins before the authorities arrived on the scene to restore order and protect the “cultural relics” which, according to Chinese law, belong to the state.

Mr. Zhao Yongzheng (赵永正) of the Archaeology Department of the Yancheng Museum (盐城市博物馆考古部) rushed to the scene and provided information on the discovery.

A preliminary investigation, according to Mr. Zhao, identifies the coins as dating to the Tang and Song Dynasties.

Media reports mention that among the coins dug up were kai yuan tong bao (开元通宝) from the Tang dynasty as well as tai ping tong bao (太平通宝), zheng he tong bao (正和通宝), and xiang fu yuan bao (祥符元宝) from the Northern Song dynasty.

"Tai ping tong bao" coin dating from the Song Dynasty found by a Yancheng villager

“Tai ping tong bao” coin dating from the Song Dynasty found by a Yancheng villager

The image at the left shows one of the coins found by a villager.

The image is clear enough that the coin can be identified as a tai ping tong bao (太平通宝) which was cast during the years 976 – 989 of the reign of Emperor Taizong of the Northern Song Dynasty.

"Tian sheng yuan bao" coin from the Song Dynasty

“Tian sheng yuan bao” coin from the Song Dynasty

Another coin dug up by a villager can be seen in this image.

The coin is a tian sheng yuan bao (天圣元宝) written in seal script.

Coins with this inscription were cast during the years 1023 – 1031 of the reign of Emperor Renzong of the Northern Song Dynasty.

The newspaper articles contained the image of one additional Song Dynasty coin.

"Zheng he tong bao" coin from the Song Dynasty found by a villager

“Zheng he tong bao” coin from the Song Dynasty found by a villager

At the left is a zheng he tong bao (正和通宝) coin written in Li script.

This coin was cast during the years 1111 – 1117 of the reign of Emperor Huizong of the Northern Song.

Mr. Zhao stated that because the coins were mainly from the Tang and Northern Song dynasties, this coin cache was probably buried at the beginning of the Southern Song dynasty (1127 – 1279).

Several of the village elders were able to provide information in regard to the possible source of the coins.

In the distant past, a temple was situated on the site.  The temple was later destroyed but the coins may be linked to the ancient temple.

The village elders also recalled that old coins were discovered in about the same area in 2007.

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Chinese Burial Money

Beginning in very ancient times, the Chinese included money among the objects buried with the deceased.

This burial money was referred to as yi qian (瘗钱), meaning “buried money”, or ming qian (冥钱), meaning “dark money”.

The money was to be used by the deceased in the afterlife to make life more comfortable.  It was also offered as a “bribe” to Yan Wang (阎王 or yanluowang 阎罗王), the judge of the underworld, to encourage him to act quickly and favorably in regard to the spirit.

Ancient China had a number of interesting forms of money.

Cowrie shells (贝币) were one of the first forms of money that circulated extensively.

Graves evacuated from the Shang Dynasty (商朝 c. 1600 BC – 1046 BC) sometimes include thousands of cowrie shells.  As an example, the Tomb of Fu Hao  (妇好墓), dating from about 1200 BC, was found to contain 6,900 cowry shells.

Because the quantity of natural cowries were limited and could not meet the demand, bronze versions of the cowrie shell were cast and circulated as money.

During the Warring States period (战国时代 475 BC – 221 BC), other metal forms of money appeared.  These early “coins” took on various shapes and included spade (bubi 布币), knife (daobi 刀币), ring-shaped coin (huan qian 环钱), ant nose (yibiqian 蚁鼻钱) and banliang (“half-tael” 半两).

These forms of money were also buried as funerary objects.

Unfortunately, the custom of burying money in tombs attracted the attention of grave robbers who throughout the ages have dug up graves in order to steal buried money and other valuable artifacts.

Having the grave of a relative desecrated in such a manner was extremely unsettling to the living relatives.  The spirit of the deceased was disturbed and the money meant to ensure his comfort in the afterlife was gone.

To minimize the chances that a tomb would be disturbed, a change took place involving burial money.  Instead of real money, imitation money was sometimes used.

This imitation money resembled real money but instead of being made of bronze, silver or gold, it was made of hardened clay.

Theses imitation coins are known as “clay money” (ni qian 泥钱) or “earthenware money” (tao tu bi 陶土币).

According to “Han Material Culture” by Sophia-Karin Psarras, any representation of currency was acceptable as legal tender in the afterlife.  Therefore, surrogate forms of money made of clay could be used in lieu of real bronze, silver or gold money.

Since clay money had no value in the world of the living, it was believed that grave robbers would leave the deceased to rest in peace.

The use of surrogate currency was used by both the rich and poor alike since even families of modest means could afford to buy the imitation coins to bury with their relatives.

Clay cowrie shell money (泥贝币)

Clay cowrie shell money (泥贝币)

The wealthy who buried real money in tombs would often also include coins made of clay.

At the left can be seen cowries made of clay that were produced specifically to be buried in graves.

These particular specimens are unusually well-made.

Clay banliang (泥半两) coins excavated from a Han Dynasty tomb at Mawangdui

Clay banliang (泥半两) coins excavated from a Han Dynasty tomb at Mawangdui

The primary form of money that circulated during the Qin Dynasty (秦朝 221 BC – 206 BC), as well as the early Western Han Dynasty (西汉 206 BC – 24 AD), was the banliang (半两) coin made of bronze.

At the left are several clay banliang coins (泥半两) that were excavated from Tomb No.1 at Mawangdui and are seen here at an exhibit held at the Tianjin Museum.

Mawangdui (马王堆) is a major archaeological site located at Changsha (长沙), Hunan Province that includes three Western Han Dynasty tombs.

Tomb No. 1 is the resting place of Lady Dai (Xin Zhui 辛追).

Lady Dai’s tomb was one of China’s most important archaeological discoveries.  As an example, more than 100,000 clay banliang coins were recovered from her tomb.

Clay wuzhu coins (泥五铢) unearthed from a Han Dynasty grave

Clay wuzhu coins (泥五铢) unearthed from a Han Dynasty grave

Beginning in 118 BC of the Western Han Dynasty (西汉) and continuing for more than 700 years, the major form of currency was the bronze wuzhu (五铢) coin.

These coins are commonly referred to as “cash coins”.

Clay versions of wuzhu coins (泥五铢) also exist and are frequently found in Han Dynasty graves.

As an example, a Han Dynasty tomb located near Shanghai’s fu quan shan (福泉山) contained several hundred clay wuzhu coins.

Examples of clay wuzhu coins can be seen in the image above.

The wuzhu coin, which is round with a square hole in the center, had a special significance in reference to the afterlife.

For the deceased ascending to the heavens, the wuzhu coin served as a cosmic map of the universe reflecting the Chinese view that the earth is square and the heavens are round.

In addition, the “zhu” in wuzhu can refer to the trunk of the 300 li tall fusang (扶桑) tree which is an auspicious symbol that guides the dead on the journey to the heavens and immortality, according to Susan Erickson in her article “Money Trees of the Eastern Han Dynasty”.

(For more information about money trees discovered in Han Dynasty tombs please see “Chinese Money Trees“.)

The wuzhu coins played a more down-to-earth role as well.  The Chinese view of the afterlife gradually evolved so that the spirit world was seen to be similar to the earthly world.  The money in the tombs could therefore be used by the deceased to pay taxes to the otherworldly government.

Clay "daquan wushi" (泥大泉五十) coin

Clay “daquan wushi” (泥大泉五十) coin

Clay versions of coins from later dynasties have also been unearthed in tombs.

For example, a Han Dynasty tomb in Henan (南阳英庄) contained more than 20 specimens of the Xin Dynasty (9 – 23) da quan wu shi (大泉五十) coin.

At the left is an example of a clay da quan wu shi coin.

Clay "kaiyuan tongbao" (泥开元通宝) coin

Clay “kaiyuan tongbao” (泥开元通宝) coin

Also, clay versions of the Tang Dynasty (618-907)  kai yuan tong bao (开元通宝) coin have been unearthed in Tang and Song Dynasty tombs.

A clay specimen of a kai yuan tong bao (泥开元通宝) coin is shown at the left.

As an aside, during the Tang Dynasty there was an autonomous region in what is now Hebei that was under the control of a warlord named Liu Rengong (刘仁恭).  He minted clay coins and iron coins, and then forced the people to trade in their bronze coins for these coins.   This is a rare case where clay coins were officially minted for circulation and not for funeral use.  Unfortunately, no specimens of these clay coins are known to exist.

Clay burial coins which imitate Song and Jin dynasty coins discovered in a tomb in Shanxi Province.

Clay burial coins which imitate Song and Jin dynasty coins discovered in a tomb in Shanxi Province.

At the left are examples of clay coins discovered in a tomb located in Shanxi.  The tomb dates to the time of the Song (宋朝 960-1279) and Jin (金朝 1115-1234) dynasties.

The coin at the far right, for example, is a clay version of the chong ni zhong bao (崇宁重宝) coin written in Li script (“clerical script” 隶书) and minted during the years 1102-1106 of the reign of Emperor Huizong of the Northern Song Dynasty.

Clay burial coins from the Liao Dynasty

Clay burial coins from the Liao Dynasty

Shown at the left are rare examples of clay coins unearthed from Liao Dynasty ruins.

These clay coins have different inscriptions.

The inscription on the clay coin at the top left, for example, is tian chao wan shun (天朝万顺).  Authentic Liao coins with the inscription tian chao wan shun are extremely rare and even clay burial versions are not often seen.

Liao and Jin dynasty clay coins recovered from a Liao dynasty pagoda

Liao and Jin dynasty clay coins recovered from a Liao dynasty pagoda

Clay burial coins with inscriptions of other very rare Liao coins were also discovered in the foundation of a Liao Dynasty pagoda.

Examples of these coins can be seen at the left.

The clay Liao coins included bao ning tong bao (保宁通宝), seen at the top left, and da kang tong bao (大康通宝) , seen at the bottom left.

Also discovered were a clay version of the da ding tong bao (大定通宝) coin from the Jin Dynasty which is shown at the top right.

Clay burial coin from the Qing Dynasty

Clay burial coin from the Qing Dynasty

Clay coins for burial use were being “minted” even as late as the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

At the left is a clay version of a qian long tong bao (乾隆通宝) coin.

Coins with this inscription were cast during the years 1736-1795 of the reign of the Qianlong Emperor.

In addition to “low currency” (下币) money consisting of bronze coins such as the banliang and wuzhu coins that commonly circulated during the Qin and Han dynasties, there was also  a “high currency” (上币) form of money that made its appearance during the Warring States period.

This money was made of gold and was used as currency as well as for sacrificial offerings, rewards, fines, etc.

Kings, nobility and the wealthy were frequently buried with this type of gold money in their tombs.

Gold plate money (ying yuan 爰金) from the State of Chu

Gold plate money (ying yuan 爰金) from the State of Chu

An example of the gold money that circulated in the State of Chu during the Warring States period may be seen at the left.

This money is known as yuan jin (爰金) and consists of small square gold cubes connected together in a form best described as a slab, plate or sheet.  Individual squares could be broken off and spent as needed.

The yuan (爰) was a unit of weight and jin (金) means “gold”.

Each of the gold squares was also inscribed with Chinese characters.  For this reason, these “coins” are also known as yin zi jin (印子金), jin ban (金钣) or gui bi (龟币).  They are sometimes referred to in English as “ying yuan”, “gold plates”, “seal gold”, or “gold cube money”.

Some have the characters ying yuan (郢爰).  Ying (郢), which was situated in what is now Jingzhou (荆州) County in Hubei Province, was the capital of the State of Chu.

The other inscription found on these gold coins is chen yuan (陈爰).  After the Qin army captured the capital city of Ying, the State of Chu moved their capital to Chen which was located in what is now Huaiyang (淮阳), Henan Province.

Clay versions of State of Chu gold plate money (泥"郢称"(楚国黄金货币)) found buried in tombs of the Warring States Period

Clay versions of State of Chu gold plate money (泥”郢称”(楚国黄金货币)) found buried in tombs of the Warring States Period

At the left are clay specimens of the State of Chu’s yuan jin gold money (泥”郢称”(楚国黄金货币)) that have been recovered from tombs.

These particular specimens were unearthed in Zhejiang Province which was part of the ancient State of Chu during the Warring States period.

More than 300 pieces of this clay replica gold currency were also recovered from Lady Dai’s tomb at Mawangdui.

As can be seen, the imitation money has the same overall shape as the real gold money but is made of clay.

Careful observation shows that the surface design on these imitation sheets of gold money resembles square pieces of cloth or fabric.

This design could not be adequately explained prior to the discovery of Lady Dai’s tomb.

Silk funerary money (丝织品做的冥币) recovered from Tomb No. 1 (Lady Dai) at Mawangdui

Silk funerary money (丝织品做的冥币) recovered from Tomb No. 1 (Lady Dai) at Mawangdui

Silk was a valuable commodity in ancient times and bolts of silk could also function as a form of currency.  Small “denominations” of this “money” were created by cutting the silk into small squares.

Several of these small square silk “coins” (丝织品做的冥币) were recovered from Lady Dai’s tomb at Mawangdui.  This was the first time such silk squares functioning as a form of burial money had been discovered.

Shown above are several examples of this silk funerary money recovered from the tomb of Lady Dai that are now on display at the Hunan Provincial Museum.

It is believed that the State of Chu’s distinctive sheet form of gold money with the connected small squares may have been based on this very early type of silk money.

This would also explain why the clay imitation version of the gold money has a surface design that resembles fabric.

Various forms of burial money recovered from Tomb No. 1 (Lady Dai) at Mawangdui

Various forms of burial money recovered from Tomb No. 1 (Lady Dai) at Mawangdui

Lady Dai’s tomb actually contained a rich assortment of burial money.

Shown at the left is an exhibit case from the museum containing a variety of the imitation money from her tomb.

At the top left is a string of clay banliang coins.

At the lower left is the display of silk funerary money just discussed.

The lower middle of the display case has clay replicas of the State of Chu gold money.

At the lower right are clay imitation “gold pies” which will now be discussed.

Gold pie (jin bing 金饼) money unearthed from a Han Dynasty tomb

Gold pie money (jin bing 金饼) unearthed from a Han Dynasty tomb

During the Western Han Dynasty, a surprisingly large quantity of gold was in circulation with the estimate being more than one million jin (斤) equivalent to more than 248 tons.

One type of gold currency was about the size of a “cookie” and had the shape of a flattened half-sphere with the top convex and the bottom concave.

This form of gold money is variously referred to as a gold pie, gold cake, gold biscuit, gold bing ingot, gold button ingot, etc.

In Chinese it is known as jin bing (金饼).

According to this article, a gold pie has a high gold content of 97-99% and weighs about 248 grams (210 ~ 250 g.) which would be the equivalent of about 1 jin (斤) during the Han Dynasty.

The specimens shown above are on display at the Shaanxi History Museum in Xian.  These gold pieces date from the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 8 AD) and were excavated from a tomb in Xian.

Han Dynasty gold pie coin displaying Chinese character

Han Dynasty gold pie coin displaying Chinese character

As can be seen in the image here, gold pie coins sometimes have a Chinese character engraved on the bottom (right image).

Some of the characters can be identified such as , , 长, , 吉, 马, 租, 千, 金, , and “V“.  Other characters will require further research.

Clay "gold pie" money (陶质"金饼") unearthed from Han Dynasty graves

Clay “gold pie” money (陶质”金饼”) unearthed from Han Dynasty graves

Imitation specimens of these pie-shaped gold disks made of clay or earthenware (陶质”金饼”) are also being found in tombs dating to the Han Dynasty.

These cake-shaped funeral objects (mingqi 冥器) have not always been recognized in the West for what they really are.

For example, they have sometimes been mistakenly referred to as a “glazed plate of food”.

And just like the authentic gold pie money, some of the imitation clay cakes have inscriptions on the bottom.

Clay gold pie coin with inscription "fields of bountiful harvest"

Clay gold pie coin with inscription “fields of bountiful harvest”

As can be seen in the image at the left, this clay imitation gold pie has the Chinese characters feng nian tian (丰年田) inscribed on the bottom.

Feng nian (丰年) translates as a “good year” and tian (田) means a field or farm land.

The expression refers to a good year’s harvest and thus the value of this imitation gold “coin” is equal to a good year’s harvest from a plot of land.

Clay "gold pie" coin with denomination equivalent to 1,000,000 bronze coins

Clay “gold pie” coin with denomination equivalent to 1,000,000 bronze coins

There is no doubt as to the value of  the clay specimen displayed at the left.

The inscription on the bottom reads zhi qian bai wan (直钱百万).

This translates as “worth one million cash coins”!

(Despite what the inscription says, a real gold pie was worth the equivalent of about 10,000 cash coins during the Han Dynasty.)

Nowadays, Chinese burial customs have changed somewhat.  Real and imitation money is no longer buried with the dead.  Instead, paper money known as joss paper (“gold paper” 金纸, 阴司纸), Hell money, Hell banknotes, and ghost money is burned instead.

While the custom has evolved, the basic concern for the financial well-being of the deceased remains the same.

Hell bank notes burned at funerals today have hyperinflated denominations of $10,000 to $5,000,000,000 or more.

While such large bank note denominations may appear excessive to us today, we have already seen that 2000 years ago there existed “clay” gold cake money valued at 1,000,000 cash coins.

Printed paper money involves two of the Four Great Inventions attributed to the Chinese, namely the inventions of papermaking and printing.

Cai Lun (蔡伦 50 – 121 AD), an official of the imperial court during the Han Dynasty, is recognized as the inventor of paper.

The Chinese were the first to use paper money which began during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) but was not widely used until the beginning of the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279).

Historians can only speculate as to what that first paper money from the Tang Dynasty, known as “flying cash” or “flying money” (飞钱), may have looked like since no verified specimens are known to exist.

But, even as early as the Jin Dynasty (晋朝 265-420), joss was being made of gold foil.

And, it is possible that the first paper money may have been printed on yellow paper in order to give the appearance of the ancient gold sheet money dating back to the State of Chu.

There exist specimens of paper money which some collectors claim to be authentic “flying money” notes from the Tang Dynasty that are “printed on yellow paper using black ink”.

The current practice of burning joss and hell bank notes to provide money for the afterlife can be seen as the latest stage in the evolution of a custom that began in very ancient times with the burying of real and imitation money.

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Chinese Numismatic Charms Museum

The Chinese Numismatic Charms Museum (中国古代民俗钱币博物馆), China’s first museum dedicated specifically to ancient Chinese charms, officially opened on February 1, 2015 in Haikou (海口市), Hainan  Province (海南省).

The Chinese Numismatic Charms Museum iThe Chinese Numismatic Charms Museum is China's first museum dedicated to ancient Chinese charmss China's first museum dedicated to ancient Chinese charms

The Chinese Numismatic Charms Museum is China’s first museum dedicated to ancient Chinese charms

The museum is located in Movie Town which is a movie-themed town built to resemble the city of Chongqing (重庆市) as it existed in the year 1942.

Chongqing was the provisional capital of the Republic of China during World War II (Second Sino-Japanese War 1937-1945 抗日战争).

Digital displays of Chinese charms at the museum

Digital displays of Chinese charms at the museum

In keeping with the theme, the museum is located in a three-story building on 1942 Street (1942民国街) built to l0ok like the Szechuan Kanting Civilian Commercial Bank (chuan kang ping min shang ye yin hang 川康平民商业银行) that existed in Chongqing in 1942.

The Szechuan Kanting Civilian Commercial Bank was established in September 1937 through the merger of the Cultivation Bank of Ch’uan K’ang (chuan kang zhi ye yin hang 川康殖业银行), the People’s Bank of Chungking (chong qing ping min yin hang 重庆平民银行) and the Szechuan Commercial Bank (si chuan shang ye yin hang 四川商业银行).

The bank, however, served as more than just a bank.

With the Mukden Incident of 1931 (九·一八事变), the fear was that the Japanese would invade and occupy Beijing.

To prevent the possibility of the Japanese looting the nation’s art treasures and cultural heritage at the Forbidden City (Palace Museum 故宫博物院), more than 600,000 of the most precious artifacts were packed into many thousands of crates and secretly transported to Nanjing.

The Marco Polo Bridge Incident of 1937 (七·七事变) was the pretext for Japan launching a full invasion of China.  The national treasures were moved again.

Because the Szechuan Kanting Civilian Commercial Bank in Chongqing had a very secure second floor warehouse, a portion of these national treasures were stored there for safekeeping.

The national treasures remained well-protected at the bank and survived the war even during the extensive Japanese bombing of Chongqing which began in 1938.

It is fitting, therefore, that the new Chinese Numismatic Charms Museum is located in a replica of this bank.

The museum has exhibition areas covering more than 530 square meters.

The first floor exhibit is entitled the “Republican Past” (民国往事).  The second floor has “Legacy of the Ancient Sea” (古海遗珍) as its theme.

The third floor will be a multimedia exhibition hall.

An exhibition room displaying old Chinese charms

An exhibition room displaying old Chinese charms

The museum is the first in China to specialize in the display of old Chinese lock and pendant charms.  Some of the museum’s collection of these types of charms can be seen in the display cases in the above image.

A display case with part of the museum's extensive collection of open work charms

A display case with part of the museum’s extensive collection of open work charms

The museum also has a large collection of ancient Chinese open work charms.

Several of the open work charms may be seen in the image to the left.

The museum has on display more than 2,000 Chinese charms from the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) to the Republican Period (1912-1949).

Also on exhibit are silver coins and paper money from the later years.

Admission to the museum is free to the public.

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Horse in Armour Horse Coins

Horse coins (ma qian 马钱) originated in China during the Song Dynasty (宋朝 960 – 1279).  They were not used as money, however, but as game pieces.

Illustration of horse armour from the Song Dynasty

Illustration of horse armour from the Song Dynasty

There are a great variety of horse coins.  Some display only a horse while others show both a horse and rider.

Some horse coins have inscriptions which identify the horse or rider.

The horses were famous for their speed and endurance.

Some are referred to as a “thousand-li horse” (qian li ma 千里马) which means the horse could travel 1,000 li (里), or about 400 km, in a single day.

Even though the Chinese began using armour for their war horses as early as the end of the Han Dynasty (汉朝 206 BC – 220 AD), very few horse coins depict a horse wearing armour.

Horse coin displaying horse armour used by the Chinese during the Song Dynasty

Horse coin displaying horse armour used by the Chinese during the Song Dynasty

At the left is a rare example of a horse coin with the horse wearing the type of armour (铠甲马) used by the Chinese during the Song Dynasty.

The horse is shown in a full gallop.

Another distinctive feature of this Song Dynasty horse coin is that it shows the saddle.  Very few horse coins display the saddle due to the placement of the square hole in the middle.

"Dragon's Colt" horse coin from the Song Dynasty

“Dragon’s Colt” horse coin from the Song Dynasty

The obverse side of this horse coin is particularly attractive because the inscription is written in seal script (zhuan shu 篆书).

The inscription reads long ju zhi ma (龙驹之马) which translates as “Dragon’s Colt”.

Dragon’s Colt was one of the famous horses owned by Emperor Wen (202 – 172 BC) of the Han Dynasty.

Horse coin depicting horse armour used by the Mongols during the Yuan Dynasty

Horse coin depicting horse armour used by the Mongols during the Yuan Dynasty

At the left is a very rare horse coin that recently appeared in a Chinese coin forum.

The horse coin is identified as being from the Yuan Dynasty (元朝 1271 – 1368).  The Yuan Dynasty followed the Song Dynasty.

The Yuan Dynasty was ruled by the Mongols and was founded by Kublai Khan (元世祖).

The Mongols rode horses wearing battle armour during military campaigns which helped them to create the largest contiguous land empire in history.  The Mongol Empire (1206 – 1368), under the leadership of Genghis Khan (成吉思汗), stretched from central Europe to China.

This horse coin displays a horse in full gallop wearing the armour typically used by the Mongols.

Unlike the Song Dynasty horse coin shown above, this coin’s hole is round instead of square.  The hole, unfortunately, prevents us from viewing the saddle.

As best as can be determined, this Yuan Dynasty horse coin does not appear in any Chinese numismatic reference book.

Reverse side of armored horse coin from the Yuan Dynasty

Reverse side of armoured horse coin from the Yuan Dynasty

The reverse side of the horse coin is shown at the left.  It is flat with no inscription.

This is in contrast to Song Dynasty horse coins which almost always have an inscription or design on the reverse side.

As already mentioned, these two horse coins are most unusual.

Very few Song Dynasty horse coins display a horse wearing battle armour and it is rare to find any horse coin from that period which also shows the saddle.

Horse coins dating from the Yuan Dynasty, particularly ones displaying horse armour, are even rarer and have yet to be properly researched.

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‘Kai Yuan Tong Bao’ Clay Mould

The world’s only known specimen of a Tang Dynasty clay mould used to cast kai yuan tong bao (开元通宝) coins is now on public display according to Chinese news reports dated January 6, 2015.

'Kai yuan tong bao' clay mould

‘Kai yuan tong bao’ clay mould

This very rare clay mould (钱陶范), which is classified as a “national treasure” (国宝级), was unearthed in Shutang on August 17, 1992 by Mr. Ceng Jingyi (曾敬仪), a retired teacher and coin collector.

Shutang is located in the Wangcheng District (望城区) which is about 20 km from Changsha (长沙) in Hunan Province (湖南).

The clay mould is on display at the “Exhibition of Chinese Ancient Coins” (中国历代钱币展) being held at the Ouyang Xun Cultural Park (欧阳询文化园) located in Shutang (书堂).

Rare 'kai yuan tong bao' clay mould on display at the ancient coin exhibition

Rare ‘kai yuan tong bao’ clay mould on display at the ancient coin exhibition

Kai yuan tong bao coins were cast beginning in the year 621 during the reign of Emperor Gaozu (高祖) of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

The kai yuan tong bao, which translates as the “Inaugural Currency”, marked a watershed in Chinese history.

Up until this time, Chinese coins had been named after their weight.  Beginning with the casting of the kai yuan tong bao, coins were now designated as tong bao (“circulating currency” 通宝) or zhong bao (“heavy currency” 重宝).

This new coin replaced the wu zhu (五铢) coins which had been produced for more than 700 years.

Ouyang Xun (557-641) was born in Shutang and is recognized as one of the most famous calligraphers of the Tang Dynasty.

Detail from stone rubbing of "Jiucheng Palace Sweet Wine Spring Inscription" by Ouyang Xun

Detail from stone rubbing of “Jiucheng Palace Sweet Wine Spring Inscription” by Ouyang Xun

Ouyang Xun was selected by Emperor Gaozu to write the inscription for the kai yuan tong bao coin.

The inscription is written in a combination of Han Dynasty lishu (“Clerical” 隶书) and bafen (八分) scripts.

This was also the first time in history that a famous calligrapher wrote the characters for a Chinese coin.

Ouyang Xun is considered the finest calligrapher of the Tang of a style known as “regular script” (kai shu 楷书), also referred to as “standard script”.

His calligraphy was immortalized on a stone stele located at Emperor Taizong‘s palace on Tiantai Mountain (天台山).

The work is known as the “Jiucheng Palace Sweet Wine Spring Inscription” (九成宫醴泉铭) and is considered the model for “regular script” even today.

Large sculptures of 'Kai Yuan Tong Bao' coins at entrance to the exhibition

Large sculptures of ‘Kai Yuan Tong Bao’ coins at entrance to the exhibition

In addition to the rare clay mould, the exhibition also includes more that 1,000 ancient Chinese coins donated by Mr. Ceng.

The opening of the Chinese coin exhibition featuring the clay mould also received television coverage.  Please click here to view one of the television broadcasts covering the event.

In the 2-minute video, Mr. Ceng Jingyi is interviewed (0:49 mark) and the kai yuan tong bao clay mould is shown (1:28 mark).

Up until the unearthing of this clay mould, no moulds were known to exist for the casting of the Tang Dynasty kai yuan tong bao coins.

For this reason, it was unclear as to what process was actually used to cast these coins.  While the coins could have been cast in the traditional manner from moulds made of clay, stone or bronze, it was believed that the coins were now being cast in sand using “mother” coins to make the impressions.

With the discovery of this clay mould, however, it is now confirmed that clay moulds were still being used to cast coins during the Tang Dynasty.

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Not Being Greedy Is a Treasure

An unusual Chinese charm was recently posted to a popular Chinese coin forum in China.

Chinese charm with inscription "Not being greedy is a treasure"

Chinese charm with inscription “Not being greedy is a treasure”

The charm is shown at the left.

The inscription bu tan wei bao (不貪為寶) is written in seal script and translates as “not being greedy is a treasure”.

The phrase is a reference to a story in the Zuo Zuan (左传), also known as the “Commentary of Zuo”, which is a very ancient text describing historical events during the period 722 BC – 478 BC of the Spring and Autumn Period.

The story appears in the book’s “Fifteenth Year of Duke Xiang” 《左传·襄公十五年》as follows:

宋人或得玉,献诸子罕。子罕弗受。献玉者曰:“以示玉人,玉人以为宝也,故敢献之。”子罕曰:“我以不贪为宝,尔以玉为宝,若以与我,皆丧宝也。不若人有其宝。

Zi Han refuses to accept the jade

Zi Han refuses to accept the jade

The story is about Zi Han (子罕), a high government official of the state of Song, who was known to be virtuous and wise.

One day, a peasant came to see him.  The peasant had found a stone which an expert had confirmed was a valuable piece of jade.  The peasant wanted to present this treasure to Zi Han.

Zi Han, however, refused to accept the jade.

Zi Han said to the peasant, “You consider the jade to be a treasure while I consider ‘not being greedy’ to be a treasure.  If I receive the jade, you will have lost your treasure and I, too, will have lost my treasure.  It would be better if both of us keep our own personal treasures.”

Reverse side of charm displaying sycee and land as traditional symbols of wealth

Reverse side of charm displaying sycee and land as traditional symbols of wealth

At the left is the reverse side of the charm.

The objects with the curled ends are meant to represent sycee or silver ingots (yuan bao 元宝) which were a form of money in ancient China.

The square objects that resemble windows are actually the Chinese character tian (田) which means “field” as in farm land.  Land was also a symbol of wealth in ancient China.

Liu Xiang (刘向), a government official and scholar during the Han Dynasty, wrote a commentary on the story.

Liu Xiang explained that it was not that Zi Han did not have treasures but that “treasure” meant something different to him.

Liu Xiang illustrated his point as follows.

If one were to offer a small child a cake or gold, the child would pick the cake.  If one were to offer a “lower-class” man the legendary “Jade of He” (和氏璧) or gold, the man would definitely take the gold.

However, if one were to offer a wise man the valuable “Jade of He” or a moral principle, the wise man would choose the moral principle.

According to Liu Xiang, the better one understands the true nature of things, the better choice one will make.

It is noteworthy that the members of the Chinese coin forum had not seen a charm like this before and its appearance resulted in a flurry of more than 200 comments.

The forum members universally praised the meaning behind the charm and felt that its posting had been very timely.  This is because a well-publicized campaign is currently underway to rid the party and government of corrupt officials.

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Qi Xiang Tong Bao Engraved Mother Coin

A very rare qi xiang tong bao (祺祥通宝) engraved mother coin (雕母) was recently auctioned in Beijing.

The Qixiang coins were cast for the shortest period of time and in the smallest quantity of any reign of the Qing Dynasty.

Upon the death of the Xianfeng Emperor (咸丰帝) in 1861, his young son Zaichun (载淳) became the new emperor of China adopting the regnal name of Qixiang (祺祥).

The new emperor was only five years old at the time.  His mother, the Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后), arranged a coup (祺祥政变) and became the real power behind the throne.

After just a couple of months, the Empress Dowager Cixi changed the emperor’s regnal name from Qixiang (祺祥) to Tongzhi (同治).

Because the reign title Qixiang existed for only 69 days, very few coins with the inscription qi xiang (祺祥) were produced.  It is quite possible that none of the coins ever went into general circulation.

When preparing to cast coins for a new emperor, a mint would first engrave a coin out of fine brass.  This “engraved mother coin” (diao mu 雕母), also known as an “ancestor coin” (zu qian 祖钱), was then used to make impressions in a sand mold to produce several “mother coins” (mu qian 母钱).  These “mother coins” were then used to make the impressions to cast the coins which would go into circulation.

Qi Xiang Tong Bao Engraved Mother Coin

Qi Xiang Tong Bao Engraved Mother Coin

The image at the left is the obverse side of the engraved mother coin.

The coin is made of high quality brass and has a beautiful patina.

The Chinese characters are finely and deeply inscribed.

However, the left rim is clearly damaged.

This was done intentionally at the mint in order to ensure that no additional coins were cast after the regnal name Qixiang was dropped in favor of Tongzhi.

This damage provides further proof that the coin is authentic.

Reverse side of Qi Xiang Tong Bao Engraved Mother Coin

Reverse side of Qi Xiang Tong Bao Engraved Mother Coin

The reverse side of the coin is seen in the image at the left.

The Manchu script at the right of the square hole indicates that the coin was made at the Board of Works (宝源) mint in Beijing.

The mint intentionally damaged the right rim to prevent any further use of this mother coin.

The coin has a diameter of 29.14~29.52 mm and a thickness of 1.82~2.03 mm.  The weight is not mentioned in the description.

In addition to the qi xiang tong bao coins, larger “Value Ten” (当十) denomination qi xiang zhong bao (祺祥重宝) coins were also minted.

A qi xiang zhong bao (祺祥重宝) “engraved mother coin” produced at the Board of Works (宝源) may be seen here.

A qi xiang zhong bao (祺祥重宝) “mother coin” from the Board of Works (宝源) may be seen here.

Because qi xiang coins were cast for such a short time, only a few of the mints produced coins.  These included the Board of Works (宝源), the Board of Revenue (宝泉), the Yunnan mint (宝云), the Gansu mint (宝巩) and the Suzhou mint (宝苏).

When the regnal name changed to Tongzhi, the mints withdrew or destroyed the qi xiang mother coins and then engraved new mother coins to produce coins with the inscription tong zhi tong bao (同治通宝) and tong zhi zhong bao (同治重宝).

All authentic qi xiang coins are rare, and qi xiang engraved mother coins are extremely rare.

Only one other specimen is known to exist.  It is in the collection of Mr. Sun Zhonghui (孙仲汇), a famous Chinese numismatist and author.

On November 30, 2014, the qi xiang tong bao engraved mother coin discussed here was sold at an auction in Beijing for US$129,843 (RMB 808,500).

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State of Qi Six Character Knife Money

Xue Knife

Xue Knife

Knife-shaped money (daobi 刀币) was an early form of currency that circulated in the states of Qi (齐国), Yan (燕国) and Zhao (赵国) until the end of the  Warring States Period (战国时代 475 BC – 221 BC).

The shape of these “coins” evolved from an ancient bronze scraper knife, known as a xue (削刀), which had a ring at the end.

Shown at the left is an example of an ancient xue knife.

Qi money knives can be categorized by the number of Chinese characters on their obverse side.  There are Three Character Knives (san zi dao 三字刀), Four Character Knives (si zi dao 四字刀, Five Character Knives (wu zi dao 五字刀) and Six Character Knives (liu zi dao 六字刀).

The Four Character Knives are believed to have been minted in the early Spring and Autumn Period (春秋时代 771 BC – 476 BC) making them the first version of Qi knife money to appear.  The Five Character Knives began to be produced in the late Spring and Autumn Period.  The Three Character Knives began to circulate during the early to middle Warring States Period.

All Qi knives are rare.

The Qi Heritage Museum, which has the world’s largest collection of Qi knife money, is located in Linzi in Shandong Province.

The museum is situated at the site of the ancient capital of the State of Qi.  The outstanding collection of Qi money and other cultural artefacts was obtained from archaeological excavations.

The Three Character Knives (san zi dao 三字刀) exist in the greatest number and specimens from the museum’s collection may be seen here.

There are much fewer surviving specimens of the Four and Five Character knives.

The Four Character Knife (si zi dao 四字刀) is discussed in “Knife Money from State of Qi Unearthed in Shandong“.

Specimens from the museum’s collection of Five Character Knives (wu zi dao 五字刀) may be seen here.

If you look carefully, you will notice that there are actually two versions of the Five Character Knife.

The Five Character Knives with the inscription ji mo zhi fa hua (即墨之法化), translating as “Ji Mo Legal Money”, were cast in Jimo which was located in what is now Pingdu in Shandong Province.

The Five Character Knives with the inscription an yang zhi fa hua (安阳之法化), translating as “An Yang Legal Money”, were minted in Anyang which was situated just east of what is now Caoxian County in Shandong Province.

State of Qi Six Character Knife

State of Qi Six Character Knife

The rarest of the Qi knives is the Six Character Knife (liu zi dao 六字刀).

The beautiful Six Character Knife shown at the left was sold at an auction conducted by the Xiling Yinshe Auction Co. (西泠印社拍卖有限公司) in Hangzhou in May 2014.

Six Character Knives were cast in the ancient capital of Linzi in Shandong Province.

The Six Character Knife was actually issued as a “commemorative coin” (开国纪念币).

In 1046 BC, King Wu of Zhou (周武王) enfeoffed Jiang Ziya (姜子牙), also known as Lü Shang (吕尚) and Duke Tai of Qi (齐太公), who then proceeded to establish Qi as a vassal state.

The Jiang family continued hereditary rule of Qi for 600 years.

By the year 404 BC, however, Tian He (田和), who was the head of the Tian clan and was serving under the last ruler of the House of Jiang, had become the de facto ruler of Qi.

King An of Zhou (周安王) formally recognized Tian He, also known as Duke Tai of Qi (齐太公), as the ruler of Qi in 386 BC.

With the rise to power by Tian He, the six century rule by the the House of Jiang ended and the House of Tian became the new ruling family of Qi.

Even though Qi  had existed for many centuries, Tian He decided to issue knife money with an inscription commemorating the new dynastic rule of the Tian family.

The Six Character Knife thus became China’s first “commemorative coin” marking the establishment of a new ruling family or dynasty.

The characters are written in an ancient Chinese script which is difficult to decipher.  The inscription is believed to be qi zao bang chang fa huo (齐造邦长法化) which translates as “Qi, establish state long, legal money”.

However, there is an alternative interpretation of the inscription.

Some experts believe that the second character in the inscription should not be interpreted as zao (造), meaning “establish”, but rather fu (复) or fan (返)  meaning “return”.

The State of Yan invaded and occupied most of Qi in 284 BC.  General Tian Dan (田单) of Qi executed a very clever plan and, despite being greatly outnumbered, was able to defeat the Yan army at Jimo.  Tian Dan then freed the other occupied parts of the country which permitted him to bring King Xiang (襄王) of Qi from the small State of Ju (莒), where he had been residing, back to the royal capital of  Linzi (临淄).

(Please see “Battle of Jimo” Horse Coin for the fascinating story of this battle.)

Those who accept this interpretation of the inscription believe that the knife was cast by King Xiang to commemorate his triumphant “return” to the capital of Linzi in the year 279 BC.

Reverse side of the State of Qi Six Character Knife

Reverse side of the State of Qi Six Character Knife

The reverse sides of  Six Character Knives frequently have a single character.

A shi (十), meaning ten, may indicate the knife’s denomination.

Other characters that have been found on these knives include si (司), gong (工), and ri (日).  These characters may represent the names of newly established mints.

The knives were cast in stone moulds and other characters on the reverse probably indicate in which mould the knife was cast.

At the left is an image of the reverse side of this knife.

Just above the handle is a character believed to be hua (化).  Of the characters found on the reverse side of Six Character Knives, hua (化) and shang (上) seem to be the rarest.

Six Character Knives are large and thick, finely cast of good quality bronze, and display exquisite calligraphy.  They are typically 18.2 – 18.5 cm in length and 2.8 – 2.9 cm in width.  Their weight is 45.5 – 50.9 grams.

As mentioned above, the Six Character Knife was the first Chinese form of money to commemorate the founding of a new ruling family or dynasty.

During the more than 2,000 years that would follow, other rulers would also issue commemorative coins marking the establishment of their new reign.

For example, in the year 621 Emperor Gaozu (高祖) issued the kai yuan tong bao (开元通宝) coin. Kai yuan tong bao translates as the “Inaugural Currency” and refers to the establishment of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

A different Emperor Gaozu (后汉高祖) issued the han yuan tong bao (汉元通宝) coin beginning in 948.  The inscription translates as the “Han First Currency” which marked the beginning of the Later Han Dynasty (948-951).

Emperor Shizong (世宗) had coins cast with the inscription zhou yuan tong bao (周元通宝) beginning in 955.  The inscription means “Zhou First Currency” signifying the establishment of the Later Zhou Dynasty (951-960).

Emperor Taizu (太祖) issued coins with the inscription song yuan tong bao (宋元通宝) beginning in 960.  The inscription means “Song First Currency” or “Inauguration of Song” which proclaimed the establishment of the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

Modern times has seen China issue a large number of commemorative coins.

In an academic paper entitled  “A History of China’s Ancient Money” (中国古代货币史), Professor Song Jie (宋杰) writes about the purchasing power of a Qi knife.

During the late Warring States Period, one dou (斗) of rice, equivalent to about 10 litres, could be bought with three ban liang (半两) coins.  According to Professor Song, a Qi knife would have been the equivalent of 7 or 8 ban liang coins.  Therefore, one Qi knife would have been able to buy more than two dou or 23 – 26 litres of rice.

Six Character Knives are the rarest of the Qi knives and among the rarest of all ancient Chinese coins.  The specimen displayed here sold at an auction in 2014 for the equivalent of US$140,239 (862,500 RMB).

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Ancient Chinese Coin Exhibit at the Qi Heritage Museum

The Qi Heritage Museum (齐文化博物院) is located in Linzi (临淄) in China’s coastal province of Shandong (山东省).

Linzi was the capital city of the ancient State of Qi (1046 BC – 221 BC).

In celebration of the Qi Culture Festival, there is a new exhibition of ancient Chinese money at the museum.  According to a newspaper article, the exhibit includes unearthed specimens which have never been shown to the public before including hollow handled spade money from the Spring and Autumn Period, perfectly preserved “money trees“, coin moulds, and “Peace under heaven” palace coins.

Unfortunately, the newspaper article does not include any photographs.  The museum’s website provides some images but no close-ups of the coins.

The vast majority of  Chinese coin collectors outside of China have no choice but to rely on black and white rubbings in coin catalogs to determine the authenticity of rare coins.  Many collectors put faith into images they see at internet auction sites which are well known to include many fake coins.  Images from coin dealers, coin forums and personal websites can also include coins of questionable authenticity.

While searching the web, however, I came across a blog article from a Chinese visitor at a previous coin exhibit at the museum.

The blogger admits that he is not a coin collector but, fortunately, he took some photographs which document part of the extensive collection of ancient Chinese coins at the museum.

Clicking on the images below will bring up a larger image.  By clicking the image again, an even larger and more detailed image will appear.  Use your scroll bars to move around the display case.

In this way, you will have the opportunity to clearly see the color of the patina, calligraphy, metal type, size, etc. of many rare Chinese coins.

The museum has a vast and extensive collection of ancient Chinese money from the late Zhou and Warring States Period, perhaps the best in the world.  This is due to the museum being located in the area where many of the ancient Chinese states were situated.  Most of the collection of ancient coins came directly from archaeological digs in the area.

Early forms of Chinese money

Early forms of Chinese money

This exhibition case includes specimens of what may be very early forms of money  from the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC – 256 BC).

No historical sources from this time period mention these objects so there is some question as to whether they are, in fact, ancient Chinese money forms.

They are usually referred to as  “pseudo money” or “odd shaped money” (异形币).

Based on their shape, they are “fish money” (yu bi 鱼币), “halberd money” (ji bi 戟币) and “bridge money” (qiao bi 桥币).  Some specimens of  “bridge money” are referred to as “tiger head bridge money” or “dragon head bridge money”.

For a much larger and more detailed view, please click the image.

Three Character Knife money from the State of Qi

Three Character Knife money from the State of Qi

The museum is located near the capital of the ancient State of Qi (齐国) which existed from 400 BC to 220 BC during the Warring States Period (战国时代 475 BC – 221 BC).

Qi was one of the states that used a form of money made of bronze and in the shape of a knife (dao bi 刀币).

The Qi Knife Money evolved from an ancient bronze implement with a ring at the end.  This knife was known as a xue (削).

An image of an ancient xue may be seen here.

Although in the shape of a knife, the Qi Knives were never actually used as knives.

The earliest form of knife money circulated in Qi and later spread to the States of Yan and Zhao.

As a result of  the many archaeological excavations in the area, the museum has the finest collection of Qi knife (qi dao 齐刀) money in the world.

Qi Knives have three, four, five or six Chinese characters on their obverse side.  The reverse sides can have one or more characters or symbols.

Some of the museum’s Three Character Knives (三字刀), bearing the inscription qi fa hua (齐法化) meaning “Qi Legal Money”, are seen in this image.

For a more detailed view, please click the image.

The museum also has a collection of Four Character (四字刀), Five Character (五字刀) and Six Character knives (六字刀) from the State of Qi.

(Please see “Knife Money from State of Qi Unearthed in Shandong” for more detailed information on Four Character knives (四字刀).)

Five Character Knife money from the State of Qi

Five Character Knife money from the State of Qi

The image at the left shows some of the extensive collection of Five Character Knife (五字刀) money.

Please click the image for an expanded view.

Five Character Knives have been found with two different inscriptions.

One inscription is ji mo zhi fa hua (即墨之法化) which translates as “Ji Mo Legal Money”.  Jimo (即墨) was situated in what is now Pingdu in Shandong Province.

(A very interesting battle took place in Jimo which is the theme of an ancient Chinese horse coin.  Please see “Battle of Jimo” Horse Coin for details.)

The other inscription is an yang zhi fa hua (安阳之法化) which translates as “An Yang Legal Money”.  Anyang (安阳) was situated east of what is now Caoxian County in Shandong Province.

Another view of the Five Character Knives

Another view of the Five Character Knives

At the left is another view of the Five Character Knife showcase.

Clicking the image will bring up a larger view.

Both the An Yang (安阳) and Ji Mo (即墨) varieties of the Five Character Knife can be seen in this image.

Unfortunately, the blogger did not publish images of the museum’s collection of Six Character Knives (六字刀).  The Six Character Knives were minted in what is now Linzi in Shandong Province.

(For a discussion of Six Character Knives (六字刀), please see State of Qi Six Character Knife Money.)

Straight Knife and Pointed Knife money

Straight Knife and Pointed Knife money

Pointed  Tip Knives (jian shou dao 尖首刀) from the State of Yan, as well as Straight Knives (zhi dao 直刀) from the State of Zhao (赵国), are displayed in this case.

Clicking on the image will provide a better view.

Ming Knife money from the State of Yan

Ming Knife money from the State of Yan

The museum has a large collection of Ming Knives (ming dao 明刀) from the State of Yan (燕).

This type of knife money is known as “Ming Knives” because the character on the obverse side is believed to the the Chinese character ming (明).

For some reason, the museum decided to display all the Ming Knives with the obverse side (明) showing which is the same for all the knives.

Showing the reverse sides would have been preferable since the reverse sides display a great variety of inscriptions.

Please click the image for a closer view.

Huo Bu coins cast during the reign of Wang Mang

Huo Bu coins cast during the reign of Wang Mang

The Chinese blogger provides images from several other exhibition cases.

The showcase at the left displays huo bu (货布) cast 14 AD – 23 AD during the reign of Wang Mang (王莽) of the Xin Dynasty (新朝).

Wang Mang carried out four major reforms of the monetary system which included a total of 37 kinds of money.  This created unprecedented chaos and misery.

To his credit, many of these money forms attained very high artistic merit.

A close-up of the museum’s collection of huo bu may be seen by clicking the image.

Another view of the large collection of Huo Bu coins

Another view of the large collection of Huo Bu coins

This is another view of the museum’s extensive collection of  huo bu coins.

Please click the image for a close-up view.

The huo bu is derived from an even more ancient form of money in the shape of a spade.  For more information concerning  spade money (bubi 布币) and huo bu please see Chinese Spade Charms.  A charm based on the huo bu is discussed in the article Huo Bu Charm.

"Da Guan Tong Bao" coins cast during the reign of Emperor Hui Zong of the Northern Song Dynasty

“Da Guan Tong Bao” coins cast during the reign of Emperor Hui Zong of the Northern Song Dynasty

The Song Dynasty (960-1279) is noted for casting cash coins with beautiful calligraphy.

One of the most famous coins is the da guan tong bao (大观通宝) cast during the years 1107-1110 of the reign of Emperor Huizong of the Northern Song.

The calligraphy on the coin was done by Emperor Huizong himself in a style known as “Slender Gold” script (shou ji ti 瘦金体 or tie xian shu  铁线书).

The museum has a large collection of these da guan tong bao coins as can be seen in the display above.

An enlarged view may be seen by clicking the image.

A different view of the Da Guan Tong Bao coins

A different view of the Da Guan Tong Bao coins

At the left is a different view of the da guan tong bao coins.

Please click the image for a better view.

The museum has a large collection of Chinese sycee (xi si 细丝) which are also referred to as yuan bao (元宝).

The sycee was a form of silver currency made into various shapes.  They circulated as a form of money as early as the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States Periods.

Their value was determined by their weight.

Sycee were usually made by silversmiths instead of official mints.

Their value was determined by their weight.  Moneyhandlers known as shroffs would determine the purity and weight in taels (liang 两).

Chinese Boat Sycee

Chinese Boat Sycee

The image at the left shows one of the sycee display cases.

Sycee are often categorized by their shape.  The specimens in this case are known as boat sycee (ma di yin 马蹄银).

For a very detailed view, please click the image.

(More specimens of boat sycee with detailed descriptions may be seen at this excellent website.)

Chinese Round Sycee

Chinese Round Sycee

At the left is another display case exhibiting a collection of round sycee (yuan ding 圆锭).

Please click the image for a close-up view of the display.

(More information and specimens of round sycee may be seen here.)

Trade Silver Bars

Trade Silver Bars

This case displays a different type of  sycee.

The sign in the showcase states that these are “trade silver bars” (mao yi yin tiao 贸易银条).

An enlarged view may be seen by clicking the image.

Coins cast during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor of the Qing Dynasty

Coins cast during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor of the Qing Dynasty

The final images show a display of coins cast during the reign (1851-1861) of the Xianfeng Emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Because of  huge military expenses needed to suppress the Taiping Rebellion, a great variety of large denomination cash coins were cast during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor.

The small cash coins cast by Xianfeng are called tong bao (通宝).  Coins with a value of four to fifty cash are called zhong bao (重宝).  Coins with a value of one hundred to one thousand cash are called yuan bao (元宝).

The display sign states that the coins in the case are zhong bao.  However, if you click the image and view the coins close up you will see that the case also includes yuan bao coins.

Another view of the coins cast during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor

Another view of the coins cast during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor

This is another view of the coins cast during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor.

An enlarged view may be seen by clicking the image.

It is fortunate that the Chinese blogger decided to publish his personal photographs of some of the collection at the Qi Heritage Museum.

In so doing, he has provided collectors around the world the opportunity to clearly see authentic specimens of some of China’s rarest ancient coins.

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