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Shun Tian Yuan Bao Charm

This beautifully engraved and gilded shun tian yuan bao (顺天元寶) charm dating from the Tang Dynasty (唐朝) appeared at an auction in China in 2015.

Shun tian yuan bao coins were issued during the years 759-761 by Shi Siming (史思明), a rebel leader who seized control of the Tang dynasty capital of Luoyang (洛阳).  Luoyang was a major center of Buddhism  (中国佛教) in ancient China.

Shun tian (顺天) refers to the Shi Siming’s era name.

The shun tian yuan bao was the first coin to use the term yuan bao (元寶) meaning “original currency”.

The character bao (寶), at the left of the square hole, is written in the same style as used on the kai yuan tong bao (開元通寶) coins of the Tang dynasty.  The yuan (元) character, below the square hole, has a left shoulder similar to the majority of kai yuan tong bao coins.

Shun Tian Yuan Bao gilded charm

Shun Tian Yuan Bao gilded charm

The obverse side, shown above, is the same as a standard shun tian yuan bao coin.  The only difference is that this coin is slightly larger.  The diameter is 39.7 mm while most of the coins are 36.5 – 37.5 mm.  Because of its size, this coin may have been an early issue.

Shown below is the reverse side.

Bat, fish and lotus symbols on reverse side of Shun Tian Yuan Bao charm

Bat, fish and lotus symbols on reverse side of Shun Tian Yuan Bao charm

As can be clearly seen, the reverse side of this coin has been embellished and gilded (鎏金).  The broad rim has been engraved with a wave-like pattern and the area surrounding the center hole has four symbols making the coin into a charm.

The description in the auction catalogue describes the charm as being exquisitely engraved with waves and “auspicious cloud” symbols, and that it was probably an offering to a Buddhist temple during the Tang dynasty.

However, upon careful examination it can be seen that the so-called “auspicious clouds” (祥云) are in fact something quite different.

The bat implies good fortune and happiness

The bat implies good fortune and happiness

I have rotated the coin so that the symbols can be viewed more easily.

Shown at the left is the symbol at the right of the hole.  The symbol is actually that of a bat with its wings spread.

The bat is considered an auspicious symbol to the Chinese because its pronunciation fu (蝠) is the same as the pronunciation of the Chinese word fu (福) which means “good fortune” or “happiness”.

The bat symbol is therefore a “visual pun” or rebus for “good fortune”.

(Please see Bat Open Work Charm for a more in-depth discussion of the bat symbol.)

Fish symbols above and below the square hole

Fish symbols above and below the square hole

Rotating the charm 180 degrees, the symbols above and below the square hole can more easily be identified.

As can be clearly seen, there is a fish above and a fish below the square hole.

The fish symbol is frequently seen on Chinese charms because it also serves as a visual pun.

The Chinese character for fish is 鱼 which is pronounced yu.

The Chinese word for “abundant” (余) is also pronounced yu.

The fish symbol therefore means “more” as in “more happiness” or “more good fortune”.

The depiction of two fish takes on an additional meaning.  Because fish lay many eggs, its reproductive abilities is a symbol of fertility in marriage.  Having many sons was particularly important to the ancient Chinese because of the importance of ancestor worship.

A pair of fish (shuang yu 双鱼) can also represent happiness in marriage.

The fish symbol can also be seen on other ancient Chinese coins.  A fine example is this zhi bai wu zhu (“Value One Hundred Wu Zhu” 直百五铢) coin issued in 214 AD by Liu Bei (刘备) who founded the State of Shu (蜀汉) during the Three Kingdoms period (三国) AD 220-280.

(For a more detailed discussion of the fish symbol, please see Fish Charms.)

The lotus

The lotus

The final symbol on the reverse side is shown at the left.

This is a lotus (lian hua 莲花 or he hua 荷花).

The lotus is an important Buddhist symbol signifying purity and enlightenment.

Additionally, the Chinese character 莲 (lian) for lotus has the same pronunciation as 连 (lian) meaning “continuous”.  A lotus therefore also implies that good fortune and happiness should continue forever.

In regard to fertility, the 莲/连 pun implies that boy babies will be born one after another.

As mentioned above, the Chinese character 荷 (he) also means lotus.  This character has the same pronunciation as 和 (he) meaning “harmony”.  The lotus thus also has the hidden meaning of harmony in marriage.

(For a further discussion of the lotus symbol, please see a Lotus Open Work Charm.)

This beautifully engraved and gilded shun tian yuan bao charm sold at auction in 2015 for about $5,243 (RMB 34,500).

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Xin Dynasty Coins Found in Korean Tomb

More than fifty Chinese coins cast 2,000 years ago during the reign of Wang Mang of the Xin Dynasty were recently discovered in a tomb in Gwangju, South Korea according to Korean and Chinese news reports.

The discovery is particularly notable since Korea did not begin using or casting its own coins until some 900 years later during the Koryo Period (高麗 936-1392).

Chinese huo quan coins found in Korean tomb

Chinese huo quan coins found in Korean tomb

As can be seen in the image above, the coins have the Chinese inscription 貨泉 (huo quan; 화천 hwacheon).  Huo quan coins were cast during the years AD 8-23 of the reign of Wang Mang of the Xin Dynasty.

The bundle of coins was discovered in a rectangular togwang-myo, or earthen tomb, next to a short-necked jar and 78 pieces of blue glass-jade beads.

Some of the more than fifty huo quan coins recovered from the tomb

Some of the more than fifty huo quan coins recovered from the tomb

The announcement on January 18, 2016 by the Research Center of Dolmens in Northeast Asia indicates that the tomb is located in Gwangju, Jeollanam-do Province in the southwest of South Korea.

A total of nineteen huo quan coins had previously been found scattered among various ancient ruins in Korea but this is the first time that such coins had been discovered in a tomb.

The book “Money, Traditional Korean Society” by Won Yu Han mentions that one of these ruins where coins from the Xin (Hsin) Dynasty had previously been found is on Jeju Island.

Jeju Island is dear to my heart because I was a Peace Corps volunteer there from 1972 to 1974 working in a tuberculosis control project.

Most of the coins found in the tomb have a diameter of 2.2 – 2.3 cm although some are as large as 2.6 cm.

The announcement by the Research Center of Dolmens in Northeast Asia concludes that the discovery of Xin Dynasty coins around the Yeongsan River and along the southern coastal regions of South Jeolla Province is evidence that maritime trade routes with the Xin Dynasty existed at the time.

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Lu Dongbin Charm

Lu Dongbin (吕洞宾), a poet and scholar who lived during the Tang dynasty (唐朝 618-907), is one of the rare historical figures who attained the status of an “immortal” in popular culture.

He is perhaps the best known of the Chinese “Eight Immortals” (八仙).

Chinese charm with the inscription "Great Emperor of Trustworthy Protection" referring to Lu Dongbin

Chinese charm with the inscription “Great Emperor of Trustworthy Protection” referring to Lu Dongbin

Over the centuries, Lu Dongbin was posthumously honored with a number of titles.

Emperor Wuzong of Yuan (元武宗) bestowed upon him the title “Imperial Lord of Trustworthy Protection” (fu you di jun 孚佑帝君).

A popular derivation of this title can be seen on the old charm shown at the left.

The inscription reads fu you da di (孚佑大帝) which translates as the “Great Emperor of Trustworthy Protection”.

A circle with a dot in the middle takes the place of the square hole found in the center of most Chinese charms.

Portrait of Lu Dongbin in high relief on an old Chinese charm

Portrait of Lu Dongbin in high relief on an old Chinese charm

The reverse side of the charm, shown at the left, has a portrait of Lu Dongbin sculpted in very high relief.

In his right hand is a “fly whisk” (拂尘) which allows him to walk on clouds or fly to the heavens.

Lu Dongbin was known for his drinking and fighting ability.

Extending outward from his left shoulder can be seen the hilt of a sword which he carries across his back.

This is his famous devil-slaying sword (宝剑) which symbolizes victory over evil.

This specimen is a nice example of a Lu Dongbin charm from the Qing dynasty (清朝 1644-1912), and the bronze has acquired an attractive patina.

For a further discussion of Lu Dongbin charms, please see Daoist Charms.

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May There Be the Birth of One Honorable Son after Another

This very attractive hand carved charm from the Qing dynasty (清朝 1644-1912) was sold at a China Guardian auction in Beijing in 2013.

"May there be the birth of one honorable son after another"

“May there be the birth of one honorable son after another”

The inscription on the obverse side of the charm (shown above) reads lian sheng gui zi (连生贵子) which translates as “May there be the birth of one honorable son after another”.

Sons were highly desired in a marriage because they carried on the family line and were responsible for performing the ancestor worship rituals.

The ideal Confucian family was considered to have five sons and two daughters.

The dragon and phoenix on the reverse side of the charm

The reverse side (shown above) has a dragon (long ) on the left and a phoenix (feng huang 凤凰) on the right.  Both are depicted in great detail in high relief.

The dragon represents the male or yang () force while the phoenix represents the female or yin () force.  Yin and yang are the two complementary principles of the Chinese universe.

A dragon and phoenix paired together represent a married couple and is a traditional Chinese wedding motif.

This beautiful charm has a diameter of 13.6 cm and sold at the auction for $5,418 (RMB 34,500).

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Young Numismatists in China

Children playing with ancient Chinese coins

Children playing with ancient Chinese coins

A cute photograph of several young children sorting through ancient Chinese coins accompanied a newspaper article published in the Guiyang Evening News (guiyang wanbao 贵阳晚报) dated August 12, 2015.

Mr. Wang Pinli (王品礼) and his family live in a remote village in Meitan County (湄潭县) which is located in China’s southwest Guizhou Province (贵州省).

The coins, which were discovered buried on the family’s property, have become favorite toys for the children.

According to the newspaper article, rats had become a nuisance.  There were several rat holes in the area between the kitchen and the ox pen.

Mr. Wang had filled in the hole with dirt where the rats had their nests but the rats kept returning.

In 1992, Mr. Wang finally decided to dig up the rat nests and completely fill in the holes.

While digging, he discovered a “money pit” 1.5 meters in diameter and 2 meters in depth which was filled with ancient Chinese coins.  The “money pit” included coins from the Tang, Song, Ming and Qing dynasties.

There was more than 4,600 catties of coins which is equivalent to about 3 tons.  Mr. Wang was able to sell the coins for 3-5 yuan (元) per catty which would be 13,800 – 23,000 RMB ($2,166 – $3,610).

This money was used to take care of the elder members of the family and to send the children to school.

Mr. Wang also decided to keep some of the coins.

The article mentioned some of these coins as being kai yuan tong bao (开元通宝), zheng he tong bao (正和通宝), wan li tong bao (万历通宝), hong wu tong bao (洪武通宝), shun zhi tong bao (顺治通宝), kang xi tong bao (康熙通宝), and qian long tong bao (乾隆通宝).

There is also mention of a coin from the Northern Wei (北魏朝) which could only be a tai he wu zhu (太和五铢).

A jing yuan tong bao (景元通宝) coin minted in 1377, which was minted in Annam (Vietnam) was also discovered.

Old Chinese coins discovered buried at the Guiyang home

Old Chinese coins discovered buried at the Guiyang home

Years later, Mr. Wang discovered even more coins buried on the property.  This coin cache included more recent coins.

Some of these coins, shown in the image at the left, can be identified.

Top row (left to right):

Middle row (left to right):

Bottom row (left to right):

Unearthed coin cache included a sword and copy of Book of Songs

Unearthed coin cache included a sword and copy of Book of Songs

Included in this coin cache was not only Japanese coins (宽永通宝) but also a 50 cm long sword and a copy of the Book of Songs (诗经).

According to a Chinese coin collector interviewed by the newspaper, the Japanese coins were cast beginning 400 years ago and circulated for about 240 years.  The coins probably entered China during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties.

These Japanese coins are referred to as wo qian (倭钱) by the Chinese.  The imperial court eventually prohibited these coins from entering the country.

The Wang family lives in a very remote and relatively poor mountainous area.  They are not aware of any of their ancestors who were businessmen or government officials.  It is a mystery who may have owned a sword, would have been in a position to obtain Japanese cash coins, or would have studied ancient Chinese texts such as the Book of Songs.

Mr. Wang can only speculate that one of the ancestors may have been a small-scale businessman who may have worked in a coastal area since that would have been the only place the Japanese coins may have circulated after the imperial court banned their entry into the county.

Still, the children are just happy to play with their “toys” and are not concerned with the mystery of their origin.

The children are not always careful with their “toys”, however, and the coins can be found scattered throughout the house.

More than 4,000 ancient Chinese coins discovered buried in Qianjiang District

More than 4,000 ancient Chinese coins discovered buried in Qianjiang District

Another article involving a cute image of “young numismatists” (coin collectors) was published on September 15, 2015 by the major Chinese internet company Sohu, Inc. (搜狐).

Ms. Wang Meiying (王美英) lives in Qianjiang District (黔江区).

On August 1, 2015, she was collecting wood in the mountain area where she lives.

Unexpectedly, she discovered a hole in which a large quantity of old coins were buried.

The coins weighed about 30 catties which would be more than 4,000 coins.

About 80% of the coins are from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) including coins frequently found in that area such as kang xi tong bao (康熙通宝), qian long tong bao (乾隆通宝), and xian feng tong bao (咸丰通宝).

Coins from earlier dynasties were found as well.  Tang dynasty kai yuan tong bao (开元通宝) coins as well as Song dynasty coins such as jing de yuan bao (景德元宝) and yuan feng tong bao (元丰通宝) were discovered in the hoard.  Chong zhen tong bao (崇祯通宝) coins from the Ming dynasty were also found.

The reporter estimated that the coins cover a period of about 1400 years.

According to Ms. Wan Jixiang (万继湘), a 75 year old local villager, this area did not use cash coins in the past and there were no landlords or government officials who lived here who could have accumulated so much money.

Because this remote mountain area has a long history of banditry,  some of the villagers speculate that the money may have been buried long ago by bandits (tu fei 土匪) on the run.

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A Thousand Coins Discovered at Cishi Pagoda

Cishi Pagoda

Cishi Pagoda

More than a thousand Tang and Song dynasty coins have been discovered during the restoration of the Cishi Pagoda (cishi ta 慈氏塔) located in Yueyang (岳阳), Hunan Province (湖南省), according to an article in the Yueyang Daily (岳阳日报) dated August 21, 2015.

The Cishi Pagoda is a seven-story, eight-sided (octagonal) brick pagoda 39 meters (128 feet) in height.

It was built during the period 713-714 of the Tang dynasty (618-907) which makes it the oldest surviving structure in Hunan.

A major restoration took place in 1066 (宋代治平年间) during the reign of Emperor Yingzong of the Song dynasty (960-1279).

The date of the original restoration was confirmed when a covered alms bowl with the inscription da song zhi ping san nian (大宋治平三年) was discovered during the current restoration.  The inscription translates as “the third year of Zhi Ping of the Great Song” which would be the year 1066.

As can be seen in the image above, the pagoda was in very poor shape prior to the current restoration effort which began in April of this year.

The niche containing the coins can be seen at the left of the worker's gloved hand.

The niche containing the coins can be seen at the left of the worker’s gloved hand.

While working on the second story from the top, workers discovered a cache of more than 1,000 ancient Chinese coins hidden in a square niche.

The niche is about 16 cm on a side and about 25 cm deep.

The image above shows the square niche containing the coins.

Coins being removed from the cache

Coins being removed from the cache

The image to the left clearly shows the small square niche where the coins were buried for almost 1,000 years.

The cache includes coins dating from the Tang and Song dynasties.

Most of the coins are from the early Northern Song dynasty (960-1126).

Tang and Song dynasty coins hidden in Cishi Pagoda

Tang and Song dynasty coins hidden in Cishi Pagoda

According to the newspaper article, the coins include kai yuan tong bao (开元通宝) coins from the Tang dynasty.

These kai yuan tong bao coins are of the variety that were being cast during the earlier years of the Tang.

This is also the variety of the coin which was being minted in the period 713-714 when the pagoda was constructed.

Researchers believe that these coins confirm that the pagoda was originally built during the period 713-714 of the Tang.

Coins discovered from the Song dynasty include:

Coins being sorted

Coins being sorted

There is an interesting legend associated with the pagoda.

The pagoda is situated near the eastern shore of Dongting Lake (洞庭湖) which is fed by the Yangze River (Changjiang 长江).

Being a flood basin of the Yangze, the size of the lake varies according to the season.

During the Tang dynasty, the people of Yueyang were afraid of a demon that lived in the waters.  The demon caused devastating floods and made the people’s lives miserable.

The pagoda was built to provide protection from this demon and all the people of the village donated funds for its construction.

One family in particular had suffered greatly from the water-dwelling demon.  All but one member of the family had drowned in the floods.  The only surviving family member was a widow.  When she heard that a pagoda was to be built, she donated all of her money to the cause.

Also, every day she would bring tea and water to the workers constructing the pagoda.

Unfortunately, the widow died before the pagoda was completed.

In memory of her sacrifice and giving, the pagoda was named Cishi which translates as “the compassionate”.

Mr. Ou Jifan (欧继凡), the Deputy-Director of the Yueyang Municipal Office of Cultural Relics (市文物管理处副主任), stated that an analysis of the coins confirmed that a major restoration of the pagoda had taken place in 1066 during the Song dynasty.

Mr. Ou also explained that there was a tradition of burying coins during the construction and renovation of pagodas.  Coins were believed to offer protection to the pagoda, served as a sacrifice to the heavens, and expressed the hope for peace.

The restoration is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015.

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The East Pagoda of the Yakushi-ji Temple as seen in an old photograph

The East Pagoda of the Yakushi-ji Temple as seen in an old photograph

Four Japanese Wadokaichin (和同開珎) coins dating from the eighth century have been discovered at the base of Japan’s National Treasure “Toto”, the East Pagoda (東塔 Tō-tō) of the Yakushi-ji Temple (薬師寺) located in Nara, according to a news report by The Mainichi dated August 18, 2015.

The Yakushi-ji Temple is currently being dismantled as part of a full restoration.

Temple officials announced on August 17 that four Wado Kaichin coins had been discovered at the bottom of the 1.7 meter-deep base of the East Pagoda of the temple.

A cultural asset researcher points to a hole where the Wadokaichin coins were found near the foundation of the Yakushi-ji Temple's East Pagoda

A cultural asset researcher points to a hole where the Wadokaichin coins were found near the foundation of the Yakushi-ji Temple’s East Pagoda

The coins were buried about 1.3 meters east of a foundation rock that supports the central pillar of the pagoda.

The pagoda was constructed in the year 730.

Experts from the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties and the Nara Prefectural Archeological Institute of Kashihara believe that the coins were buried during the groundbreaking ceremony and were used for purification purposes.

The experts claim that this discovery is the oldest example of the ancient practice of burying a widely- circulated coin to purify a construction site.

The four coins were found scattered in a hole about 20 cm by 30 cm.

The image above also clearly shows that the builders of the pagoda used the rammed-earth method, known as the “Hanchiku” method, to provide a stable base for the pagoda.  Layers of sand and soil were tamped down to strengthen the foundation.

Four <em>Wadokaichin</em> coins cast during the 8th century found at the base of the East Pagoda

Four Wadokaichin coins cast during the 8th century found at the base of the East Pagoda

According to the article, the coins appear to have been freshly cast when buried.  Two of the coins are in perfect condition.  The other two are in good condition with some “decay”.

Being first minted in the year 708, the Wado Kaichin coins are considered Japan’s oldest official coinage.  The coins circulated until 958.

The inscription 和同開珎 (Wadokaichin) on the coins is written in Chinese characters which was the written script used in Japan during ancient times.

The Japanese coin was modeled after the Chinese kai yuan tong bao (开元通宝) coin which was first minted in the year 621 during the reign of Emperor Gaozu of the Tang dynasty (618-907).

The Wadokaichin coins are made of copper (bronze) and are 2.4 cm in diameter, the same as the Chinese coins.

The coins were cast following the discovery of large copper deposits in Japan.

Wado (和同) is believed to have the meaning of “Japanese copper” and kaichin (開珎) has the meaning of “currency”.

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“Dragon Soaring and Phoenix Dancing” Charm

Wang Bo (王勃) was a Tang dynasty poet and is considered one of the Four Paragons of the Early Tang (初唐四杰).

His masterpiece is the Preface to the Prince of Teng’s Pavilion (tengwang ge xu 滕王阁序) which describes the scene at a grand banquet he attended at the Pavilion of Prince Teng.

The Pavilion of Prince Teng (滕王阁) is located in Nanchang (南昌), Jiangxi Province (江西省).  Prince Teng (李元婴) was the younger brother of Emperor Taizong (唐太宗) of the Tang dynasty (唐朝 618-907).

Song dynasty painting of the Pavilion of Prince Teng

Song dynasty painting of the Pavilion of Prince Teng

Construction of the pavilion began in the year 653.

In 675, Wang Bo wrote the poem that would commemorate the pavilion to this day.

At the left is a painting of the Pavilion of Prince Teng as it appeared during the Song dynasty (宋朝 960-1279).

Over the centuries, the pavilion would serve as the venue for banquets attended by noblemen, artists and even emperors.

"Dragon soaring and phoenix dancing" charm

“Dragon soaring and phoenix dancing” charm

Shown here is a Qing dynasty (清朝 1644-1911) charm with the inscription teng wen qi feng (腾蛟起凤) which translates as “a dragon soaring and a phoenix dancing”.

“Dragon soaring and phoenix dancing” is a phrase found in this excerpt from Wang Bo’s poem:

十旬休假,胜友如云;千里逢迎,高朋满座。腾蛟起凤 , 孟学士之词宗;紫电青霜,王将军之武库。家君作宰,路出名区;童子何知,躬逢胜饯.

“On this official holiday, which falls on every tenth day, good friends gather together, and a galaxy of distinguished guests from distant places fill the hall.  Also present at the gathering, are Master Meng, whose literary grace is as imposing as a dragon soaring and a phoenix dancing, and the General Wang, who has weapons as sharp as the famous swords “Purple Lightning” and “Blue Frost” in his armory.  I, as an immature young man, have the good fortune to take part in this grand banquet on my journey to visit my father, who is a magistrate of a county.”

Wang Bo used the descriptive phrase “dragon soaring and phoenix dancing” (腾蛟起凤) to praise the literary works of the banquet guest Master Meng.  The phrase refers to a person having exceptional literary or artistic talent.

“Purple Lightning and Blue Frost” refers to two famous ancient Chinese swords

The inscription on the reverse side of the charm, shown at the left, is zi dian qing shuang (紫电青霜) which translates as “Purple Lightning and Blue Frost”.

According to the Baidu Encyclopedia (百度百科):

紫电,青霜,古宝剑名也。传三国时吴主孙权有宝剑六柄,其二曰紫电。

“Purple Lightning and Blue Frost were the names of ancient precious swords.  According to legend, Sun Quan (孙权), who was the leader of the Eastern Wu (吴国) during the Three Kingdoms (三国), possessed six swords (六柄宝剑) of which the second was named Purple Lightning (紫电).”

His other five swords were named “White Rainbow” (白虹), “Eliminating Evil” (“Banisher of Evil” 辟邪 ), “Shooting Star” (“Star Rider” 流星), “Night Sky” (“Qing Ming” 青冥 ) and “Hundred Li” (“Hundred Miles” 百里).

Unfortunately, all six of these famous swords have been lost to history.

Regarding the “Blue Frost” sword:

汉高祖刘邦斩白蛇剑,刃上常带霜雪,故常以青霜代宝剑之名。

Emperor Gaozu of the Han (Liu Bang) cut (in two) a white snake.  The edge of the sword showed blue frost.  Consequently, ‘Blue Frost’ was taken to be the name of the precious sword.

Liu Bang (刘邦), the first emperor of the Han dynasty (汉朝 206 BC – 220 AD), owned a sword with the Chinese characters chi xiao (赤宵) engraved on it.  The Chi Xiao Sword (赤宵剑), which translates as “Red Night Sword”, is one of the Ten Famous Swords of ancient China.

Liu Bang used this sword to cut in two a very large white snake (汉高祖醉斩白蛇).  Because the edge of the sword was said to resemble blue frost, the sword became known as “Blue Frost” (霜雪).

In Wang Bo’s poem, General Wang is praised for having swords in his arsenal as sharp as the famous “Purple Lightning” and “Blue Frost” of old.

As mentioned in the poem, Wang Bo stopped to attend the grand banquet at the Pavilion of Prince Teng while travelling to visit his father.  His father actually lived in present-day northern Vietnam which was part of China during the Tang dynasty.

Not long after departing the banquet, Wang Bo tragically drowned in the South China Sea.  He was only 26 years of age but his timeless poem, including the inscriptions found on this charm, is the legacy of one of the great poets of the Tang dynasty.

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Song Dynasty Coin Moulds Found in Salt Lake

Two enthusiasts of the “salt lake culture” were taking pictures of birds at the Yuncheng “salt lake” (运城盐池) when they accidentally discovered a number of clay moulds (模具) used to cast iron coins (铁钱) during the Northern Song dynasty (北宋 960-1127), according to an article published June 16, 2015 by the Yuncheng News Network (运城新闻网).

Yuncheng (运城) is located in north China’s Shanxi Province (山西) and its large salt lake (盐湖) is known as “China’s Dead Sea” (中国死海).

Because of its huge quantities of salt, the salt lake has historically been a valuable resource.  Beginning in the Tang Dynasty (唐朝 618-907), a “Forbidden Wall” (禁墙) was built around the lake to protect this important source of tax revenue and to prevent stealing and smuggling.

While the wall no longer exists, it is fortunate that a few old and rare photographs have survived which show the wall’s gates.

This photograph, which is in the archives of the Smithsonian Institution (史密森学会), shows one of the wall’s gates seen by the Robert Sterling Clark expedition in 1908-1909.  Also, the undated photograph in this article shows the wall’s middle gate (中禁门).

Two bird photographers at the Yuncheng salt lake discover more than 500 clay moulds used to cast iron coins during the Song Dynasty

Two bird photographers at the Yuncheng salt lake discover more than 500 clay moulds used to cast iron coins during the Song Dynasty

The image above shows Mr. Jing Xiaoxiong (景晓雄) and Mr. Zhang Xiaobie (张小别) who are credited with discovering the coin moulds at the Yuncheng salt lake.

They recovered more than 500 moulds although many are in poor condition.

Inscriptions on the coin moulds include chong ning tong bao (崇宁通宝), zheng he tong bao (政和通宝) and zheng he zhong bao (政和重宝) written in seal script (篆体), as well as da guan tong bao (大观通宝) and yuan feng tong bao (元丰通宝).

Clay mould used to cast "chong ning tong bao" iron coins during the Song Dynasty

Clay mould used to cast “chong ning tong bao” iron coins during the Song Dynasty

As can be clearly seen in the above image, the inscription is chong ning tong bao (崇宁通宝) which indicates that this mould was used to cast iron coins during the years 1102-1106 of the reign of Emperor Huizong (宋徽宗) of the Northern Song dynasty.

The beautiful calligraphy used for this coin is known as “Slender Gold” script (瘦金书) and was done by Emperor Huizong himself.

Examples of moulds used to cast Northern Song iron coins discovered at Yuncheng's salt lake

Examples of moulds used to cast Northern Song iron coins discovered at Yuncheng’s salt lake

The image above displays 26 of the coin moulds.

The inscriptions are still very distinct.

Several of the better preserved clay coin moulds

Several of the better preserved clay coin moulds

The inscriptions on the clay moulds in the image above are identified in the article as “chong ning tong bao (崇宁通宝), zheng he zhong bao (政和重宝),   zheng he tong bao (政和通宝), and yuan feng tong bao (元丰通宝)”.

However, the inscription on the mould at the far right appears to me to be da guan tong bao (大观通宝).

The discovery of the coin moulds is actually quite puzzling.

Yuncheng was known as Hedong (河东) in ancient times.  According to historical documents, Hedong did not have a mint during the Song dynasty.  Furthermore, no ruins of any mint have ever been discovered in the area.

The discovery of the clay moulds will encourage further study of Song dynasty ruins in the Yuncheng area in the search for an ancient coin mint.

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Villagers Dig for Coins in Grand Canal

Villagers in Linqing (临清), Shandong Province (山动省) dig for old coins in China’s ancient Grand Canal (大运河) when the water level is low, according to an article published July 2, 2015 by linqing zaixian (临清在线).

The Grand Canal is the longest canal in the world.  Construction began in the 5th century BC.  The canal runs from Beijing (北京) to Hangzhou (杭州) and links the Yellow River (Huang He 黄河) and the Yangtze River (Chang Jiang 长江).

The Grand Canal beneath the Linqing Bridge. Villagers can be seen digging for coins at the lower left.

The Grand Canal beneath the Linqing Bridge. Villagers can be seen digging for coins at the lower left.

Linqing is located about 380 km (240 mi) south of Beijing where the Wei River (卫河) meets the Grand Canal.

During the Ming (明朝 1368-1644) and Qing (清朝 1644-1912) dynasties, Linqing was an important trading center for textiles and grains.  It was also famous for its brickyards which produced bricks that were used to build palaces and tombs in the capital.

Linqing’s nightlife was immortalized in the famous Ming dynasty sexually graphic novel Jin Ping Mei (金瓶梅), known in the West as The Plum in the Golden Vase or The Golden Lotus:

《金瓶梅》书中所写临清是个热闹大码头去处,“有三十二条花柳巷,七十二座管弦楼”.

Linqing is a place having large and bustling docks with “thirty-two ‘Flower and Willow’ lanes and seventy-two ‘Wind and String’ houses”.

“Flower and Willow” refers to a red-light district (花街柳巷) and “Wind and String” (musical instruments) refers to sing song houses.

Villagers digging for buried coins

Villagers digging for buried coins

The months of June and July are traditionally the dry period along the Wei River.  Whenever the water level is low, the villagers take the opportunity to dig for ancient coins on the river bottom.

At the left, villagers can be seen digging for the buried “treasure”.  The villager in the red shirt can even be spotted in the image of the bridge above.

The coins recovered are usually from the Ming or Qing dynasties but much older coins are also found.

Qing Dynasty coins dug up in Grand Canal

Qing Dynasty coins dug up in Grand Canal

Shown at the left are the Qing dynasty coins a villager found after only a few minutes of digging.

Even though the coins have been buried for hundreds of years and show surface corrosion, the coin inscriptions can still be easily read.

The inscription on the coin at the top is qian long tong bao (乾隆通宝) which means the coin was cast during the years 1736-1795 of the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (乾隆帝).

The Grand Canal in Suzhou during the Qing dynasty

The Grand Canal in Suzhou during the Qing dynasty

The photograph above shows the Grand Canal as it existed in Suzhou (苏州) during the Qing dynasty.

Boat trackers towing a boat on the Grand Canal during the Qing Dynasty

Boat trackers towing a boat on the Grand Canal during the Qing Dynasty

When conditions permitted, the boats relied on wind power to move along the canal.

Otherwise, the boats were pulled on ropes by teams of men known as “boat trackers” (纤夫), as can be seen in this Qing dynasty photograph.

Since there usually was no tow-path on the shore, trackers frequently waded through chest deep water in the canal.

The boats and barges had flat bottoms.  In bad weather conditions, winds could cause them to overturn and lose their cargoes.

After having been buried for several centuries, some of those cargoes have been recovered and are displayed in the the China Great Canal Museum (中国京杭大运河博物馆) located in Hangzhou (杭州).

Among the coins on display are wu zhu (隋五珠) coins dating from the time of the Sui dynasty (隋朝 581-618) when the various sections of the canal were finally combined.

Some of more than 40,000 Tang dynasty "kai yuan tong bao" coins excavated from the Grand Canal in 2004

Some of more than 40,000 Tang dynasty “kai yuan tong bao” coins excavated from the Grand Canal in 2004

At the left is a small portion of the more than 40,000 Tang dynasty (唐朝 618-907) kai yuan tong bao (开元通宝) coins that are on display at the museum.

These coins were unearthed in 2004 from the Grand Canal in an area near the Da Guan Bridge (大关桥) in Hangzhou.

Close-up of "kai yuan tong bao" coins dug up from the Grand Canal in 2004

Close-up of “kai yuan tong bao” coins dug up from the Grand Canal in 2004

A more detailed view of some of the coins is shown here.

As can be seen, the coins are very well preserved despite having been buried for more than 1,300 years.

Large quantities of ancient coins from other dynasties have also been recovered.

Song dynasty coins recovered from the Grand Canal on display at the Zhongce Accounting Museum in Hangzhou

Song dynasty coins recovered from the Grand Canal on display at the Zhongce Accounting Museum in Hangzhou

At the left are some of the Song dynasty (宋朝 960-1279) coins that have been unearthed from the canal.

These coins are on display at the Zhongce Accounting Museum (中策财会博物馆) in Hangzhou.

Like the Great Wall (万里长城), the Grand Canal was one of the monumental engineering projects of ancient China, and to this day continues to reveal its history through discoveries of long buried treasures.

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Chinese Charm with Musicians, Dancers and Acrobats

This is a rare and exquisitely made charm.  However, there is no Chinese inscription and collectors are still uncertain as to its theme.

The charm, which first appeared during the Liao (辽朝 907-1125) or Song (宋朝 960-1279) dynasties, is believed to depict huren playing musical instruments, dancing, and doing acrobatics (胡人乐舞杂伎).

Hu (胡) means “beard” so the term huren (胡人) means “bearded people”.  Huren referred to foreigners from north, west and central Asia who wore thick beards.  In ancient times, the term huren translated as “barbarian” because the Chinese believed the huren were “uncivilized” in comparison to the Han Chinese (汉族) and their great culture.

Nevertheless, these “barbarians” would eventually rule China during the Tartar dynasties.  The Liao dynasty (907-1125) was ruled by the Qidan (Khitan 契丹族), the Jin dynasty (金朝 1115-1234) was ruled by the Nuzhen (Jurchen 女真族), and the Western Xia (Xi Xia 西夏 1032-1227) was ruled by the Tangut (西藏人).

Charm depicting three dancing musicians and an acrobat

Charm depicting three dancing musicians and an acrobat

As seen at the left, the charm displays four individuals.  Three are playing musical instruments while the fourth (bottom) is doing a handstand or similar acrobatic stunt.

Even though the figures are referred to as huren in numismatic catalogs, none appear to have beards.

The four figures are remarkably lively.  They can easily be compared to the famous Eastern Han (东汉朝 25-220) tomb sculpture of a storyteller dancing and beating his drum.

Huren were noted for their musical and dancing prowess.  Poets at the time described their energetic dances as “barbarian leaps” (胡腾舞).

Tang Dynasty tomb painting of Huren dancing and playing musical instruments

Tang Dynasty tomb painting of Huren dancing and playing musical instruments

At the left is a wall painting from a Tang dynasty (唐朝 618-907) tomb that was excavated in Loyang (洛阳), Henan province (河南省).

The painting depicts a similar scene of beardless huren from central Asia being proficient in music and dance.

Huren playing a string instrument

Huren playing a string instrument

As can be seen in the detail at the left, the musician above the square hole of the charm is playing a string instrument.

If you look closely, you can see that the instrument has four strings as confirmed by the four pegs near the end of the long neck.

(Based on his energetic dance moves, the musician might have been the Chuck Berry of his time.)

Ruan Xian playing the ruan

Ruan Xian playing the ruan

The four string instrument may be a ruan (阮).

The ruan was named after Ruan Xian (阮咸) who lived during the Six Dynasties (220-289).  The pipa (琵琶), or Chinese lute, evolved from this early string instrument.

The ruan was held horizontally and played with a plectrum (pick) in a manner similar to today’s guitar.

In the Tang and Song dynasties, however, musicians gradually began to hold the instrument vertically which is the way the pipa is played today.

Huren playing a flute

Huren playing a flute

The musician at the left of the square hole is dancing and playing a flute (dizi 笛子).

Flutes are among the world’s oldest musical instruments.

Chinese archaeologists have discovered flutes dating back more than 9,000 years.

A huren flutist can also be seen on this sculpture.

A Ming dynasty (明朝 1368-1644) porcelain  also displays a huren playing the flute.

Huren playing a wooden fish

Huren playing a wooden fish

The figure to the right of the square hole is standing on his left leg.  He is holding a stick in his right hand and striking an object in his left hand.

He appears to be playing an ancient musical instrument known as a wooden fish (muyu 木鱼).

The wooden fish was originally used in rituals by Confucians, Buddhists and Daoists.

Over time, however, the common people began to use the wooden fish as a musical instrument.

Huren doing a handstand

Huren doing a handstand

The figure at the bottom is performing a handstand or similar acrobatic stunt.

To the left is another musical instrument, or possibly a Chinese yo-yo (kongzhu 空竹).

Historical documents are unclear as to when the Chinese yo-yo, which evolved from the very ancient Chinese “gyro” (陀螺), actually appeared.  Some references mention the yo-yo appearing as early as the Three Kingdoms (三国 220-280) while others indicate a later date such as the Yuan (元朝 1271-1638) or Ming dynasties.

Four children playing and having fun

Four children playing and having fun

The reverse side of the charm is usually described as showing four “babies” playing and having fun (婴孩嬉戏玩耍).

It is not unusual for Liao dynasty charms to include children playing.

Also, the figure above the square hole is often shown riding a dragon.

The dragon-riding figure is the “mother” known as Xi Wangmu (西王母), the “Queen Mother of the West“, as can be seen in this Liao dynasty charm.

Regarding the charm shown here, however, the person at the top is not the Queen Mother of the West.  The figure resembles the other “babies” but, nevertheless, does appear to be riding something.

As mentioned above, this is a very rare charm.  It sold at auction in 2011 for about $46,280 (RMB 287,500).

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More than 12,000 iron coins dating from the Northern Song (北宋 959-1126) have been recovered from ruins located in Shanxi Province (山西省) following 20 months of excavation and research, according to a report by the Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology (山西省考古研究所) published January 26, 2015 by the Shanxi News Network (山西新闻网).

The archaeological site, situated on a high precipice, is located at Jiangzhou (绛州) which was the historical name of what is now Xinjiang County (新绛县).  China’s most famous percussion ensemble, the Jiangzhou Drum Troupe (绛州鼓乐), derives its name from this ancient prefecture.

The iron coins were severely corroded.  After treating the coins for rust, the archaeologists have determined that most of the coins are from the middle to late Northern Song Dynasty.

The coins are from six reign periods (nian hao 年号) as follows:

Of these six types of coins, the zheng he tong bao (政和通宝) were found in the largest number.

According to experts, China first began using coins made of iron at the beginning of the Western Han (西汉 206 BC – 9 AD).  During the years 1955-1959, iron “ban liang” (铁半两) coins dating to the Western Han were unearthed from tombs in Hengyang (衡阳) and Changsha (长沙), Hunan Province (湖南省).

The issuance of iron coins reached its peak during the Northern Song.

Rubbings of the Northern Song coins. The earthenware vessel that contained the coins.  A furnace and crucible unearthed at the ruins.

Rubbings of the Northern Song coins. The earthenware vessel that contained the coins. A furnace and crucible unearthed at the ruins.

The article includes an image (shown above) that displays rubbings of some of the coins.

From left to right, the rubbings (拓片) are:

  • xi ning tong bao (熙宁通宝) written in regular script (楷书)
  • yuan you tong bao (元祐通宝) written in seal script (篆书)
  • shao sheng yuan bao (绍圣元宝) written in seal script
  • shao sheng yuan bao (绍圣元宝) written in running script (行书)
  • chong ning tong bao (崇宁通宝) written in Slender Gold script (瘦金书)
  • da guan tong bao (大观通宝) written in Slender Gold script
  • zheng he tong bao (政和通宝) written in Li script (隶书)
  • zheng he tong bao (政和通宝) written in seal script

At the bottom left of the image is an earthenware vessel that contained some of the coins.

Besides the coin, several furnaces (炉灶) and crucibles (坩埚) were unearthed at the site.  One of the furnaces is shown at the bottom middle.  A crucible can be seen at the bottom right.

Whether or not the furnaces and crucibles are related to the large number of iron coins discovered is a question the archaeologists say will require further study.

Regarding major archaeological discoveries of huge quantities of Song Dynasty iron coins, please also see “Tons of Song Dynasty Iron Coins Discovered” and “Mystery Surrounding 100 Tons of Song Dynasty Iron Coins“.

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