Chinese Coins with Charm
Ancient Chinese coins first started displaying "charm" and
"amulet" features more than 2,000 years ago and many examples
of these ban liang (半 两) and
wu zhu (五 铢) coins
can be seen at Emergence of Chinese
Charms -- Symbols Begin to Appear on Chinese Coins.
While the first
"true" charms appeared during the Han Dynasty (206 BC -
220 AD), many of the coins of this period also have charm
characteristics. For example, some coins have stars,
moons, auspicious clouds, etc. on their reverse side.
Others have stars on their obverse side. Several
examples are displayed below.
There were also regularly issued government coins which did
not have any special charm symbols but, nevertheless, were
considered to have the same powers as a true charm.
Please see the Wang Mang knife
money and the kang xi tong bao (康
熙通宝) coins as examples.
Additionally, there are Chinese charms which closely resemble
actual Chinese coins. Many examples of these coin-like
charms can be seen at Chinese
Charms with Coin Inscriptions.
For detailed discussions of the meaning of charm symbols,
please visit Ancient
Chinese Charm Symbols: Star, Moon, Cloud and Dragon
and also Chinese Charms --
Hidden Meaning of Symbols.
This is the reverse side of a coin from the Tang Dynasty
(618 - 907 AD).
Wang Mang Coins
considered to be one of the most beautiful coins of
It was cast in the years 7-9 AD during the reign of Wang Mang of the
short-lived Xin Dynasty (7 - 23 AD).
This knife money is popularly known as jin cuo dao (金错刀) or
gold inlaid knife.
The top portion, which is round with a square hole,
resembles the other coins of the time.
The Chinese character above the hole is yi (一) meaning
"one". The character below the hole is dao (刀) which is
"knife." The translation is "one knife" and the
characters are inlaid with real gold.
The lower blade portion of the coin has the characters ping wu qian (平五千)
which translates as "worth five thousand".
During the years of Wang Mang's reign, this coin had a
token value equal to 5,000 bronze coins!
Besides its monetary worth, this knife money was also
desired for its value as a charm.
The way the very bottom character 千 (qian meaning
"thousand") is written resembles very closely the
character 子 (zi) which means
The inscription on the coin could therefore be read as
"worth five sons" which was considered very auspicious
during ancient times.
Male children were traditionally favored by Chinese
parents for several reasons. Sons were
responsible for continuing the ancestral lineage and
performing ancestor worship. When they grew up, they
were responsible for taking care of their parents.
Parents also hoped that their sons would be successful in
achieving a high government office and thereby bring honor
and wealth to the family.
Daughters, on the other hand, were traditionally less
desired because when they grew up, they would marry, leave
the home and have the responsibility of taking care of
The ideal family during ancient times was considered to be
five sons and two daughters.
This knife coin was, therefore, treasured as a charm that,
hopefully, would bring the family many male offspring.
The coin is 73.5 mm in length. The upper ring has a
diameter of 28 mm and the lower blade has a maximum
diameter of 15 mm. The weight is 32.5 grams.
This coin was cast during the reign of Wang Mang
beginning in 14 AD.
The inscription (legend) is read right to left as bu quan (布泉) which
means "spade coin".
The reason this coin has "charm" features is because women
of that time believed that wearing this coin on their sash
would mean that they would give birth to a boy.
Chinese society has traditionally placed a great emphasis
on having children, and males in particular, to perform
Confucian filial piety responsibilities and rituals.
For this reason, this coin is also known as the Male Cash
Coin (nan qian
Please see Confucian Charms
for more on Confucianism.
As can be seen, the reverse side of the coin
This coin has a diameter of 24 mm and a weight of 2.4
This coin has another unusual feature. The upper
and lower parts of the wu
(五) character to the right of the
hole are separated from each other. The Chinese
refer to this as a "detached wu" although the significance of
this feature is unknown.
Eastern Han Coins
This coin has a diameter of 22.6 mm and a weight of
Coins of the Three
centuries from the end of the Han (220 AD) to the
unification of China under the Sui Dynasty (581 AD)
was a period of recurring civil wars and social
At the beginning of this period were the Three
Kingdoms consisting of the State of Wei (220-265
AD), the State of Shu (221-263 AD) and the State of Wu
The State of Shu, also known as Shu Han (蜀汉),
Liu Bei was forever immortalized as a hero in one of
China's greatest historical novels entitled the
Romance of the Three
Kingdoms written in the 14th
Century by Luo Guanzhong.
During times of war in ancient China, it was
common for rulers to issue coins of large
The coin at the left has the inscription zhi bai wu zhu
(直百五铢) and was issued in 214 AD by Liu Bei. Even
though the coin is approximately the same size and
weight of the wu zhu (五铢) coins of the Han
Dynasty, the inscription translates as "Value
One Hundred Wu Zhu" coins.
is particularly fascinating about this specimen is the
To make viewing more convenient, I have rotated the
coin 90 degrees clockwise.
At the top of the coin one can clearly see a fish with
the head on the left and the tail on the right.
(With the coin properly oriented, the fish would be to
the left of the square hole and pointing downward.)
symbolizes "abundance" and "perseverance". It is
a very ancient and powerful Chinese symbol which
expresses the wish for prosperity year after year.
(Please see Fish Charms for
While symbols are sometimes found on ancient Chinese
coins, such as those from the Qin and Han Dynasties,
they are usually incused (carved) into the coin after
casting. On this particular coin, the fish
protrudes above the surface, which means that the fish
symbol had to have been a design element of the mold
This coin, with the cast fish on the reverse side, may
The coin has a diameter of 25.7 mm and a weight of 2.8
This Chinese coin was cast during the years 221-265
AD in the Kingdom of Shu.
The inscription (legend) is tai ping bai qian (太平百钱) which
translates as Taiping
(Great Peace) One Hundred Cash.
The coin was worth the equivalent of 100 cash coins of
The reverse side is filled with wavy lines and
The wavy lines represent water waves.
The dot at the very top and the one at the very bottom
Even though this was a legal circulating coin during
the period of the Three
Kingdoms, it was frequently used in later
dynasties as a charm because of its inscription
referring to "peace" and the symbols on its reverse
For more information concerning the symbolism please
Chinese Charm Symbols: Star, Moon, Cloud and
The diameter of the coin is 26 mm and the weight is
This coin was cast in the year 319 during the reign
of King She Le of the Later Zhao
Kingdom (319-352) of the Eastern Jin Dynasty
Jin Dynasty Coins
The inscription, written in seal script, reads feng huo (丰货)
which translates as "coin of abundance".
It was believed at the time that having this coin
would result in great wealth which, as a result,
earned it the nickname "cash of riches".
The diameter of the coin is 25 mm and the weight is
Tang Dynasty Coins
It was cast in 759 AD during the reign of Emperor Su Zong.
To the right of the square hole is what is called an "auspicious cloud".
Below the square hole is what is know as a "moon".
Again, this was a normally circulated coin that has charm
This is the obverse side of the coin. The inscription
is qian yuan zhong bao
(乾元重宝) read top to bottom and right to left.
The coin is 24 mm in diameter and weighs 3.6 grams.
This coin is also from the Tang Dynasty. It was cast
beginning in the year 621 AD during the reign of Emperor Gao
The inscription reads kai yuan tong bao (开
The notable feature of this particular coin has to do with the
character yuan (元)
which is located below the square hole. If you
compare it to the same character yuan (元) on
will see that on this coin there has been a "star" added on the right
side of the character.
Stars are found less often on the obverse of coins than on the
This coin is 24 mm in diameter and weighs 3.5 grams.
This is another kai yuan
tong bao (开元通宝) coin from my
It has a normal (no star or other special feature) obverse
side but has a "moon"
below the central hole on the reverse side.
The coin has a diameter of 25 mm and a weight of 3.2 grams.
This is yet another kai
yuan tong bao (开元通宝).
The obverse side has no special characteristics but the
reverse side has a moon above the hole and a star below the
This coin is 24 mm in diameter and weighs 3.9 grams.
To the left is a final example of a Tang Dynasty coin with
a charm-like feature.
This is the obverse side of a fairly large coin cast during
the reign of Shi Siming (758-761 AD).
The inscription is shun
tian yuan bao (顺天元宝).
As you can clearly seen, the reverse side of the coin has a
moon above the square hole.
The coin is 37 mm in diameter and has a weight of 19.8 grams.
The Later Han was one of the Five
Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms that existed 907 - 979 AD.
Coins of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms
This is the obverse side of a coin cast in 948 AD by Emperor
Yin of the Later Han Dynasty (948-951 AD).
The inscription is han
tong bao (汉元通宝) which
translates as "Han First currency".
If you look closely at the reverse side of the coin you will
see a crescent moon to the left of the square hole.
This coin has a diameter of 24 mm and weighs 3.1 grams.
The Southern Tang Kingdom existed during the years 937-975 AD.
The coin shown here has the inscription da tang tong bao (大唐通
宝) and was cast beginning in 959 AD
during the reign of Li
The reverse side of the coin has a large crescent moon above
the square hole.
The coin has a diameter of 21 mm and a weight of 2 grams.
The obverse side of the coin at the left has the same
inscription as the Tang Dynasty kai yuan tong bao (开
元通宝) seen above.
However, this coin is made of lead and was actually cast
during the Ten
Kingdoms (907-960 AD).
It is believed to have been cast during the Southern Han
period in the area of Canton (Guangzhou), in Southern China,
which was then known as Xingwangfu.
The reverse side has the Chinese character for "south" (nan 南) above the square
The character for "one" (yi
一) is below the hole.
This coin is unusual in that it has two additional symbols.
To the left of the hole is a crescent (moon) with a dot
To the right of the hole is a "lucky" or "auspicious" cloud.
This lead coin has a diameter of 20 mm and a weight of 2.3
is most interesting about this coin is the hand engraved
picture on the reverse side.
Northern Song Dynasty Coins
This is the obverse side of a large "10 Cash" coin from
The inscription (legend), which is read top to bottom and
right to left, is chong
ning zhong bao (崇宁重宝).
has the meaning of "sublime" and "worship". Ning (宁) can
translate as "tranquil" and "peaceful".
It was cast in the years 1102 - 1106 during the reign of Emperor Hui Zong
(1101 - 1125).
Someone, during the past 900 years, took this coin with its
inscription conveying the sense of "sublime", "worship" and
"tranquil", and engraved a picture on the back.
In so doing, they converted a circulating coin into a charm.
To the left of the square hole is what appears to be a mother
embracing a small child.
To the right of the square hole is exactly the same hand
engraved picture but upside down.
While we can only speculate on the meaning, this particular
scene was certainly considered precious to the unknown artist
who did the engraving so long ago.
This coin has a diameter of 34.5 mm and a weight of 10.6
Southern Song Dynasty Coins
This is the obverse of a Southern Song
Dynasty (1127 -1279 AD) coin.
The inscription is read clockwise beginning at the top as shao xing yuan bao (绍兴元
It was cast in the
years 1131-1162 AD during the reign of Emperor Gao Zong.
You will note that the reverse has a moon above and a star
below the square hole.
The coin has a diameter of 29 mm and weighs 5.6 grams.
Jin Dynasty Coins
was established by the Nuzhen (Jurched) (女贞) nationality
in northern China during the late Northern Song Dynasty.
At first, the new dynasty relied on coinage from the Liao and Song
Beginning in the year 1157, however, they began to cast
their own coins.
Modeled after the da guan tong bao (大
观通宝) coins with the personal
calligraphy of Northern Song Dynasty Emperor Hui Zong,
the Jin coins display a high degree of workmanship with
The nicely made coin at the left was cast in the year 1189
AD during the reign of Emperor Shi Zong of the Jin
The inscription reads da
ding tong bao (大定通宝).
Chinese character above the square hole on the reverse
side is you (酉)
which is the tenth of the Twelve Earthly
The traditional Chinese calendar system, purportedly
originating in the year 2697 BC by the legendary Yellow
Emperor (Huangdi), identifies dates by pairing one
of the ten Heavenly Stems with one of the twelve Earthly
Branches. The cycle repeats every sixty years.
This coin can be dated to 1189 AD because Emperor Shi Zong
ruled during a 60 year period of the Heavenly Stem ji (己). Paired
with the you
(酉) on the coin establishes the date as 1189 AD.
(Incidentally, the character you (酉) has an
interesting derivation. It originally referred to
alcohol made from newly-ripe millet in the
The distinguishing feature of this coin, however, is
the prominent dot or "star"
located at the 10 o'clock position.
The coin has a diameter of 25 mm and a weight of 4.3
Ming Dynasty Coins
This coin was cast in the years 1368-1398 AD during the reign
of Emperor Tai
Zu of the Ming
The inscription (legend) is hong
wu tong bao (洪武通宝).
Please note that this coin has a star to the right of the
character wu (武)
below the square hole.
This particular coin also has a moon on its reverse side
above the square hole.
The coin has a diameter of 23 mm and weighs 4.2 grams.
Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty Coins
This Chinese coin was only cast in the years 1727-1729 during
the reign of Emperor Shi
Zong (1723-1735) of the Qing Dynasty.
The inscription is yong
zheng tong bao (雍正通宝).
The reverse side has
the two Manchu characters "boo
gung" indicating that the coin was cast at the mint in
Lanzhou, Gansu Province.
These yong zheng
tong bao (雍正通宝) cash coins cast in Gansu Province
quickly became popular as an amulet capable of preventing
mutilation from evil spirits. This is because the Manchu
character "gung" (gong), at the right of the square hole,
resembles the broadsword used by Emperor Guan (guan di 关帝).
Emperor Guan, also known as Emperor Kuan, was a popular
general of the Kingdom of Shu (221-265 AD). He became
famous for his use of the broadsword.
He was so revered by later dynasties that he was proclaimed
the God of War
and many temples and shrines were built in his honor.
Nowadays, he is also worshipped as the "God of Commerce" by
Chinese businessmen particularly in Hong Kong.
This coin is 26.2 mm in diameter and weighs 4.4 grams.
This is the obverse side of a Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty coin
which was cast in the years 1796-1820 AD during the reign of Emperor Ren Zong.
The inscription is jia qing
tong bao (嘉庆通宝).
This is the reverse side of the above coin showing a star
below the square hole.
The Manchu character to the right of the square hole indicates
that the coin was cast at the Board of Works mint.
The coin measures 25 mm in diameter and weighs 3.6
This is the reverse side of another jia qing tong bao (嘉
in my collection.
In this example, a star is above the square hole, and the
Manchu character on the right means that this cash coin was
cast at the Board of Revenue mint.
The coin measures 24 mm in diameter and weighs 4.3 grams.
Chinese Coin with the Powers of a Charm
This is an example of an official Qing (Ch'ing)
Dynasty minted coin, meant for general circulation, but
which was immediately considered to have the powers of a
charm. In the year 1713 AD, to celebrate the 60th
birthday of Emperor
Sheng Zu (Kang Xi), this special issue kang xi tong bao (康熙通宝)
coin was cast with a bronze of a golden color. A 60th
birthday is considered a major event in China. In honor
of this milestone, the Chinese character xi (熙), which is located
below the square hole, was written slightly differently.
The character would normally have a vertical line at its
left. Also, the part of the character normally written
as (臣) has the center written as a (口) instead. Finally,
the upper left part of the tong
(通) character, located to the right of the square
hole, has only one dot instead of the usual two.
There are several stories connected with this coin that have
been passed down for the last 300 years which have given this
coin the power of a charm. The stories have turned out
to be historically false but continue to be believed.
The different versions of the story basically state that the
bronze used in the casting of this coin came from the melting
down of gold statues of the eighteen disciples of the
Buddha. These disciples were called lohan (luohan 罗汉) in Chinese.
Because the metal used to cast the coins was believed to be
directly associated with these disciples of Buddha, the coin
is believed to have special powers and is usually referred to
as the lohan coin or
Because of its special charm qualities, these coins were given
to children in olden times as lunar New Year money (yasuiqian 压岁钱).
These coins were also considered to represent good luck
because they commemorated a reign lasting for sixty years
which is a complete cycle of the traditional Chinese calendar
and thus symbolic of a long life.
Traditionally, these coins also acted as a keepsake or pledge
of love between a man and a woman. Some women would even
wear one of these coins tied to their hand in lieu of a "gold"
Up until about the 1940's, there was a tradition in the rural
villages of Shanxi Province where stylish young men liked to
carry a lohan coin
between their teeth. This was an attempt to mimic the
tradition of stylish young men in the cities who liked to show
off a gold tooth.
If you examine this particular coin carefully, you will notice
what seem to be gold specks on the surface. My guess is that
sometime in the (distant?) past someone put gold leaf on the
coin. Then, again, maybe the stories are true and the
coin does contain real gold!
This is the reverse side of the coin. Since the Qing
(Ch'ing) Dynasty was ruled by the Manchu, the characters on
the reverse are in the Manchu script and not Chinese.
The script indicates that this coin was cast by the Board of
Revenue in Peking.
The coin is slightly larger than 26 mm and weighs 4.8 grams.
Other coins cast during the reign of Emperor Kangxi are
also considered to have charm and amulet properties.
Please see Chinese Poem Coins.
Pictured below is another example of the special kang xi tong bao (康
熙通宝) coin cast to commemorate the 60th birthday of
Emperor Sheng Zu (Kang Xi) in 1713. As discussed above,
this coin was considered to have charm characteristics.
Moreover, the Chinese characters kang xi (康熙) can
be translated as "health and prosperity" which makes the coin
even more auspicious.
For these various reasons, these special kang xi coins were
frequently selected to be charms which could be further
enhanced with hand engravings.
This coin is an example
of a coin with hand engraved rims. I have enlarged the
image to make viewing more convenient.
The upper right, upper left, lower right and lower left
sections of the rim all have a series of dots connected by
If you examine the rim closely, however, you will discover
that the number of "dots" differs.
The lower right and lower left
sections of the rim have a series of seven dots each.
The dots actually represent stars. The series of seven
stars connected together by a zigzag line represents the Big Dipper
From the beginning in the Shang Dynasty, the Chinese
considered the Big Dipper to be a deity. In Daoism
(Taoism) the Big Dipper was believed to be where the
celestial gods dwelled.
However, the rim engraving on the upper left portion of the
rim has "nine
stars" connected by a zigzag line. This can be explained
by the fact that the ancient Chinese believed that the
constellation actually consisted of seven visible stars along
with two invisible "attendant" or "companion" stars.
To make matters even more interesting, the upper right section
of the rim has "eight
stars" connected by a zigzag line. I believe the "eight
stars" actually refer to the Eight
Daoist Immortals (baxian 八仙) described below:
1) Han Zhongli (汉钟离) was
a Han Dynasty general who carries a feather fan used to revive
2) Lu Dongbin (吕洞宾), known for his drinking and
fighting, carries a demon-slaying sword and a fly whisk which he
uses to walk on clouds or fly to the heavens.
3) Zhang Guolao (张果老),
who rides a donkey, sometimes seated backwards, carries a
tube-shaped bamboo musical instrument called a yugu (鱼鼓).
4) Li Tieguai (李
铁拐), also known as "Li with the iron crutch", carries a gourd filled with
5) He Xiangu (何仙姑), the only female in the group, carries
a lotus or peach, or a fly whisk.
6) Han Xiangzi (韩湘子), who carries a flute, can predict the
future and also make fruits and flowers grow out of
7) Cao Guojiu (曹国舅) carries a ruyi sceptre or castanets.
8) Lan Caihe (蓝采和), depicted as either a male or female,
usually holds a fruit/flower basket, a bowl or a flute.
Located between each of these four groupings of star constellations is a
design consisting of a semicircle with a dot in the
middle. This symbolizes the "sun" and also the
Emperor's "light" and wisdom. The representation of
the sun rising from the edge of the rim can also symbolize
hope for being successful in the imperial
examination system and thus becoming a government
official together with the honor and wealth which
accompanied such a position.
The reverse side of the coin has a more limited number of
At the top and bottom are the same semicircular "sun"
symbols as on the obverse side.
The other areas (most clearly seen on the left part of the
rim) have a meandering wave-like design.
Unfortunately, the engravings suffer from wear which
further indicates that they were made sometime in the
This coin has a diameter of 27 mm and a weight of 4.2
Other coins cast during the reign
of Emperor Kangxi are also considered to have charm and amulet
properties. Please see Chinese
Ancient Chinese Charms and