Chinese Coins with Charm Features
Ancient Chinese coins first started displaying "charm" and
than 2,000 years ago and many examples of these ban
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
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
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 -
Wang Mang Coins
This is considered to be one of the
most beautiful coins of ancient China.
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
The way the very bottom character 千
(qian meaning "thousand") is
written resembles very closely the character 子 (zi)
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 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 their in-laws.
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
The inscription (legend) is read right to left as bu quan (布泉) which means "spade
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
Please see Confucian Charms for more on
As can be seen, the reverse side of the coin is blank.
This coin has a diameter of 24 mm and a weight of 2.4 grams.
This coin has another unusual feature. The upper and lower
parts of the wu (五)
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 1.5 grams.
Coins of the Three Kingdoms
The several 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
the State of Wei (220-265 AD), the State of Shu (221-263 AD) and the
State of Wu (222-280 AD).
The State of Shu, also known as Shu Han (蜀汉),
Liu Bei (刘备).
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
During times of war in ancient China, it was common for
rulers to issue coins of large denominations.
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"
What is particularly fascinating
about this specimen is the reverse side.
To make viewing more convenient, I have rotated the coin 90 degrees
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,
fish would be to the left of the square hole and pointing downward.)
The fish 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 additional information.)
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 be unique.
The coin has a diameter of 25.7 mm and a weight of 2.8 grams.
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
The coin was worth the equivalent of 100 cash coins of the day.
The reverse side is filled with wavy lines and dots.
The wavy lines represent water waves.
The dot at the very top and the one at the very bottom represent stars.
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
For more information concerning the symbolism please see Ancient Chinese Charm
Symbols: Star, Moon, Cloud and Dragon.
The diameter of the coin is 26 mm and the weight is 6.0 grams.
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
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 2.4 grams.
Tang Dynasty Coins
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".
the square hole is what is know as a "moon".
Again, this was a normally circulated coin that has charm features.
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
the year 621 AD during the reign of Emperor Gao Zu.
inscription reads kai yuan tong bao
The notable feature of this particular coin has to do with the
character yuan (元)
located below the square hole. If you compare it to the same
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 reverse.
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
It has a normal (no star or other special feature)
obverse side but has a "moon"
below the central hole on the reverse
The coin has a diameter of 25 mm and a weight of 3.2
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 hole.
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
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
As you can clearly seen, the reverse side of the coin has a moon
the square hole.
The coin is 37 mm in diameter and has a weight of 19.8
The Later Han was one of the Five Dynasties
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
Later Han Dynasty (948-951 AD).
The inscription is han
yuan tong bao (汉元通宝) which translates
as "Han First currency".
If you look closely at the reverse side of the coin you
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)
cast beginning in 959 AD during the reign of Li Jing.
The reverse side of the coin has a large crescent moon above the square
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
(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
The reverse side has the Chinese character for "south" (nan 南) above the square hole.
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 (star).
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 grams.
What 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
Northern Song Dynasty.
The inscription (legend), which is read top to bottom and right to
left, is chong ning zhong bao
"sublime" and "worship". Ning
translate as "tranquil" and "peaceful".
It was cast in
the years 1102 - 1106 during the reign of Emperor Hui Zong (1101 -
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 grams.
Southern Song Dynasty Coins
This is the obverse of a Southern Song Dynasty
(1127 -1279 AD)
The inscription is read clockwise beginning at the top as shao xing yuan
It was cast in the years
1131-1162 AD during the reign of Emperor
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
Jin Dynasty 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
with beautiful calligraphy.
The nicely made coin at the left was cast in the year 1189 AD during
the reign of Emperor Shi Zong of the Jin Dynasty.
The inscription reads da ding tong
The Chinese character above the
square hole on the reverse side is you
(酉) which is the tenth of the Twelve
The traditional Chinese calendar system, purportedly originating in the
year 2697 BC by the legendary Yellow Emperor
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 eighth month.)
The distinguishing feature of this coin, however, is the prominent
dot or "star" located at the 10
The coin has a diameter of 25 mm and a weight of 4.3 grams.
Ming Dynasty Coins
This coin was cast in the years 1368-1398 AD during the reign of
Zu of the Ming Dynasty.
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
the square hole.
This particular coin also has a moon
on its reverse side above the
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
The inscription is yong zheng tong
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
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
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
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 grams.
This is the reverse side of another jia
qing tong bao (嘉庆通宝) coin 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.
Coin with the
Powers of a Charm
is an example of an official Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty
minted coin, meant
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
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)
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 arhat money.
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" engagement ring.
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
For these various reasons, these special kang xi coins were frequently
selected to be charms which could be further enhanced with hand
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 zigzag lines.
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 (beidou 北斗)
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 the dead.
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
crutch", carries a gourd
filled with magic elixir.
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 season.
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 engravings.
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 distant past.
This coin has a diameter of 27 mm and a weight of 4.2 grams.
Other coins cast during the reign of Emperor
Kangxi are also
considered to have charm and amulet properties. Please see Chinese Poem Coins.
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