This is a very interesting da quan
wu shi (大泉五十) coin. If
look carefully at the Chinese character shi (十),
"ten" (10) to the left of the square hole, you
will notice that it has not one but three horizontal
Chinese character shi
(十) for "ten" only has one
line. The additional horizontal lines seems to
mean that the coin
is not worth 5 x 10 = 50 coins, but rather 5 x
30 = 150 coins!
Another characteristic of this coin is that the
inscription is repeated
on the reverse side thus making it a "double obverse"
There seems to be some disagreement as to whether this
actually a coin or a charm but I am treating it here
as a charm.
The charm has a diameter of 25 mm and a weight of
Northern Zhou Dynasty
At the left is a Northern Zhou Dynasty coin cast in
the year 574 AD
during the reign
of Emperor Wu.
inscription is wu
xing da bu
(五行大布) which translates as "large coin of the
The five elements consist of metal, wood, water, fire
For a discussion of the five elements please see
Star, Moon, Cloud and
The reverse side of the coin is blank.
The coin has a diameter of 26 mm and weight of 3.7
This is a charm written in the same seal script and
inscription or legend (wu xing da bu
The reverse side displays the same four symbols,
namely the snake,
tortoise, sword and the Big
constellation, as on the Wang Mang da
(大泉五十) charm discussed above.
On this charm, however, the sword is on the right and
seven star Big Dipper constellation is on the left.
Above the square hole is the snake which
is coiled with its head facing to the left.
The tortoise is below the square hole with its head
also facing to the
The charm has a diameter of 24.5 mm and a weight of
This obverse side of this large charm is based on the
Zhou Dynasty coin and
same seal script calligraphy.
If you observe closely, though, the
character at the bottom is written differently.
this character to be the same character 行
as on the Northern Zhou coin
believe that the character is actually 两 (liang) which was
a unit of
weight. The liang
the same unit of weight used, for
example, on the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC) and Western
Han Dynasty (206
BC - 220 AD) banliang (半两)
"half tael" coins.
The reverse side has the same four symbols in
location as the
smaller charm above. The difference is that the
snake is coiled
differently and its head at the top facing right.
Also, the tortoise with its
head on the right is now looking back towards the
The diameter of this charm is 32.5 mm and the weight
is 7.3 grams.
(951 - 960)
Following the fall
of the great
Tang Dynasty in 907, China experienced another
period of turmoil and
disunity known as the Five Dynasties and Ten
Kingdoms which lasted 907
- 960 AD.
Emperor Shi Zong of the Later Zhou issued his
coinage patterned on that
of the kai
yuan tong bao (开元通宝) which had
become the standard coin of
Emperor Shi Zong's
coin is displayed to the left. The
inscription reads zhou yuan tong bao (周
"Zhou First Currency" and was cast
during the years 951-960 AD.
The zhou yuan
tong bao very
quickly became a popular inscription used
on Chinese charms.
The reason is because, beginning in the year 956,
Shi Zong ordered that the bronze Buddha statues in
temples, as well as the bronze items owned
by the people, be turned
to the government so that they could be melted
down and used to cast
coins. As a result, coins with this
inscription are considered
especially auspicious because they contain metal
This belief has carried over to the charms and
cast during the following centuries which display
the same inscription.
The reverse side of the coin shows a "moon"
between the square hole an
the rim at
the seven o'clock position. For a discussion
of the "moon" symbol
please visit Charm
Moon, Cloud and Dragon.
The coin has a diameter of 24 mm and a weight of
The obverse side of this charm closely resembles that
of the coin above
and the inscription, zhou yuan tong bao
Although this charm is from a later period, charms
Chinese coin inscription are very popular.
Because the actual coins with this inscription were
cast using bronze
statues, the Chinese believed that this was also
true for charms and amulets
with the same inscription even though they may have
been cast in the
The reverse side of this old charm has a dragon on the
and a phoenix
on the right.
The two are facing each other with their heads at the
bottom of the
Charms with a dragon and phoenix are considered
For additional information on this theme, please visit
The diameter of the charm is 22.5 mm and the weight
is 5.6 grams.
Like the charm above, the obverse side of this charm
auspicious Chinese coin inscription zhou
yuan tong bao (周元通宝).
This is the reverse side of the charm revealing
that it is another
phoenix and dragon marriage
In this example, however, the phoenix is on the left
and the dragon is
right. The two are facing each other with their
heads at the top
of the charm.
It is a little difficult to see but the wings of the
phoenix are just
to the left of the square hole. The head is at
the eleven o'clock
position and the tail feathers are at the seven
The dragon is on the right with the tip of its mouth
at the twelve
o'clock position and a dot representing its left eye
at the one o'clock
position. Its left front claw is just above the
hole. The dragon's body curves down the right
side of the charm
and its left rear claw is just below the central
hole. Its tail
is almost touching the upper tail feather of the
The reverse side displays an interesting set of
The charm has a diameter of 25 mm and a weight
of 6.6 grams.
This is the obverse side of another ancient charm
based on the zhou
yuan tong bao (周元通
宝) coin of the Later Zhou Dynasty.
Similar to the example above, the dragon is on the
right and the
phoenix is on the left.
The two mythical animals are sculpted in high
relief and are facing
each other with their heads at the top of the
This charm has a diameter of 23.5 mm and a weight
of 6.8 grams.
The coin displayed at the left is an
example of coins with the
ping tong bao
平通宝) cast during the years 976-989 of the
reign of Emperor
(976-997) of the Northern
This was the first Song Dynasty coin
inscribed with an imperial or
The reign title tai ping
This same inscription, tai ping tong
平通宝), was also used on coins cast during
the years 1854-1855 by the
Shanghai Small Sword Society (xiao
dao hui 小刀会) during the Taiping
coin has a diameter of 24.8 mm
and weighs 4 grams.
This is a charm based on the tai ping tong
平通宝) coin of the Song Dynasty.
Tai ping, meaning
always been a strong desire of a people
and it is, therefore, an appropriate
inscription for a charm.
This is an unusually well-made charm as
evidenced by the fine
crosshatch pattern seen in the character
The charm appears to be made of tin with,
possibly, a silver wash.
reverse side of the charm
displays a number of auspicious symbols, some
of which are difficult to
At the top is a pair of
interlocking diamond-shaped lozenges
known as fang
sheng (方胜). The origin
of this symbol is still unclear but it may
represent the form of an
instrument. Or, it may have been a head
ornament worn in ancient
times which symbolized victory. There is
also a legend that the Queen
of the West wore such as
object to exorcise evil spirits.
Moving clockwise, the next symbol appears to
be books tied with a ribbon
possibly expressing the wish for sons to be
successful in the imperial
exams and obtaining an official
The next symbol is a gourd
also tied with a ribbon. The
popular symbol to ward off evil
spirits and disease because its first
as to "protect" or "guard" (hu 护), and also
for "blessing" (hu
祜). (Please see Gourd
Unfortunately, corrosion obscures the
symbols at the bottom and left of
the square hole and these symbols remain
Just to the left of the lozenges is a flaming
pearl which represents
riches and wealth.
This charm has a diameter of 26 mm and a
weight of 3.3 grams.
At the left is a fairly rare coin charm from the Liao
According to historical records, Emperor Tai Zong
(太宗) in the year 938
established the capital at Shang Jing
(上京) and honored the event by casting
commemorative coins with the auspicious
qiu wan sui (千秋万岁), which
literally translates as a "thousand autumns and
ten thousand years",
expressing the hope that the emperor and the
dynasty would endure
Most of these commemorative coins were presented
as gifts or
awards. Some of the coins have also been
found in the
foundations of Liao Dynasty pagodas where they
were presented as
offerings by religious believers during the
dedication of the religious
At the very top is a figure of a person kneeling with
his right and
left arms stretched out.
To the left of the square hole, and below the above
figure's right arm,
is a person, perhaps a newborn child, bent forward and
To the right of the hole, and below the top figure's
left arm, is a
This Liao Dynasty coin has a diameter of slightly
greater than 25 mm
and a weight of 6.8 grams.
During the late Northern Song Dynasty, the Nuzhen
Jurched) (女真) nationality conquered most of north
established their rule as the Jin
At first, they used coins of the Song and Liao
dynasties but began to cast their own coinage in
The coin at the left, with the beautiful seal
script calligraphy, has
the inscription tai
he zhong bao
The coin was cast during the years 1204-1209 of
the reign of Emperor
Zhang Zong (1190-1209) of
the Jin Dynasty.
The diameter of
the coin is 44.5 mm
and the weight is 12.6 grams.
This is actually a charm based on the Jin Dynasty tai he zhong bao
coin shown above.
Because tai he
can be variously translated as "peace and harmony" or
harmony", the coin became popular as a theme
upon which to base charms and amulets.
refer to tai shan
山), or Mt. T'ai, which is a famous and sacred mountain
worshipped as a
The reverse side of
the charm depicts
with their long
tail feathers. The magpie above the
square hole is actually upside down. Its head is
looking down and
back to the right.
The magpie at the bottom has its head at the four
o'clock position and
is looking up and to left.
The two magpies are therefore looking directly at each
The magpie (xi
鹊) symbolizes "happiness" because
the first character
is the same as the word "happy" (xi
Two magpies facing each other therefore represents
"double happiness" (shuang
xi 喜喜) and is a symbol of a
The reference to a happy marriage is based on
the legend of
two heavenly lovers, the Cowherd
and the Weaver
Girl (Maiden), who are permitted to meet each
other only once a
year on the
of the seventh month (known as qixi
七夕, the Double Seven, or Sisters Festival) by crossing
river (the Milky Way) on a bridge made of magpies.
Also, a magpie shown upside down, as is the case here,
happiness has "arrived" because the Chinese words for
down" (倒) and "arrived" (到)
are both pronounced dao.
Located between the two magpies are plum
Chinese, one can say "there is a happy bird
(magpie) on the tip of the plum branch" as xi shang mei shao
sounds exactly the same as saying xi
mei shao (喜上眉稍),
meaning "happiness up
to one's eyebrows", which is a Chinese expression for
This charm has a diameter of 41 mm and a weight of
This is the obverse side of another charm based on the
he zhong bao
(泰和重宝) coin of the Jin Dynasty.
The reverse side of the charm has four lines radiating
outward from the
corners of the square hole and extending to the rim.
The Chinese refer to this characteristic as
chu (四出). Si
means "four" and chu (出)
The implied meaning is that peace, prosperity and
radiate in all directions.
The charm has a diameter of 41 mm and a weight of 22.3
during the reign of the first emperor of the Ming
The inscription is hong
tong bao (洪武通宝) and was cast during the Hong
Wu reign of
You will notice that the hole is not in the usual
shape of a four-sided
square. This particular specimen has an
hole known as a "flower" or "rosette" hole.
"Flower hole" coins were fairly common during the
Northern Song and
early Southern Song Dynasties but became very rare by
the time of the
A detailed discussion of these types of coins
including many examples
can be seen at Chinese
Coins with Flower
This is a Chinese charm, modeled after the above Ming
with the same inscription hong
reverse side of the charm
shows a boy riding an ox or water
In this case, the "boy" is actually Emperor Tai Zu.
Emperor Tai Zu had a very humble early life and for a
time was a
You will notice that the boy is playing a flute which
connotation of a care free life.
The flute is an old Daoist (Taoist) symbol which is
associated with the
The flute is also an ancient Buddhist symbol used in
meditation and is
displayed on this charm to allude to the time when
Emperor Tai Zu lived
in a Buddhist monastery.
This type of charm became popular with the Chinese
people because it
represented the hope that a person could become
being born into a peasant family.
Another hong wu
charm which displays a number of symbols referring to
Emperor Tai Zu's
life is discussed in detail at Buddhist
This charm has a diameter of 43 mm and a weight of
The inscription (legend) on this charm is zheng de tong bao
Zheng De was
the reign title
(1505 - 1521 AD) of the Ming Dynasty Emperor Wu Zong.
claim that the government did cast a very small number
of coins with
inscription, it is generally believed that no coins
circulation were ever cast by the government using the
reign title zheng
Even though no legal tender coins were cast during
this period, a
fairly large number of charms with this inscription
reason is that zheng
the auspicious meaning in Chinese of "correct virtue",
inscription translates as "currency of correct
Many Chinese of the time also believed that Emperor Wu
Zong was the
reincarnation of a real dragon.
Ancient Chinese folklore says that zheng
de was a "swimming" dragon. The belief
is that wearing a zheng
de charm when you cross a
river or sea will protect you from the danger of large
The Chinese also love to gamble and there is an old
superstition that says carrying a zheng
de charm will bring you good luck at
It was believed that if a pregnant woman carried a zheng de charm in
her hand both she
and her child would be protected.
charms were also
given to children as a form of good luck money (yasuiqian 压岁钱)
during the lunar New
The zheng de
considered so lucky that there was this popular
It is a common theme with zheng
de charms to have a dragon and phoenix.
(jia you zheng de
qian fu gui wan wan
"If a family has a zheng de
coin, there will be riches and honor for ten
The reverse side of this charm shows a wide-eyed
dragon on the right
with its head at the five o'clock position. A
lovely phoenix is
the left of the square hole with its head at the six
The dragon and phoenix paired together
represent the ultimate union of a man and a
information on this subject can be found at Chinese
The charm has a diameter of 45 mm and weighs 14.5
The reverse side reveals that it is actually a
charm with the
inscription read top to bottom and right to left as ding cai gui shou
This is another example of a very well-made zheng de tong bao
(正德通宝) that would
typically have been used as a marriage charm.
The reverse side of the charm displays a very
ornate and finely
detailed dragon on the right with its head at the
two o'clock position.
An equally detailed phoenix is at the left of the
center hole with its
head at the eight o'clock position.
This is a large and heavy charm.
The diameter is 54 mm and the weight is 42.3
This is another example of a charm with the
Chinese coin inscription zheng de tong bao (正
The very broad outer rim displays a dragon on the
left and a phoenix on
objects at the 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock positions
The reverse side also has a very broad outer rim
with the single
Chinese character wen (文)
above the square hole.
counting Chinese cash coins.
It is interesting that this same character wen (文)
also mean the obverse
a coin even though
here it is displayed on the reverse
The diameter of this charm is 31.3 mm and
the weight is 8.3
Coins were cast with
the reign title Wan Li (万历)
of Emperor Shen
Zong during the years 1573-1620 of the
left is a coin with
the inscription wan
li tong bao
What is unusual about this coin is that there are
four dots, with one
dot between each of the
Experts seem to be divided as to whether this is
an official coin or a
The character wan
the character li
(历) means "era" or
"calendar". The four dots are
generally believed to
represent stars (xing
日). The implied
meaning is, therefore, light and brightness
The reverse side of this coin or charm is blank
although it has the
broad outer rim as that on the obverse.
The coin has a diameter of 24 mm and a weight of
Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty
This coin is a qian long tong
presumably cast during the 60 year reign
(1736-1795) of Qing (Ch'ing)
The coin is very large and heavy. In fact,
it is much larger
and heavier than any other qian
variety of coin with which I am
Also, the characters, such as the bottom portion
of the bao (宝) and
radical portion of the tong
(通), are written in a
slightly different style
that of the other coins of this emperor.
The coin, however, is clearly old.
Because of its size, calligraphy and age, I have
concluded that this
"coin" is most probably a "charm".
The reverse side reveals another interesting
The Manchu characters indicate that the piece was
cast at the Board of
Revenue in Peking (Beijing).
However, the characters are rotated 90 degrees
clockwise and the
characters themselves are very large.
The intention may have been political but the
The charm has a diameter of almost 56 mm and a
thickness of just over 3
In 1861, a few
specimen coins for
the reign title Qixiang were cast with the
xiang zhong bao (祺祥重宝).
The coin at the left is either one of these
authentic pieces or an
excellent copy. If it is indeed a copy, then
it is clearly a very
Besides its rarity, coins or charms with the
xiang are considered auspicious
祥) means "lucky" or "of good omen".
The top and bottom characters on the reverse side
of this coin/charm
are dang shi
translates as "Value Ten" and means that this coin
was worth the
equivalent of 10 cash coins.
The Manchu characters to the right and left of the
square hole indicate
that the coin was cast at the Board of Works in
This coin/charm has a diameter of 35 mm and weight
of 13.6 grams.
The charm to the left is quite small and shows
The inscription is guang
xu tong bao (光绪通宝) and the obverse side
looks exactly like a
coin of Emperor
Zong (1875 -
The translation is "May you acquire wealth, honor
The charm is only 19.5 mm in diameter and weighs 4.7
If you have a further
interest in the
close relationship of Chinese coins and Chinese
charms, please also
visit Chinese Coins with
Return to Ancient
Chinese Charms and