Chinese Spade Charms
Charm symbols first began to appear on some Chinese coins
during the Han Dynasty (please see Emergence
of Chinese Charms). Most coins of that period were
round with a square hole in the center. As charms
began to develop independently of legally circulated coins,
most continued to keep the familiar coin shape.
However, some Chinese charms gradually began to appear in
forms other than the common coin shape. For example,
there are charms shaped like locks,
One of these most distinctive forms is based on the shovel
(spade) or bubi (布
币) money of ancient times.
An understanding of the history of this ancient money form is
helpful in explaining the eventual appearance of the spade shaped charms.
Dynasty Shovel (Spade) or bubi
charms imitated a very ancient form of money. During the
(11th Century BC - 221 BC), some of the first forms of money
evolved from an ancient farming tool that were shaped like
small shovels or spades. These forms of money were called bubi (布币).
This is one of the very oldest examples from my collection of
shovel or spade money from the Zhou Dynasty.
There are no Chinese characters on it and the top is hollow as
would be the case with a real shovel where you would insert a
This type of pointed shoulder spade money was cast during the
years 500-400 BC.
This piece is approximately 142 mm in length and 66 mm at its
The actual weight is hard to determine because the hollow top
portion is still packed with earth from having been buried.
During the later Zhou Dynasty, spade money gradually
evolved into a form having less pointed legs while still
retaining the hollow top. Very primitive Chinese
characters also started to appear and the overall size
This is an example of such a later Zhou Dynasty shovel piece
having the Chinese characters lu shi (卢 氏).
This piece was cast by the Kingdom of Zhou during the period
specimen is approximately 88 mm in length and 48 mm at its
Its true weight is difficult to determine because the hollow
top is still packed with earth.
During the Warring States period (475 BC - 221 BC) at the
end of the Zhou Dynasty, various states produced spade money
which were much smaller in size. The money was also flat
so there was no hollow top. The legs became much less
This is an example of spade money from the Warring States
period having the Chinese character gong (公).
This square foot spade was cast sometime during the period
This specimen of spade money is 48 mm in length and about 28
mm in maximum width.
The piece weighs about 5.2 grams.
(Other examples of spade money from the Warring States Period
foot spades, round foot spades,
and three hole
spades (san kong bu).)
Qin Shi Huang Eliminates
Shovel (Spade) Money and Establishes Ban Liang Coins
When Emperor Qin
Shi Huang conquered the warring states and unified China
for the first time in 221 BC, he eliminated the various forms
of existing money and established a round coin with a square
hole, known as the ban liang (半两), as the
monetary standard. (Please see my introduction
to Chinese charms for more historical information).
The early Han
Dynasty that followed continued to use ban liang coins for a
period of time and then adopted the use of wu zhu (五
To see ban liang and
wu zhu coins with
distinctive symbols and features, please visit Emergence of Chinese Charms --
Symbols Begin to Appear on Chinese Coins.
Resumes Casting Spade
During the short reign (7 - 23 AD) of Wang Mang, spade
money was again cast.
This is an example of the spade money (huo bu 货布) cast in 14 AD
during Wang Mang's reign.
The Chinese character on the right is huo (货)
meaning money and the character on the left is bu (布) meaning
You can observe the similarity to the spade money cast during
the Warring States period. A major difference is the
addition of the hole at the top.
This specimen is 56 mm in length and 22 mm at its maximum
The weight is 10 grams.
This is another example of spade money cast during the years
10-14 AD of the reign of Wang Mang.
The Chinese characters in the inscription are read in the
following order: top right, top left, bottom right, bottom
The inscription (legend) is you
bu san bai (幼布三百) which translates as "Juvenile
Spade, Three Hundred".
This denomination of spade money was equivalent to 300 of the
wu zhu (五铢) coins.
This spade is about 39.6 mm in length and has a maximum width
of about 21.5 mm.
The weight is 10.6 grams.
One of the more distinctive shapes of Chinese charms is
based on Wang Mang's spade money.
This is the obverse side of an old Chinese charm based on
or spade money. As can be observed, it is very similar to
the spade money cast during the reign of Wang Mang.
The two Chinese characters are written in a very old
style. In fact, there is disagreement as to what their
The character on the right is similar but still quite
different from the huo
(货) on the Wang Mang piece
above. Some experts believe the character is actually
hou (厚) meaning
"thick" or "kind".
The character on the left is also similar but different from
(布) on the Wang Mang piece.
The true meaning of this charm may be lost in history or,
perhaps, its creator was simply displaying artistic flair.
The length of this charm is slightly more than 46 mm and its
width is a little greater than 26 mm.
The charm weighs 15.1 grams.
This is the reverse side of the spade charm.
The major feature is that, like the obverse side shown
above, it has a double line rim on its outer edge and down
The Wang Mang piece upon which it is based uses only a
single line for its rim and center line.
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