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Liao Dynasty Charm

The Liao Dynasty (辽朝 916-1125) was ruled by a nomadic people known as the Qidan (Khitan 契丹) and occupied an area of the northern prairies of China that included Manchuria, a portion of Mongolia, as well as parts of Hebei and Shanxi provinces.

Charms from the Liao Dynasty are fairly rare and, because the Qidan script is not well understood, the inscriptions can be difficult to understand.

Dr. Werner Burger (布威纳), a recognized expert in Chinese numismatics, published an article in the 108th issue (2010) of “China Numismatics” (中國錢幣) in which he introduced an old Liao Dynasty charm which had not previously appeared in any catalog or reference book.

Liao Dynasty Charm with Daoist Inscription

Liao Dynasty Charm with Daoist Inscription

The image at the left is the picture of the charm as published in the magazine.

Although the Qidan people used Chinese characters on their coinage, they preferred to use their own script for their charms or “folk custom coins” (民俗钱).

The Qidan script had two types of characters, namely “large characters” and “small characters”.

The inscription on this charm is written in the “small character” Qidan script.

The characters are similar to Chinese but still different enough that only experts in the Qidan language are able to offer a translation.

Rubbing of the Qidan Script Characters

Rubbing of the Qidan Script Characters

These distinctive Qidan script characters can be seen more clearly in the rubbing at the left.

While inscriptions on Liao Dynasty coins tend to be read clockwise beginning with the character at the top of the square hole, the characters on this Liao Dynasty charm are read counter-clockwise beginning at the bottom of the round hole.

According to the experts, the character at the bottom is tian (天), which means “heaven”, and the character at the right is chang (長) which translates as “of long duration”.  The character at the top is di (地) meaning “earth” and the character at the left is yong (永) which means “forever”.

According to the article, the “meaning” of the inscription is tian chang di jiu (天长地久) or “as eternal and unchanging as the universe”.

This inscription is taken from the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching 道得经), the ancient Daoist (Taoist) text attributed to Laozi.

The article explains that it is not unusual for a Liao Dynasty charm to have a Daoist inscription.  While the Han people were influenced by Confucius and the Mongols by Buddha, the Qidans had a strong belief in Daoism.  Few Qidan writings exist today but it is known that a number of Daoist texts were translated into the Qidan language while Confucian and Buddhist texts were not.

This coin has a diameter of 27 mm and a weight of 11.5 grams.  The reverse side is blank with no characters.

Dr. Burger concludes the article by stating that, with the exception of this Liao Dynasty charm, he is not aware of the existence of any other Chinese charm with this Daoist inscription earlier than the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

For examples of Qing Dynasty charms with this same Daoist inscription, please see my discussions of a rarely seen vase-shaped pendant charm, a lock charm and a peach charm.

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