Chinese Coins

Chinese Coins

The Museum of Anthropology's collection of over 100 Chinese coins provides examples from the Han Dynasty (202 B.C.- A.D. 220) through the Manchu Dynasty (1644-1911). China has a long monetary history, and there are at least 700 different coin characters (also called legends). Chinese coins usually have two or four characters, but they may also have as many as nine or as few as none. Characters on the coin symbolize a wide range of things, such as the name of the kingdom, the mint, the year, the denomination, the monetary unit, or the government bureau that issued it. In the case of Emperor Yong Li of the Ming Dynasty, the character could even be part of a sentence. He issued coins with a declaration that was ten characters long, featuring one character on each of the ten coins.

Before the development of coins, the Chinese used other mediums of exchange, including precious stones, brick tea, silk, and cowrie shells. The first metal coins were formed into sycees (called "boats" by Dutch traders because of their resemblance to the hull of a ship). Later sword- and spade-shaped coins were developed and still used sporadically until the early part of the Han Dynasty. The coins in the museum collection are round with a square hole, a form that was used after 523 B.C. The circular outline of these coins is said to represent heaven, and the square center represents the earth. The coins were cast from bronze and brass in molds and were strung on a cord (usually around 1,000 coins) to form the main Chinese purchasing unit.

References and Related Links

Coole, Aurthur Braddan. Coins in China's History (Mission, Kansas: Intercollegiate Press, 1963).

Peng Xinwei. A Monetary History of China. vol I. and II (Translated from the Chinese original Zhongguo Huobi Shi 1965 by Kaplan, Edward H.) (Western Washington University,1994).

Petrie, A. E. H. An Illustrated Guide to Chinese Cash Pieces: The Manchu Mints (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Collectors Research Monograph, 1964).

Yang Lien-sheng. Money and Credit in China, a Short History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971).

Ancient Chinese Coinage

Chinese Cultural Studies: Concise Political History of China

Chinese Coins exhibit prepared by Sara Kelty July 2002

Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD)
coin
coin
Sung Dynasty (960 - 1126 AD)
coin
coin
Manchu Dynasty (1644 - 1911 AD)
coin
coin
Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD)
coin
coin
Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 AD)
coin
coin

Museum of Anthropology, 100 Swallow Hall, Columbia, MO 65211-1440

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